Six of us met informally in Room 1 at the Friends Meeting House in Lancaster on Saturday 26th April for the LifeLines Regional Group Meeting for the North West. The Friends Meeting House is conveniently located right next to the train station and has step-free access.
After introductions over coffee and after admiring two beautiful hand made patchwork quilts that a member had brought along to the meeting, we talked about each of our friendships over the years. This was followed by various discussions, including how to write the first letter, as a new member was present. Those of us who had been members for a long time agreed that prisoners like hearing about such things as walks, visits to the theatre and holidays, but it is best to avoid talking about food since good food is denied in prison. A cheery postcard occasionally is always welcome to break up the monotony of staring at grey prison walls.
We also discussed how to write what may be the last letter to a prisoner. It was suggested that we use the words ‘This may be my last letter to you but I hope not …’ and then go on to talk about all the ups and downs experienced during the friendship, ending on a positive note. This is the hardest letter to write and it needs to be written carefully and sensitively. It may be best to produce a draft first and keep reading it through and altering it if need be before sending it off.
Finally we heard a report from a member who had attended the spring conference in York. The main speaker, Susannah Sheffer, spoke movingly about how lawyers representing clients facing the death penalty cope with the stress and trauma of their work. She had interviewed 20 post-conviction lawyers to find that they experience profound helplessness. It is like seeing someone tied to a train track with the train approaching and being unable to do anything to save them. Her book Fighting for their Lives gives a very different angle on the death penalty.
In the afternoon Edmund Conybeare, a lawyer from Leeds, encouraged everyone by saying that LifeLines writers are ambassadors for our organisation and we should feel confident and proud of what we do. He talked about giving prisoners hope by writing letters that make them feel human. He brought humour into his talk by telling everyone the story of ‘The Wrong Trousers’. Many years ago on a visit to America he had arrived at the prison in a taxi wearing shorts and was not allowed in to visit his pen friend wearing such attire. He managed to gain access by swapping his shorts for the taxi driver’s trousers! A full report will be available soon on the LifeLines website.
Time flew and all too soon it was 4 p.m. and time to finish. Our next meeting will be in October at the same venue, time to be arranged.
The Regional Groups have been set up to provide members who cannot get to conferences the chance to get together with like-minded people. Members have kindly come forward to set up a group in their own area and some of these are running well. We have groups in North East Yorkshire, East Anglia, London, Oxford and the South West, and others are hoping to establish groups in Nottingham, Sheffield and the South East.