“Be in the moment with another person, offering an ounce of humanity.”

Beverley Maragh coordinates an initiative called Born Inside, along with psychotherapist Pamela Wyndham-Stewart. It is a pilot project to demonstrate how Montessori techniques and training can be delivered to infants and mothers during detention in prison, with the aim of ultimately establishing similar projects in other centers of incarceration. We know you will be inspired by Beverley’s profound respect for women and children who live in very unique circumstances. Read on!  


Where in the world did you grow up, Beverley?

I was born and raised in London, my parents having moved to the U.K.  from the Caribbean during the 1960’s. As I remember it, I grew up within two cultures. Education was at the forefront of our family values and mine was a strict upbringing. I am the eldest of five children, and often felt like I had to function as the “second mother.”                        


                            Can you describe one of your most precious childhood memories?

I was raised among a large extended family where there was time to play, but usually with our own relatives. We would play on the London streets for hours; the neighbors kept an eye on us and the older children were somewhat conscious of being responsible for the younger ones. Nowadays childhood in London is different. I can remember always walking around with two plasters on my knees! We’ve lost a lot, perhaps. Recreation for children was organic then. Now, it is much more controlled. Climbing trees, riding bikes, scooters etc. was common and we played outdoors for hours and hours, until dinner time or bathtime. 



What do you remember about your earliest school days?

Primary school was all about play, it seems. We were quite happy to go to school although the atmosphere changed once we entered secondary school. Most of the teachers had pretty low expectations and communicated, either directly or indirectly, that most of us would leave school and be married or perhaps work in Woolworth’s. The general unspoken message was that, as a girl, you might never amount to anything.

I originally considered a career in nursing, but I couldn’t stand the sight of blood so that didn’t seem practical! My mother had hopes of me working in an office or a bank. She once bought me the worst present ever - a typewriter - with a view to inspiring me along that track. At around the age of 16 I began to consider a job in childcare and went to speak to the head teacher at a local nursery school who explained that I was too young at that time, but who advised me to come back a year later, which I did. 



                       Did one person, in particular, inspire you during your childhood?

I don’t think so. I felt a challenge that I should prove people wrong who didn’t believe in me. I had a fighting spirit and was determined to find a way to achieve something, no matter what it took. My absorbent mind was taking in the energy from the strong women in my extended family, particularly one aunt. As a child I was soaking in their attitudes and their strength. 



Please tell us a little more about what you do, Beverley!

I worked in traditional council-run nurseries for about ten years, mostly in inner-city areas of London. With a NNEB qualification I witnessed my first birth at the age of 18. After more than twenty years in the workforce, I made the change to Montessori education and actually ran two Children’s Houses, one of which I started myself and then sold. But a defining moment in my life came when I took the 0-3 training. This opened up a new world of experience for me and eventually led to me working with the charity Birth Companions. 


I had the opportunity to connect a friend of mine, a trained psychotherapist, with Lynne Lawrence at the MMI and never expected that I would become part of what is now an innovative program called Born Inside. We started the program in Holloway prison, which was, at the time, the only women’s prison in London. They allowed us to have one hour with a group of mothers in a postnatal group. We were able to approach the women using a Montessori ethos of respect, complemented by support gleaned from the realm of psychotherapy; the goal was enabling the women to look objectively at their own lives, and the lives of their new babies. This naturally involved a carefully balanced dialogue that allowed trust to develop over a period of time.


Holloway prison was closed four years ago, rather suddenly, and five hundred female offenders were rehoused all over the United Kingdom, including Peterborough, Manchester and even Scotland. With many families unable to meet the challenge of regular train or coach fares in order to maintain contact between parents and children, this had an impact on family stability and even family ties. In cases where both parents are incarcerated, children have been living with extended family or sometimes fostered through the legal system.  


Our program is now focused in Bronzefield prison, outside the city of London. Using little or no materials as such, we adapt the concept of “hands-on learning” within the confines of the environment, and typically accentuate the physical and emotional needs of the babies through role modelling in terms of “floor time”, “tummy time“ and general language development. This prison is privately run, and inmates can keep their baby until the child is aged 18 months. The majority of mothers get to go home with their babies (their sentences might not be too long) but, of course, each case is unique. We currently serve the needs of twelve mothers and a limit of thirteen babies (allowing for the possibility of twins). 


We treat the women we meet as human beings and put aside the crime they have done, focusing instead on providing support for how they can prepare to be a mother. Our goal is to communicate the message “You are the first caregiver and the first teacher of this child.” Some women only discover they are pregnant after arriving in prison and appreciate a space in which to talk and share their feelings. We can give advice on the preparation of a prepared environment for the baby, and also listen to the myriad of concerns and questions that any mother might have. Sometimes a baby can become a security blanket for the mother which, of course, is not healthy for either party. It is important for us to emphasize that each baby is their own person, with their own individual needs. 


We also pay significant attention to the unique living circumstances of the child. Even though the mother is sure to be continually counting down to her release date, a child will be leaving his/her first home and his/her first extended family when release day comes around. The Born Inside team can support the mothers in helping to prepare a toddler for loss, for transition and for saying goodbye. 

Do we hear from any of the mothers after their release? There are occasional letters, but typically we don’t expect to hear from most of the women we serve. After all, we represent something that they want to leave behind. Over the last seven years we have worked alongside two hundred women, or more. Everybody has a story to tell. In this line of work we have learned not to judge anybody. Any of our lives can change. In the end, it’s the simple things that can make a big impact on any of us. 


We try to just live in the moment. Be in the moment with another person, offering an ounce of humanity.


Thank you so much, Beverley, for sharing such an inspirational story! You can find out more about the Born Inside project on our website. It remains a privilege to learn more about the people behind these projects. Check in next month for our next interview!

Learn more about Born Inside initiative here.