Case Study: Mental health and awareness
By Claire, a family member affected by imprisonment.
My experience of my partner Shaun’s imprisonment has been a rollercoaster of trauma. When he first went to prison, I felt like I was doing it all on my own. I had our three-year-old little girl to look after, I was working a full-time job going to prison visits after work; I really don’t know where I got the strength from back then.
I have struggled with anxiety for a long time and when Shaun went away it got worse to the extent, I had to leave my job. Then the pandemic hit; I started to develop agoraphobia and I felt really alone at times. Even though I had family around me, I still felt alone. I then became aware of Families Outside who supported me through the rest of my prison journey with Shaun. Even the aftercare and support following Shaun’s release was great. I received one-to-one support from one of the Regional Family Support Coordinators, Grace Gracie, and I could not speak any higher of her. She was always at the end of the phone if I needed her. She always checked in regularly as well. Her understanding and kindness along with her support via phone calls was above and beyond.
The support and understanding from the Visitors’ Centre staff, Cyrenians, and from Families Outside was the most important thing for my mental health during this time. I struggled to leave the house, let alone go to prison visits. I struggled with visits due to my anxiety, and phobia of being in enclosed places. At one prison, because I couldn’t go through an enclosed staircase, I was told I couldn’t have my visit. I felt like this moment broke my trust with the prison; this made it harder to speak to them and made me feel more anxious about visiting. I got speaking with the support organisation at the Visitors’ Centre who supported me to do in-person prison visits, which also allowed our daughter to maintain a better relationship with her father. They also helped to keep my daughter occupied with games and colouring during visits when I was full of anxiety or finding it tough – that was another thing that massively helped.
Having people to talk to who had an understanding of what I was going through made me feel not so alone in my journey. It was such a comfort to Shaun to know me and our daughter were getting support on the outside and that I wasn’t doing it all alone anymore.
The reassurance that I wasn’t alone anymore was all that I needed. I personally think that more help and support is needed across the board; a lot of people don’t know that this kind of help is out there and that there are great organisations like Families Outside and Cyrenians that do go above and beyond to help in any way they can to make the experience of a family member’s imprisonment that bit easier for partners and loved ones, right through to the aftercare when they are released.
Prisons and prison staff need to be aware of families’ mental health. Prison staff don’t need to be mental health experts, but my experience is proof a little bit of knowledge and understanding goes a long way. There are other families coming to the prisons with all sorts of different needs. Mental health is really important – now more than ever – to know that when visiting the prisons, and that help and support is there if you need it, will be very helpful and welcomed by lots of people like myself in the future.
If you have a loved one or family member in prison and need support, please get in touch with our Support & Information Helpline, who would be happy to help.