A CORK woman helping prisoners’ families described the heartbreak for mothers spending part of their child’s communion day in the visiting room of a jail.
Director of St Nicholas Trust, Mairead Carmody highlighted the difficulties facing many children and their mothers in Cork this communion season.
“Some of the dads only have a few months left in prison,” she said. “In this situation, the family can take the picture when they get home. However, this can be difficult for someone with a loved one in prison for a long time.”
“Fathers are usually upset because they’re missing out on the biggest day of their child’s life to date. One also has to think of down the road. When you’re looking back on pictures of your little girl in a prison on her communion day it can be very upsetting. These are all issues that come up in the group.”
She added that prison can be a difficult environment for children, particularly on communion and confirmation days.
“This is where families have to mind themselves too and know that it’s not just about the person in prison. It’s about the children too. One little boy told me about how angry he was at his dad for being sent to prison. I encouraged him to tell his dad this the next time he visited. Sometimes it’s important for the person inside to hear these things.”
The former prison worker listed the main concerns for kids.
“The initial worry for a child is that dad will miss their communion or confirmation. Others are upset that he won’t be at a match they’re playing in. Kids by their very nature are egotistical. That’s their right as a child.”
Ms Carmody set up the organisation in 2008 to provide support for the loved ones of inmates at Cork Prison, both in the prison visiting room and through regular meet-ups.
She said that many families are serving their own sentence on the outside.
“A lot of the time they’ll feel they can only share good news and pretend that everything is okay. They will bring up money for their loved one even if they find themselves short.”
The director of the charity encouraged parents to be honest with their kids.
“When it comes to children we believe in honesty. That said, we would never tell a mother what to do.
We had one member of the group who was debating whether she should tell her child. She didn’t want prison to become the norm for him but also wanted to be honest. For the past six months, she had told him that his dad was away working. When she finally told him the truth he asked why she had been lying to him for so long. If a child knows their mum has been dishonest with them it can have a huge impact.”
The pain, Mairead said, can be just as difficult for the mothers of prisoners.
“One woman borrowed money so she could buy her son the boots he had wanted. Nonetheless, he complained that they weren’t the brand he liked and refused to wear them. This particular woman was devastated as she had gone to so much trouble to get these boots.”
Nonetheless, she reassured that there is life after prison.
“Three of the women in the group went on to get diplomas. One even graduated to a degree in UCC. That’s something we are very proud of. There are a number of relationships that don’t last. The woman might have got stronger on the outside and decided that they no longer want to put up with old behaviours.”
Chair of the group, Ina Howell praised the women in the group who have gone on to help others in similar situations.
“Many of them volunteer with the group now,” Ina said. “Visiting a father or loved one in prison for the first time can be a frightening experience. Having someone come up to you and say that they know what you’re going through can mean the world and show that there is life after prison.”
For more information on St Nicholas Trust visit www.stnicholastrust.ie or email email@example.com.