Breda Power – London Prisons Case Manager
My journey to become a prison visitor for the Irish Chaplaincy has been a long and arduous one and at time daunting. I remember the first time I acquired a set of keys to enable me to manoeuvre around the prison without an escort. I was told by the managing chaplain “go on then, get lost in the prison”. I cannot remember a time when I felt more vulnerable at work. To say I could have quit there and then is an understatement. What got me through was reminding myself that my fear must be a miniscule fraction of what someone must feel when first brought to prison to serve a sentence and I consoled myself that I would be able to leave at the end of the day. I prayed to God that I would be able to see as many of those on my list as possible and not waste too much time ‘getting lost’.
I remember too the elation when my visit was over. I had seen around 20 prisoners with a range of issues: from phone credit to keeping in touch with family; advice on how to get accommodation on release; to support letters for various stages of the criminal justice process. However, nothing gave me more satisfaction than meeting the few who had no outside support at all. I remember one man telling me he had never had a social visit in all the years he had been in prison. I offered one person some phone credit but he declined, saying “I have no need for phone credit, miss, I have nobody to call”. Initially I felt awful for him but just as I was leaving he thanked me for visiting him and with a beaming smile said “please visit again”.
I usually have to unwind a little when I get home after prison visiting and I do this by practicing ‘gratitude’: gratitude that I can go home! No matter how hard my day was or how challenging some of the issues, I was able to go home. That is what I’m thankful for and what keeps me in my job as a prison visitor for the Irish Chaplaincy.
(This is an extract from an article that first appeared in the Autumn 2015 edition of ICPO News. The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO) was established by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference in 1985 in response to serious concerns regarding the number of Irish men and women in UK prisons)
Some of the many messages received by Breda in the last year…
- I have no-one and your visit made me feel good. I’ll put the money you sent to good use, again it means a lot. (Pentonville)
- Thank ye all so so much for all that ye have done for me over the years. I really appreciate it. (Wormwood Scrubs)
- Many thanks for the sundries. (Wandsworth)
- Thank you for everything (money, stamps, letters, rosary beads and support)- without you all things would be harder. (High Down)
- Thank you once again for your support throughout the year. It’s always nice when the ICPO News drops through my door, it puts a smile on my face just to know that there are people out there that care, and are thinking about me. (Wormwood Scrubs)
- A big Thank You for looking after me. (Family member)