It's all due to Nancy. She started it, we work in prison because of the power of her words. Prof Nancy Loucks is from the charity Families Outside, she said that approximately 50% of men lose contact with their families once they go into prison. We were at a conference at the time and Nancy spoke about the great work that Families Outside carries out across Scotland.
The figure of 50% really was a red flag to us, we were blown away by the sheer scale of this, the fact that so many families fall apart is scandalous. We saw a real opportunity to do something about it. The idea of doing something stayed with us as time went on.
We looked around at what was currently being done to support families in prison and it seemed, well patchy to say the least. There were some examples of really great positive work, but there are lots of prisons where there is little focus on the family.
I say families in prison as I do believe that when either parent/grandparent is in prison it involves the whole family, and they all need to be seen and heard.
We came up with a plan to take our award winning playgroups into the prison setting, we applied for funding and spoke to some local prisons.
We've been lucky enough to have been working in HMP Addiewell since October 2015, we're now ten months in and it's been truly amazing to be there. It has it's challenges and certainly keeps you on your toes, which has been good for us.
We hoped that we would build good relationships with the dads and their children, and to be honest as we were so focused on the dads, we didn't think too much about the mums. In a similar way to our playgroups in the community, the prison playgroup needs the mums. They are our champions, if they see the benefit they help the dads to understand why it's good to play alongside your children.
I don't know if you've ever been in prison, I'll work on the basis you've not. The process of going into prison to visit someone is a bit like going for a flight at an airport. There is a lot of waiting involved and patience is vital! So in a similar way to waiting for your flight, there's time to chat as we wait to go upstairs to the visitors hall. The same happens when we're coming out of prison, there is a wait to move from room to room. Whilst this happens it gives you time to talk, and build relationships.
So what's happened since we've been working in prison is that we've grown to know the mums, children and dads. It's been an absolute privilege to be part of their lives and I'm pleased to say there has been some truly amazing playing by the dads. As for the children, they are fantastic. Children as we know have great resilience and find joy in the smallest of moments and simplest of pleasures.
One dad said to me this week, 'I've played along with my kid more in here than I do outside'. Another dad said to me 'it's brilliant to be able to do stuff with my kids'.
We've seen dads feed their babies and children, play alongside them, sing to them, read to them.
Working with families in prison has changed us, and challenged us. How families survive and indeed thrive whilst still being in prison is testament to their resilience. There is clear research that states if a father has a good relationship with his family he is less likely to re-offend.
The staff that work in prisons are key to the success of any project and we've been fortunate that there has been a great amount of passion from the staff for our project. Our main contact at the prison understood from day one why it's important for dads to have time with their children.
Time and time again research shows us that children need their fathers, their grandfathers. Where there is love there is hope and the ability to continue to have strong, positive relationships no matter what barriers are in place. I see the love and hope every week, it flows through the barred windows and the cast iron doors. There is humour, there is tension, there is opportunity for the dads to be more and be better.
We're doing our part, we're chipping away at that 50% stat, and thank goodness for Nancy.