About gezmentor

Currently I'm in training for a long stretch in stir, a three year quest to firmly establish peer education as a credible tool for providing alcohol education to young offenders...

The Cake File- Part 4 “The Usual Suspects”

I have only once been involved with a union, this was mainly due to the fact I found out my

then workplace did not have a union rep, so I took it upon myself to be one.  I was rep for about two years and during this time I got involved in some minor negotiation between staff, management and board.

This past month has brought me back in mind of this type of negotiations, we set our agenda of “what do we want? when do we want it?” then take it to one of the many prison managers. So far this has been a relatively painless if somewhat slow process. We have a meeting and are told that (the manager) will look into it. Then almost without fail they will go on a weeks leave so nothing actually gets done. On their return it becomes all about negotiation and how much we hassle them.

Towards the end of August we had a workable programme, we had most of the resources, we had an empty room and we had designed all the forms we needed. Time to crack on with recruitment for our initial programme!

We got the guy who runs the prison radio station to design an advert for us, he got some of the lads involved in the station to make our recruitment advert, and it works really well. We are waiting to have a slide show presentation designed for the static screens that are dotted about in all the main halls (wings).

We have designed a referral form and are handing them out to the usual suspects in terms of agencies and staff (youth work, NHS services, AA and various SPS staff who run programmes).  We met with some guys for consultation and 5 of them said they were interested (one has been released but four are still interested) and we have met a couple of guys who have been refered by NHS. The current list of folk interested in attending out “Taster Session”  is seven, which after only a week of active recruitment is encouraging. We have had a few more referrals over the last few days too, but I am not including them as we havent met them yet.

Another key tool in our recruitment and advertising armoury is the wrist bands. The silicon bands come in four colours with Mentor on one side and Breaking Out on the other.

The bands are:

White- come to a taster session to find out more about us

Yellow- join the 12 week peer ed programme

Black- join the development group

Dayglo- come to a peer led alcohol workshop

One of the first question’s that we were asked by our first two referrals was “can we get one of them bands?” mwahaha my cunning plan to create a demand is already well under way. Why none of the other agencies have ever thought of using them is beyond me?

So all of this added a bit of weight to our final approach to the managers in terms of needing things to be in place. We needed keys and key training, ID numbers so we could get ID badges and access our prison e-mail, we needed furniture in our room, we needed a couple of cabinets so we can lock away stuff in our room. We needed other folk to stop using our room, we needed our list of resources checked off and brought into the prison (scissors??????? you can’t have scissors). We also need a phone and a computer in our room.
I’m sure there is other stuff that I’ve forgotten too.
So in a rather negative meeting with two of the managers, one was saying “give them what they want” and the other was saying “no we can’t do this and wont do that” we left with not much hope of things being done for our deadline of 1st September.  Then for some bizarre reason the rather negative manager decided he liked the cut of our jib and would see us right!  By the end of last week we had everything done apart from the phone and computer (which in a prison timescale amounts to the actual bending of the space-time continuum).

So at the beginning of september we have everything we need to run our programme, we have guys interested in joining, guys interested in a taster session, we have advertising and all the usual suspects are aware of us and what we are doing.

I found out today that the SPS alcohol awareness worker has already stolen one of my ideas (actually teaching a bit of basic anatomy so people know more about alcohols effects on the body).   Already in our first week of being based in Polmont we are making changes!
We still have a long way to go and a few battles to win but, it seems like the Scottish Prison Service is onboard and willing to at least give us some ground.
For Shona and I it’s finally goodbye to long hours spent over PC and laminator in the office and onto doing what we both do best… working with young people, bring it on!


Serving three years

The Cake File- Part 3 “Thin Ice”

The project is now well under way and we have a team! Myself and Shona have recruited a second volunteer, Laura who has a wealth of youth work experience and (this is the best part) she has already worked in Polmont running group work sessions with an agency called Link Living.  As Mr Burns would say.. “excellent!”.

This takes us up to full compliment of two staff and two volunteers for the Breaking Out project.

Shona had the pleasure of meeting some of the staff team this month as  Liam and Hillary  paid us a visit. She also had a meeting with Sir Jack, out at Dundas Castle “nice place for a murder mystery weekend” was her initial comment.

We were really busy meeting with various stakeholders in the prison this month, we seem to have the youth work team on board, they have offered us one of their PC’s which means (if it comes off) we may not have to hot-desk. This would be a solution to one of the major problems we have.

Shona has also managed to blag us access to keys (despite SPS telling us we wouldn’t need them) and we are almost in possession of name badges, fobs and id badges. These are the little things that basically mean we can swan about in the prison like we own the place, rather than looking like timid visitors. I particularly like my new belt and unfeasibly long key chain, very fetching!  Shona also convinced our man on the inside that we both need access to the PR2 record system. Again another potential major hurdle overcome.

Shona and I have completed our Dynamic Youth Award training and we have registered with Barnardo’s and Youth Scotland. This means we can officially use the awards as part of our programme.

