There are some parts of my history I still don’t talk, or write, about, not that they will act as triggers if I ever do. There are some parts I talk, write, about, that still make me feel uncomfortable, better out than in. Then there are some parts of my life I could happily talk, write, about, all day. Every day.
The title of this blog gives away one such part of my life, the times I spent as a mentor in prison. One of the best decisions I have ever, ever, made in my life, ironic it took place in prison, was in, 2005 whilst serving a sentence in HMP Blundeston, agreeing to become a Toe-By-Toe mentor (reading coach) for Shannon Trust.
I was fortunate, in that as a child, I could read before beginning school. It may have been a reason as to why I got bored very quickly in school, in a lot of classes I’d have to wait for others to catch up and I’d be left to twiddle my thumbs. As they say, the devil makes work for idle hands. I loved learning but my feelings towards schooling were not so positive. I got to a point where I could teach myself, and in whatever subject I so wished. Before Google, and still in existence although slowly disappearing, I spent just as much time in the local library, and during holidays, as I did at school. I hardly ever spent my pocket money on sweets, comics all the way for me. Sorry to say, but if I wanted sweets I’d nick ’em. A lot easier cuffing a Mars than the latest copy of Whizzer & Chips, or Buster, or the Beano etc. Yes! Even the Dandy.
Reading is something I also love, especially through the times I was in prison. I would enter the five, and six, books challenges whenever they came around. Coincidentally, I was also a library orderly in prison on several sentences. I have recorded two stories for my granddaughter in a prison library with Storybook Dads.
When it comes to having a healthy ‘night-out’ in prison, books have the power of transferring you out of your cell and into the latest inter-planetary wars, or to the plains of America’s Wild-West. You can climb into the shoes of England football players, formula one drivers, astronauts, doctors, and nurses. You can climb upon the back of a stallion riding out from the manor house stables. A book can take you to any time and any place. Freedom is a state of mind, not a state.
I would like to think you can tell how, in 2005, when asked to be a mentor for Shannon Trust, easy it was for me to say yes. I don’t even think the officer, who asked me, finished what he was telling me before I said yes.
I know the power of reading, and the difference being able to read can make to someone in prison. What I didn’t know at the time is how much of an impact, a positive impact, becoming a mentor would have on me personally. I can say in all honesty that it changed my life for the better. It didn’t happen overnight, but that’s not the point, it happened.
You ever have the feeling it’s you? You’re the common denominator. That’s how I was made to feel anyway. However, by becoming a mentor in prison, I began to learn I wasn’t. What I was beginning to hear from learners as to the ‘real’ how’s and whys to them ending up in prison showed me that my life wasn’t as unique as I had given it credit.
This was exactly the education I needed. Who I became in prison was a far cry to who I was out here. I was a better person in prison than I was in society. How does that happen?
In 2015, again in prison, I was able to put together all that knowledge, all that learning and not just live a life free of crime but to also live one full of purpose.
I thought reading was powerful, but becoming a mentor taught me so much more, and most importantly it taught me who I was, and who I could be.