“[Stitching] helps relieve the boredom and loneliness when that cell door closes and you're on your own with nothing but your thoughts and regrets. FCW helps relieve some of that anxiety, frustration and depression.”- Peter, FCW stitcher
Peter is not the only stitcher who has managed to create his own sanctuary in the harsh reality of prison life through the therapeutic, rhythmic and repetitive act of sewing. Dealing with mental health issues can be a challenging journey, from the diagnosis right through to receiving treatment. This can be even more overwhelming in a prison setting where healthcare provision can be deprioritised due to under-staffing, lack of training, inadequate monitoring or, to put it in a wider context, lack of financial means.
According to a 2018 Safety in Custody Statistics report in England and Wales (conducted by the Ministry of Justice):
- 49,565 incidents of self-harm were reported, the highest rates ever recorded so far.
- There were 87 self-inflicted deaths, up 12% from previous year.
- Self-inflicted deaths are over five times more likely in prison than in the general population.
These increasing figures have not been taken lightly. In the 2018 National Partnership Agreement for Prison Healthcare in England, one of the priorities set was to develop a whole-prison approach to health and well-being with the aim to improve how services work together. In fact, one of the issues outlined in the report was the “importance of purposeful activity which helps prisoners and creates hope for the future”.
And this is what Fine Cell Work aspires to achieve through the therapeutic aspect of sewing. Needlework provides a sense of calm and relieves stress as the needle becomes a tool to channel the inner - and outer - turmoil of prisoners. Immersing in crafts untaps creativity, boosts confidence and allows prisoners to foster hope as they gain a sense of accomplishment through their work and a link to the outside world through the sale of it.
“[Stitching] allows me to use a totally different part of my brain and personality than I would usually. I can move away from the more difficult reflections and anxieties and feel creative and purposeful. This means I no longer feel that my life has come to a halt and that I am of no use to anyone else.” – Tom, FCW Stitcher
Sewing - and indeed crafting - is increasingly becoming recognised as a coping mechanism against isolation and depression. Fine Cell Work encourages this as a means to break the cycle of negative thoughts and create a sense of mindfulness which is very calming, empowering and necessary for prisoners. Fine Cell Work uses the therapeutic power of stitch to create a respite whereby different textiles, fabrics and colours can become an escape to bleak prison life.