I volunteer for SHINE because: I am inspired by the simplicity and effectiveness of the SHINE Invisits Program, where inexpensive art/play materials and encouraging volunteers provide opportunity for children and families to engage in pleasurable and creative activities during a prison visit. With one year’s experience in three Victorian prisons I have observed the positive effect of the SHINE Program on various family members as well as prison staff. I believe the inclusion of creative/play activities in prison visitors centres is crucial in establishing a humanising environment for families, the incarcerated and staff, and that such an environment promotes healthy family relationships.

My observations of the Invisits Program reinforce the validity of the activities provided; in maintaining and developing vital family relationships disrupted by incarceration. For children the SHINE program enables a less fearful experience of visiting a prison, and values and respects them as individuals. For all family members including the incarcerated, the SHINE activities promote shared family experiences, making art and playing games together. This sharing of experiences facilitates family bonding particularly the vital bonding of the incarcerated parent and child.

There are many rewarding moments, some include:

  • witnessing the children absorbed in art or play activities or
  • their expression of pride as families praise their artistic achievements.
  • At Barwon perhaps the most rewarding moments are dads either sitting alongside their kids at the art table; making art together or sitting on kids-size chairs in the play area, playing ‘shop’ with their kids or building with blocks, taking instructions from their child.

The most difficult situation: Sadly when some family members unwittingly miss opportunities to give appropriate praise or encouragement for their children’s achievements in art or in play. However, such incidents reinforce the value of SHINE volunteers in offering an empathic, encouraging presence not only for children but for family members experiencing various hardships.

The most challenging time: My initial visit to each prison: my unease at witnessing for the first time children in the prison environment, their restless in the waiting area then negotiating the security checks.

I like helping others because: It just makes sense to promote the emotional and psychological well being of human beings; children, adolescents and adults whatever their circumstances. I believe individuals and communities can prosper when authentic relationships are fostered and narrow judgements suspended. To approach an individual or communities with empathy, while understanding the process of time, can tap hidden strengths, foster self-respect and in turn promote respect for others even within the challenging environment of a prison.

*Name has been changed.