Mother Theresa has a famous quote, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love..”

Did you know the UK has a Minister for loneliness? Have you ever considered that loneliness needs a government Minister? It can affect your health as much as 15 cigarettes per day and people experiencing loneliness are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with social connections. So it’s understandable that it is taken seriously as a public health concern.

To create community, where people’s heart issues of loneliness can be dealt with, is a driving passion of mine. We know that hundreds of social media connections is not a cure for loneliness and can often mask it. Healthy, robust social connections are vital to our mental health. I strongly believe that one of the greatest factors in recovery for women coming out of prison, as they seek to rebuild their lives, is healthy community connections.

I met Callie in prison nearly 20 years ago. She struggled with alcohol addiction that led to a serious accident impacting others. This meant a prison sentence and a life of unbearable guilt. Her small children had to be cared for by extended family which was heartbreak for all involved. During and beyond prison she has dealt with a number of setbacks.

Through our networks I was able to connect Callie into a support group for women. Callie was able to find a sense of belonging, acceptance and finally felt valued. She made true friends. The group ate together, confided in each other, socialised and shared life together. Callie was accepted into their hearts and lives of others. She said to me one day: I never thought I would be able to have ‘straight friends’*. During COVID lockdown Callie has been able to call these women, talk and share. And they now call her for support and advice, knowing that she will never judge and has gained wisdom in her journey.

Callie has re-established her life. She has a job, strong relationships with her children and close friends. She has found purpose, hope and faith. She is looking forward to the future confidently. We are all made for community and relationship.

There are many building blocks needed in place for women transitioning back into the community after prison. The simplest and most vital is friendship and acceptance. Something we can all provide.

Kurt Vonnegut says “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured”

*’straight’ is street slang for people who don’t participate in dangerous or illegal activities

By Katharine Goschnick (Pastoral Care Coordinator)