A few women, who we have worked with, recently told us that the thing that they value most about Prison Network is that we start with acceptance. This was really powerful and transformative for them.

We were reminded of this after our Recovery Group had a ‘Weekend Away’ last weekend. The women had a wonderful time and passed on helpful feedback. One woman said:

“I was so scared that on the weekend, someone was going to ask why I went to jail. We’ve all got a story and it doesn’t matter. It was nice not to have to tell my story and be judged. I was so relieved no one asked, cos no one cared…cos there was no judgment.”

It is natural to be curious about someone’s background, but it is important to remember what our questions are communicating. People of colour often say that if they are immediately asked where they are from it can make them feel like all that is seen is their skin colour. People who have spent time in prison don’t like to be immediately asked what lead them to prison, as it can feel like that is what defines them. Sharing that part of their story needs to be when they feel ready and comfortable with someone who they trust. And if sharing their story serves a purpose. ‘Voyeuristic’ is the term my friend uses to describe what it feels like when people probe into her extensive history of trauma, without the questions having context or an established relationship.

Like the women who went on the ‘Weekend Away’, many of us can walk around with our guards up expecting to be quizzed and judged or viewed differently. When we are greeted with immediate acceptance we can exhale and show ourselves.

I can remember interactions right through my childhood and adulthood where I was shown acceptance when I wasn’t expecting it. Showing someone acceptance, in any interaction, can be powerful and freeing. We all know it when we’ve felt it, and that feeling can linger on much longer than anything that was said.

Sally Tonkin (Fundraising Manager)