For families, the impact of imprisonment is devastating. Their world is forever changed, stability falls away and feelings of guilt and shame take over. Families often tell us they become isolated, with no one to talk to for fear of being judged. As we approach Lent this year, we want to share Lizzy’s story with you. Whilst it is a story of isolation and loneliness, it’s also a story of hope, showing the impact of simple human kindness on the lives of others... 

When Lizzy’s husband went to prison, she was deeply shaken. He was her rock. He had taken care of everything, all the practical tasks involved in running a home - paying the bills, dealing with repairs - and when he was gone she realised just how much she relied on him. Finding herself suddenly alone, Lizzy’s mental health declined rapidly. She was frightened, and had begun talking to herself just to give herself a bit of comfort. Too ashamed to reach out to friends who she felt might judge her, Lizzy contacted the Pact team.   

Pact’s Befriending Co-ordinator, Maria, answered Lizzy’s call. Recognising that Lizzy was deeply suffering and very isolated, she talked to Lizzy about how our Befriending service might help. Pact Befrienders are trained volunteers who offer a listening ear, providing practical and emotional support over the phone once or twice a week. They are someone you can turn to when you’re feeling down or overwhelmed by the bewildering experience of having a loved one caught up in the justice system. They are there to support people to come to terms with the imprisonment of their loved one, and to become resilient so they can cope with the far reaching impacts of their family member’s sentence.  

Although a little hesitant, Lizzy agreed to give it a go, and Maria matched her with Jade, one of our Befriending Volunteers. 

Jade recalls:

I first met Lizzy after her husband had been in prison for a few weeks. I could sense that she unsure whether I was committed to helping her, but, as time went on and she could see I was keeping our appointments and sending her reminders, I showed her she could trust me. Slowly, Lizzy began to open up about how hard things were for her.

Through their regular calls, Jade soon realised that Lizzy had been living in total isolation. Jade was the only person Lizzy had had contact with since her husband went to prison, which had now been months. This isolation and the distress of coping with her husband’s sentence completely alone had begun to severely impact her mental and emotional wellbeing.  

Lizzy was also struggling with the practicalities of running her home alone. Together, Jade and Lizzy began to set targets; smallachievable tasks which helped Lizzy gain confidence, such as setting up a bank account in her own name. Jade also helped Lizzy to set up video calls, meaning Lizzy could enjoy regular video contact with her husband in prison. Lizzy loved being able to see his face and talk to himand it brought her great comfort. 

Having a Befriender like Jade, someone who is there for you, who doesn’t judge but who listens and supports, is a lifeline for people in situations like Lizzy’s. After five months of Befriending support, Lizzy is getting ready to move on. She’s much more independent and confident and has begun to have contact with a few friends. Daily life is more manageable for her and she’s coping much better with the “hidden sentence faced by so many prisoners’ loved ones.   

Could you offer a listening ear to a prisoner’s family member? Why not volunteer? Get in touch to find out more on [email protected] or visit www.prisonadvice.org.uk/volunteer  

I’m not sure how useful I am. Mostly I just listen. But they keep talking to me so maybe what I’m doing is OK.

Quote from a grandfather, and volunteer Pact Befriender.  

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