Prisoners are often the forgotten souls of society, locked up and with divisive opinions over how they should be treated.
Yet evidence shows that with the correct rehabilitation, such as education and learning skills, those behind bars can reshape their lives for a second chance.
And one incredible organisation, Leather Inside Out, is doing just that.
They not only unlock the doors for ex-offenders through national minimum wage-based skills in training and employment in the British leather craft industry, they have also kickstarted a new campaign given the current climate named Freedom in Isolation.
Speaking to Uspire about the initiative, and how creative activities are being used to help, the group’s creative director Louise Graham said that prisons “have been hit hard” lately.
Louise explained: “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has rightly focused on hospitals, care homes and protecting our NHS.
“Yet there are some communities, such as the prison estate, which have been hit hard by the pandemic and left forgotten.”
She continued: “British prisoners have faced tough measures since the isolation period began, with many being forced to endure up to 23-hours a day in isolation.
“They have also had visitation rights revoked, no access to gyms or places of worship, and parole hearings have been suspended.
“Without some relief, this double-lockdown is predicted to impact their mental health.”
Louise said that this heightened anxiety also affects prisoners’ families and friends, who fear for their relatives as they feel they are unable to properly protect themselves from the coronavirus while they are behind bars, causing additional distress and worry.
In addition to current prisoners’ difficulties, former inmates who have recently been released are also experiencing hardship as they try to rebuild their lives due to the state of the economy – which has been drastically impacted by an unprecedented 2020.
This is exactly why Freedom in Isolation was launched, to show the prison community that they are not forgotten and to support them during this challenging period.
Louise said: “We aim to raise awareness of the benefits of creative activities – such as writing, craft, fine art and design – for people within the prison community, so that they can use this as a tool to practice mindfulness as well as managing stress and anxiety.
“We want to ensure that everyone impacted by coronavirus has the opportunity to practice arts and crafts, so as part of the project we are giving creative material packs to anyone within the prison community who is unable to access materials themselves.”
She continued: “By encouraging prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families to get involved in creative activities, we hope to improve their mindfulness. And in turn, help them to overcome the psychological challenges they are facing during the pandemic.”
Thanks to their efforts, the project has sparked a hugely positive response, with many prisoners and their family members submitting work in various art forms, such as poetry, crafts, paintings and even face coverings.
Louise continued: “We’ve had to really think on our feet as it was a response to the evolving pandemic situation, so much of the research has happened as we go along.
“In additional to our existing contacts database, we had to connect with HMP establishments and parole officers nationally, independent agencies and individuals. We have used social media in order to connect with ex-prisoners, families and supporters.”
In the coming months, the campaigners hope to showcase all of the artwork they have received from the Freedom in Isolation initiative at a special exhibition in London.
They also hope to inspire empathy and understanding amongst the general public towards the prison community, who really need support during this difficult time.
For more info, click here: Leather Inside Out.