Mothers’ Union Committed to Caring for Prisoners and their Families
Article featured on Mothers’ Union website:
Mothers’ Union members work with prisoners and their families, helping them to stay together during the toughest times. This support includes literacy training and parenting education. In the UK, members run family support days and crèches in visitor centres, provide books so prisoners and their young relatives can share positive experiences, at Christmas they send Christmas cards to prisoners and gifts to their children.
Sue Rivers, Mothers’ Union Diocesan President in Llandaff says, “We are doing such wonderful work in Parc Prison in supporting families and the men who find themselves in prison. By providing a safe area for children to play during prison visiting times, enables families to have deep and meaningful conversations with their relatives, be it partners, husbands and wives, sons and mothers, grandsons and grandparents. It also facilitates quality time with their children in a non-threatening environment.”
Sue continues, “Parc Prison is the only prison in the European Union that currently holds the ‘Investors in Families’ accreditation and Mothers’ Union is proud to be working in association with the Family and Significant Others Strategy.”
Families are affected in many ways when a father is imprisoned and the children are often the innocent victims of this situation. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) states that no child should be discriminated against because of the situation or status of their parents (Article 2). “Mothers’ Union, through our work in facilitating the play area, is supporting children and preventing discrimination. In some way we are doing Christ’s work through volunteering in the Play Area in Parc Prison,” says Sue.
Jodie Taylor has been running the crèche in Parc Prison for almost 12 years. She says, “The community in the prison face all sorts of challenges, living life without the husband and father while he is in prison, travelling often large distances to visit, children having to miss school to be able to visit. Often the children have been mocked and called names because their father is in prison. All this plus having to adjust to a different sort of life.”
This mum and wife of a prisoner in Parc Prison has been immensely helped by the play area. She says, “When we visited the prison first none of us knew what to expect, the children were very wary but then they discovered there was a play area and the children are allowed to wander in and out whenever they want to during the visit time. It’s wonderful to know the children were safe and supervised. They were encouraged to bring things out to show their father, often making pictures or cards that he could keep, it gave us the opportunity to talk about important things without doing it in front of the children.
A snapshot of some of Mothers’ Union’s prison work
Lynda, Mothers’ Union Prison Volunteer, Coventry Diocese “I open the visit centres for the visiting families and friends to come and wait until the officers come to book them in for their visits. I will chat with them and make them a drink if they want one. If it their first time they may have questions which I try and answer. I go inside the prison once a month to help with the family days and I attend the church service on a Sunday. It is so very important because families are suffering at times, often juggling working and looking after their children and long journeys to get to the prison. We provide Christmas presents for the children visiting their dads at the family days at Christmas and I also gave out presents when children came on Christmas Eve.”
Vira Marthe, Provincial Community Development Coordinator, Democratic Republic of Congo
“In the Diocese of North Kivu we have a visitors programme where we visit, pray and run vocational skills training. They make handcrafts, nappies and other products by hand. They are happy when Mothers’ Union members arrive because they are entertained and eat well.
Mothers’ Union Prison Volunteer, Southwark Diocese
We provide gifts for between 130-140 children. The number of children varies from year to year. In addition, some local churches also donate gifts for about another 50 children. Frequently these are soft toys, so I avoid purchasing soft toys as part of our contribution. The ages range from between birth to 16 years. The majority of children are between the ages of 3 and 12 and I try to buy accordingly. As I do not know in advance the gender split or ages, I try to buy a number of unisex presents such as games, lego and crafts. However, I do also purchase toy cars, dolls, kitchen paraphanalia (toy vegetables, shopping trolley) and jigsaws. For the older boys and girls, I try to purchase small toiletry packs. It is important that they are as simple as possible to avoid any allergic reactions.
Members are involved at Little Hey prison near Huntingdon. They run three activities: A Relationships Course to help (re) establish good relationships when released with family. A coffee morning mainly for prisoners who don’t have visitors. Attending the prison chapel service.
Mothers’ Union was instrumental many years ago in helping to set up the Visitor Support Centre at Haverigg Prison in Cumbria. A small number still volunteer in the play area, and have organised grants from Dream Toys to supply new toys. Members write and send Christmas cards each year.