I spent yesterday evening at a Parliamentary Reception marking the work of Prison Visitor Centres across Scotland and the support for them from the National Prison Visitor Centre Steering Group. The work done by an amazing bunch of dedicated staff and volunteers in Visitor Centres, such as the one Cyrenians runs at HMP Addiewell, to stand with and support some of the most stigmatised and excluded of families was inspiring.
A young woman, 14 years old, spoke of her experience of being the daughter of someone in prison. She is part of KIN, a support group of young people in the same place as her run by the amazing people at Families Outside. She asked for some simple things to happen which would make her life much easier;
- For prison staff to treat her as a person with opinions and value, not as a prisoner or even worse, just not even there
- For support for teenagers in her situation to be made deliberately available
- For people to accept her as she is, not through the prism of her fathers decisions
- For resources to be made available in prisons for the visits to be more normal
Hers was a strong voice but as yet too little heard. We know those who are visited in prison by their family, whatever family means to them, are up to six times less likely to re-offend. But that’s still focusing on the prisoner. She was calling for the focus to be on her and those in her situation; the ones impacted directly by the actions of a family member but who themselves are not offenders yet often feel treated as if they are.
The event was part of Prisoners Week – a time when there is a strong focus on prisons and how we need to reform our criminal justice system to be more centered around rehabilitation and redemption than retribution. Yet for that to work, we need to remember and support those whose lives are in some cases utterly destroyed by the actions of their family members, but who themselves are ignored or rejected too. Prisoners Week is an initiative of the faith communities. All the major religions and many others from a non-religious perspective hold as central to their creed what’s called the “golden rule” – “Do to other as you would have them do to you”. Deep inside the words of the young woman who spoke so powerfully last night was that cry – “Please do to me as you would hope I would do to you”… I hope we are all able to hear her cry this week and beyond.
23rd November 2017