Recently our reporter went to prison, by choice of course, to visit the excellent JailBirds social enterprise and see what they do and how they are transforming lives by giving prisoners a purpose now, and hope for the future through an innovative and creative work scheme.
Our reporter had never had any involvement with prison before and so entered with natural trepidation of what lay beyond the imposing walls and security systems. Once checked in and through no less than six locked doors they found them self in the very promising workshop dedicated to the JailBirds project.
The room in the women’s prison was jammed ceiling high with all sorts of created and creating materials, the majority of which were recycled. This is where we sit down with a coffee and have a chat with Ann Bellamy, the personality behind the vision, to find out how this has all come about.
Ann was employed by Peterborough Prison to start an art department. This was an ideal opportunity for Ann as she had a passion to use her skills in this exact way, and knew this was a positive way to help change lives.
JailBirds is a social enterprise that produces a unique range of greetings cards and other giftware all created by the prisoners, for the prisoners, and for purchase beyond the prison walls. The original inspiration to produce greetings cards came from the prisoners themselves prompted by the lack of cards available for them to buy in prison to send out to friends and family. The cards on sale were limited to a few styles and did not always provide designs that matched the huge variety of ethnicity and faiths represented in the prison population.
Ann designed a fresh range of cards and prisoners working in the art department set to work making them to sell to other inmates. Unsurprisingly these tailored card became popular, and once they started appearing on doormats outside of the prison people started asking where they could buy them?
This growing enterprise caught the attention of the Director of Peterborough Prison, who saw the potential in what was happening and as a result JailBirds was given a higher profile in the prison along with the other projects that fall under the profile of the Business Development Department
Today there are over 200 designs covering every kind of celebration and occasion you could imagine, and there are always plans to extend the range further. Funds gained by the sale of the products is split three ways with equal thirds going to charity, the prisoners fund, and re-invested into materials.
No Holiday Camp
“Getting up and going to work keeps me sane, and I never get bored in the JailBirds workshop, plus I like the fact that we are helping charities with our work.” An inmate who is part of the JailBirds Team.
A requirement of prison life is that you participate in work or education during your sentence. It comes as no surprise that working in the JailBirds workshop is so popular that there is a long waiting list of women wanting to work there.
Prior to joining the department all wishing to be involved undergo an interview of sorts where they demonstrate they can do the required work - this isn’t a holiday camp activity but real preparation for work once a sentence has been spent.
Prisoners know it is a privilege to work in the department as there is a degree of freedom to be found in the creating of products. They also get to see all the new products before anyone else, as well as the enjoyment of interaction with the many visitors the department welcomes from the outside. One prisoner tells of how she had been sending JailBird’s cards to her mum and of how proud her mum was of her when she told her she had got a job with JailBirds.
Actual skills are gained by those working in the department, skills transferable to other jobs, and to potentially initiate their own craft business as products are easy to replicate at a very low cost.
Waste Not Want Not
Many of the materials used are things most of us would consider waste. All sorts of items are used to make all sorts of products. Particularly eye catching are a range of wreaths made from the pages of damaged library books. There are also a great many items made using an intricate method of folding paper - even the tiniest scrap is folded and woven into a complex range of decorations, pots, boxes and other things..
Nothing is wasted; the Jailbirds workshop is one of the most frugal in the prison complex with virtually no rubbish being produced. Every little bit of waste is precious and can be used, as are the tools in the department; a good example are the closely guarded 10 pairs of scissors which are now eight years old.
A Stand Out Brand
The distinctive branding for the business came about as preparations were being made for an exhibition at Peterborough Cathedral. This required something that stood out from the crowd, and given that the original purpose of the archetypical prisoners outfit was designed for the exact same purpose, it was a logical step forward in design. The exhibition and others like it in the community - including Network Peterborough’s own Peterborough Christian Conference - have opened up opportunities to sell JailBirds products to a wider customer base. JailBirds products can now be purchased from a number of outlets across the city including:
St. Peters and All Souls Church
Wellspring Community Church
KingsGate Community Church
Prisoners gain a great deal of confidence and a feeling of acceptance in knowing that ‘normal’ people from outside of the prison are buying the products, and that they keep buying them. This has much to do with the quality of the work. The quality is high, not just by prison standards but by any standards. This along with the originality of the art and designs is one of the keys to JailBirds success.
If you would like to purchase these fantastic products then you can visit one of the outlets mentioned above. If you would like to be an outlet then you can contact JailBirds by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
JailBirds are able to tailor their products to meet resellers needs and to promote specific charities.