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A big thank you to Maureen – The power of peer support

thanksWe’ve recently been sent this blog by Paula who was keen that we share it to let people know how important volunteers in prison and fellow prisoners are in supporting others to survive.


It was the anniversary of my release from prison yesterday and these words came to mind:

It’s time to build a bridge and walk over it.

This was my first introduction to solution focused thinking.

I lay on my bed broken by the realisation that I had been sentenced to eight years in prison and would miss numerous Christmas celebrations and birthdays with my five children. The pain paralysed me as I lay in bed, tears streaming silently down my face. I wasn’t getting out of bed, I wasn’t moving, I was dead but still alive in a prison cell.

It was a desperate, broken moment in my life; the moment when I realised the enormity of the punishment which lay ahead and how it impacted on not only me, but my kids and that I was the person responsible.

How to live with that guilt, that shame, that fear, that lack of hope?

Maureen, another woman sentenced to a long period in prison, but who was acting in the role of a volunteer peer supporter was my saviour.

It’s time to build a bridge and walk it over.

Don’t collapse, come out fighting, better and stronger, this is when you’ll find yourself; trust me, I’ve been where you are – I’ve got four kids but together we will get through it. Here’s a cup of tea, and here’s your tracksuit; let’s go for a walk around the perimeter’.

She didn’t let me argue. I needed help and here was help. I reached out and took it.

Thank goodness I did and I lived to tell the tale.

Thanks Maureen. Thanks for supporting me as a volunteer in the midst of your own challenges. I believed in you and then I believed in myself.

By Paula 


There are many Maureen’s out there. Some are part of organised schemes run in prisons but others are women who just want to provide informal help and support to others.

Peer support can be really important in prison and for many it is preferred to the formal support provided by psychologists and counsellors. Shared experiences mean that peers can offer judgement free support and understanding that’s different to the support provided by professionals. In addition, it’s often much easier to find a peer to speak to.

Peer support isn’t just one way traffic. Evidence states that becoming a peer supporter can have a positive effect on prisoners sometimes enhancing confidence and self-esteem, improving communication skills and generating a more positive self image.

Unlock’s own helpline has been peer-led since it started 7 years ago – we recruit volunteers from both the community and from nearby local prisons. A recent comment from somebody who spoke to one of our helpline advisors recently seems to bear out the research into peer support which was:

I felt that whatever question I asked, I’d get a straight response and know I wouldn’t be judged.

Useful links

  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below
  • Information – We have practical self-help information on volunteering and prison issues
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to this issue on our online forum.

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