FOR Brian, leaving prison after two years was "traumatic. I was
55, had lost all contact with family, and coming out with nothing
and nobody, with a bag of clothes and £46. I didn't even know if I
was going left or right out of the gate."
On Thursday of last week, he explained how being met by a group
of Christian volunteers "saved my life".
Brian was speaking at the launch of a report evaluating the
impact of Basic Caring Communities, a project run by the Prison
Advice and Care Trust. He described how, for three months, the four
volunteers supported him, through daily phone calls and a weekly
meeting. From taking him for an English breakfast after his release
to helping him secure accommodation, the group provided intense
support: "It was comforting; somebody listening to my worries and
Diane, one of the volunteers who supported Brian, described the
"mountain of obstacles" faced by those leaving prison. "There is
always a huge worry about accommodation, and, when it is found, it
is often very grim, full of addicts, and it is very hard for men
who are trying to leave that behind."
Food and transport costs were also a challenge. Diane described
how one man staying in a hostel in Croydon had to attend probation
meetings in Wimbledon. "I have found I have been very humbled by
many who have been in very serious situations, but they very rarely
ask for practical things," she said. "They want support, advice,
and help filling in forms."
The evaluation of the project, carried out by Nef Consulting,
concluded: "Having a non-judgemental, genuine support network for
the first few months of release is a great asset at what is, for
most, a very difficult time."
Dr Jenny Rouse, who conducted the research, suggested that,
while evaluations tended to focus on measuring the recidivism rate,
other measures could be significant, such as the impact on
Participants at the launch discussed whether faith groups played
"a distinct role in the reintegration of former prisoners".
There were words of caution from those commissioning services,
about proselytising, or suggesting that only faith groups were
equipped to do this work.
Dr Ruth Armstrong, a research associate with the Prisons
Research Centre at Cambridge University, suggested that, in faith
communities, "People hear words about themselves that they may not
hear about themselves in other contexts."
Brian agreed: "I heard 'You are a good person,' instead of
standing in front of a judge."