Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice

JULIE WILLIAMS (HMP & YOI Parc)

JULIE WILLIAMS (HMP & YOI Parc)

AWARD WINNER 2021-22: Julie has spent almost a decade in Invisible Walls Wales team at HMP/YOI Parc and been instrumental joining up prisoners, families, and schools. Calling her “a shining exemplar”, Parc Director Janet Wallsgrove says Julie, as ‘Schools and Prisons Family Coordinator, is “now in a pivotal position to break new and vitally important ground within prison reform.”
[This Award is supported by The Hanley Trust.]

‘One in a million’

A teacher once told Julie that “children who feel loved go to school to learn and children from chaotic backgrounds go to school to be loved.” Julie is helping drive wider understanding of imprisonment’s impact on children and see schools as key. Parc’s commitment to the proverbial ‘golden bullet’ of education is recognised by many (including us: Julie is the latest of 10 Butler Trust wins for Parc since 2014).

School is ‘the second home’ for most children, says Janet, “but for those with a parent in prison, it often becomes ‘the first home.’” Julie combines vision and dynamism. She’s driven school parents’ evenings inside the prison, fathers helping with homework, school guidance, food donations to schools and BikeZone – where prisoners repair donated cycles which Julie delivers to schools across Wales. And children labelled ‘troublesome’ or ‘unmanageable’ are better understood, their experience no longer ‘invisible’.

Julie has created what Head of Family Services and 2007 Butler Trust winner Corin Morgan-Armstrong calls “the circle of communication,” linking families, schools and prison. In 2014, her first “Children’s Showcase” was like a parents’ evening “but a lot more dynamic. Teachers learned about visiting prisons and family dynamics, dads felt there are less barriers to visiting the school after release, mums/guardians feel more supported and less ashamed, and the children are the focus of this informal and coordinated event. How wonderful,” he adds, “for the children to have mum and dad present, discussing their school work with the teachers.” Now 20-30 schools and families take part in these events each term.

Julie has been “the catalyst,” creating positive change among prisoners, and brighter, happier futures for children, says Corin. The “vast number” of testimonials, says colleague Georgina Coupe, create a powerful picture of Julie’s incredible work and the lives she’s helped improve. Teachers Elinor John and Catrin Rees praise how Julie’s “empathy, compassion and non-judgemental ways have helped hundreds of pupils”. Even more powerful testimonies come from those most affected. First, ‘Ryan’:

“I am a long-term prisoner and when I first met Julie I was full of guilt, anger and self-pity and finding it difficult to cope with the fact that I had left my beautiful little boy behind. Julie taught me to embrace these emotions and use them to become a better parent. She helped me become a part of his school life by organising parent & teacher events at HMP Parc where his teachers came to visit me to discuss his school work and behaviour in school – his was good and I have Julie to thank for that – and adding me to the homework club so that we go through it together, bringing us even closer.

 There are not enough hours in the day to convey Julie’s nature of wanting to help fathers and their children. She has helped me become a better father emotionally and physically and I believe she deserves all the recognition she can get for helping fathers reconnect with their children.”

 This rare but vivid glimpse into Julie from an entire family is worth quoting at length, as received in letters over the years, and starting with former prisoner, ‘Mark’:

“The amount of support that the I.W.W. Team gives prisoners is amazing and thanks to the support Julie have given me I have rebuilt my life and as a family we are all doing very well. Julie helped bring my family to and from the prison and the support didn’t stop at my release, when I was in the community Julie helped me get back into the work…she is an incredible person.”

 Mark’s partner ‘Amanda’:

“She would pick us up take us to the prison and bring us home without her I don’t think we would of seen him much… Julie was truly amazing she kept our family together, Mark have never been in trouble since leaving prison with all the help and support.”

 Oldest daughter ‘Tanya’, 14:

“Julie made me smile when she bought me Mcdonald’s and took me to see him in Prison. She has helped me through one of the hardest times in my life to keep me occupied by taking me on days out like we went to London, horse riding, I met Princess Anne, she painted my nails and honestly without Julie’s amazing help when I was 7 I wouldn’t be where I am now… me and my dad/family wouldn’t have came this far without Julie and her amazing ways.”

  ‘Catriona’, 12:

“If it wasn’t for Julie I don’t think my family would be together. She spoke to us about our worries and made us feel at ease.”

 Finally, ‘Bethan’, 11:

“she helped keep my family together and she used to pick us up to see our dad and always made time for us when we were worried or upset. Julie spoke to the school so our teachers knew what we were going through wich helped. Julie was always fun, she made us laugh and smile and took us to the prison so dad could still be involved.”

 The depth – and detail – speaks for Julie eloquently. As she herself says, “a little letter or a simple picture coloured in can have such a huge impact on a child who sits at school thinking about their father in custody.” As Corin put it in the first line of Julie’s nomination: “I truly believe Julie is one in a million when it comes to the welfare of prisoners, their families and especially their children.”

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