by Paula Davies
"IF I can help someone else
at the same time as helping myself, why not?" This reasonable sentiment is Mrs. Mary Smith's reason for taking in ex-prisoners as lodgers.
"Naturally 1 was dubious at first," she said, "but it seems to be working surprisingly well. I did not have to touch a dish over Christmas, or peel a potato. The lads always help."
The "lads" were her two regular lodgers plus four other ex-prisoners whom the Smiths took in for Christmas. "Most of them have no homes and are very grateful to be able to live with us as a family.
"When they first come they expect to be nagged, but after a while they settle down. Some are inadequate as people and find it difficult to communicate.
"But I notice them gaining confidence here because they do not have to worry about someone finding out that they have been in prison. I know already."
Mrs. Smith and her husband know, but no one else in the neighbourhood has an inkling. "As far as the neighbours are concerned the lads are just my lodgers. "If I have any trouble—one of the older men who stayed here is back in jail now—I know I can go to Miss Himsworth and get things sorted out. I don't think I would have agreed to take the lads in otherwise," Dorothy Himsworth,a family case worker for the local branch of the Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, has managed to place 75 exprisoners, aged from 17 to nearly 60.
She said : "As far as I know only nine of them have gone back into prison. We felt that if we could find landladies who really eared and who could accept them as they were, we would help to prevent a lot of boys going back to prison."
Some do go back because, as Mrs. Smith said. "they are too old to change their ways." Others go back because it is the only home they know. The younger men, however, seem to be deriving considerable satisfaction from living with people who are willing to accept them.
"We try to select the prisoners carefully. You might almost say we match them to the land
ladies," said Miss Himsworth. "The -probation office looks after the boys and I look after 'the landladies.
"Ora one occasion a landlady helped out her lodger by giving him £2 to get back some cufflinks he had stolen and then sold. He got them back and returned them to the rightful owner, who decided not to call in the police.
"it was very distressing for her," added Miss Himsworth, "but she came to me and everything was sorted out. We never leave our landladies in the lurch or out of pocket."
Neither does the Catholic Prisoners' Social Service, which has been following a smaller version of this kind of scheme for the last five years.
"Very often we arrange to take a room for a period and ensure that the landlady does not lose out whatever happens," said Roger Shelmerdine, secretary of the organisation. "We need more of these landladies— at one time we had nine. Unfortunately the numbers are dwindling because we just do not have the time to go out and hunt for them."
Dealing with 1,400 Catholic ex-prisoners a year, it is a full. time job getting them employment and eight full-time workers are not really enough.
The St. Dismas Society in Southampton, started in 1962 to help ex-prisoners, has found it just as difficult. "We did have a landlady scheme going," said Leonard Godwin, the secretary.
"We gave it up not only because of the time it took to organise but because we found it so difficult to find people who don't mind being let down."
Mrs. Smith would not agree. "You can't condemn them all because one lets you down," she said "I have had some problems, but we have managed to sort them out. It gives you a sense of achievement if you help someone successfully."
She is happily determined to carry on giving a home to the "lads" as she calls them. A pity there are not more people like her.