Most of us hope that we will never be in prison; in fact most of us could not, and would not ever contemplate the possibility that we could be sent to prison! What do you imagine when you think of prison? Could you imagine yourself being sentenced to a term in prison? Are you horrified by the idea? Do you have an imagining about the kind of people who get sent to prison? Are you saying, ‘yes they deserve to be in prison’? Does the very thought of being in prison frighten you?
The reality is that many of the people who are in our prisons never anticipated being there, and many of them may also be the people who have been let down by our society, the people who have been let down by me and you. Do you find it curious that the largest majority of people in prison do not come from – what has been termed as – the ‘professional’ class, or indeed for that matter the ‘middle class’? Do you ever wonder about the life stories of people who are in prison?
Do you ever wonder what it would be like to have a family member in prison? Perhaps you think ‘we are not the kind of family to have someone in prison’. How would you cope? What would you do? Would you know where to turn for help and support?
Involvement with prison can come as a great shock to individuals and to families. Some of our members visit people who are in prison, while others work as prison chaplains, work with ex-prisoners and the families of prisoners, or work with and for Irish people who are in prison in other countries.
Esther Murphy rsm works as a prison chaplain and here she describes her experience of taking on that role, and the surprises she met along the way! Click here to hear about her experiences.
Bedford Row Family Project
The Bedford Row Family Project, Limerick was established in 1999 as a joint Mercy Sisters/Franciscan Order initiative to support families of prisoners, both when they are in and out of prison and have had significant success in turning around the lives of people who are involved with crime and drugs, many of whom have struggled most of their lives.
Crime and imprisonment affects all of us and causes a lot of pain and distress in society and so the Bedford Row Family Project works with all generations, from new-born babies to the elderly to try and break the cycle of involvement in crime. They work heavily with children and teenagers who are at risk of dropping out of school and encourage the senior generation to act as a fount of wisdom and experience within their family.
They have specialized social workers and therapists to provide support for both men and women, along with a kids club for children from families who are or have been in prison.
Men’s Group on a fishing trip
The men’s club meets every Friday and gets involved in a number of creative activities, such as cooking and painting. They designed a bench, decorated with beautiful colours and sea-shells, to present to St. Michael’s school.
Look at our website and find out more about our unique model. We need your help in our work to fashion better outcomes for children in distress, have healthier communities and a safer society in general.
Teenage Group horseriding
Initially the Project was set up in a hospitality area in Limerick Prison to offer support and refreshments to family members as they visit their loved one. A city centre based premises has grown and developed, offering a skilled response to those affected by imprisonment.
In the last number of years we work in an in-reach capacity with men and women in the care of Limerick prison. Our work focuses on supporting them during their time of custody and maintaining family links with family on the outside. We work in conjunction with the education department in the prison offering parenting programmes and in conjunction with Palls (Probation and Linkage Programme) in the delivery of Art Therapy for the women. Our in-reach support continues on release as we support the men and women in the Limerick area to reconnect meaningfully with family and life on release.
Artwork made by the Bedford Row Children’s Group on display at the Hunt Museum
A worker was engaged to work with members of the Travelling community in the Limerick area building trusting relationships that in the future we hope will result in positive outcomes.
A significant aspect of our approach is that we work in a partnership model with the Prison Service and other agencies in the city both statutory and voluntary. Such a feature of working delivers a comprehensive and professional support to the people we encounter on a daily basis.
In 2016 we were asked to support the replication of our approach in Ennis, Co Clare. Since then Bedford Row Clare has become established and is growing and responding to the particular needs in terms of imprisonment in the Clare area.
In Bedford Row Project we believe in a world beyond imprisonment, in creating safer communities and in making consistent efforts to understand the ‘why’ of imprisonment. Understanding the ‘why’ enables us to respond with the ‘how’ that we hope is meaningful and realistic. The core of our ‘how’ is based on the trusting, understanding and accepting relationships that we place emphasis on establishing.
Bedford Row Family Project