What makes my volunteering story a little different from that of the hundreds of other volunteers within Shelter, is that I am currently an actual serving prisoner.
Each morning I leave prison to work at my local Shelter office, returning to prison each night. This is made possible by utilising the “Release on Temporary Licence” (ROTL) scheme. This scheme enables prisoners to go to work out in the community, helping their own journey to resettlement, rehabilitation and reintegration.
I’ve titled my article “Win-Win” (which is not, as one colleague suggested, the name of a panda at Edinburgh zoo), because my situation here at Shelter is the embodiment of a win-win scenario.
It not only aids my own resettlement, but also advances the resettlement of other offenders; win-win.
I have a unique perspective on other offender’s issues; having had the full “jail” experience myself.
How often do we hear the phrase “You don’t know what it’s like for me! How can you understand and help me?” I can honestly answer that emphatically with “Well, actually I do know, and I can understand.”
I’m able to immediately establish empathy, which is a great barrier eliminator. This is something that is very simple and automatic for me. I’m reminded of the phrase “To understand a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” Well, I’ve walked that mile and it certainly does help me understand our client’s challenges.
I help run a daily drop-in session, to help our clients: find permanent accommodation; complete their benefit applications; apply for ID and bank accounts; look for jobs and generally help them navigate through the complexities the outside world presents.
Coming from an environment where everything is done for you, which is what prison is like, to the normal outside world which is the opposite, would be a challenge for anyone. Anything we can do to help smooth that transition has to be a good thing.
It has been amazing to see that little things can have such big effects.
For example, a benefit application can be completed at the drop-in session and arrangements made for same day emergency payments in just 45 minutes. This means a released prisoner can have access to funds on the day of his release. This ultimately has a positive knock on effect of reducing the chances of them reoffending, by the provision of legitimate funds, when they are needed most.
Another example is providing free internet access and support using the internet. So many things these days are done online - having this access opens up so many options and opportunities for our clients.
Generally, just having someone to turn to who is reliable and helpful can be a big thing in itself, especially where the perception is to come from a prison environment of hostility and rejection.
I’m now helping to train new TTG Volunteer Mentors, passing on the benefit of my experience to a new batch of volunteers and helping them “walk a mile, in another man’s shoes.”
I have benefited so much from this experience and derived a new found feeling of my own self-worth, helping me immensely with my own resettlement and reintegration.
Out of a bad situation, some good has been derived. I hope the many people I’ve come into contact with in my time here at Shelter have similar positive feelings.
Ideas can sometimes be quiet, which is why we should listen closely to them.
Using the ROTL scheme, in the TTG service is a great idea and wonderful that it was listened to.
A true win-win, for all concerned.?