Who We Are

Sherifa Abdul-Cheek


The biggest thing for me was knowing that I had left a shift feeling I had engaged in meaningful work.

In 2018, I took the leap and left my secure job of ten years to go back into education to fulfil my lifelong dream to study Psychology, Criminology and Criminal Justice – and to gain employment within the prison setting. With two very young children, I knew this was going to be challenging; however, I was determined and grateful to be in the position where I was now able to do so.

My studies opened up a whole new world and I felt I was finally on my right path. Alongside my degree I wanted to gain hands-on experience within the prison setting to apply my theoretical knowledge.

A friend had told me about Invisible Walls Family Services as the team had been to her university to give a presentation. I contacted them and, after an interview and training, I began my Invisible Walls (IW) journey in 2019 when I became a volunteer supporting prisoners and their families.

The team welcomed me on my first shift and I immediately knew I made the right decision. It was a breath of fresh air to be surrounded by like minded people. The biggest thing in the beginning for me was leaving (fl after a shift knowing I had engaged ln meaningful work that made a difference.

In 2022, I was informed IW were now going into a number of other establishments to deliver the family services and it felt like a natural progression for me to apply for the role at HMP Cardiff – I was lucky enough to be offered the position.

On 1 October 2022, my new team and I hit the ground running. It was SO busy – we had so much that we wanted to achieve! We pulled together our collective knowledge and experience, rolled our sleeves up and did whatever needed to be done in order to get our services out there, to support the prisoners and their families.

As the contract progresses, I can’t believe how much we have achieved so far, from family support, caseloads, community wellbeing days, family days and we have built really positive working relationships at HMP Cardiff and this support has been invaluable.

I cannot wait to look back in another six months to see what else the Invisible Walls Family Services has achieved; I am very excited for our future and very grateful to be part of something so amazing!

Vanessa Wrather


It was my aim to show people that there was hope and a way out of addiction.

I was first introduced to illicit substances when I was 13 years old and this progressed over the next few years until I ended up in Police Custody in my early twenties. This pattern of criminality and substance use continued throughout my twenties and this was accompanied by several periods in prison. During this time, my substance use changes from using cannabis occasionally to daily use of crack cocaine and heroin among others.

During one sentencing process at the Crown Court, I found myself utterly disillusioned and ready to give up. I believed that I was beyond help and unable to change. I had repeated the same cycles many times and had no hope or understanding of how I could break this pattern and live life without using substances. At this point, a Probation Officer and a Judge who believed I could change, gave me an opportunity to engage in a Drug Treatment Programme. I was told, “This is your last chance”. By this time, I had passed the custodial sentencing threshold and was expecting a five year prison sentence.

I began attending a treatment centre for addictions and soon became very engaged with the 12 Step Treatment Programme, which is a programme for living. It included group therapy, counselling and attendance at a minimum of three mutual aid self help groups a week. I remained in this process for the next two years and, once I graduated, I was offered place as a volunteer at the centre.

Gemma Williamson


Gemma was educated at Bristol University of the West of England where she gained a BSC (Hons) in Psychology and Health Sciences. 

After taking some time out to travel, she started her career working with vulnerable children and families which she has now done for almost 25 years.  She has worked across a variety of sectors including schools, Local Authorities and the NHS.  She started to work in prisoner family services in 2020 where she managed family services across three prisons in the East of England. 

In 2022 she joined Invisible Walls Family Service where she is a Senior Manager overseeing family services in HMP’s Bedford, Littlehey and Five Wells.

In her spare time she likes to spend time with her children, walk her beloved dog and practise yoga.