Reaching out to women in prison and their kids

What does it feel like to be separated from your children while you are in custody? How do women begin to rebuild their lives post-release from prison. What can we all do to better understand their plight?

In April, OKT volunteers came together to donate, pack and sort essentials items for women to receive on their release day. We were lucky to have Sarah Charles from the Prison Network join us to explain the work she does supporting women who are entangled in the Victorian criminal justice system, and to help distribute the essential item packs when they are leaving prison.

The Prison Network is a non-profit that connects with around 120 women per week, responding to their practical, emotional and spiritual needs and assisting them to meet with their children and families whilst incarcerated. In her work Sarah meets women who have experienced heart-breaking stories of abuse, trauma and lack of family support. Many have been let down by a social system that fails to adequately provide early intervention and assistance for families and youth at risk. Some are affected by mental illnesses that have not been treated and others have fallen into drug addiction. The causes are complex and varied.

The Prison Network is dedicated to walking alongside these women in a non-judgemental way, building trust and supporting their journey - no matter how long it takes. It aims to support, inspire change and assist women who are or have been in prison in Victoria, to restore their lives and the lives of their families.

Within the prisons they provide women with craft, art, fitness and cooking programs and the chance to talk about life issues. Through their ‘Fun with Mum’ program they facilitate time weekly when women can connect with their kids. However, the rules around these meetings are strict (especially during COVID) and some children require extra support from the Prison Network to get to visits and understand the prison environment. Sarah often drives kids to these visits, answering their questions and providing emotional support along the way.

Many women leave prison with nothing and have nowhere safe to live when they are released. They are very grateful for the care packages provided by charities like Our Kitchen Table, filled with basic essentials like soap, shampoo, toothpaste, tissues, make up, and warm knitted goods etc… The Prison Network also operates post-release transitional accommodation and supports the women to reconnect with their families and find secure housing and employment.

Over the last 75 years so many women have been encouraged by the Prison Network to redefine and restart their lives, put their past behind them, address and overcome personal traumas and reunite with their families. It is a very difficult road and we can all help by treating these women with understanding and dignity, and shifting our judgement mindsets. Most importantly, we should open up conversations about systemic and legal reforms that will improve life outcomes for prison inmates (female and male).

Please get in touch with us if you have items to donate to women leaving prison, or activities they can play with their children on visiting days (puzzles, toys games):