Help­ing kids of in­mates be seen at Christ­mas

WHEN ONE WOMAN RE­ALISED THE CHIL­DREN OF IN­MATES WERE PRAC­TI­CALLY IN­VIS­I­BLE, SHE SET ABOUT TO CHANGE IT – ONE CHRIST­MAS GIFT AT A TIME

Style Magazine - - Contents - BY JES­SICA KRAMER

For thou­sands of chil­dren, this Christ­mas will be spent with­out their fa­ther, mother, or both. And for many, this ab­sence won’t be un­der­stood, but will be keenly felt.

As of June this year, there were more than 40,000 peo­ple full-time in cor­rec­tional cen­tres. Al­most 10,000 of these are in Queens­land. (Aus­tralian Bureau of Statis­tics)

Many of these in­mates are fa­thers, moth­ers, grand­par­ents, un­cles and aunts, with lit­tle to no con­tact with the chil­dren in their lives. Some of the chil­dren know where the ab­sent fam­ily mem­ber is and some don’t, but the im­pact is the same — they will be ab­sent on Christ­mas Day.

But what if these chil­dren could know that while their par­ent is ab­sent, they have not been for­got­ten? This is where Prison Fel­low­ship Aus­tralia comes in with their pro­gram An­gel Tree.

Each year, thou­sands of Christ­mas gifts are pur­chased and dis­trib­uted to chil­dren of pris­on­ers through the pro­gram, which is co­or­di­nated at a state level by Glenise Dag­well. Last year alone, over 2200 gifts were dis­trib­uted to the chil­dren of in­mates in Queens­land – 500 more than the year be­fore.

“Lists of the gift re­quests are given to re­gional co-or­di­na­tors, who al­lo­cate to churches and cor­po­ra­tions who have vol­un­teered to be in­volved,” Glenise said.

Not all ar­eas in Queens­land are for­tu­nate enough to have their own re­gional co-or­di­na­tor, so Glenise of­ten steps into the role her­self.

The gift lists are very con­fi­den­tial and only in­clude the ba­sics deemed nec­es­sary to pur­chase a present – the child’s gen­der, age range, and in­ter­est. It’s even more strict if the child is un­der pro­tec­tive ser­vices.

“If the child is un­der the pro­tec­tion of Child Safety, per­mis­sion to give a gift is re­quested first and then, if granted, the gift goes straight to their Case Worker,” Glenise ex­plained.

Once the gifts are pur­chased and wrapped, a trusted per­son de­liv­ers them to the home of the child’s carer.

Last year, a mix-up at one of the cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties meant the gift re­quest ap­pli­ca­tions were re­ceived late. A prison chap­lain drove over an hour to en­sure all the gifts were de­liv­ered be­fore Christ­mas Day.

“When he ar­rived at one house, the woman who an­swered the door started cry­ing be­cause her son was in prison,” Glenise said.

“The prison chap­lain re­alised he ac­tu­ally knew the son, and he was able to tell the woman that he would see him next week and tell him the gifts were re­ceived.

“It’s things like this that helps the fam­ily stay to­gether; it means the fam­ily will be re­united one day and we’ve helped, which makes it all worth it.”

It was a sim­i­lar idea that was be­hind the cre­ation of An­gel Tree and its par­ent or­gan­i­sa­tion Prison Fel­low­ship.

For­mer chief coun­sel to Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon, Chuck Col­son served time for Water­gate, and he spoke to the other pris­on­ers while he was an in­mate.

“He re­alised there was noth­ing to help fam­i­lies, both for the fam­ily mem­ber in prison and those out­side,” Glenise ex­plained.

“When he got out, he did some­thing about it, and Prison Fel­low­ship was born.

“Then one year a fe­male pris­oner got a gift and she didn’t un­der­stand who gave it, but through it she re­alised the kids of in­mates were ‘in­vis­i­ble’ and started An­gel Tree.”

It’s a story that gets played out across the coun­try again and again. A fam­ily mem­ber goes to jail, the re­main­ing fam­ily are os­tracised, and the chil­dren don’t un­der­stand why no-one will play with them and why mum or dad are sud­denly gone.

“These lit­tle ones are in­no­cent, but there is such an im­pact on their lives be­cause mum or dad aren’t around at the mo­ment,” Glenise said.

“The gift, while it is sup­plied and de­liv­ered by an or­gan­i­sa­tion, ac­tu­ally in­cludes a note or card from the par­ent in

The child knows that while their par­ent is ab­sent, they have not for­got­ten them.” — GLENISE DAG­WELL

jail,” Glenise said.

“Through it all, the pris­oner can re­alise there’s more to life than what’s go­ing on in­side the jail – they have kids wait­ing for them to come home.

“The par­ent thinks twice about re-of­fend­ing.”

The beauty of get­ting or­gan­i­sa­tions to help with An­gel Tree is that the care has the pos­si­bil­ity to go far be­yond a gift at Christ­mas.

“We want to help and make Christ­mas a happy time, but also give them ex­tended sup­port,” Glenise says.

“There are so many grand­par­ents whose chil­dren are in jail, so they end up look­ing after their grand­chil­dren.

“Of­ten churches who meet these peo­ple through An­gel Tree, help them through­out the year with the chil­dren.

“There’s one church where their youth get along be­side the kids and help them.”

Each year An­gel Tree seems to get big­ger, with schools and busi­nesses chip­ping in along­side the churches and cor­po­ra­tions.

“Some schools or kindys have their kids get­ting in­volved by get­ting them to bring in gifts for do­na­tion,” Glenise says.

Last year Glenise turned up to an of­fice and was as­tounded by the amount of gifts in the foyer.

“When­ever the staff do­nated, the man­age­ment promised to match it, so they had a ball be­cause I told them to buy what­ever gifts they wanted as I could find the kids to match.

“I got to the foyer and there were presents ev­ery­where.”

Glenise has also met groups who make Christ­mas cards, which then get passed on to an­other group who hand-write the mes­sages for the chil­dren and wrap the gifts.

“Ev­ery­one gets to­gether and does it. Some­times there is an af­flu­ent church with no chil­dren near them, and a poor church with heaps of kids nearby, so they work to­gether to buy and de­liver the gifts.”

This year, govern­ment changes in the cor­rec­tional sys­tem has meant a lot of in­mates were moved to other cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties – which is the per­fect op­por­tu­nity for Toowoomba to get more in­volved.

“Be­cause of this change, there are a lot more chil­dren near Toowoomba and we’re go­ing to need more or­gan­i­sa­tions to donate,” Glenise ex­plains.

“Ev­ery­one is happy at Christ­mas, par­tic­u­larly in the lead-up – it’s a happy time, and you give to those close to your heart. But these kids don’t get any­thing.”

When Style mag­a­zine last spoke to Glenise in Novem­ber, there were 11 or­gan­i­sa­tions that had vol­un­teered for An­gel Tree in the Gar­den City, but the need is for many more.

“Peo­ple can just drop gifts off at des­ig­nated pick-up points or to chap­lains, or just call Prison Fel­low­ship and we’ll ar­range some­thing or tell you where to go to drop them.”

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