It’s ten years since Spurgeons service Invisible Walls, based at Winchester prison, was launched. We asked Service Lead Kerry Longhorn, who helped set up the service, what makes it so special.
How does working with men in prison fit with Spurgeons being a children’s charity?
”Having a dad ‘inside’ can send children down the wrong road. They learn to be secretive because they soon discover that there’s a huge amount of stigma in having a parent in custody. They become marginalised and isolated – they know they’re different from their friends. And, in time, that can lead them to conclude that the only future open to them is following their father into a life of crime.
”To break that cycle, we work closely with the dads to help them be better parents, to enable them wherever possible to develop strong bonds with their children.”
Do you find that prison dads are willing to work with you?
”We have a very different kind of relationship with them to the prison or statutory services. We’re a charity and they can choose not to work with us. But because we’re showing we believe in them, it encourages them to start to believe in themselves and that they can be a good parent. So they’re usually positive.”
What kind of interventions do you offer?
”Courses, visits, Storybook Dads, and occasional special events.
”At our annual farm day, Millers Ark Animals bring geese, ducks and other animals into the yard of the Category C section. In the higher security B section we’re restricted to the visit hall – the tables are screwed down and the space isn’t very flexible. But Pony Pals brings in miniature Shetland ponies, and the kids trot them around the tables. It’s great fun, and I think the dads are often as excited as the children!”
What are some of the challenges?
”Balancing security needs with creating an atmosphere in which children and dads can relax and bond. Winchester Prison’s main building is Victorian and not very flexible so you have to be creative. And while the activities might seem light-hearted, there’s extensive behind the scenes work involving the prison and statutory services. It takes time, tenacity and lots of paperwork!”
Why do you love what you do?
”This work we do with children and fathers in custody is the golden thread that is central to all other aspects of resettlement. If you help dads create strong bonds with their kids, it gives them the impetus for them to want to change – to get a job, stay off drugs, stay out of trouble – so they can be a good dad. In effect, it helps to press the ‘reset’ button.
About Spurgeons Prison-based family support service’s:
Spurgeons delivers family support in 12 prisons across England. These services provide family support services for prisoners and their families and friends who visit them, with a particular focus on children and strengthening family relationships. We appreciate how important prison visits are for everyone involved. Our aim is to make them less daunting so that the time spent together helps families to re-connect in a positive way. We are always here to offer practical and emotional support.
To learn more about our work in prisons, click here.