Introduction

When a prison visit saw a father meet his children for the first and last time

Father and child

When a prison visit saw a father meet his children for the first and last time

In the latest of our blog series on the importance of supporting dads, a Spurgeons Family Support Worker tells their part in the story of how a final contact visit was arranged for a new father serving a prison sentence

I walk up the stairs on the wing to the top floor, where the officer opens the cell door. I can only describe the prisoner who emerges as a broken man. He is crying and shaking.

I take him to a landing office and once we’re inside and sat down, my first words are, “I was asked to come and see you but wasn’t told anything else. So what’s going on with you?” The man (I’ll call him Stephen) told me his girlfriend had given birth, that he was the father and that the children had been taken into care and were to be adopted. He had never seen them.

It transpired Stephen had been crying for days. I was aware this prisoner was in jail for violent crimes, yet sat in front of me he looked vulnerable, scared and powerless. We talked for over an hour that first meeting and I explained that if the court had awarded a final contact visit, this would be an enhanced, private but supervised visit, where he would be able to say goodbye and leave gifts. When I left him, I knew that I needed to call on professional support available to me on such occasions.

Final contact

After making contact with the social worker and Stephen’s offender manager, we agreed that as the family court had, indeed, awarded final contact we should try to make it happen. Many meetings took place and Stephen continued to struggle with his emotions. His records showed he was violent and the prison was wary of it developing into a, “if I can’t have them then no one can,” scenario.

I planned support sessions with Stephen prior to the visit and agreed to use these to monitor his frame of mind, as well as support him in being able to cope during this process. He really took to these sessions and we looked at play, development and what to expect at various ages. We discussed his expectations of meeting his children, too. However, he was still very tearful and, in this situation, very vulnerable.

Soon the day came. Stephen showered, shaved and looked smart. When he appeared he was clearly nervous about meeting his children for the first and last time.

I had set up a nursery school environment in the multi-faith centre. The social worker was taken in first with two contact workers and the children. The social worker expressed reservations and anxiety about the meeting.

Stephen soon arrived, accompanied by three officers. He saw the children and was transfixed; a smile came across his face that was that of a loving, proud father. I felt the nervous tension in the room but he showed a calmness and love that can only be felt from a family connection.

Over the next hour and a half, the officers and the social worker gradually retreated to sit at the far end of the room. It was like we all forgot where we were. The two contact workers stayed on the perimeter and offered Dad snippets of information about the children’s health and experiences.

Goodbye

The vulnerable prisoner was a dad for this short time, the length of a football match. He was a good dad, too. He was present with each child, he calmed them when they cried and was attentive to all their needs. When it was time to say goodbye, he spoke to each child and apologised. I saw the officers wiping tears away now and realised we were all crying at this point.

Stephen was taken through one door as I escorted the children through another. The social worker and contact workers discussed how relieved they were and all mentioned how amazing Stephen was with the children.

After that day Stephen took up every offer of support: therapy groups, meditation and some other classes, too. A few months later, his parole hearing came up and it was awarded.

This was the hardest lesson of this prisoner’s life, yet he seemed to grow from it. I heard he was doing OK outside prison a few weeks after release and only hope that this has continued for him.

I have had three more dads to take through final contact cases since and each time I reflect on Stephen and think of what he said to each child in his goodbyes: “I promise to be the Dad you want to find when you come looking for me.”

Photo by Tina Bo

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