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“It was the difference between life and death” is how one former prisoner has described a PCC-funded scheme which helps those leaving prison to turn their lives around.
Community Chaplaincy Norfolk (CCN) was launched in the county in February 2017 to help those keen to make a fresh start by changing their attitudes and behaviour which previously led to criminality.
CCN has just published its annual report – entitled “The Journey So Far” – which shows between February 2017 and January 2019 some 31 volunteer members were trained to work with around 70 offenders in prisons including Norwich and Wayland to offer support and guidance for life beyond the prison gates.
The initiative – the first of its kind in Norfolk – initially received more than £20,000 from the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk to allow it to run for two years.
A further £31,800 was awarded in February 2019 to expand the scheme further for another year.
Retired prison chaplain Judith Wilson, one of the originators of the scheme, said: “Some ten or eleven years ago I was working as a prison chaplain at Norwich Prison.
“I had seen that many prisoners wanted to make changes in their lives whilst serving a sentence and not go back to their old ways and old lives.
“They left prison with their bag of belongings and a discharge grant. For me and my colleagues it was heart-breaking to see prisoners leave with good intentions and having made a new start in themselves, only to see them return all too soon, seeing themselves as failures and without hope.“
Community Chaplaincies work alongside prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families. They are multi-faith and work with offenders of all faiths and none.
The main aim of the scheme is to offer offenders the support and motivation they need to stop them re-offending once released from prison and to lead a more fulfilling lifestyle within their local communities.
Describing why he volunteered to join the scheme mentor Martin Auger, said: “Once a month for about 15 years I had taken part in the Salvation Army soup run for the homeless in Norwich.
“I had come to realise that some of these predominantly young men had been released from prison or were expecting to return….
“I regard it as befriending but with a purpose; to help that person adjust to life in a bewildering and at times frightening society after a time of imprisonment.”
Once clients are released from prison CCN tries to help them tackle their isolation which can often lead to a return to substance abuse, self-harm and suicide.
When asked what difference it made to be met at the gate one client said: “It was the difference between life and death”.
Praising the scheme Father Paulinus Heggs, Lead Chaplain at HMP Norwich, said: “One of my main concerns as a chaplain is how prisoners can be supported on release.
“Many prisoners leave custody with nothing but a small bag of possessions and a few pounds in their pocket, and there is in many cases no meaningful support to help them adjust to life on the outside.
“The Community Chaplaincy scheme goes some way to plugging this gap, and the work done by the Community Chaplaincy mentors is invaluable.
“I have heard ex-offenders speak positively of their mentoring experience, using words of hope that I have not heard from them before.
“Helping an ex-offender to get back on their feet after release from prison, mentoring them through the first days, weeks, and months out in the “real world”, can sometimes be the key factor in reducing their likelihood of re-offending and returning to custody.”
Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Lorne Green, said: “The work of the dedicated team of Community Chaplains in Norfolk should not be underestimated and I am extremely proud of the work they do.
“The scheme is about giving some of the most vulnerable people in our communities a second chance in life and I am heartened that it is making such a difference to so many lives – clients and mentors alike.”
CCN was registered as a charity in November 2018.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer for the scheme please contact CCN at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on CCN visit here.