Today I received a phone call from a stranger. I like to think of it as a Christmas miracle.

Lyn had a collection of toys and products to give to women in need and their children, as Christmas gifts. I was connected to a number of women who desperately needed the gift of kindness that Lyn could give.

The moment I told Lyn about Prison Network and the work that we do with women and their families I could hear the excitement in her voice. She got it. Being in prison is complicated. Being separated from family is hard. For women in prison, Christmas is all that, magnified tenfold.

Women in prison are just that. Women. In prison. Like me, they are women with families, women who love to give and women who nurture and who need to be nurtured.

One of the greatest gifts Prison Network brings to the women is connection. I yearn for my children when we are not together. Women in prison are no different. Throughout the year, Prison Network runs mother and children groups to fill that chasm in a mother’s heart and to keep families connected. Staff will even collect children from home where they can’t travel to the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre or to Tarrengower.

There is no time where families make more effort to connect with each other than Christmas. Christmas is family. And hats. Not just Santa hats, but mother hats, daughter hats, sister hats and friend hats. As a mother I am juggling my hats all day long. It’s exhausting. But what would I do without my hats? Women in prison don’t have the luxury of hats. While the rest of the world is wrapping Christmas gifts and singing carols, women in prison often face a dark abyss of loneliness.

At times of real struggle the Lyns in our life are true Christmas miracles. They turn on the lights and refuse to let a woman be swallowed by darkness. Last week a team of Prison Network volunteers lit up Melbourne. In a few short hours, they wrapped over 500 Christmas packages for every woman in prison in Victoria. On Christmas Day these women will have a Christmas card mounted in their units and array of gifts from their package. And those who are mothers will receive gifts for their children.

A few years ago I donned the red velvet suit, stuffed a pillow up my top and did the Santa gig at a Christmas party. The party was primarily attended by women from complicated and disadvantaged backgrounds. Many were facing a Christmas defined by the very darkness and loneliness that the women supported by Prison Network experience. For hours women sat on my lap and cried. It was 40 degrees outside but a chill of despair filled my heart. It also strengthened my resolve. An act of kindness and generosity shown to someone suffering at Christmas time, is magnified tenfold.

By Carolyn Clark (Prison Network Board Director)