Many people decide to volunteer because they want to make a difference to the lives of those less fortunate than themselves. Prisoners are some of the most vulnerable people in society and deciding to volunteer in a role that benefits prisoners can be extremely rewarding. There are lots of different voluntary positions available, both in and out of prisons, some that teach prisoners new skills and others that aim to generate funds that help to support prisons. This blog post will consider several different voluntary roles that might inspire others to get involved and can be used by volunteer engagement leaders to present extra opportunities to their volunteers.
The ability to land one of these roles depends on the educational and professional background of the candidate – they need to be a qualified counsellor and likely have some experience before they could take on a prison role. Sometimes these roles are voluntary and other times they are paid – it depends on the prison and the amount of time required from the counsellor.
It also requires a special kind of person; someone with plenty of emotional and physical resilience in order to avoid burnout in such a challenging role. Not only are prisoners frequently from disadvantaged backgrounds, but they live in a difficult environment in custody and this can present many challenges for the counsellor. It is also a different working environment for the counsellor themselves, as therapy is supposed to provide the patient with a freeing experience and instead the prisoner remains locked up at the end of the session.
However, this kind of work can be extremely rewarding for the counsellor – it allows them to work with people that need their help the most and they are likely to see patients enjoy great benefits. Counselling can be a lifeline for those in custody and counsellors can help teach a prisoner to connect with their emotions and improve their wellbeing. For those interested in counselling in prisons, it Is worth contacting the Counselling in Prisons Network.
This is an initiative of charity The Prison Fellowship and involves volunteers outside of prison walls. It is perhaps more accessible to those who have employment commitments, as they engage volunteers around the Christmas period as opposed to throughout the entire year. Volunteers are recruited to help source gifts for prisoners’ children, wrap them and send them with a note written by the parent.
Christmas is a difficult time of year for both the prisoner and their children, as families are supposed to come together and enjoy festivities at home. Providing the child with a gift from their parent helps to lessen the blow of them not being with them over the festive period. Angel Tree has a huge positive impact on prisoners and their families and can help strengthen family bonds that enable the prisoner to eventually return home with less likelihood of repeat offending.
For those who engage volunteers as part of their job, it is a great idea to put forward Angel Tree as a possible project of interest. More information about getting involved can be found on their website.
Many prisons have resident creatives who come from a range of professional backgrounds: they might be writers; poets; artists; musicians; playwrights; and many more. Getting prisoners involved in creative exercises can help them discover skills they never knew they had and creative expression is strongly linked to improved wellbeing and resilience.
As with counselling, these kinds of roles are sometimes voluntary and sometimes paid. Past projects have involved male prisoners writing a play and then others acting in it, eventually presenting it to the rest of the prison; and female prisoners writing poetry to help them express how they feel about the crimes they have committed and the impact of being away from their families.
Other projects recruit volunteers from crafts backgrounds, inviting each volunteer into the prison once a fortnight to hold sewing and stitching sessions with prisoners. An example is Fine Cell Work, a project that sees creatives and prisoners make different products such as cushions, bags, footstalls, quilts and table runners. These are then sold on their website.
For resident creative opportunities, it is best to contact prisons directly and see what opportunities are available. Although not looking for new volunteers in prisons at present, it is worth checking the Fine Cell Work website regularly to stay informed of when new opportunities become available.
You might also be interested in:
- Engaging older people in voluntary work (blog) - volunteering at an advanced age can be hugely beneficial for both the volunteer's health and wellbeing and puts their skills to good use
- What volunteering can do for your future - combine active citizenship with informal learning (blog) - considers how volunteering can benefit volunteers' futures, the skills they learn and the link between active citizenship and the voluntary sector
- Prison education and library services for adult prisons in England (resource) - this Policy Framework details the minimum mandatory requirements which are needed to deliver education and library services in adult prisons in England
- Look after your mental health using mindfulness (resource) - The Mental Health Foundation have created a helpful booklet detailing the benefits of using mindfulness techniques and may be of particular use to those acting as mental health first aiders in the workplace
- The Hardman Directory for prisoners and those recently released (resource) - enables prisoners and those recently released to find supplementary funding and other financial support, allowing them to start thinking about their future