Volunteers' stories

Aby's story - a visitors' centre volunteer

With being a criminology student at Northumbria university I was made aware of Nepacs from my lecturer. I believed volunteering for Nepacs would help develop my understanding of the families of prisoners. With me wanting to work with prisoners and their families after university, Nepacs seemed the perfect opportunity.

Since joining the Nepacs team at HMP Northumberland I have been welcomed with open arms. By being part of the team I have been able to interact with the families of prisons, by working in the visitors centre, as well as the tea bar located inside of the prison.

My time with Nepacs  has also allowed me to participate in liaison meetings and third sector days, allowing me a chance to communicate with staff and prisoners themselves regarding the welfare of their families.

Not only has Nepacs allowed me to further enhance my knowledge, it has allowed me to gather a greater understanding of the difficulties that may be faced by prisoners families, as well as the ways in which I can help.

Esther's story - a visitors' centre volunteer

I was a volunteer with Nepacs from July 2014 until December 2016 mainly at a visitors’ centre but I occasionally worked on the tea bar at HMP Durham as well.  I knew I wanted to work in the criminal justice system, so being able to go into prison and gain an understanding of the routine and how everything worked was great experience.

Supporting the families in the visitors’ centre was also really great because talking to the families and hearing about their experiences of the criminal justice system taught me about the processes offenders go through before, during and after release.  It highlighted other issues as well because many families had concerns about substance misuse, domestic violence, finding accommodation when they came out of prison and other issues in the wider community.

I now work for Middlesbrough and Stockton Mind on their Diversion and Resettlement Service which supports offenders with mental health issues in the community, through the court process and when they come out of prison.  The aim is to improve mental health and reduce re-offending.  

My experience with Nepacs was instrumental in getting this job.  I had a criminology degree, which was a requirement as well. But it was the hands on experience that made me stand out from other candidates.  My volunteering experience also meant that I was able to settle into the role more easily because I had already worked with offenders and their families and had gained a good general knowledge of the process of going through the criminal justice system.

Andrew's story -  a visitors' centre volunteer

When I left Stockton and Billingham College in October 1989, Holme House prison had just opened its doors for business, so after having a discussion with Stockton Voluntary Services they arranged an interview with the manager and a couple of weeks later, having had my security clearance sorted, I started volunteering on a weekly basis, every Monday.

With four house blocks we thought things were very busy with visits being on a daily basis, some days having two sessions and at least once a week there were three visiting sessions. About ten years later, with the growing prison population, it was decided to build house block 5 and then a couple of years after that house block 6 was built, followed by house block 7.

In the last few years the visitors’ centre has been taken over by Nepacs and the centre is still a busy lively place to work with plenty to do and see. I tend to help out where I am needed, on the desk, answering the telephone and offering support to families visiting the prison. Volunteering at the centre gives me the chance to get out of the house and meet new people. I also enjoy the work and helping families of prisoners. No two days are the same, every day is different and that’s why it is such an enjoyable place to work.

Rachel's story - a tea bar and visitors' centre volunteer

I first started volunteering for Nepacs in 2012 when I began my undergraduate degree in Criminology and Sociology at Northumbria University in Newcastle.  It was actually Nepacs that got in touch with my lecturer looking for volunteers so I decided to apply.  

Nepacs came to give a talk to those of us who were interested in volunteering and the more I found out about the work the charity did, the more I became interested in volunteering.

I felt it would give me a good insight into prisons and how it impacts on families.  I mainly volunteered in the tea bar and visitors’ centre. It made me realise what it is like having someone in prison for the family which I had no experience and never could have imagined.

In 2014 I was offered a contract as a casual worker and then I took on a 10 hour contract which I am still doing now.  The two years voluntary work that I did prepared me for the paid job I was offered because I was familiar with the way the visitors’ centre and the tea bar ran and was more confident. With the role came more responsibilities.  However I received plenty of support which has only developed me further.

Since my time at Nepacs I was offered a student placement at Frankland Prison partly because I had experience of working in a prison environment.  I have since gone on and studied for a Masters in Forensic Psychology.  Throughout my studies Nepacs has supported me, not only providing the experience but helping me develop as a person by giving me independence and belief in my abilities.  

In November 2016 I was offered my first full time job as a Drug and Alcohol Support Worker in the Drug and Alcohol Recovery Team (DART).  Again I can only thank Nepacs for everything they have done for me over the years to help prepare me for this role.  

It will be sad to leave my role, but I am sure that Nepacs will have me back as a volunteer!

Olivia's story – a court duty volunteer

Olivia is a court duty volunteer at Teesside Crown Court in Middlesbrough. Hear Olivia’s story about her role as a volunteer and how she got involved

Paul's story - a court duty volunteer

* Please note that the volunteers name has been anonymised at their request

I have been a volunteer with the Nepacs court project for over a year now.  We come across people from all walks of life.  But they all have one thing in common: they are vulnerable.  It doesn’t matter whether they are the defendants or their families and friends. 

One of the main reasons that I wanted to volunteer with Nepacs is that I have been through the judicial system myself – just for a short time, over 30 years ago.

I took the law into my own hands and stabbed someone who had threatened a member of my family.  This led to my being remanded in custody in Durham Prison. 

Alone, shut in a cell for 23 hours a day, with no real communication with my family or the outside world I had no support and nor did my family. Nepacs wasn’t there at court to help to pick up the pieces as they are now.

My wife had to get three buses to visit me. She hardly left the house because of what she felt was the gossip and finger pointing that was going on. It’s not only the defendant that’s doing the sentence but families who have to go through their own daily lives doing a hidden sentence.  That is why I am such a strong believer in the work that Nepacs do.

It is also vital to the wellbeing of defendants or those who receive a custodial sentence that support is given.  This helps them prepare for what is for many a journey into the unknown.

My experience has made me determined to support others through the judicial system and volunteering with Nepacs is an excellent way to do this.