John is a Peer Mentor for Shelter at HMP Thorn Cross in Manchester. He discusses his experiences of working as a Peer Mentor to support others and how it has helped him during his sentence.
Entering prison for the first time is a very hard and sobering experience.
Loss of freedom isn't just being locked up. It's also losing your family, losing your ability to make choices and to live the way you want to. This is what prison is.
You'd think that the worst thing would be possibly violence or threats from bullying or drug misuse. However, for many, the loss of freedom is the biggest factor and also by far, the hardest thing to come to terms with.
When you first enter jail, you can ride out the wave of emotion for a while, trying to blend in and not be caught out, or worse still, be different. After a while, living on the wings becomes 'normal' and sadly, this is your life, at least for me.
My role as a peer mentor
There will always be a gap between the staff and the cons and this will never change. Only when there is a working towards a common goal do the two sides start to communicate and respect one another.
Peer mentors have a vital role in the prison system and can be pivotal in bridging the gap between prisoners and staff.
Peers are cons, so have experience of prison life. However, they are not about trying to help the staff or prisoners, not one above the other; they make prisons run better.
At Thorn Cross, my role has been quite widespread and I've been given the chance to develop ideas too.
The 'bread and butter' of the role is about giving advice, helping with inductions and assisting with letters, debt help and housing queries.
This is a vital role and one that should be developed in the future.
I've helped run various workshops, including:
· Money matters – practical advice for all things financial
· Employability – current help for seeking jobs on release
· Self-employment – an eight week course for those who want to start their own businesses
Shelter staff have proactively encouraged me at all times and they make me feel like I matter!
In prison, you can decide to better yourself. It's all about choices. Becoming a peer mentor has been one of the best choices I have made.