What is your role?

I am the Family Services Manager at HMP Coldingley and for other family services across Surrey and Kent.

Describe your Pact journey so far?

After graduating with a BSc Sociology and Criminology degree,  I started volunteering for Pact as a Befriender to gain some experience of the Criminal Justice System. I was paired with a lady whose only son had been sent to prison, and she had since been threatened. The whole experience had left her scared, lonely and confused. I realised how difficult it is for people who have a loved one in prison and just how forgotten they are.

I was offered my first post with Pact as a part-time Family Support Worker in the Visitors’ Centre at HMP Wandsworth. The hours were barely enough to live off and the job description included making tea. My family thought I was crazy but I was over the moon to be offered the role. I quickly learned the importance of being able to offer a cup of tea to a stressed visitor that had, had a long and often anxious journey. My role was to check the families in as they arrived for the visits, explain the prison procedures and offer support and information.

I later decreased my hours in the Visitors’ Centre to work on another Pact project at HMP Wandsworth, the First Night in Custody service, as a Link Worker. I would try and see all new prisoners the evening they arrived to identify their needs, refer them on to other appropriate services and contact their family to pass on messages and answer their questions.

After a couple of years away from Pact I was given the opportunity to return in a more senior role as a Family Engagement Manager at HMP Wandsworth and HMP Brixton.   Managing a small team I was able to shape the service offered, introducing services like Storybook Dads and deliver relationship and parenting courses.

At this point I decided to take a career break and spent a year travelling in Africa. On my return to the country I was able to start work with Pact straight away, initially as a Relief Worker and later as a full-time Family Engagement Worker at HMP & YOI Isis. Although it was not my ultimate goal, I was pleased to step straight back into work and doing something I loved.

In my current role I am a Family Services Manager, based at HMP Coldingley where we run play services, family support and Groupwork. I am also responsible for the Baby and Homework Clubs, and Play at three prisons on the Isle of Sheppey, as well as family engagement work in three other prisons in the south east. This is the fourth time I have worked for Pact.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

I usually start work at about 8:30am. When I enter the prison I leave my mobile in a locker and pick up my keys which I attach to a chain on my belt. Sometimes my bag and pockets are searched. I make my way to the Pact Office which is located on a wing that holds approximately 90 prisoners. I let the Prison Officers know I am on the wing and check the Observation Book to see if there have been any incidents. Once I reach the office, every day is different. I hold a small caseload but due to the nature of my current role an increasing amount of time is spent on the computer typing up reports, supervisions notes or attending meetings. A lot of our work is quite reactive and needs based. The phone will ring a lot with families who are worried that they haven’t heard from their son, or because they don’t understand the process for something like parole. Being based on the wing we are also very accessible to the prisoners, they often knock on the door because they are worried about their family in the community, would like some colouring to send out to their children, or just need somebody to talk to. The days when the rest of the team are not in I have to try and prioritise what is most important and the crying mum on the end of the phone usually wins.

What have you got from working at Pact?

Over the years I have grown in confidence. I have learned how to deliver interactive, thought-provoking training.

What is the best thing about working at Pact?

Pact is constantly changing and growing. This has allowed me to gain experience on a variety of different projects and progress with my career development. We have merged with other charities which has expanded and improved the services we are able to offer.

What are you most proud of achieving at Pact?

I am most proud of the change I see on a daily bases in the lives and thinking of the prisoners and families we work with. I am also proud of the work we do with prison staff to change attitudes towards the family services they provide.