Sam’s* little girls remember her tucking them in at night, a long time ago. They were both so young when she went to prison - just three and five years old – but they never forgot her smile as she told them to sleep well, have sweet dreams. It would be six years before they would see her smile in person again…

Although she had tried to hide it, Sam had been struggling for months before she was sent to prison. She had a history of severe mental health difficulties and had begun self-harming as she spiralled. As she began serving her prison sentence, she was reassured to know that her two little girls would be staying with their father, in the home they had all lived in together. He was fiercely protective of them and would make sure they were kept safe. Perhaps because of this, sadly, the girls’ father was reluctant to let them visit the prison to see Sam. He did not want to cause them more upset, having to leave their mum behind time and time again. They could keep in touch by writing letters, or on the phone, but that was all. Six long years passed without Sam seeing her daughters face to face. 

Then, the girls’ father was arrested. While he was awaiting a court date, the girls came to the attention of social services, who recognised how important it was for them to have contact with their mum – it didn’t matter that she was in prison; she had been a good, loving mum, and the girls benefitted greatly from their relationship, so ensuring they kept that bond was extremely important. Sam shared this incredible news with Pact’s Family Engagement Manager, Emily, who had been supporting Sam during her sentence. Sam told Emily that she couldn’t wait to see her girls, but she was feeling overwhelmed, too. It had been such a long time – her ‘little’ girls were now nine and eleven! Would they want to see her? Emily said she would do everything she could to support her and her children through the reunion, which would be a profoundly emotional experience for them all.

Emily was true to her word. She tried hard to prepare Sam for the visit, talking through her worries and concerns, and working alongside the prison staff and mental health team to make sure the visit could go ahead safely. She also spoke to the girls about how they were feeling, and even showed them photographs of the prison where their mum lived, so they would be familiar with the surroundings. She explained that their mum would very likely be crying when they saw her - but reassured them that these would be tears of joy and not sadness.

When the girls arrived at the prison, Emily met them at the gate. They were very nervous, but excited, and seeing Emily gave them the confidence they needed to meet their mum. Emily had also arranged games for them to play and activities for the family to do together, so that Sam and the girls could spend time getting to know each other again. Emily also took great care to make Sam feel as comfortable as possible, and they agreed a safe word Sam could use if she became overwhelmed with the intense emotion of being reunited with her children.

But Sam didn’t have to use the safe word. As soon as she saw her children, her anxiety started to ease. She couldn’t quite believe it was happening – but her girls were there to see her, and the visit was wonderful. It had certainly been worth the wait.

Following the success of the first visit, Sam began to see her children regularly. On one Family Day at the prison, she was able to spend six hours with her girls, and Emily arranged to have photographs of them taken throughout the day, so they all had something to remember it by.

A few months later, Sam was transferred from the prison to a secure mental health unit, so she could get the care she needed. Emily was there to make sure that the team at Sam’s new residence understood how important it was for her to see her children – and the visits continued. Sam even got to see one of the girls on her tenth birthday. Everyone who knew Sam was amazed at the difference the girls’ visits had made to her: she was no longer just a prisoner, but a mother again.

*names have been changed to protect anonymity

Find out more

Please note: The story outlined above happened pre-Covid, before the restrictions on social visits. If your prison has a Pact Worker, you can reach them directly by emailing [prisonname]@prisonadvice.org.uk e.g. [email protected]. They will be happy to support you on maintaining and strengthening your relationship with your loved one in prison during these incredibly difficult times. 

  • Read Mum's the Word, our easy-to-read, practical book for mothers in prison. It is based on a series of workshops facilitated by Pact with mothers in HMP Eastwood Park and HMP Bronzefield. Bringing hope and encouragement, it is a realistic and honest attempt to deal with the difficult issues facing mothers in prison, their children and those who are caring for children on the outside. 
  • Listen to Women Flip the Script, a unique collection of audio and visual resources made with and for a mothers with some experience of the criminal justice system. 
  • Help more people like Sam get the support of a Family Engagement Manager by donating to support our work.