WHEN he looks back at the dozens of letters he has received over the years, Gordon Dawson smiles knowing the good this communication has done.
For the scribbled notes are not from an ordinary pen friend but from men serving long sentences in tough Zambia prisons.
The letters sent by the charity worker are often their only means of escape from the harsh reality of prison life.
Gordon is a member of the Christian African Relief Trust (Cart), a warehouse and charity shop based in Lockwood.
The charity ships containers of clothes and medical supplies to help families facing extreme poverty.
It also sends aid to prisons and the stories of some facing years of incarceration have moved Gordon to help improve their lives.
The Salendine Nook man has been corresponding with prisoners in Kabwe, Zambia, for a number of years.
He said: “It all began in 2003 when I received a letter from Jonathon Kachenjela, who was coming to the end of a sentence which was originally 20 years.
“He talked about his conditions in prison.
“In Zambia they have three levels of prisons – maximum, medium and minimum security – and they are very tough places.
“The conditions are very crowded and a lot of people suffer from HIV, while treatment is minimal.
“Every day the prisoners go out for hard labour, working on projects like agriculture and road building – the days are long and they don’t get much food to sustain themselves.”
The prisoner told Gordon of his plans to make a better life for himself when he was released.
He said: “He was determined to do something which would benefit not only himself but other ex-prisoners and unemployed youths.
“His intention was to acquire some land and start a small market gardening project. Cart provided him with some agricultural tools from our harvest appeal and Jonathon sent us a photograph of his first harvest – it’s lovely to see how he has turned his life around.”
Gordon now corresponds with two other prisoners, Rodrick Tembo and Edwin Sechamba, who hope to be released from prison soon.
He said: “Both have artistic ability which they have put to good use by producing decorated notelets and Christmas card – we sell these in the shop and the money goes back to them.
“In Rodrick’s case it is helping to fund a distance learning course in social work on which he has embarked on preparation for his release.”
The prison chaplain organises activities to help inmates better themselves and the charity’s next container will include paint and sewing machines.
Two more prisoners have asked Gordon to write to them, but his work with the charity means he can’t correspond.
He is now asking people in Huddersfield to spare a little time to write to them instead.
The men are Mushota Kaunda, who is eight years into a 20-year sentence with hard labour and John Wankie, currently serving a 16-year sentence.
Gordon said: “Receiving letters means a lot to these prisoners, they can be visited but their relatives live many miles away and often can’t afford the fare to get to the prisons.
“These letters provide them with a sense of being cared for, that they have not been forgotten.
“It can be the boost they need to achieve more with their lives when they are released.”
To write to either of the men call Cart on 01484 461800.