Undoubtedly many of us have struggled with how pandemic restrictions have limited our communication with our families. But the children of prisoners have had little or no contact at all with their fathers since March 2020. Spurgeons staff at a cluster of Isle of Sheppey prisons have been doing all they can to bring a ray of hope during these difficult days.
“It’s been such a tough time for children with a parent in prison,” says Lauren Sutton, Spurgeons Senior Family Services Practitioner for Category B HMP Swaleside and open prison HMP Standford Hill. “The pandemic has turned their lives upside down and left many of them feeling very insecure. It’s a time when you need the reassurance that your dad still loves you and thinks about you, even if he is in prison. But there have been no family visits allowed for months. Security issues mean that children and dads can’t talk on Zoom like you or I might have kept in touch with our families. Normally prisoners would be able to phone their children and keep in touch that way. However, many of them rely on the earnings from their in-prison work to pay for those calls – and at the moment they can’t work, so they can’t make those phone calls.
And their families can’t phone them. I can only imagine what it’s like for the children – no phone calls, no opportunities to see their dad, no chance of a hug from him. I’ve seen tough prison dads reduced to tears because they miss the contact with their children so much.”
At Easter, the Spurgeons Prison Family Services team would usually run family days so that children visiting the prison could do some arts and crafts with their dad, spend time with him, maybe even have an Easter egg from him before they leave. It’s a little taste of normal family life that all of them treasure so much, and it provides the vital opportunity for children and parents to bond.
“Because that wasn’t possible this year,” says Lauren’s colleague Sarah Burke, “we invited residents to apply to attend Covid-19 secure craft workshops where they could make cards and gifts, either for the children themselves or for them to give to their mothers for Mother’s Day.
It was incredibly popular – we had over 80 prisoners taking part. ”
It’s about more than making crafts – it gives inmates a welcome opportunity to chat to the Spurgeons team and each other about their children. It also gives them an extra couple of hours away from their cells, where under Covid restrictions they can only otherwise leave for one hour a day, for a shower and exercise.
Others can see the benefits too. At a time when self-harm and suicide attempts are increasing amongst prisoners, the prison Psychology Department is now working with the Spurgeons team to support offenders with their wellbeing. And the Reducing Reoffending Governors have already asked Lauren and her colleagues to run workshops throughout the year, even when Covid restrictions are (as we hope) just a memory.
Sarah treasures a card that one of the prisoners made for her, and the message inside: “A huge thank you for helping me create a special Mother’s Day for my son L and my daughter B. You all do a lot more to help all of us than you realise, you have all managed to help us keep our family bonds strong, I truly am thankful to each and every one of you. I give you this card with a big thank you and kind thoughts.”
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.
To learn more about our work in prisons, click here.