In The Spirit Of Giving

Ex-Prisoners Made Holiday Decorations For The Elderly As Part Of The 'Muslim Women In Prison' Project

The artistic endeavors benefited both the women, and the elderly.

We love tinsel and trappings as much as the next Elf on the Shelf devotees, but here at A Plus, we believe that true wintertime magic comes in the form of connection and human kindness. Over the next month, come back and join us in raising a glass to those who give — because what's December without a little holiday spirit?

According to research conducted by the Prison Reform Trust, a London-based organization that works to ensure prisons are just, humane and effective, Muslim women in prisons (or those who have been imprisoned) face a unique combination of stigma and discrimination that can make it especially difficult to re-acclimate into society after their release. With that in mind, the Muslim Women in Prison project, based in Bradford, West Yorkshire, wanted to find a way to engage former prisoners this holiday season.

Buzzfeed News reports the project's rehabilitation coordinator, Sofia Buncy, felt it was important for the women she works with to have a way to express themselves artistically, so she decided to have them make the Christmas decorations for the Khidmat Center, a local community center in Bradford.

Buncy, who set up a pilot project working with Muslim women in prisons in North Yorkshire in 2014, shared some of the results on Twitter on December 22. It was immediately clear the women put a lot of time and effort into making the gorgeous and festive decorations, which were to be displayed at a special holiday dinner for about 25 elderly Christians on December 25. Instead of just buying a tree, Buncy noted the women made all of the decorations by hand.

According to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, studies have shown that inmates can benefit in a number of ways when exposed to the arts. For example, arts education can help those (including former prisoners) struggling with issues of self worth, confidence and empowerment. The CJCJ also found the arts contribute to inmate self-development through improving their motivation, social and life skills.

"It is therapeutic art, in our communities we don't really use art therapy," Buncy said, adding the women were able to talk about their own holiday experiences together while working on the arts and crafts.

And while it might not seem like formerly imprisoned Muslim women and elderly Christians have much in common, Buncy said the loneliness many elderly people feel around the holidays resonated with the women she works with, as they would also be spending the holidays away from their children and their family while the work on resettling.

The Telegraph & Argus reported the once imprisoned women, who also helped prepare the food for the dinner, worked alongside people of many different faiths to make the celebration a success.

Buncy added some of the women had only been out of prison for a few weeks or months, and were fearful of being judged by others. "This is part of the community resettlement, and getting them to feel a part of something," she explained, noting that Muslim women are especially vulnerable to recidivism in part because of the major lack of support on the outside.

"If I work with Muslim women in prisons and I can't offer chances, and I can't offer placements, then what am I doing in this field?" Buncy asked.

If the tweet above is any indication, it looks like the Christmas dinner the women Buncy works with took part it was a rousing success!

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