Mothers’ Union supports people in prisons and their families in many different ways across the globe. This may involve members visiting people in prison, praying with them and bringing them food and clothing. When children are staying with a parent in prison, the Mothers’ Union do all they can to improve conditions for these children, providing blankets and fruit and vegetables to supplement the poor provision of the prison diet. They will also make sure the prisoners' family is supported.
In Britain and Ireland, there are a total of 133 prisons with a population of just under 85,000 people. Mothers’ Union have a presence in many of these prisons, working through Prison Chaplaincies or directly with prison departments or organisations that are contracted to work in prisons.
Maintaining and Building Family Links
Statistics reveal that 45% of people in prisons lose contact with their families when they go to prison. Research also shows that maintaining family contact between those in prison and their families and friends is really essential not just for the well-being of those in prison and their resettlement and reduced rates of reoffending following the sentence, but also for the development, well-being and social inclusion of children. Therefore, much of the prisons work of the Mothers’ Union centres around supporting the continued connection between those in prison and their families. This is achieved through:
- Volunteering in prison visitors’ centres which is the first point of contact for those visiting the prison. Mothers’ Union ensure that visitors are warmly welcomed and informed or what to expect when they visit.
- Running support groups for people with a partner in prison for the first time to help them in communicating with children and preparing for prison visits. In some prisons, these highly appreciated groups are run on zoom.
- Family days which help build relationships between families and those in prisons through fun activities.
- Running prison creches.
- Read Together scheme where children and those in prison can read the same book together which helps maintain or build relationships giving them something to talk about.
- Working in partnership with other initiatives such as the Angel Tree or Operation Elf to ensure that children get a present at Christmas. One Mothers’ Union member who was present as children received Christmas gifts shared, “My highlight was not just seeing the delight on the children’s faces as they were given their gift but also the joy on the faces of their parents that their children were being valued in this way.”
Building Skills and Confidence
In some Prisons, Mothers’ Union run craft and cookery sessions, courses such as the being Dad and parenting groups. In HM Prison Low Newton there is a Mothers’ Union branch. In many prisons, the Mothers’ Union try to work with and support the prison chaplaincy and one activity that runs through all our prison work in prayer.
Restoring Dignity and Building Self-Worth through gifts of love
Not everyone feels able to work in a prison, but members can be involved by collecting or crafting essential items and gifts:
- Release bags filled with useful items like underwear, clothes, shopping vouchers and toiletries when they leave prison. This is an alternative to the clear plastic sacks with the prison name on that people will usually be provided with.
- Cards for Christmas and Easter. Some Mothers’ Union groups also provide chocolate and other small gifts. In 2021, Mothers’ Union were able to provide over 14,000 cards at cost price to be used in prisons around Britain and Ireland.
- Christmas Tree decorations have been crafted by many Mothers’ Union members. In Moorland prison in Sheffield diocese they were used to decorate the tree in the visitors centre and also placed in a basket for families to choose and take home with them when they made a Christmas visit.
- Supplying toys and craft materials for visitors centres and prison creches.
- Bags for first time Dads with a clothes for the baby, toiletries and something for the Mum to give when they visit for the first time.
As one of our Mothers’ Union volunteers describes it, “there is no standard way for us to work in a prison. What is important is that we listen to the needs and respond. We need to be flexible as the context in prisons is constantly changing. It is also about looking for need and responding and working with other organisations in partnership.”
If you are interested in getting involved in prisons work, there is bound to be a role that suits your interest and skills. Get in touch with your diocese for more information about how you can be involved locally. You could also join the movement of prayer during Prisons Week.
Mothers’ Union is one of the sponsors of Prisons Week. This is an annual event that has been running for over 40 years and it begins on the second Sunday of October.
Prisons Week raises awareness and generates prayer for all those affected by prisons - prisoners and their families, victims of crime and their communities, those working in the criminal justice system and the many people who are involved in caring for those affected by crime on the inside and outside of our prisons. Canon Tim Bryan, chair of the Prisons Week Working Groups, explains:
“It motivates volunteers to step forward and give their time and gifts, in prisons and in their own communities. It provides an annual focus and reason for Christians to work together, building capacity and motivation to make a difference for people who are out of sight and often out of mind.”
“Prisons Week reminds me of God’s heart to bring healing, peace and freedom to those caught up in the criminal justice system. Having worked as a police officer in the Met Police for 27 years, and then as a chaplain at Wandsworth Prison for 12 years I have seen something of the worst and the best aspects of human behaviour. It was in prison that I witnessed the power of prayer, of fellowship in adversity and the new life that Jesus offers.”
More information including a prayer guide, poster, film and details of events held during the week can be found on www.prisonsweek.org