photographs Stuart Maxwell
story Grace Franklin
A new project to help prisoners adjust to life after jail and avoid re-offending, is already having inspiring results and is supported by Kenny MacAskill, Scottish Government Secretary for Justice.
The project Faith in Throughcare started in June and was formally opened by the Minister at The Place in St Matthew’s Centre, Possilpark last month.
One former offender who has been ‘blownaway’ by the support he has received from it, testified at the launch to how it had changed his life. ‘The only way I’d know Barlinnie was when I was taken there in handcuffs,’ said John Melville who lives in the Possil area and has been a repeated offender since his youth and also had addiction problems. ‘When I became a volunteer for the project I walked in and out in the same day.’ He has recently been appointed a worker with the project and is now clear of his addictions. He told the large audience from across Scotland: ‘When I was in jail the last time for six months, I was overwhelmed to know that with this project there was a place across the road for my family to go to. This got the family together again and helped me tremendously.’ When he was released, the project volunteers who had contacted him in prison, continued to support him and his family. He became a volunteer with the project. Along with other volunteers, he went to establish relationships with prisoners in Barlinnie who were preparing for release. Once they are out, the support and care continues so that new ways of living and thinking they have chosen to follow, can be sustained.
In a rousing speech, Kenny MacAskill said Scotland had to question why we had the highest proportion of people in prison in the developed world. ‘Prisoners come from a community and return to that same community. Prisoners come from similar post codes. What the project Faith in Throughcare is doing is helping give self-belief, self-value and self-esteem to people. If a person is given hope and takes responsibility for himself and has someone to support him and believe in him, he has an opportunity to progress.’
Several local support centres such as The Place in Possilpark will be set up across Scotland via a variety of churches and faith groups. The drop-in centre brings together the resources of local churches, advice agencies, police and civic leaders to decrease the levels of crime, improve the sense of public safety and help break the cycle of re-offending.
Fergus McNeill, Professor of Social Work and Criminology at Glasgow University and Chair of the Faith in Throughcare steering group, added: ‘The challenges of re-entry or re-settlement have grown in both scale and seriousness. Sending more people to jail means that more people have to navigate the many obstacles that face ex-prisoners on release.’
Chairman of Faith in Throughcare, John Matthew, is a Church of Scotland minister in Maryhill. He said: ‘When a person has told their story, they become a different person. There is a deep, profound wistfulness from many people – such as ex-offenders – that they feel they are locked out of their church or any church. Through Faith in Throughcare the churches and faith communities, acting together, can offer human hands and friendship.’