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Charity-run gift exchange for prisoners and their children ‘humanises’ inmates

Prison Fellowship’s head of fundraising and communications said the Angel Tree programme ‘plays a big part’ in preventing reoffending.

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Theresa John said sending her children gifts from prison planted ‘a seed of reconciliation’ (Theresa John/PA)

Theresa John said sending her children gifts from prison planted ‘a seed of reconciliation’ (Theresa John/PA)

Theresa John said sending her children gifts from prison planted ‘a seed of reconciliation’ (Theresa John/PA)

A woman who was able to send her children Christmas presents while in prison has praised the volunteer-run programme, which “plays a big part” in stopping inmates from reoffending.

Theresa John, 37, hailed the work of Angel Tree, a project organised by the Prison Fellowship charity that enables parents in prison to send their children gifts at Christmas with a personalised card.

“It was a real seed of love and reconciliation. It began a process in me and also in my children,” Ms John told the PA news agency.

“It gave them hope that mummy was going to be alright… it gave them hope that things would change and that they would see me again.”

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Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree hosts ‘wrapping parties’ where presents are boxed up and sent (Prison Fellowship England and Wales/PA)

Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree hosts ‘wrapping parties’ where presents are boxed up and sent (Prison Fellowship England and Wales/PA)

Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree hosts ‘wrapping parties’ where presents are boxed up and sent (Prison Fellowship England and Wales/PA)

Prison Fellowship’s head of fundraising and communications, Andy Prescott, said “just one small gift can change a family forever”.

“It’s a bit of a cliche, but you hear what I’m saying… it’s not a golden bullet, but it can play a big part in stopping someone in prison from reoffending,” the 47-year-old told PA.

“One of the things that will prevent reoffending is having strong family relationships… if you’re thinking about your wife and your kids, that’s quite a powerful thing to stop you from going back along those roads where you’ve been before.

“There are many stories around family relationships being restored (too), because a present arrives at Christmas and then the child wants to talk to their dad or go and visit their dad in prison.”

The Angel Tree programme was first founded in the US nearly 40 years ago and got picked up by its first English prison in 1994.

Since then, the scheme has delivered thousands of Christmas presents to children with parents in prison across the country – and aims to deliver more than 5,000 this year from 99 out of 117 prisons in England and Wales.

Ms John was sentenced to 10 months in HM Prison Holloway for actual bodily harm and burglary in the summer of 2012.

As the holidays approached, she was able to send her daughter, who lives with her mother, and her sons, who live with her sister-in-law, Christmas presents.

“I remember walking through the landing and seeing this sign on the notice board that said about the Angel Tree programme,” Ms John said.

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Ms John said the gift exchange ‘restored hope back in me as a mother’ (Theresa John/PA)

Ms John said the gift exchange ‘restored hope back in me as a mother’ (Theresa John/PA)

Ms John said the gift exchange ‘restored hope back in me as a mother’ (Theresa John/PA)

Inmates are then allowed to fill out an application form where they can detail what they want to give to their children and what to write in the card.

After necessary security checks, the presents are bought, wrapped, and sent on behalf of the parent.

“(I sent) one of my sons a tennis racket (and) the other one had a football. And then my daughter had some writing and art (supplies),” Ms John said.

She now works as a manager at a community grocery store in Manchester and sees her children whenever she can.

“It restored hope back in me as a mother. What Angel Tree does is give us a sense of identity back as parents, as people, as human beings,” she said.

“The prison system can often dehumanise people but (Angel Tree) humanises people again – it makes people acknowledge that these men and women in prison may have made bad choices and taken wrong directions, but they’re still parents.

“They’re still mothers. They’re still fathers. They still have hearts.”

So far this year, Angel Tree has raised more than £100,000 in donations.

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Angel Tree’s process begins with donations from the public (Prison Fellowship England and Wales)

Angel Tree’s process begins with donations from the public (Prison Fellowship England and Wales)

Angel Tree’s process begins with donations from the public (Prison Fellowship England and Wales)

The most popular gift requests include fidget spinners, LOL dolls, Peppa Pig toys, and Lego.

“Angel Tree has an incredible impact,” Mr Prescott added.

To donate to Angel Tree’s programme, go to: www.prisonfellowship.org.uk/our-work/angel-tree/

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