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Children of prisoners given a voice at Hay Festival

hay festival

Children whose fathers or brothers are in prison have been given a voice through poetry thanks to a Barnardo’s Cymru project showcased at Hay Festival.

The children’s charity has been working with Valleys poet and playwright Patrick Jones who encouraged children and teenagers to explore their feelings through verse.

The project culminated in the launch of an anthology of their work, Unicorns Are Real, at Hay Festival. The booklet also contained poems by prisoners at HMP Parc, Bridgend, who wrote about their experiences of being separated from their families.

Around 500 children a week visit family members at HMP Parc and Barnardo’s Cymru run the prison’s visitors’ centre, help prepare children to visit for the first time and organise a range of activities to help keep together families affected by parental imprisonment.

Children of prisoners serve their own hidden sentence, often feeling abandoned, confused and stigmatised. They can suffer a strong sense of missing out on all the ordinary, everyday moments with their parents that other children take for granted.

Their collected words reveal glimpses of what it’s like to be the child of a prisoner, the little things in life they miss, the feeling of being on the outside not just of their parents’ lives but society too.

Patrick, who worked with children at St Martin’s Comprehensive School, Caerphilly, said:

“I hope that what comes through from the young people is that they are just kids, they just need chance to express themselves and celebrate themselves. They are passionate about what they have to say and Unicorns Are Real has given them a platform. To be able to launch the booklet at Hay has given it a status and identity.”

Barnardo’s Cymru project worker Catherine Davies organised the project and believes it had a powerful impact on those who took part:

“I knew it would be meaningful, taking those who participated on a journey which might be outside their comfort zone. I witnessed social connections being made, light bulb moments and very real emotion from children, young people and fathers in prison.”

The pupils were also positive about the project. One teenage girl said:

“It was really exciting working with a poet, something we’d never normally do. He reminded me of me because he was so enthusiastic about writing.

“I’ve always enjoyed writing poetry but with Patrick we were encouraged to write about our feelings, it was personal to us. I don’t like talking about my feelings but I do like to write them down, it puts them out there.

“It was also really positive to meet in a group and realise I’m not the only one going through this. I’m one of the older ones and I think I can give a bit of support to the younger ones too.”

St Martin’s family liaison officer Leanne Mitchell said:

“As a group they were able to talk about something which they don’t normally feel able to share, they were quite open and were even able to have a bit of a joke about things. Some didn’t know there were others in the school with a family member in prison and it was a positive experience for them.”

Corin Morgan-Armstrong, Head of Family Interventions Custody and Community at HMP Parc, said:

“I’m a great believer in the changes literature can make in people’s lives, especially when they are lonely and disconnected from society and family.

“Sometimes men learn to read for the first time in prison. They can completely lose themselves in fiction and that can lead to other doors opening with them wanting to continue their education. It has huge power.”

Two examples of the poems:

A Letter to the Universe  

The kind people of the universe,

We are writing to tell you the things we haven’t had the opportunity to tell you.

Kindness, kindness means happiness,

When someone is sad cheer then up.

To be kind and respected,

Kind is taking time to know someone,

You should not judge people.

We are the children who have a dad in prison.

You should not judge people.

Our Dads are in prison,

It doesn’t make us bad,

It doesn’t make our families bad.

Kindness, kindness means happiness.  

Written by children of prisoners

Netball Court (My Journey)

I have seen happiness and sadness in my life,

I have heard tears and laughter,

I have tasted many kinds of foods bad and great,

I have felt scared and alone,

I look forward to my brother coming home,

I am happy and brave as I am a warrior,

I am like a netball court full of magic memories and many more to come,

arrive through my life time.

Written by the sister of a prisoner at HMP Parc

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