Volunteering with Sue Ryder

Mirriam, who is currently serving her sentence at HMP Holloway writes about the important skills she has been gaining volunteering with the charity Sue Ryder whilst on release on temporary licence (ROTL) under their Prison Volunteer Programme. She writes:

“When I heard the name Sue Ryder, my mind conjured up an image of some sort of charity shop selling second hand clothes...but there is much more to this wonderful organisation. The charity provides a range of services to people with long-term and end of life care needs and their families. It has been established for over 60 years. Since 2006, Sue Ryder has been supporting the rehabilitation of currently serving offenders by offering volunteering placements to carefully vetted prisoners in their shops, offices and care centre, in recognition of the challenges people with a criminal record face in rebuilding their lives.

As part of a wider commitment to support individuals who might be marginalised in society and broaden the diversity of volunteers in its charity shops, the Prison Volunteer Programme was born.

Partnerships with prisons enabled Sue Ryder to offer voluntary work to ex-offenders and offenders still serving their sentences but who are due to be released into the community soon. There is a careful vetting process to ensure members of staff and the public are not put at risk. The serving offenders are granted release on temporary licence (ROTL) to enable them to participate fully, commuting from prison to the place of work.

Prison volunteers, together with other volunteers from the general public, are deployed in the charity’s shops, warehouses and offices. The shops contribute substantial revenue which helps the charity continue to provide long term neurological and palliative care services in its centres and in the community. The charity has also set-up workshops within some prisons, offering training, work experience and an opportunity to develop transferable skills and gain qualifications.

I am one of the lucky few to have been taken up on the award-winning PVP programme, and in terms of benefits to people like me, it is no exaggeration to say it has changed my grim outlook for the better on what life after prison will be like.

Going to prison is probably one of the lowest points for most individuals, particularly if one had a job and a career prior to this. Your initial thoughts are that you have reached the end of the road, that you are a total outcast and utterly useless.

By being allowed to work alongside staff and being treated with appreciation and respect, I have now got my self-esteem and confidence back.

As a result of my work placement, one of my fears about leaving prison has simply diminished. There is additional on the job support with training through in-house courses such as retail training, IT training and management training allowing PVPs like me to pick up new skills. Gaining such skills is particularly important for the many prisoners who have no other qualifications. Working at Sue Ryder gives you a sense of normality by allowing you to work in a formal work environment.

It has given me a sense of perspective and I have rediscovered my people skills, time management skills and organisational skills.

Staff here are supportive and understanding of volunteers’ needs. I feel supported emotionally. This has a positive knock-on effect for prisoners’ families too, you are no longer an embarrassment to the family but someone with potential.

The Prison Programme has played a huge part in trying to break down prejudices and barriers. There is still a lot of work to be done but I believe that the charity is contributing profoundly to changing public attitudes.

Most offenders will eventually re-join our communities at some stage. It is vital therefore that we educate people about prisons, prisoners and the criminal justice system. We need to find measured ways to deal with offenders, particularly as they re-join society once they have served their sentences.

This is for me, an initiative to be applauded by all at all levels. I am in no doubt that I speak for many women and men who are either ex-offenders or serving offenders, or perhaps have a member of a family who is such, by saying thank you Sue Ryder for giving us hope!”