Through her annual appeal for support for the Catholic Chaplaincy to HMP Send women's prison, Elizabeth Lewis provides us with a rare insight into the lives, circumstances and concerns of the prisoners she meets in the course of her volunteer work for the Chaplaincy. Elizabeth has kindly agreed to publish the text of her recent appeal.
HMP SEND ROMAN CATHOLIC CHAPLAINCY APPEAL
My name is Elizabeth Lewis. I am the volunteer assistant to the Roman Catholic chaplain at Her Majesty's Prison for women in Send. I have felt very privileged to work with prisoners in this Multifaith chaplaincy for the past 14 years. We have up to 280 prisoners.
You may find a few statistics of women in prison in the United Kingdom interesting:-
Our society often writes off prisoners as being bad people. I find they are just like the rest of us; they have the same aspirations - they want their children to have better lives than they have had.
Prison for women is not as “cushy” as the Media would like us to believe. They live by an imposed timetable. They have no mobile phones or internet access and limited time to speak with their children, with just 2 phones for 40 prisoners. In addition their mail is read and phone calls can be listened to by Security for the safety of the Prison.
The women work during the day and are locked in their cells from 7.45 pm Monday to Friday and from 4.30 pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday until the following morning.
I am in the prison on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. My work involves supporting all prisoners, officers and staff, of all faiths or none, who are in need. This could be by listening to their worries and hopes for the future, encouraging them to learn new skills, praying with them if they want to or just helping them to increase their self esteem. I go to the prisoners' rooms and visit those who have been placed on a vulnerable self-harm list, those who are confined to cell for misbehaviour and anyone else who has requested chaplaincy help.
On Wednesday afternoon I see all the new prisoners who have arrived during the week. They are often nervous and disorientated as HMP Send is different from their remand prison. They are told about the many courses which chaplaincy and other departments run so that they can learn new skills to help them to enter the work place on release. This one to one is a good time for them to start planning a new beginning.
Over the years the chaplaincy has introduced many new courses to help the women to move forward more positively with their lives. We run a Restorative Justice course which shows how their crime impacts on them, their victims and society at large. We also offer a Living with Loss and a Making sense of Forgiveness course as well as a Parenting course.
The “Making Connections” programme, which chaplaincy set up at Send, continues to have excellent results. The women are mentored before leaving Send. During this time they plan for when they leave prison, the jobs they will be allowed to apply for (this can be affected by their crime), housing, outside help etc. When they leave us we try to find a mentor in the community who will be there for support and advice. We are looking for people who have mentoring skills and would be prepared to help in this area. Whereas generally 40% of women are said to re-offend, it has been shown that only 14% of those who have taken part in this programme return to prison. Other prisons are asking for our help to set this up this course.
Tuesday is the Roman Catholic Sunday. There is a Roman Catholic Group in the afternoon where the women learn more about their Faith and the Bible. We have Mass in the evening. We thank our former parish priests Canon Colin, Father Alex and Father Alan for their involvement. Father Roy and Father Sebastian have already said Mass and we look forward to Fr Tony joining us. We are also grateful to Anne Hoye who plays for us at Mass.
I would like to thank you for the support you give to the Roman Catholic chaplaincy at Send - your prayers and also your generosity to my annual appeal. The money is carefully spent. As the prison population keeps changing there are ongoing expenses such as bibles, prayer cards, the Sunday Plus leaflet for the weekly Mass on Tuesday evenings, rosaries, rosary cards, beads for the women to make their own rosaries, study books and DVDs for the weekly Tuesday Catholic Group and also cards, books and DVDs who those who are being Confirmed. This year the women have studied the Sacraments, Revelation, and a CAFE bible course on God's Big Plan and are now studying St Mark's Gospel. £100 was given to The Angel Tree, a charity which buys and sends a £10 present at Christmas to each child aged under 16 years from their mother.
We are always looking for:
Thank you so much for your prayers and for your financial help. Your contributions to the HMP Send appeal today will be invaluable in helping us with our work.