8 September, 2020

“Coming home after a lengthy prison sentence can present far more challenges than most people realise. Being constantly told what to do and when to do it can take away a person’s confidence to make decisions. Years without an income takes its toll on the families who wait outside for a prisoner to come home. Then there is the difficulty of getting employment with a criminal record. But perhaps one less obvious challenge is that of building relationships with the children who may have been no more than babies when their father or mother was imprisoned. To the children, the returning ‘Dad’ or ‘Mum’ may be little more than a stranger. And to the former prisoner, who hasn’t ‘grown’ into parenthood alongside his or her children, the responsibilities and realities can be daunting to the point of overwhelming.

“This was the experience of Peter* when he came to the ADRA Community Centre at Blacktown where he began his counselling sessions with me. The missed years meant that his children had not learned to trust him or to even feel a need for him. The toughness that life in prison demands meant that sharing his softer side with others had become a forgotten art. At the same time he faced the other usual stresses experienced by a newly released inmate. These often combined into frustration and then anger. His children naturally shied away.

John Creswell, conducting over-the-phone counselling sessions

“Peter knew that something had to change and was ready to take a chance and open up to someone. He told me that he figured that if opening up to a stranger didn’t work well, he’d lose nothing and so was ready to take the risk. I told him that by talking that way, I already liked him. Rapport was virtually instant.

“In the weeks that followed he shared many of his difficulties with me, some that had been present long before prison. We discussed how life can leave us with expectations and assumptions about life that make us and those around us unhappy when it really doesn’t have to be that way. Step-by-step he learned to question the assumptions and expectations that he had about his children and to listen to them. To be ready to learn new things from them, and about them.

“Like many of us, the thought of a coronavirus lockdown caused Peter great concern. Would his slowly improving relationship with his children survive intact, or would the stress of it all reverse the progress or perhaps cause even more damage? We maintained our counselling by phone during this time. When restrictions eased and the end of lockdown was in sight, he said to me, “I dreaded lockdown, but it was the best thing. I loved spending time with my children and they liked spending time with me!”. At this point, I knew my work was done.”

Peter is one of many clients who receives free counselling services from the ADRA Community Centre in Blacktown. The ADRA Appeal is the main source of funding for community projects, such as the Blacktown Centre, in Australia. You can help people experiencing hardship hang on to hope – and survive this crisis. Donate now.