The very real value of FRIENDSHIP should never be under-estimated. We can all look back on times of crisis, sadness or difficulty when the presence of a friend has made all the difference in our ability to cope with the situation. To be a friend to someone in prison, at the very least, can make them feel better and at the most, can have a real life changing effect on them. Those in prison are going through a significant crisis. It is a time when they very much need a friend. BEING THERE:- Sometimes just the fact that you have taken the trouble to go and see someone, that their name and number has been called for a visit, makes a tremendous difference. It helps them to feel like a person of worth. Imagine too what it feels like to be the one whose name is never called, never has a visit, never has a letter – there are many many prisoners like that. If you visit one of them he is taken out of that neglected group. They now have a relationship with someone from outside. Someone once said that you are who you are, in relation with other people. If you have no relationships, it very much adds to your feeling of being a non-person, dead, rejected, lonely. Your visit can make the prisoner feels special – an individual.

“It is easy to outline the Prison Visitor’s role. It is much harder to describe how he or she can achieve a worthwhile effect. So much depends on the individual’s ability to meet the prisoner on common ground and share his thoughts, problems, hopes and fears. A successful Prison Visitor establishes a genuine relationship built on trust in which the simple act of conversing may be of real benefit to the prisoner. A Prison Visitor’s contribution is thus very different from that of a chaplain or probation officer whose tasks are to ensure the well-being of a prisoner and his family. A Prison Visitor is a friendly representative of the outside world, reminding the prisoner that he is not forgotten or rejected, and encouraging him to think about taking his place in that world on release.” (National Association of Prison Visitors – England)

The prison visitor simply gives the prisoner the chance to form a relationship through conversation with someone unconnected with authority, and the prisoner quickly realises that the prison visitor is someone from outside who, without any strings attached, is prepared to give up time and take a special interest in him. Kindness is also somewhat in short supply in prison. It is very important that you, as a good friend, be very kind. For the prisoner to experience kindness and caring helps them to feel again after they may have become extremely bitter and closed up. Your visit can help to bring out the best in the prisoner. With other prisoners and with staff be may not feel like being as nice as he possibly can be, but with you he often will feel like that. This is very good for him, to experience himself being kind, interesting, humourous and polite. It puts him back in touch with his better self and makes him feel good. It is said that the main purpose of prison visiting is to provide a sympathetic ear. This is true, but sympathy (feeling sorry for the person) is not really very helpful if openly expressed. If you feel sorry for someone (which you probably will), and then you show him that you feel sorry for him, you may end up by encouraging him to feel sorry for himself. Self-pity is not a helpful or useful emotion for himself or anyone. Rather than SYMPATHY it is better to show EMPATHY (putting yourself in the place of the person and trying to share what he is going through with them).

“Prison Visitors have a unique relationship with prisoners because they are independent from the organisation of the prison, non-professional and non-sectarian, with the welfare of the prisoner being their sole interest. They make no demands nor set any conditions to their friendship….No formal qualifications are required by would-be prison visitors. Previous experience of social work is not the most important, nor is social background, ethnic origin, sex or level of education. What is needed is understanding, the desire to help others and the ability to reassure those less fortunate that they are not forgotten or rejected” (V.J. Alexander H.M. Prison Service. U.K.)

To be able to arrive at a reasonable understanding of the prisoner, you must first of all accept him as an individual, a fellow human being. This is important because whilst in a prison, the prisoner easily loses his individuality, and for it to be regained, your friendship with him will surely open up doors to self-development.