When I first started working for the ICPO (Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas) back in early 2007, I quickly became aware of how important it was for clients to keep contact with their families. A high number of ICPO clients do not receive family visits as visiting a prison in England and Wales from overseas can be extremely difficult.
Most are remote and very hard to reach, and it can be a daunting experience to say the least especially with children in tow. ICPO would sometimes send a small grant for phone credit; a telephone call to family being the next best thing to a visit.
I was soon introduced to Sarah, a young lady of 15 whose father was serving a lengthy sentence of 20 years. Sarah was being cared for by the local authority as she had no other family. Her dad Bill, as you can imagine, was very concerned for Sarah, but as she was only 15 she was unable to visit her dad without an adult. Bill could handle anything prison life could throw at him but not being able to see Sarah was very distressing for him. Although they had regular contact by phone, Bill needed to see his daughter and this was the same for Sarah; all she wanted was to see her dad.
After a discussion with Fr Gerry and Breda, it was agreed that myself and Breda would escort Sarah on a social visit. I remember how excited and grateful Bill was, he couldn’t wait to get back to his cell and get the visiting order posted. This was the start of many visits to see Bill with his daughter and one of the best parts of my job. I know that being able to see Sarah, Bill was able to progress through his sentence and is now in an open prison and looking forward to his release. I have not needed to escort Sarah for a visit for some years now as she has her own family and still visits her dad regularly with the 3 grandchildren. Due to ICPO Bill was able to keep up contact and have a relationship with his daughter, and both are now looking forward to the future knowing they have each other for support.
(NB Names have been changed)
Liz Power (ICPO – National Caseworker)