The launch of a new book has caused a stir in the Oamaru community.
Former Oamaru woman Verna McFelin had planned to launch her book The Invisible Sentence at the Oamaru Public Library tonight, but the event was cancelled following a string of complaints.
Mrs McFelin’s memoir was about her family’s struggle while her husband, Paul McFelin, was serving time in prison. Mr McFelin was imprisoned for his involvement in the high-profile kidnapping of Gloria Kong in 1983, which rocked the Oamaru community.
The book followed Mrs McFelin’s experience from the time of her husband’s arrest to 1988, when she co-founded Pillars, an organisation that supported families of the incarcerated.
Waitaki District Libraries manager Jenny Bean said she made the decision to cancel the launch last week.
Several complaints had been made through different channels, and had been relayed to her by library staff, Ms Bean said.
“The library is the living room of the community, the whole community, and it has to reflect [its needs],” she said.
Ms Bean said Pillars was an “incredible organisation” and the cancellation was not a reflection of the value of the work Mrs McFelin was doing.
“For us it’s about reflecting the needs of the whole community,” she said.
“We fully believe in what she’s doing and we are supplying her book.”
The library was also struggling to juggle its roster to staff the launch, as it normally did not hold events on Friday evenings.
“Out of respect for the Oamaru community”, Mrs McFelin said she had decided not to hold any book eventin Oamaru. She would now live stream her Christchurch book launch on April 22 at 7pm.
The Invisible Sentence is Mrs McFelin’s account of how she and her children experienced bullying, shame and difficulty finding accommodation, following her husband’s prison sentence.
The McFelin family moved from town to town, following Mr McFelin from prison to prison, until finally settling in Christchurch.
“So many moves and so many uniforms,” she said.
During this time she realised her family was one of many struggling with the prison system and experiencing social isolation.
“Nobody ever thinks about how the families are serving a sentence as well.”
Before starting Pillars, Mrs McFelin went through a transformation from anger towards her husband to what she described as a “faith journey”.
But she did not identify as a religious person – Pillars was for everyone.
“I just love people. It’s all about love.”
A big part of what the organisation offered was mentoring for children.
“Children of prisoners are nine and a-half times more likely to go to prison than any other child.”
Of the 14,000 children who had been through the Pillars programme, only four had brushes with the law.
Mr McFelin had been out of prison for 30 years now, but Mrs McFelin’s work was not over as she continued to run Pillars until July last year.