Of the 77,000 male prisoners in the UK, many are fathers. So what is it like to parent while in prison, and what are the challenges faced by both the dad behind bars, and the family left outside?
We spoke to Kennedy, an inmate at HMP Winchester, about his relationship with his kids.
A devastated family
When Kennedy first entered prison for his most recent sentence, his children were angry and upset. ‘It had a massive impact,’ he says. ‘My older two were at an age where they understand more. They hear things and they know what I’m in prison for. It caused a lot of drama at first. It was “you’ve gone to jail again, we don’t want anything to do with you. You’ve put drugs over us”.’
Kennedy has a total of six children, including a stepdaughter. Visits to see a parent in prison can be an intimidating experience for children. ‘The older kids don’t like the setting and my boy has autism, so he doesn’t like the doors being locked, the keys or the noise,’ explains Kennedy.
Support for all the family
At HMP Winchester, Spurgeons charity looks to ease the difficulties for families with a loved one in prison. Their staff run the visitation centre, welcoming families in with friendly faces and a fun children’s play area.
‘People expect the prison to be this upsetting experience for the children,’ says Katie Lavender, Spurgeons prison worker, ‘but what Spurgeons have managed to do is create a place in that prison that isn’t sad at all. Now these children walk in as if it’s somewhere they like being. Feeling comfortable for that child is so important.’
The staff also work with prisoners to improve their relationships with their children and be better fathers. Research shows that currently there are around 312,000 children in the UK affected by parental imprisonment. The family left at home often suffer judgement by the community, financial hardship and the children are more likely to suffer from poor mental health and anti-social behaviour. Spurgeons’ work in the prison looks to reduce these risks, and encourage a positive way forward for the whole family.
Changing parenting for the better
Spurgeons have worked with Kennedy to help improve his relationship with his children. ‘Before the kids would be like “You’ve not been there since I was 10, you can’t tell me what to do,”’ he explains. ‘But now I try to address things in a different way and explain myself more. Instead of “I’m your dad, listen to me”, I’ve changed my approach. Every day is a learning curve.’
He also keeps in constant contact with each of his children individually, sending cards, letters and hand- drawn pictures to them every few days. ‘I try to stay in contact as much as I can- family days, writing letters, drawing pictures, phone calls,’ he says. ‘It makes me feel like I’m showing them that I’m thinking of them everyday.’
Family days at the prison also enable the children to spend time with their dad in a more natural setting- regular visits do not allow for play or physical contact. Some children are even able to do their homework with their fathers- a slice of normality amongst missing their dads.
‘From working with Spurgeons, my relationship with all my kids has got better, 100%,’ Kennedy says.
Life after prison
Kennedy has worked with Spurgeons as he moves towards his release and resettlement in the community. The Behind the Wall Beyond the Gate programme run by Spurgeons will continue working with Kennedy and his family in a bid to avoid him re-offending and help them move forward. This approach looks to reduce inter-generational crime and encourage a happy future for the family.
‘I’ve been in 7 prisons before coming to this one and Spurgeons have been a big eye-opener and they’ve changed a lot of things for me,’ he says. ‘I’ve had them to talk to and they encourage me to do better, which has changed my life. To have that in other prisons as well would be amazing.’
To find out more about Spurgeons’ work in prisons, click here.