Angels spread joy for Norfolk prison inmates
Inmates in a Norfolk prison will send heartfelt messages and gifts to their children to open on Christmas morning even though they are miles away, thanks to an innovative Christian project. Sandie Shirley reports.
Thanks to Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree scheme and the Diocese of Norwich Mothers’ Union, inmates at Wayland Prison, near Watton, will be able to connect with their children during the festivities.
Angel Tree is founded on love and reconciliation as it aims to underpin and build on family relationships when a parent ends up in prison. When Sybil Martin first heard about the scheme, after moving to Wymondham and joining Mothers’ Union, she became an ardent champion. As a retired teacher in a challenging area in London she had witnessed the dire effects suffered by a few of her class pupils who had a parent in prison.
“I still remember those children. Although the parent does the crime, the children do the time as the ripples spread out,” she said.
Now Sybil helps spearhead the annual MU outreach of buying, wrapping and sending presents to ease the plight of suffering families after receiving a list of children’s first names, age, gender and suggested gift from Wayland Prison, via inmates.
“We also pray for each child and there is the option to include an age-appropriate Christian story and a personal hand-written gift tag from dad. It is a wonderful and rewarding scheme,” explains Sybil.
“The books include gospel stories and Bible stories popular with boys such as David and Goliath and Daniel in the lion’s den as well as alternatives about ethical dilemmas. They are supplied by Prison Fellowship and produced by ethical publishing houses,” says Sybil.
Mothers’ Union is a worldwide organisation committed to putting their faith into action, enabling and transforming lives and upholding family values. Angel Tree is one of 15 projects that is championed by the Diocese of Norwich which covers Norfolk and NW Suffolk.
Sybil said: “It is social, and everyone is supportive of one another in our 40 branches while looking for things that need to be done in the world and our local area.
“The reoffending rate in British jails is absolutely shocking. Sometimes prisoners have homes to go back to when they get out, but often they don’t. Research shows if they manage to keep in good contact with their families during the sentence, they have a better chance of not reoffending once they are out again. It is better for the children as well. If a parent disappears to serve their jail sentence the children don’t always understand.
“We know that offenders should not have committed a crime and they deserve to serve their sentence. But the children didn’t do the crime and yet they suffer,” said Sybil. “Angel Tree focusses on the children and eases the way for some families who are up against it.”
The scheme is available to prisoners who are allowed access to their children.
Pictured above, Angel Tree parcels with Daphne Gibson (left) and Sybil Martin (right) both members of MU Norwich Diocese with former member Elisabeth Hill (centre).