Jesus was speaking in a time long before the coronavirus came along and put a stop to prison visiting.
During the pandemic many prisoners have been banged-up (confined to their cells) for up to 23 ½ hours per day, and with activities and education cancelled. Most work too has been suspended, and with it the chance to earn a little bit of money with which to purchase basic necessities or make a phone call. One of the letters we received showed the unenviable choice about how to spend the daily half an hour of ‘freedom’: to take a shower; to join the queue for the phone (assuming you have the means to make a call); or to go into the exercise yard, where there may be a distinct lack of social distancing. Travellers have been perhaps particularly affected by this confinement in a tiny space for large periods of time.
The fantastic team at the Irish Chaplaincy has been unable to make the usual regular visits to the hundreds of Irish and Irish traveller prisoners in England & Wales, but has been as busy as ever, supporting people in other ways. There have been many phone calls, including to the families of prisoners (often back in Ireland), and to various prison staff; and at Easter over 1,000 people were contacted via ‘e-mail a prisoner’ with an individual message of hope and a special prayer written by our Fr Gerry. Phone credit has been provided to many people, so they can keep in touch with loved ones. And it is this maintenance of family contact which is said to be the single most crucial factor in eventual successful rehabilitation.
The team has supplied in-cell resources to about 500 people, which have included books, CDs, mindful-colouring, pens, puzzles, games and hobby equipment. And 103 Irish women in custody were sent a special pack (seen in the above picture). One recipient wrote from HMP Bronzefield:
“The colouring book is so lovely, means so much, made me cry. I love felt tip pens also, really helps me with mental health side.”
There have been many other messages of thanks, including this recent one:
“Yous are lovely people and if I ever get out I’d like to volunteer if of course you need any help with anything as I think yous do amazing service to people in difficult situations.”
The team is now assembling and sending out ‘Keeping Connected’ packs, comprising: notepad, a pack of envelopes, greetings cards, nice pens, credit for stamps, and a prayer card. Again, this will facilitate the crucial contact with family at a time when visits are not happening.
The team will be much in demand for their visiting, at such time as they can resume. For the time being, the amazing service continues.
October 11th-17th 2020 is Prisons Week