Student group to write hundreds of Christmas cards to female prisoners

The inmates at Yorkshire’s New Hall and Askham Grange prisons are each to receive hand-written Christmas cards from students.
The inmates at Yorkshire’s New Hall and Askham Grange prisons are each to receive hand-written Christmas cards from students.

A group of undergraduates at Leeds University are to write hundreds of Christmas cards to inmates of two female prisons in Yorkshire, as part of a campaign to reduce self-harm and suicide among inmates.

The Leeds University Prison Reform Society has just received the go ahead from the prison Governor of HMP New Hall and HMP Askham Grange for an initiative, which will involve Leeds university students sending a personalised handwritten Christmas card to every inmate of the two prisons – making good use of cards that have been donated by a growing number of UK greeting card publishers.

Liam Knights (centre) with Society members (right) Beth Poynton and Charlotte Manning.
Liam Knights (centre) with Society members (right) Beth Poynton and Charlotte Manning.

Liam Knights, president of the Leeds University Prison Reform Society explained that the idea came about as a result of the society discussing what actions would help alleviate the mental health issues many prison inmates have, evidenced in the high incidence level of self-harming and suicide.

As someone with a criminal record himself (who spent some time in prison before turning his life around and going to university), Liam told PG Buzz: “From my own previous experience in prison, the main issues I faced were that of loneliness and isolation. When you are suffering from depression you feel like you are alone in the world.”

The Leeds University Prison Reform Society core has a core membership of around 10-15 people and a wider membership of around 30.
The Leeds University Prison Reform Society core has a core membership of around 10-15 people and a wider membership of around 30.

Together with his fellow society members, Liam recognised the benefits of writing personalised Christmas cards to inmates “as a way of showing them that no matter what they had done in the past we still see them as human. They may be in prison, and they may have made mistakes, but to us that is irrelevant. I feel that we should not be defined by what we’ve done, but by what we do – meaning that mistakes are not something to regret, but rather something to reflect upon.”

Having started dialogue on this front with one prison last year, this year’s activity sees the Society expand its activities to two prisons, and thanks to the generosity of a number of UK card publishers, the campaign is now well underway.

Liam and his co-Society members are grateful to the GCA, which sent out a plea to publishers to donate Christmas cards to the cause.

“We owe a massive thank you to Sharon Little of the GCA because we sent many emails out and only she responded. We then sent her a postal address and in the following two weeks I kept receiving parcels of cards!” reveals Liam.

Among the card companies that have donated cards are: 2WL, Blue Eyed Sun, Davora, GBCC, Paper Rose, Papelink, Second Nature and UK Greetings.

 

In preparation for the first Christmas card writing session last Friday.
In preparation for the first Christmas card writing session last Friday.

The card writing sessions

The Society held its first signing event last Friday in the University Union, with three more lined up. “Our aim is to have a stall each week for the next month where our members will be writing the cards, and trying to get members of the public involved. While doing this we will be spreading awareness about mental health in prisons and mental health in general,” says Liam.

 

Society members, (Left-right) Erica McGovern, Liam Knights, Syed Zadi and Charlotte Manning.
Society members, (Left-right) Erica McGovern, Liam Knights, Syed Zadi and Charlotte Manning.

What messages are being written in the cards?

“The aim is to write from the heart. When trying to help people think what to write we try to help them get into the mind of somebody who has found themselves imprisoned. To try and help them think what kind of things they might take for granted that other people might not; eg. – support from friends and family and messages of encouragement. Overall, I’d say that the point is to pass on the message that no matter how dark the day may seem, there is and always will be hope because that is what helped me.”

What are the hopes and dreams for the campaign?

“Our aim for future is to hopefully extend the campaign to more prisons and to try and get other organisations involved,” says Liam.

 

* Anyone wishing to donate cards or get in touch with Liam, can write to him at: Leeds Prison Reform Society, 8 Wood Lane, Flat 2, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS6 2AE

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