Most of our time has been introductions and relationship building, and so far so good. We have both made some important contacts.

We have been looking at ways to promote the project, especially to the guys themselves. Our current plan is to use rubber wrist bands. One colour for attending a taster session, another for joining the programme, glow-in-the-dark for those who take part in a peer ed session and black for members of the development group. Cheap and a great way of getting our “Brand” known. We have met with no actual resistance to this idea so far, we have one final gatekeeper to seek approval from before we actually speak to the young offenders themselves. Most people think its a great idea as anything that provides a bit of identity seems to be of value inside.

At the moment we are trying to get the actual programme resources sorted out so we can do some pilot and consultation work. Any tips on alcohol resources that cover, health, sexual health, risk taking behaviour and harm reduction would be useful if any of you know of any. We are also trying to get together a bumper book of ice breakers and energisers. We will need a wealth of time fillers up our sleeves, so again get your thinking caps on and send us any you know of. Ways of getting these by way of social networks or through the website would be useful too. I had a wee dabble on twitter today but alas, I only have 13 followers so I don’t hold much hope. Next step will be e-mailing all my contacts. So, suggestions on a postcard please.

Shona and I plan to be pretty much moved into Polmont by the beginning of next month, so I plan to soak up as much sun as possible before then…. oh dear.

The Cake File Part 2

Today is a red letter day for the Breaking Out project, we are officially live!

This week saw Shona Johnston join the Scotland team. Shona’s role is development officer for the Breaking Out project. Shona has previous experience of working with offenders within Edinburgh Prison. She worked for Phoenix Futures as an enhanced addictions case worker. Having someone with experience of working within a prison setting will be a great bonus for the project. So welcome aboard the good ship Mentor Shona.

Shona and I attended an event last week hosted by the Roberson Trust (one of our funders). The RT event brought together the five main RT funded prison projects. These projects are collectively known as Breaking The Cycle.

The event was attended by representatives of the BTC projects as well as a wide range of community and prison based agencies, SPS staff and managers and representatives from social work and the Scottish government. The event proved extremely useful, giving me a chance to present a synopsis of the project to the audience. I was approached by sevaral people who said they would happily support us at this, the key development stage.

Shona and I have been amazed at the speedy response we have had to our requests for meetings with some key stakeholders. I suppose on reflection that we are now seen as part of the Breaking The Cycle community which lends us credibility.

It was announced today that the Dynamic Youth Awards (a simpler version of the Youth Achievement Awards) will be accredited. This is great news for the project as these awards are self assessed which means your hosting body does not need to charge a moderating fee. Barnardo’s have agreed to sponsor us as an operating agency under their umberella. This means we will get all the training we need to run the awards free of charge and they will support us to develop our work to their own high standard.

The DYA were originally aimed at 10-14 year olds, but after much campaigning by many agencies, the upper age limit has been removed. This is great news for young people who have literacy and communication issues (60% of young men within Polmont have some form of communication issues from dyslexia to autism and all points between).

Using these awards also means we can get accreditation for much shorter periods of engagement, so getting a form of recognised accreditation will not rely on completion of the whole programme. 30 hours of DYA also counts as 2 of the 4 challenges for a Bronze level YAA, giving us a nice incentive for progression onto a higher level award.

The fact that we can self assess the awards will also cut down the time between completion and accreditation. A key factor with the awards is the fact that once a young person has finished their award work, there is a formal process of assessment between you and the umbrella organisation. Then the awards are presented at moderation events which are held 4-6 times per year. So a young person could be waiting several months before they actually get a certificate.  DYA will cut down this time considerably meaning we can assess award work and present at the next moderation event with no “middle man” holding up the process. A little confusing I know, but chat to me if you want more details.

After next weeks holiday, Shona and I will be trained to run the awards and we can register our project. A huge step forward. We also begin to meet with the key stakeholders, making those vital connections with the prison community. Shona will receive her prison training next Friday meaning we are both free to access the prison as required.

I’m currently looking for alcohol based activities that can be run with young people with communication issues. I also need examples of activities that can be used for personal development and self esteem building. If you have any ideas or experience, get in touch.



Hard Time- Part One of the Cake File

The passing of time in prison is a strange phenomena, all the time that hangs on the inmates must create a strange time/space/continuum ripple that in turn effects all those people who work in prison.  If you set up a meeting by phone or e-mail, often this agreement is completely forgotten by those inside. Sometimes they will remember to meet you but will turn up late and have forgotten your name. Getting anything done is also effected by what I have begun to refer to as “Slow Time”. Everything takes longer to get done for no apparent reason. Is it that workers in prison are just so busy they cant effectively manage their time? is it that the channels of communication are also effected by “slow time”?

Perhaps its just a way of life that people fall into, a bit like moving to Provence?

Baffling to me, but then I’m still on the outside looking in. I will however become “one of them” from the 1st of June 2012, so keep an eye on me. If I start to slow down almost to the point of coma… well, it will be too late, I will already have become one of them!

(just playing with the tools to find my way around)