“My volunteer has been there for me through some tough times. When I was down and thought of taking my own life, it was the letters of encouragement that kept me strong. There needs to be more people like this in the world.”
That’s what one man told us, when we asked two prisoners why they value Letter Link. This programme links men and women in prison with a trained volunteer who they can write to. The scheme is so popular with isolated prisoners there is now a waiting list of men and women wishing to join.
“It takes longer to build up trust with someone when you are writing letters, than if you see someone face to face, but then I don’t get visits from anyone, so even though letter writing is second best, it is all I have.
“It would be easy to shut myself away and not have anything to do with the outside world, but I know it is important for me to have communication. I never knew what family was when I was growing up and I never learnt how to love, which is probably why I’m in here. I know this is not an excuse for what I have done.
“Volunteers from Prison Fellowship have been my family and they have been there for me and given me support. It is always special when I get letters.”
Another prisoner has been writing to one of Prison Fellowship’s trained volunteers for 16 years:
“I have been writing to my volunteer since 1998 and she has become very special to me. But then she must be a special person. She is now over 80 and still spends time writing to me and also looking after a friend who is very ill.
If I am honest, when I applied to the letter writing scheme back then, I was a bit of a chauvinist, expecting a dolly bird to write back to me, but I have ended up corresponding with someone who has become almost like family.
It is strange knowing you will never meet the person, but when you are on your own from 7 pm to 8 am, having letters to write and read takes away the stress and the boredom. Over the years she has told me how things have changed. Once she went to the place I grew up in and described it to me as it is now. She did that for me. That was the best letter I ever got.
It has been a worthwhile experience for me, keeping me up to date with what is going on in the outside world. We have a good platonic friendship. We talk about all sorts of things. I remember once, when she told me that she had watched a cat chasing a mouse! Just ordinary normal things like this remind me of the world out there.
I think letter writing is good for those who are totally on their own. I only get three visits a year, but my regular letters give me insight and I hope I can be a comfort to her when she has troubles.”