I am… a prisoner’s mentor
A story of mentoring after prison
When most people think about volunteering to help others, prisoners aren’t often the ‘others’ they choose. You only have to read the news to discover that most people think prisoners are ‘bad people’ who have brought their situation on themselves. How easy it is to judge from a distance!
As a volunteer with the Prison Advice and Care Trust (known as Pact), prisoners are the people I’ve chosen to help. I’m a ‘Through the Gate’ mentor, which means that I support people through the final few weeks of their sentence, helping them to make a fresh start back in the community. I do this work because I believe in the innate worth of every person and the possibility of redemption and rehabilitation, no matter what someone has done.
Back in March, I started working with a man called Jack (not his real name). He was coming to the end of his time in custody and – after spending 23 hours a day in his cell, as part of the measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 in the prison – he was obviously looking forward to his freedom. But he was released into a world that had changed beyond recognition. He was faced with a country in ‘lockdown’ – a word all too familiar to anyone who has spent time in prison.
In normal times, I meet people as they come through the prison gate. But because of the Covid-19 restrictions, I couldn’t meet Jack when he was released. I couldn’t be that friendly face to greet him, and we couldn’t talk about what would happen next and what he needed support with. I’d simply given him my phone number, so I just had to wait for him to get in touch with me. Fortunately, he did…
Paul is a ‘Through the Gate’ mentor for the Prison Advice and Care Trust (Pact). To find out more about Pact’s work, visit prisonadvice.org.uk
This is an extract from an article published in the December 2020 / January 2021 edition of Reform