Essence (formerly known as Kahaila-Reflex) began in 2012 when Kahaila - a café church based in East London - joined with Reflex - a national youth offending charity - to work together to have a positive impact on women in London prisons, with a specialist focus on those aged 18-25yrs.
As a church and charity, we believe wholeheartedly that those in prison deserve a second chance and are worth investing in.
Young women in prison have experienced disproportionate levels of rejection and suffering - often by people in their life that they should have been able to rely on. These experiences not only have a huge impact on their behaviour, but also on their understanding of themselves and what they have to offer society.
We are committed to helping women in prison to discover that they have intrinsic worth and something to offer; empowering them to move forward into positive futures.
Essence are a faith based organisation. Our Christian faith inspires us in the work we do, it shapes our values as a project and guides the way we interact with the women we work with - who are from all faiths or none.
These are the values that make up the foundation of our work:
Everyone is different and everyone is unique. At Essence we aim to celebrate the uniqueness of each individual we work with. We don’t try to get the women to fit into a mould but make sure all our interventions are flexible and can be adapted to suit each individual; helping them to discover who they are, who they want to be and to flourish in their own way.
We recognise that every woman we work with is on a journey and we are just one part of that journey. Journeys of long-lasting change take time, everyone moves at a different pace and people will back-track sometimes. With this in mind we try to characterise our work with qualities of patience and grace – being willing to give people the chance to start over and not giving up on them.
We believe that God loves every person equally no matter who they are or what they’ve done. Because of the disproportionate levels of rejection and suffering women in prison have experienced, compassion is a vital component to our work; to recognise past suffering and provide a supportive environment to move forward positively from it. We seek to emulate God’s compassion in the way we work, trying to treat everyone equally with love, kindness and compassion.
We believe restoration is at the heart of the Christian faith and who God is. Our hope is that our work will reflect this by beginning to repair some of the damage done in the lives of so many of these women; helping them to discover their value, worth and talent, so that they may feel restored in the way they view themselves and others.
True restoration requires work on all sides and so it is also our hope to see society begin to grow in their understanding of women and men in prison. We believe understanding is the key to allowing communities to move past some of the fear and stigmas the may hold towards people who have been to prison and be willing to give them another chance after they are released, accepting them back as members of the community.
We have seen that, for many young women in prison, the Christian faith is not something they are interested in or have ever thought much about. At Essence, we aim to provide opportunities and a safe space for young women to explore questions of faith if that is something they are interested in. It is also important to us as a project that we are faith-based but not faith-biased, and we work with women from all faiths and none.