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Committed to prison work

With Prisons Week in October, Becky Weaver-Boyes, UK Regional Development Manager, reflects on the ongoing work Mothers’ Union members do in prisons around the UK

29 Oct 2019

We’re so excited that this October Mothers’ Union will, for the first time, be a sponsor of Prisons Week. We’ll have the opportunity to share more about the valuable work that Mothers’ Union members do across the spectrum of need around prisons and to ask churches to pray for prisoners, their families, prison staff, victims of crime and all those in the justice system. 
The prisons work Mothers’ Union members do is incredibly varied. Some are inside prisons interacting with prisoners, showing love and acceptance and helping prisoners to feel valued and to have hope. Other members work with the families of prisoners as they visit their loved ones, providing a safe space without judgement where children can play and partners of prisoners can feel understood and cared for. There are other members who support prisoners as they leave prison, providing sturdy bags containing clothes and toiletries to help them get restarted with dignity on their journey back into life on the outside.

Mothers’ Union often works in effective partnerships with prison chaplaincies and other organisations to bring its love and care for families in all their forms. We asked Rachel Shackleton from Spurgeons, which delivers government contracts in 12 prisons where some Mothers Union members volunteer, what difference it makes to families to have a warm, friendly and safe welcome when they arrive:

‘[It makes] a huge difference, especially [to] first-time visitors or those expecting a difficult visit. Even for regular visitors, there are so many emotions going on – some are tired after long journeys, or angry and ashamed about even being there, worried about how the prisoner is, anxious about how children are coping. Children might be over-excited or scared or not even sure where they are...A friendly welcome, somewhere to sit and talk, or play, a kind and non-judgmental response to questions and situations can help to reassure and defuse things.’

Rachel feels Mothers’ Union members’ unique offering is their ‘steadfastness and commitment…Often over a long period of time prisoners, staff, governors and especially Ministers of Justice come and go; but amongst all the changes and the difficult environment [Mothers’ Union members] continue to serve families and children in person and in prayer.’

Rita has volunteered in two of her local prisons for 11 years and said she feels the prisoners respond very positively to Mothers’ Union members because: ‘we are non-threatening grannies. Often prisoners have been raised by their grandmothers so they generally have a lot of respect for their grannies!’

Amongst other activities, Rita and her team organise regular Dad’s Days, where prisoners are able to spend an extended amount of time with their children. While doing activities together they have a great opportunity to nurture their relationships. Often young prisoners have had a limited, if any, time with their children so a Dad’s Day is precious time where children and dads can play together.
Rita also runs a programme supporting prisoners who want to create a book for their children. This book provides a unique present for children to keep. One mum told Rita that her child took his dad’s book to bed every night and wouldn’t let it go! It also helps prisoners who have struggled with literacy to grow in confidence.

When asked if other members could do the same in their local prisons Rita said: ‘it’s always best to ask how we can best help…we need to be prepared to do what is needed in that particular situation’. To see the variety of work that Mothers’ Union members do in response to the needs in and around prisons across the world is humbling and inspiring.

The Angel Tree programme

Rita also feels that ‘to have the greatest impact we need to work with other charities that are also involved in prison work’. One area that many members across Britain and Ireland get involved in is through the Angel Tree programme, which is run by Prison Fellowship. Through this Mothers’ Union members have helped prisoners connect with their children and their mothers through Christmas and Mother’s Day gifts.

Requests come through prison chaplaincies and Prison Fellowship works with Mothers’ Union members to source and wrap gifts suited to each recipient and then sends them to prisoners’ families.
We asked Prison Fellowship how this has impacted prisoners and their families and they told us the story of Ashley*, who said: ‘when I did receive a card saying that the presents had been sent to my children – not just random gifts but things I had suggested – a piece of my hardened heart began to crack. Those gifts were the first my children had received from me in years. Not only did they soften my heart, but they also brought hope to my children.’

Get involved
Why don’t you get involved in Prisons Week (13–19 October 2019) too? You can do this by encouraging your branch, diocese and church to pray and share more about Mothers’ Unions’ prison work. Prisons’ Week posters are available for download on the Prisons Week website and from Mary Sumner House.


*Name changed to protect identity