I thought I’d flesh out some of the nuts and bolts of the first session for those of you less familiar with mentoring and prisons.
The secure estate is certainly the most extraordinary environment I have ever worked or volunteered in. And like any sector, they are all different. This one was bleak. Perhaps they have that in common after all. It was made even more bleak by arriving on the first Saturday of January with a special visiting arrangement ie no-one else around. Thankfully, rather than sit in my car, the visitor cafe was open. I was served a lovely cup of tea by a nervous trainee barista from the prison.
My journey into the prison couldn’t have been smoother. Partly because I am now familiar with the routine of ID, patting down, mildly officious smiles and leaving all my worldly possessions in the car.
The officer who collected me was empathic and gentle. She told me she knew little of Sam, but that he was excitedly nervous and the prison grateful for the support of the outside world.
Sam sat in a warm well-lit corridor waiting for me. He welcomed me with a shake of the hand and fleeting eye contact. We proceeded to a side room where the conversation oscillated between the mundane, the profound, the political and the sad. We laughed, I asked questions and he offered thoughtful and reflective answers.
My exit was just as smooth. Whenever I leave (I had a lovely sociable lunch lined up in a nearby town) I’m acutely aware of how I take leaving for granted!