Booklet offers advice to partners, spouses and children of prisoners

“On the night it happened I was in my nan’s house. Gardaí came and my mam collected me and took me to my auntie’s house. I heard one of them saying my dad was in prison. I was very sad. I was heartbroken. I will always remember that night.”

Those are the words of a 9-year-old boy recalling the trauma of having his father sent to prison.

That child is not alone, as volunteers with St Nicholas Trust attest. The trust, based in Cork, was set up in 2008 in response to the needs of relatives of people sentenced to prison.

“One boy got really angry with his dad, not for what he did but for being away from the family,” says Mairead Carmody, who used to work in the Prison Service and learned, first hand, the importance of helping the families of prisoners.

“The consequences of a crime can be far-reaching, and crime touches the lives of many,” she says.

“Among these are the families of the offenders. These family members have done nothing wrong and yet they also experience feelings of despair, loss, isolation, shame, anger, and the stigma of being associated with the crime.”

Ms Carmody and fellow volunteers have produced a number of booklets for families, the latest of which is ‘Visiting Dad in Prison’. It is primarily aimed at children who have seen a parents sent to jail but also offers advice to spouses and partners.

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It was launched at Cork City Hall by Sabina Higgins.

Ms Carmody hopes the booklet will provide a valuable resource to children and their guardians. “Spouses or partners are often at a loss what to do. They don’t know whether they should tell their children or not. The problem, though, is that very often children will find out, anyway, through the media. It may depend on the age of the child, whether he or she should be told. “

Ms Carmody recalls the difficulties facing the mother of a boy whose father had been sent to prison. She told him eventually and, perhaps, it was just as well. Shortly after learning this news, he joined other youngsters playing on the street. They taunted the boy by saying “at least our dad isn’t in prison.”

Five years on, the now 14-year-old youngster is still traumatised. On the St Nicholas Trust website he writes: “I am still heartbroken. I want my dad to come home so I can cuddle him and tell him I love him very much.

“I love you dad.”

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