In June 2019, I wrote a blog titled A Day to Remember, all about a special day I had with Anj Cairns, the former CEO of Shannon Trust, and now CEO of Unlock. We spoke together, but separately, on behalf of Shannon Trust, at an event in the House of Commons during Evidence Week. It was a wonderful and surreal experience. One I thought it would be impossible to surpass, however, yesterday (September 9) I had another day that I’ll never forget.
In 1981, a charity was formed:
Ormiston Families exists today because of one family’s tragedy.
A young woman, Fiona Ormiston Murray, died whilst on her honeymoon. Fiona loved children and it was no secret that she was excited about starting her own family. Her family, devastated by their loss, wanted to do something to honour her memory. They created a charitable trust, devoted to helping children and families in need. That trust is now known as Ormiston Families.
I don’t believe there’s more I need to say about Ormiston and who they are and why they are. I could write superlatives all day about Ormiston and how special they are, and not just in my life but also in the lives of several tens of thousands of families. To find out more please go to their website and have a gander at this incredible organisation. Ormiston are just as much a part of my family as my family are. My children and grandchildren so lovingly supported and cared about during some dark times in my life.
It was such an honour to be the keynote speaker at their amazing 40th Anniversary lunch within the stunning grounds of Longstowe Hall, Cambridge and share in the celebrations of the day.
I have to say that I felt like a proper VIP with the way Ormiston treated me. Not just on the day either, the travel arrangements were handled by them, and I arrived bang on time and as more relaxed as I thought possible considering I’d not attended a public event since December 2019. Coincidentally, at a Shannon Trust conference in London.
I’ll share a slideshow of some of the pictures taken yesterday further on, for now, I’d like to share what I said to the incredible guests. Guests who also all made me feel very welcome, and I must add, important. It was close to being overwhelming with the love and support floating around the atmosphere during one of the best days of my whole life.
I have always had a respect for the families and loved ones of people in prison, and even more respect for the charities who support those families and loved ones.
One simple reason is that someone in prison only need walk a few hundred yards to get to the visit’s hall, as for the families and loved ones, I’m sorry, but I cannot imagine what it is like getting to a visit.
Video calling has not replaced the need to visit loved ones, even if it will mean a round trip of five hundred miles, turning up two hours before the visit starts, and with children in tow.
An hour. An hour and half?
Or if you’re extremely lucky, a slightly longer family visit. And the family and loved ones have done nothing wrong.
How can you not have respect for that?
Since becoming involved in campaigning for reforms in our criminal justice system, I have become even more aware of the difficulties faced by the families and loved ones of people in prison. Not just the difficulties faced, but also the stigma and discrimination the innocent families and loved ones must suffer daily.
My history of incarceration dates to 1985, a child myself. Since then, I have spent time in prison in every decade, and seen many changes over the following years. None more so than in the visits hall.
Over the years, visits have changed beyond recognition. Some good, and some not so good.
I remember the days when smoking was allowed in visits, along with a small can of beer and food brought in from outside. Clothing exchange also took place in visits. On a one for one basis.
In fact, there wasn’t much that didn’t come through visits back then.
However, the visits hall was dreary, smoke filled and not genuinely nice places for what took place within them. If it wasn’t for the extra benefits of having a visit, they were not that great.
I was someone, not uncommon, who didn’t look forward to visits.
Think first day of school or first day at work, and that will give you some idea of the trepidation I’d feel building up to a visit. You’d think everyone would be rushing to their visit with a spring in their step, and most do, however, not me.
I found visits to be far too stressful, far too noisy, and well, counterproductive.
I didn’t go on a visit for me, I went for my visitors.
Christmas day 2004 was my first of several Christmases in prison after having children. I could not believe the pain that came with speaking to my two young sons, 7 and 2 they were at the time, on the phone from D wing in HMP Pentonville.
The following January, in 2005, I was on my way to Suffolk having been transferred to HMP Blundeston and where I met Ormiston for the first time.
I could share several stories regarding visits, however, the one I would like to share with you today is from a visit whilst I was serving a sentence in 2009 at HMP Wayland.
Although I had stayed in contact with my two sons, I also had a daughter from a previous relationship and to cut a long story short, we lost contact.
My daughter had contacted the mother of my two sons. My daughter wanted to see me. 13 years since I’d last seen her.
One day in March 2009, my son’s mother, drove from London to Thetford with my two sons and my daughter, who was pregnant with my first grandchild. I then spent one of the best afternoons, and my best visit, ever.
It is exceedingly difficult to put down in words how much family visits mean to people in prison. I dread to think what my March 2009 experience, or from 2005 on, would’ve been without the facilities provided by Ormiston, and not just in facilitating family visits. The whole visit experience has improved beyond recognition, all because of the wonderful charities like Ormiston that we are fortunate to have in the criminal justice system.
I’m not sure if you are aware that a child of an imprisoned parent is 6 times more likely to end up in prison. This figure raises to 65% for the son of a parent in prison. On the other side, prisoners who are visited by a relative are 39% less likely to re-offend within a year of release than those who receive no visits.
I’m proud to say that my three children, although, not exactly angels, have not followed my path into custody.
As Lord Farmer said in his 2017 report: “We have to use all the tools at our disposal if we are to put a crowbar into the revolving door of repeat reoffending and tackle the intergenerational transmission of crime. In this era of ongoing constriction on public spending, family ties are themselves a resource that newly empowered governors can, and must, deploy in the interest not just of reducing reoffending rates, but also of creating a more settled regime.”
I believe, because of the existence of and support from Ormiston over the years, that my children went against the statistics, and I haven’t had to visit my own children in prison. And after 32 years of the revolving door of prison, the only time I return to prison now, is as a guest, and not as a visitor, nor as a resident.
As promised, here’s a few pictures from yesterday.
Thank you, Ormiston.