Lara's Story - building hope and resilience

Lara's Story - building hope and resilience

Easter is often seen as a time of opportunity: new beginnings, rebirth, reconsideration and hope. For people living and coping in the tough world of prison, it is hard to have hope.They often have nothing and no one that could give them purpose and meaning.

At Fine Cell Work, we strive to create spaces where people in prison can come to learn to stitch, be creative, express themselves and find peace. With our programmes, we are working to build hope, resilience and give people opportunities to build connections within and outside prison, giving them hope for a different future.

Fine Cell Work post-release programme attendee, Lara, began to engage with Fine Cell Work's programmes whilst in prison:

"I joined a Fine Cell Work stitching group when I was in a very dark place, when I thought I had no future.

Fine Cell Work gave me light, helped me see there could be a future. They taught me a skill and to be proud of what I could achieve. Since leaving prison and joining the post-release programme, I have colour in my life.

My future now is a lot brighter. I thought I was on a road that led to a dead-end. But Fine Cell Work has given me purpose. To be creative every day and to look forward to having a brighter future.

The lady in the cell next to mine was doing Fine Cell Work. She showed me the needle point she was working on. It looked so lovely. I found out that a new group had just started and I got my name on the list – waited two years! Eventually I went and met the volunteers running the group. A fortnight later, I started."

"The first piece I made was the artichokes – I had never stitched before. I had no expectations when I started. In prison you learn quickly that it is not a place to have expectations or make any assumptions. That only leads to disappointment.  Things can change week to week, day to day with no explanation. You have no choice, no control. It is not an environment that encourages you to have hope.

I was apprehensive when I started but everybody made me feel so welcome. The volunteers made the group what it was – their enthusiasm, their eagerness to teach you, them believing in you and pushing you to keep going, keep improving was incredible.

So from having no hope, I started living for the days of the group. And even on the days in between we kept encouraging each other, we felt a real bond, a connection, a sense of belonging."

Challenges are not limited to time spent in prison, and people also face difficulty on leaving prison. In addition to adjusting to life after imprisonment in general, they may experience specific difficulties regarding employment, family life, and societal stigma. Lack of support on leaving prison often leads to reoffending.

Our stitchers, like Lara, tell us that the possibility of enrolling in our post-release Open the Gate (OTG) programme, helps them have hope for a better future.

"I was keen to continue my Fine Cell Work journey by joining OTG. But as I lived away from London, I thought it wouldn’t be possible. But Fine Cell Work made it happen!

This place is so different from the cell-group in prison. It is a safe space, a creative space, one to learn in and grow.

On my first day, coming up on the train, I was so scared to be on my own. My brother was on the phone to me the whole way, reassuring me. Now I travel in with excitement and feel a sense of relief every time in walk into the workshop. I feel I can relax here, even when we are very busy! It is my time to learn and grow. Every day is different and you learn new things.

Everything is more positive. My probation officer said my whole face glows and I beam when I talk about Fine Cell Work. It has given me the opportunity to talk about next steps, to be positive about the future. It is a place where you belong and realise that regardless of your past, you can be a normal person with hope for a better future.

I want to get a couple more OCNs done. My brother has helped me set up my sewing room at home. I never imagined that sewing would become so important to me. When I was in school, I never finished any stitching projects – my mum would have to finish them.

Life is certainly brighter now. You gave me light when there was no light. Sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s true!"

The government recently indicated that the country's prisons could be full by Easter. At a time when the prison service is being stretched and facing challenges, this is not a situation that encourages hope. The cells in which prisoners are confined for excessive periods of time vary greatly in their condition, but poor conditions are exacerbated by overcrowding. 

This Easter, help us meet our stitchers in challenging and hopeless places so that they can have new beginnings.

 Support our work, both in prisons and post-release, by making a donation.

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