I was having a quick cuppa and catch up with my cousin Phil, who runs Enterprise for Change. He came up instantly with a great suggestion. Would I come into Lewes prison as a volunteer mentor to spend an hour with one of the young men his organisation had been working with? And could I do it in two Wednesday’s time? Yes, and yes.
Phil gave me the young man’s (let’s call him N) business plan to review so I could go through it with him during my visit. My background is business and finance so I was able to pick out the best areas to discuss during our one hour meeting. The business plan represented many months work and an opportunity to do something worthwhile on his release, which was imminent.
The day arrived and Phil met me after I’d checked in at the gate and gone through the first set of secure doors. We then proceeded through a huge number of locked gates and doors until we reached the area where I was to meet N. It was my first time inside a prison. Nothing can prepare you for the starkness of the environment and complete lack of visual stimulation. It looked like prisons I’d seen on TV but I’d forgotten until I was inside how overwhelmingly male an environment it was. All the prisoners and guards, bar one, were men.
N was charming, bright and full of excitement. His plans clearly meant a lot to him and he was hungry for both advice and encouragement. It was a really good meeting. For the hour of the meeting I laid aside the strangeness of the experience, the slight claustrophobia and desire to gawp and take it all in and concentrated on the young man sitting in front of me. He’s out now and I hope all is going well for him.
Phil gave me a mini tour of the prison after the meeting and so I saw the old Victorian parts and met the resident owl (really).
It gave me a taste of mentoring young people and I’ve since volunteered as a business expert for a student competition at a local college which was really good fun.
A good experience all round. Thanks Phil!