To mark Volunteers' Week 2022, Colette, a volunteer of 4 years, shares her experience of working with New Bridge.
"I’m now into my fourth year working with New Bridge and I have 3 prisoners “on my books”. I’ve just posted letters to them and it’s taken me a couple of hours. But the impact that has on them is worth every minute of the 2 hours a fortnight I give them. Imagine being locked away, seeing the same people every day, spending many hours at a stretch locked in a tiny room by yourself - or worse perhaps with someone else! Imagine you’re one of the many who has no one to visit you, no one you can phone, no one who sends you letters or emails. Imagine you have no link to the outside world.
This is where New Bridge steps in, because many of the prisoners we befriend are in this position.
We start from the premise that having done something bad does not necessarily make you a bad person and in my experience this is so true. My “chaps” have a terrific sense of humour, are genuinely interested in what I think and feel and show an interest in any concerns I share with them. They care.
What do we write about? I write a diary of a few days in my life, where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, what’s made me laugh or made me cross, how I view current news stories. They write about their days - and yes, some of it is like Porridge. They express their worries about their families, they tell me about the different activities they participate in. They recount some really amusing incidents. We never seem short of things to write about! I send letters about twice a month and I send an email once a week. I send cards for birthdays and Christmas. And I get greetings cards in return.
Visits too. Good fun! Yes, visiting a prison is a nerve-wracking experience the first time but you soon get used to it. And the prisoner you’re visiting is so pleased to get into the Visits Hall and talk to what they often call a “normal person.” (Not a prisoner, not a probation officer, not a prison officer, not someone who works there.)
I was going to entitle this blog “Working with New Bridge” but this isn’t work! It’s part of my social life; it’s widened my social circle; I get real letters delivered by the postman, to break up the constant stream of emails and texts. And if I get excited at the sight of an envelope on the doormat, how must a prisoner feel?"
If Colette has inspired you to become a New Bridge volunteer, you can sign up here: https://www.newbridgefoundation.org.uk/Pages/Category/apply-now