Putting ex-prisoner insights at the heart of prison officer training

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Putting ex-prisoner insights at the heart of prison officer training

#Nim is an ex-prisoner who has worked with Unlocked over the last five years as an assessor for our graduate programme and as a trainer, teaching future Unlocked prison officers. His skills, knowledge and lived experience have been critical to the creation of a well-rounded curriculum for Unlocked participants.

What has your experience working with Unlocked been like? 

It’s been an amazing journey, literally from the deepest depths of despair of my lonely concrete prison cell to my release and my invitation to meet with Maria Donovan (our Recruitment Director) in London in 2017, which led to me being accepted as an Assessor, giving me an enormous self-esteem boost. Then the following year being accepted as an Intern at Ipswich in 2018 to now, where I am playing a pretty much equal part in training this new generation of amazing officers; and I am training them in almost every aspect of the job, it’s a sort of pinch-me moment especially when I tell my friends and my family that this is what I’m doing. They look at me in disbelief…surreal!!

What are your thoughts on the importance of the Prison officer role? 

I believe it is an immensely important role that hasn’t been recognised in the past as having the most impact on a prisoner, not just on the day to day lives of a prisoner and how they spend their time but ultimately if they will re-offend. The Prison Officer role can transform and ultimately save lives, I speak from first-hand experience, where an officer intervened and affected my life in an extremely positive way. It’s great to see that Unlocked Graduates past cohorts, in their relative infancy are already making a difference, there are many success stories already and change is already evident.

Unlocked believes that involving people with lived experience in our work – especially training is critical. What has your experience of this been? 

It’s logical and genius because it’s such a simple thing to implement. I feel having the perspective of a prisoner is unique and important. To be clear, I am in no way proud that I served a sentence, in fact, I am ashamed and embarrassed but I did and my experiences are extensive and wide-ranging, and if someone can benefit from my experiences why not share? That’s why I am happy to talk about my experiences with anyone at Unlocked Graduates where I feel I am in a safe environment. I set up ‘Candid Chat Café’ which is a weekly evening ‘session’ where anyone wants to ask questions to me or others with lived experience they can come and do so and we answer in the frankest and most honest way we can.

During my sentence, I worked in resettlement departments, OMU, reception, gyms, kitchens, as a cleaner and in education departments; In addition, I was a race relations rep and a Listeners coordinator so I was invited to attend monthly SMT’s. This allowed me to see both sides really deeply and I sat with officers having in-depth conversations about people who were on suicide watch or had security issues, and generally talked about how prison officers felt about their jobs, their frustrations etc. So, I know the picture well, and I think that my input is important. With Unlocked in mind if the participant listens and considers my experiences, then it follows that, the prisoners that they eventually work with may benefit.

As someone who has taken part in training Unlocked officers what advice do you prioritise telling them? 

I am brutally honest with them; I tell them that everything isn’t going to be all rosy and smooth; I tell them it’s a tough job and making change is not going to be easy.

I motivate them by reminding them, they are just a fraction of the people that originally applied for these much sought after positions (In the 2021 cohort, 1 in 25 got the actual job) I remind them that they are here because they have already proven to be exceptional individuals, students and leaders, and have already excelled at university and that they have already got through some really tough and rigorous assessments with Unlocked. All this makes you special, so you’re here for a reason. I resort back to my experience having worked in offices and sat in meetings with directors in certain jails, the opportunities are endless, you can progress all the way to the top if you really want to. The numbers might be small but at the end of the day, Unlocked Grads is achieving what we set out to achieve.

What are you working on now? 

I run a fish and chip shop in a little village, that’s my bread and butter.

I am also Co-chairman of a fairly new charity called FairPlay4Us. We aim to help prisoners pre-and post-release and their families with any kind of resettlement issues they may have. From obtaining an ID, a CV to job searches/applications, support with mental health, life-training, educational, vocational training, any kind of area we can help with we will consider, we even go as far as helping people released from jail to buy furniture, clothing etc. it’s a great charity and I’m really passionate about it. Last week I went to a prison to meet a young lad who is to be released soon; he has been in and out of jail and wants to make a change. We’ve already found him a job ready for release, we’ve done his CV and we are looking at further ways to help him with his reintegration back into society. It’s given me such a great sense of achievement.

Of course, my favourite work is with Unlocked, we are currently assessing and hope for another superb cohort for SI 2022. I am extremely passionate about this work, and I put everything into it.