Prison. It’s well known for being overcrowded. And yet the sense of isolation and loss can be unbearable.
Prisoners are parents, sons, daughters, sisters and brothers. They are human beings with families. Just like every one of us, they are created in the image and likeness of God. They, like us, have a huge capacity for love.
At some point during their lives, they have taken a wrong turn, gone down the wrong path, and ended up hurting someone, not least themselves. Often, they are struggling with mental health issues. They are crying out for hope.
That hurt often impacts their families, causing devastation and grief among prisoners’ children who wind up feeling the loss of losing a family member to months or years behind bars.
In England and Wales, some studies suggest there are currently around 310,000 children impacted by parental imprisonment. Often prisoners become estranged from their families, either from shame, circumstance or rejection.
Children of prisoners are the hidden victims. They grow up without a parent, worrying about that loss, and with the heartache of having to shoulder the consequences of a crime that are not responsible for.
That’s where Angel Tree steps in to help families flourish. Angel Tree ensures that prisoners’ children are remembered at Christmas, and do not lose out on the joy of feeling loved by their parent.
The prisoner fills out an application form, making the request for a present, and pens a note for their child. The presents are then bought by Angel Tree volunteers, gift wrapped, the handwritten note enclosed, and delivered to the families at Christmas each year. If the prisoners wishes, an age-appropriate children’s Christian book is also included with the gift.
Angel Tree means children all over the country don’t miss out on the joy of receiving a Christmas present from their father or mother in prison. Just like the Christ-child, they feel loved, and they know that they have not been forgotten.
Jane Campbell has been an Angel Tree Coordinator with Prison Fellowship for several years. She leads a group of volunteers in her local area to help the families of her local men’s prison at Christmas. “I often come across prisoners who long to see their families, but don’t want to be visited in prison,” Jane explains. “They think it is showing love not wanting their children to experience what prison is like. The men often also cannot cope with their children leaving. They get really upset for days.”
Jane believes Angel Tree is really important because it shows children that their parent still cares for them, even if they physically cannot be with their kids. She continues, “I re-read a letter from a prisoner helped by Angel Tree. He said he rings his children every week and, by getting a present, his children know their Dad hasn’t forgotten them.”
One prisoner recently wrote to Prison Fellowship to express his thanks to Angel Tree: “For the last three years I’ve been using Angel Tree and my kids loved the things you send them, so from my heart I love what you do for my kids at Christmas. I will always think of you and say a prayer for all of you. Thank you so much.”
And, as well as helping prisoners feel connected, families also experience the joy of relationships being re-enforced.
Another prisoner wrote: “Me and my children are so grateful for the generosity and thought put into Angel Tree. It really helps you feel able and empowered in being able to make your children’s Christmas special, even if not physically there.”
Angel Tree is a bridge that helps prisoners and families reach out to each other and connect. It helps keep demons at bay, introduces the love of God, and enables children of prisoners to experience joy and to know that they are loved.
You can learn more about Angel Tree here.