FEBRUARY 21, 1962
LONDON—I had a long talk with my old friend, Lady Stella Reading, and came away impressed with the many ways she uses and the great good she does with her Women's Voluntary Service. I was glad to hear from her that various places in the United States are adopting her pattern of growing activities, and I hope that we will not only encourage more women to take part but, as she is doing, that we will bring men into certain areas of the work.
Lady Reading told me of one way in which her organization is trying to supplement the work of the few professionals they have. They are hopeful of welding all of the professional people who now serve as probation officers into one national service, so that a man, for instance, who can be very successful in dealing with certain situations, could be moved from area to area where his particular skills may be needed.
However, Lady Reading said she finds they have too few probation officers—and this certainly has a familiar ring to us from the U.S. as well. She is, therefore, organizing Rotarians and other groups of voluntary workers to serve under the professional probation officers. If boys or young men are not sentenced to prison but are put under a probation officer, that officer can choose one of the volunteers whom he thinks especially fitted to become a particular youngster's friend. The same thing would be done for a boy coming out of prison after a sentence.
It has been very difficult for the Women's Voluntary Service to find decent lodgings and so houses are being established which will take eight or nine boys under a house mother. She provides breakfast and supper and a packed lunch to take to work, and it's her goal to win the confidence of the boys and give them a feeling of home life and friendship.
These boys pay a little more than three pounds (about $10) per week for room and board, which is about what they would have to pay on the outside. After a certain length of time, if a boy works out well he can be allowed to go and board in the home of one of the members of the volunteer service. This volunteer, of course, is urged to make the boy feel that somebody is really interested in him and wants to see him become a respectable and successful member of the community. Lady Reading's organization is being very practical and realistic about everything, and is trying to guard against some of the most obvious difficulties, which are much the same here as they are in the States.
Lady Reading told me one thing I had not heard of before. She said that frequently in the reformatory the boys are tattoed on their inner arm. Then, after a boy is released and is engaged perhaps in a game of darts with his sleeves rolled up, the tattoo is discovered by others. This tells his associates that the young man has been in prison and they often resort to blackmail to get him back under their bad influences.
I sometimes think the forces of evil are organized much more compactly than are the forces for good. This may be because we so often shy away from talking factually and truthfully about the dangers and the difficulties which have to be guarded against when one is actually working in the underworld.
The Women's Voluntary Service requires of its volunteers who are to act as friends of the parolees three references, and they meet frequently with the probation officer to discuss their cases. These volunteers are chosen from every walk of life, but the character and the reputation of anyone dealing with these boys are matters of great importance.
The organization hopes, of course, that it can do more than it so far has planned, but it gets some consolation from the fact that any boy whom it takes under its wing will not be left friendless. The boy will be helped to find work and will have a decent home, and this means that he will stay out of prison and become useful to the community instead of simply costing the community an ever-increasing amount as he becomes more and more a hardened criminal.