Experiencing Christmas following release from prison

This Christmas we are shining a light on members of our community not often thought about during the festive season.

We chatted to Centacare Prisoners Services’ Senior Mental Health Social Worker, Cherelle Evans about their clients who are experiencing Christmas following release from prison.

Cherelle shared with us a bit about the clients that the team at Prisoners Services support.

“We find there is a lot of stigma around people who have spent time in prison. What isn’t commonly understood, is that many of our clients are deeply traumatised people. Often their criminal experience has stemmed from this deep, often childhood, trauma. When they are released and come to us for support, we find they are emotionally and spiritually exhausted from their experiences. As a team we say, ‘we don’t define people by their worst act’. Instead, we are here to provide the emotional, spiritual and practical support they need to re-enter the community.”

With this in mind, we asked Cherelle a series of questions about what it is like to be released from prison and how their clients might be feeling as we approach Christmas.

What happens when someone is released from prison?

Many people are released from prison into re-current poverty. Some may have had access to support in the lead up to their release to find suitable housing and be set up with basic necessities. Others will have little or no money and possessions, may be far from their original home and may have nowhere to stay or no access to basic necessities. For most people they will be reliant on support services like ours, to try and find suitable housing, to connect with government support services, to seek employment and for emotional and spiritual support.

How is this different when they are released at Christmas?

Access to services isn’t the same at Christmas. Relief and support services that can assist with finding housing, employment, accessing basic necessities and emotional and spiritual support aren’t operating or are short staffed at this time of year. However, it is a time of really high demand. For people who have lost many of their natural connections Christmas is an isolating and lonely time and this support can be needed more than ever. For those who are just being released they may have little or no money, no possessions and no safe place to stay.

How do clients feel as they are approaching their release and upon release?

At any time of year, being released from prison brings many emotions but the predominant one is fear. These feelings of fear are only heightened when someone is released close to Christmas.

How will most of our clients spend Christmas?

Christmas can be a very isolating time and brings with it significant grief and loss for many of our clients. Most of them are quite socially isolated and lost their natural networks when they went to prison, upon release many of them find it difficult to reconnect. For those who have children it reinforces their ongoing grief and loss, as it is a reminder of the time not spent together and the things they have missed.

On Christmas Day most of our clients will be alone. Many are staying in small rooms in boarding houses, and will spend their day there. For a lot of our clients it is about just getting through the day. Again, for those with children it will be about trying to connect in some way for this day.

What do you differently at Christmas?

We are very grateful to our community partners who again this year have created special hampers for us to give clients. As I mentioned many of our clients are experiencing re-current poverty and couldn’t afford any small luxuries or treats at Christmas. These hampers give them not just a treat but immense joy as they feel truly cared about by someone else in their community.

Centacare Prisoners Services will continue to operate throughout the Christmas period, with the exception of public holidays, to provide much needed support.

You can find out more about the support the team provide here.