Prison dads line up to speak from the heart

A father shares a happy moment with his son, who is playing with a toy

In the first of a Spurgeons summer blog series focused on the importance of dads and positive role models to children’s development, Spurgeons PR Manager Jeremy Waterfield previews Father’s Day (16 June) by reflecting on a memorable recent visit to one of our prison family support services… as it urgently seeks funding to continue its transformational work.

It’s human nature. No-one likes to admit they got things wrong. So it takes some bottle to hold your hand up and admit that, actually, you’ve made mistakes. But imagine admitting your whole life had been wrong. Not only that but being honest enough to stand in front of a large room of strangers and say so.

One after another they stepped up to the plate, a stream of ex-offender dads drawn centre stage to tell a gathering of visitors to Winchester Prison just how grateful they were for Spurgeons’ Invisible Walls family support service at the prison, how much it had changed their life and why it must continue to be funded and supported in the future.

Public testimony

A dad admitted how, having brought up his children to see the police as the enemy, went on to tell them that, actually: “It was my fault I went to prison – the police are the good guys.”

Another told us how he could demonstrate his commitment to a new start through his continued involvement in parenting courses, how he’d fully embraced his parental responsibilities to win custody of his children faced with an unsuitable home environment following a break-up with his partner. All thanks to the support of the Spurgeons team at Invisible Walls.

The fact these dads were so willing to put themselves through such public testimony spoke volumes… for their gratitude for the service, their respect for service manager Kerry Longhorn and her Spurgeons team of staff and volunteers and above all for the love they have for their children and families.

Spurgeons, they said, had made them feel they were worth something – as a dad, as a role model for their children and as someone who could succeed in life without turning to crime. Each one of the dads explained how they were determined to repay this faith; that’s why they had turned up that day – to give something back.

Elephant in the room

It doesn’t take a PR guy like me to point to the value of good, honest testimony to powerful storytelling – everyone in the room that day knew they were witnessing something special. But not even the strict security we all had to go through – a real insight into what it might be like for a child and their family to visit a loved one in prison – could keep the elephant out of the visitor reception room at HMP Winchester.

It was there for all to see: how could it be that a project that so clearly helps prisoner dads accept personal responsibility, does so much to support and keep families together, has been so vital in reducing reoffending and, consequently, saves society so much trouble and expense should be at any risk at all of not attracting the investment it needs to continue?

James Bourke, Prison Governor at Winchester, had set the scene when he praised Invisible Walls in his welcome address, reflecting: “If only every prison in the country had a service like this.”

Letter of support

Lord Farmer, whose 2017 Ministry of Justice Review underlined the importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties in the prevention of reoffending and intergenerational crime, went on record only last month to praise and support the Invisible Walls service.

In a letter of support, he describes HMP Winchester as, “a centre of excellence, a beacon in England of how to engage the local community in rehabilitation work,” before going on: “When I was commissioned to carry out the Review, the Government was specifically looking for good practice which could set a brisk pace of change for governors of other prisons. I was able to draw on many examples from HMP Winchester of innovative ways to bring home men’s ongoing responsibilities for their families whilst they are in prison.

I am glad that they want to maintain the high standard of service and support their efforts to attract the funding required… contributing to their work will help to keep that beacon of good practice brightly lit.

Lord Farmer

Current funding for Invisible Walls will end this autumn. Let’s hope all our efforts to ensure the profound, all-round value of this inspirational service will be fully recognised and rewarded before then. Indeed, let’s pray it might be replicated in other prisons across the country.

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