"It's a huge privilege joining part of their journey. When they reach the mountaintop highs, you feel the joy and celebrate with them. When they take a small or a big step backwards, you feel the pain."
When a young person leaves custody, they set out on a journey. Having taken a wrong turn which put them in prison, they are now faced with the challenge of finding their way back from the margins into mainstream society and legitimate living. For In2Out participants, they set out on the journey with their mentor as a travelling companion.
Alice Williams, In2Out Resettlement Manager, shares about that journey which begins with a participant in custody coming up for release, usually from HMYOI Wetherby where we are based. In2Out offers 'through the gate' support - starting in custody and continuing 'on the out' - which is a great strength and one of the things that attracted Alice to working for In2Out:
"It's the ability [of In2Out mentors] to work with young people inside custody and in the community. Lads are in a very different environment inside. It's a good place to explore how they'd like life to look 'on the out', what are some of their worries, what needs to change, and start helping them to think that through and prepare them for release. The best bit is hearing from a young person that they want their life to look different and they want some help with that."
Having decided they want In2Out's help, Alice carries out an initial meeting with the participant, allocates a mentor and oversees the relationship.
In2Out mentors are incredibly committed and are a consistent presence in the lives of their lads. They know the journey will be tough, but they are up for it, and will keep going all the time the lad wants to keep travelling. For Alice and the others, it is more than a job, it is a real investment in a relationship:
"We genuinely care. That means we're happy to go the extra mile and are able to do so in our roles. We are available 'out of hours', if need be; a crisis rarely happens between 9am and 5pm, so being there when a lad needs to talk can make all the difference. They know they have someone there that cares for them and can remind them why they need to keep going and not give up."
"Their journeys are never straight forward - we're aware that a lot of lads are going to have some big bumps along the way. I believe giving them another chance speaks volumes. Where others may walk away, we will still be there if they are serious about wanting to get their life back on track."
The lads In2Out works with can often be hardened to help, sceptical and wary of letting anyone in. Their mentor sees through that, beyond their crime even, to the individual behind it all. Alice goes on to explain:
" When meeting a young person and hearing some of their story, I have a greater understanding as to why they've ended up in prison. A lot of young people have come from very chaotic backgrounds and experienced a huge amount of trauma in their life, which has had a big impact on their offending. These young people have the skills within them for life to look different, and to overcome challenges that will come their way. However, often they don't see it or believe life can look different. Having a mentor who can help draw out these skills and help them to use them, can make such a difference to a young person's journey."
Of course, the journey often involves setbacks. Sometimes small ones, sometimes more significant such as a breach of licence conditions or reoffending - putting them back into custody, and this affects their mentor too.
"When I see a young person going downhill, I'm aware I want to go and rescue them. However, I can't - that's not helpful for the young person. Simply being there or on the phone through that low is so important, and not giving up on them. It can definitely feel like an emotional rollercoaster at times, but I wouldn't have it any other way. It's a real privilege when they do reach out to you and for them to trust you and open up."
"For some lads, going back to prison is the safest place for them. It gives them a break from the 'chaos' of life 'on the out' and gives them the space to think - and can give them a wake-up call which they may have needed. When we go and see them, they're often very sheepish at first and don't expect us to come back. When you listen to them and find out what happened, you have a greater understanding and your relationship with them can go deeper, as they see you haven't rejected them."
And when it goes well?
" Highlight of my job! When I journey with a lad for a year (or several years) I've seen what challenges they've had to face, I've seen the decisions they've made in order to get to that point, and I know it's not been easy for them. I also know that it isn't the end of their journey, they still have to keep going but yet they're in a much better place to move forward with their lives."