Andy is not only one of our most experienced stitchers, having been with us for over eight years, but he is also one of the most productive stitchers we have ever known. He has worked on any number of commissions over the years and is very much a core member of the Fine Cell Work family. He told us about his FCW journey.
My story goes back almost ten years to when I first became aware of Fine Cell Work at Long Lartin, a high security dispersal prison. There were several prisoners on my wing who were doing some sort of needlework. Back then I had a reputation to uphold, and although I was curious about it, the thought of other prisoners and staff seeing me poncing about with a needle filled me with dread.
It wasn’t until a year later when I was transferred to Dovegate to participate in their therapeutic programme that I found FCW again. I experienced a great deal of trauma growing up and this had a huge impact on my life in so many ways, too many to list here. Participating in the therapeutic programme was even more stressful, causing me to slowly spiral into depression and anxiety. So I needed something else to focus on.
To this day I remember the first time I came into contact with an FCW volunteer. She was a lovely woman with a caring nature, and she welcomed me into the room like she’d known me for years. She spoke to me like a normal person and encouraged me to have a go at stitching, which I found quite easy to do.
That night I phoned my family and girlfriend to tell them what I was doing. Their reaction of shock and disbelief was to be expected, but they were all supportive. I bet they never imagined in a million years that I would do something like needlework. Here I am, an ex-boxer, karate teacher, car racer, body-builder and weight lifter, doing sewing! Who’d have thought.
I remained at Dovegate for a couple of years and in that time I completed many kits including a large carpet. I received a lot of feedback about my work but something else stood out. I received a card with a lovely letter enclosed from a person I’d never heard of. It was from a recipient of one of my kits who congratulated me on an excellent piece of work. It was fantastic to have this because it proved I was doing some great work.
Following a break at another prison, I was transferred back to the Therapeutic Community at Dovegate and re-joined the group. It was during this time that I began mentoring new stitchers. I felt really honoured that FCW were placing their trust in me and I hoped I wouldn’t fail them. I can safely say that those I mentored went on to complete nice kits.
Nowadays, I am at a category C establishment where I am a ‘lone stitcher’ working without the support of volunteers. I am extremely grateful not just to this prison, but also to FCW for allowing me this opportunity.
Since I first started with FCW I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of stress, heartache and other problems. Being able to stitch was a great way to take my mind off what was going on inside my head. In times of great stress I would pick up my tapestry and immerse myself into it, which helped every single time. At times I wouldn’t put it down until the early hours of the morning. I can confidently state that FCW has helped me get through many problematic times in my life and has stopped me from going over the edge.
As someone who doesn’t pester their family for money I try to live off my earnings from whatever prison I’m in. As other prisoners will agree, what we get paid isn’t worth writing home about. Working for FCW allows me to earn extra money, which has a dramatic effect on me socially. I spend the majority of my money on the phone so I can call my family and girlfriend. Since working for FCW I can call them regularly and almost every day. I’ve also been able to save some of the money and invested it for my future. I wouldn’t have been able to do this were it not for FCW.
I can’t thank Fine Cell Work enough for their support. Although I’ve done a lot of hard work to make myself a better person, I’ve had FCW with me all the way. I owe a lot to them for how I’ve become today and I’m proud to be a part of their family. Whenever I’ve come into contact with FCW volunteers we are spoken to like they have been in our lives for years. I have the utmost respect for these wonderful people who give up their time for free to come and make a difference to the lives of us prisoners.
What does the future hold? I’ve no idea how long I’ve got left to serve because I’m a life sentence prisoner having served sixteen years to date. I would like, wherever possible, to continue and maybe even do some volunteer work for FCW when I eventually get released. Having done all sorts of tapestries from spectacle cases to carpets, from Christmas cards to Clint Eastwood commissions, and pin cushions to shields, I will endeavour to produce good quality work and continue to have a much appreciated relationship with all at Fine Cell Work.
I thank FCW from the bottom of my heart. You have made a massive impact on my life and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity I received eight years ago.
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