Saturday, 24 July 2010

Prisoners are people too ~ families in limbo

A lot of people spend a lot of time behind bars.  For most of us, our experience of prison is limited to what we see on television and in the newspapers; for others it's a time to be lived through, sometimes a very long time.

What happens to their families?  Each of us is related to lots of other people, prisoners are no different in this respect.  Children too easily lose touch with imprisoned parents, a loss which can be distressing to all concerned and result in deprivation and lasting harm.  A UK programme called 'Storybook Dads and Mums' addresses this by assisting imprisoned parents to make recordings of themselves reading stories to their children, who can then listen to them whenever they wish.  In this simple way affirmative contact can be maintained where other contact is threadbare or impossible. 
A similar programme is being carried out in some New Zealand prisons as mentioned in this article:
Other organisations in New Zealand also provide support for such children.  These are some of them:
Celia Lashlie, a former prison officer, has written eloquently about the mistakes and scenarios which can result in imprisonment in her book "The journey to prison: who goes and why".  In many instances it is a result of poor choices and thoughtless behaviour rather than malice.  These are people who have simply gone off the rails.  Others have never had what most of us would consider a normal and supportive family background and have drifted into destructive ways of life.  Most can benefit from properly structured rehabilitation and inclusion, rather than societal rejection and exclusion.  There are no easy answers or quick fixes, but we're all people and we all deserve the opportunity to change for the better.

Concerned about the number of young men who end up in prison as a result of stupid behaviour, Celia Lashlie has written a crisp, forthright book entitled "He'll be OK: growing gorgeous boys into good men".  When my brothers were visiting from England they both bought a copy and found it excellent.  One their boy's headmasters to whom it was lent said that all his teachers should read it!  It is available in the UK.  Thanks, Celia, for your generosity of spirit and your dedication to the greater good of all of us!

There are organisations which focus on assisting released prisoners to re-think and re-build their lives, which are run largely by volunteers, it would seem.  This article about the 'Prisoner's Aid and Rehabilitation Society' indicates the value of such schemes.  Sadly it also shows how easily vital funding cuts can erode the slender resources of these dedicated people.  It also reflects the political popularity of punitive measures over remedial strategies, which is both near-sighted and crazy: crime is so often driven by poverty and lack of education.  How much more sense it makes to help these people get back on their feet as constructive and contributing members of society, which gives all of us the chance of living in healthier and safer communities.

There are other groups which are dedicated in similar directions.  Two of them are:
  • this article on the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services website which focuses on prison visiting.
There are others.  I remember reading about one man who had been a letter writer to inmates for years, providing a link for these people with the outside world. 

I've read repeatedly that boredom is a big problem for prison inmates.  For them to have something constructive to do and to think about must be worthwhile, and efforts focused on building healthy family connections especially so.

Since writing the above article I've been very pleased to find these additional stories:

Book shop details for interested NZ readers:
"The journey to prison: who goes and why"
The Journey to Prison: Who Goes and Why?

"He'll be okay: growing gorgeous boys into good men"
He'll be Ok: Growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men

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