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I am going to be a mentor to a prisoner. To say that I’m a little apprehensive would be something of an understatement but I am one day into a three day training course that has already started to dispel at least some of my anxiety.

The training course is run by CLINKS, a national infrastructure organisation supporting the work of voluntary and community organisations that work with offenders and their families. Their Director just happens to sit on the Prison Learning Network Advisory Board so I am fortunate to know their great work and so have every faith they will be able to shape me into the model mentor.

This first day provided an overview of the criminal justice system and the huge pressures that the prison (with over 130,000 people going through the prison system every year) and probation (supervising over 200,000 people on an average day) services are under. It’s easy to see why volunteers are becoming an increasingly important resource across the CJS.

Even after this first introductory day, I feel that I am beginning to understand what a mentor is and does; it’s not about ‘helping’ or ‘enabling’ a person, both of which can be very disempowering, but it’s about supporting a person to enable themselves. It’s about supporting a person to build their own capacity in dealing with the challenges and obstacles that life can throw at them.

Of course, nothing about that is simple especially when the individual you are supporting has most likely been part of a chaotic lifestyle throughout their lives, been caught up in a cycle of offending, and has multiple needs. As a mentor, you might well be the first person who has ever listened to them and offered them objective support enabling them to move away from offending.

Day two tomorrow looks set to be challenging – ‘Handling difficult situations’... Ok, anxiety levels rising again!

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