It is often very hard for Samaritans to show the Listeners their appreciation for all the hard work they do at HMP Pentonville. Weekly chocolate is about all they get for supporting an increasingly vulnerable population.
July was quite special at Pentonville. Although it was ‘business as usual’ in prison, meaning almost everything you are trying to do gets delayed or forgotten, much preparation culminated in a Listener Certificates Presentation. Newly trained Listeners were being presented with their training certificate by a Governor - a very proud moment for Listeners, some of whom are not used to sitting in classrooms, let alone learn about empathy and listening.
It was also a proud moment for Samaritans. During two months of intense training we got to know the men, and their often heartbreaking life stories. You often sense that, yes, being in prison is a tough reality to face, but being cut off your family brings you suffering like no sentence can bring. Therefore, we invited our Listeners’ families to take part in this celebration of their achievements.
Listeners were nervous. ‘Sunday best’ t-shirts were worn and best trainers were on. Everything was running late, and there was frustration lurking around. But then the first visitors started to come in, and suddenly nothing else mattered. Instead of being restricted to only sitting in their chairs in the visitors’ hall, here Listeners were allowed physical contact with their loved ones. Children were able to sit on their dads’ laps and partners to give hugs.
While most control over prisoners’ lives is taken away from them, our celebration was such an oasis of humanity. In dehumanising conditions, celebrating people’s compassion for one another reminded our Listeners that they are not numbers but indeed human beings. In the end, when it was time for families to leave, they were leaving feeling proud and hopeful, and our Listeners had a sense that they are part of something bigger than the crimes they have committed.