MPO Profile: Pete Sturman

  • Blog

MPO Profile: Pete Sturman

One of the unique features of the Unlocked Graduates programme is our Mentoring Prison Officer (MPO) system. MPOs are responsible for supporting our pioneering participants over the course of their two-year leadership programme. We sat down with Pete Sturman to discuss his experiences in the role over the last year:

How long have you been a prison officer and where have you worked? 
I have worked in the prison service for over 30 years across six establishments, starting at HMP Warren Hill then HMP Chelmsford, Norwich, Werrington, Shrewsbury and most recently at Stafford. I joined Unlocked about 18 months ago.

What attracted you to the role of Mentoring Prison Officer? 
You get the opportunity to not only deliver prison officer training but to follow those participants throughout their journey for two years. You get the chance to offer that support and guidance as an ongoing process.

You gain an amazing new skillset as an MPO as well as a formal coaching and mentoring qualification. I’ve been trained to deliver programmes, facilitate and carry out ongoing training throughout the year. It is definitely one of those jobs where you think ‘oh yeah I’ve got 30 years of experience, all the questions they’ve got I’ll know the answers to.’ Within a couple of months, you very quickly realise that you don’t know all the answers to the questions. You yourself are learning as you go along!

That challenging type of environment makes it a real test. I enjoy that the most.

What are your main responsibilities as an MPO? 
You deliver the initial prison officer training and maintain that throughout the participants’ two years on the programme through support, guidance and consistently monitoring their progression. A key part of the role is also the importance of building relationships in the establishments you work in. You need to try and get yourself out and about in the establishments that you’re working in and make yourself known so that the other staff are aware of who Unlocked are, your role and what the participants are about. So that when they get their supervision the prison officers and their managers know all the details. It’s a very varied kind of role.

What kind of subjects do the Unlocked Graduates ask for support with? 
A lot of it is around relationships, so the relationships with their colleagues and the prisoners if they’ve seen something that they’re worried about they’ll come to me and get support. I help them navigate their relationships with the prisoners, how to maintain boundaries and keep them aware of conditioning and manipulation. After our supervision we go onto the wing and observe our participants, it might just be to pick up something that they are doing really well or pick up on something they may need a little bit of support on.

I also help the participants manage their workload. It can be pretty varied every day. Every time we do 1-to-1s, they’re all coming to me with different areas and problems that they want to explore. I find that once you discuss an issue, break it down and reflect on it they’re very good at working through it. They want to progress you can see it in them, they want to be really good really quickly.

What are the benefits of the MPO model?  
I think it’s the ongoing relationships, you build up that rapport with your participants, you build up that level of trust and they know that support is there. Certainly, in the first few months they might kind of call on that support regularly, but I think the benefit for our guys is that if they experience situations where they are unsure, they can always contact us.

What’s surprised you most about being an MPO? 
I think how invested you become in your participants and watching them progress. You always take it personally when they are struggling. I know that our managers will tell us that they must take responsibility it’s not always my responsibility, but you definitely feel that if they’re your participants and they are struggling you struggle with them. ‘What can I do, is it something I haven’t done?’ So that has surprised me. But also, just how quickly participants develop into really confident and competent prison officers. That’s good, within 12 months they’re flying!

Another thing that surprised me was, in my establishments, how supportive the other staff are of Unlocked. Once you have explained to them what the concept is, and the participants have gone in and proved themselves. The staff all know who they are, and they all know the ones that have been there for a year are really good. It’s surprising and great how prison service staff support it, and understand the concept when there was an initial ‘not sure about that scheme’, but now a year later it’s ‘oh yeah, they’re Unlocked they’re really good.’