Jess (not her real name) had no experience of visiting a prison before her partner was imprisoned at HMP Elmley on the Isle of Sheppey a world away from the family home in Northern Ireland where she lived with their three children. Here, Jess takes the opportunity to share her experience as a prisoner’s partner and how Spurgeons Prison Family Support Services supported her, her partner and her children to spend precious time together and re-connect positively by providing practical and emotional support. Jess writes in her own words:
‘‘My name is Jess*, I am the partner of Dan* who is currently a prisoner at HMP Elmley and has been there since the end of last year. Together we are the parents of 3 beautiful children; Kayne* aged 6; Rose* aged 3 and Leo* aged 1.
‘‘Having a partner serving a prison sentence under any circumstances I am sure is extremely difficult and somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster but adding 3 small children into the mix and the fact the prison is in a different country leaves things that bit harder.
‘‘Neither myself, my children or Dan had any prior experience with prison, either in an inmate or a visitor capacity. I will never forget my first trip over to see Dan and the worry and anxiety it caused, we entered into unknown territory and the prospect of introducing my children to this was to be honest just a living nightmare.
‘‘Fast forward to now and I wish I had known then what I do now. Don’t get me wrong, in no sense am I making light of the circumstances I find myself in but what I am trying to say is that the help and support myself and my family have received from the Family Services team at HMP Elmley has been a total lifeline.
‘‘They have provided an environment for myself and my family which is warm and friendly, one where I have no issues bringing my children to. My eldest child, Kayne visits with me most weeks as he is at an age where he needs to see his Daddy and the visits have helped him deal with the fact his Daddy isn’t at home. He talks about the staff in Family Services constantly when we are at home, they make such a deal of him, playing, talking, and going that extra mile when it was his birthday, they have made our experience of prison a lot less daunting than I ever thought possible.
‘‘The Family Day events, in particular, are brilliant, they allow me to take my three children and visit Dan and we can be there as a complete family unit, we get our pictures taken together and this allows me to put photos up at home, current photos, not ones taken last year, which backs up in the children’s heads that although Daddy isn’t here we are very much still a family.
‘‘If I ever have any problems and I speak to the staff in Family Services or other staff at the prison. I have never once been left without my query being answered or someone coming back to me, this gives me the reassurance I need in this uneasy time.
‘‘From the bottom of my heart I would like to thank you all for making this situation easier, clearer and a lot more manageable than my mind allowed me to believe it ever would be back in October 2021.’’
Lisa Hall, Family Services Manager for HMP Isle of Sheppey Prisoner Families Services adds:
‘‘Dan has now been moved to a prison up the country in preparation for his cross-border transfer back to Northern Ireland so he can be nearer to the family and the impact of travelling to and from the prison for weekly visits on his children can be limited. I am happy to say the Spurgeons team played a huge part in getting this transfer arranged and worked closely with the Prison Operations and Allocations Departments at HMP Elmley.’’
*Names have been changed to provide anonymity
About Spurgeons Prison-based Family Support Services:
Spurgeons delivers family support services 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.
Spurgeons’ Prison-based family support services on the Isle of Sheppey were highly commended in the Family Support category at the 2021 Children & Young People Now Awards.
To learn more about our work in prisons, click here.