I was fortunate: my education nurtured a love of books and an interest in the written word. I cannot imagine being unable to read, but it is well known that it severely reduces your life chances.
If, to paraphrase Archbishop William Temple, ‘no one is a criminal and nothing else’, making something of yourself if you are a prisoner is even harder if you cannot read. So, the attraction of doing something to help Shannon Trust is considerable. Helping rehabilitate prisoners (however pious and ‘do-gooding’ that might sound) is what motivated me to become a prison governor (and a prison visitor before that). So, helping the Shannon Trust is a way of finding a new focus for that motivation following my retirement.
Before I retired last year, I had the good fortune to work with Shannon Trust helping the prison service to put its relationship with the Trust on a firmer footing. That experience enabled me to learn a lot about the charity, not least to see how powerful an impact its unique work with prisoners can have – it’s transformative. Having been a trustee of two other charities, I also knew a little about the trustee role – both the formal responsibilities which company and charity law impose and the less formal aspects of contributing to a team on a Board. After applying and going through a formal selection procedure, I was appointed as a Trustee of Shannon Trust this September. Two experiences have since helped confirm for me that if I am able to contribute to the charity’s good work, I shall be doing something important to help the rehabilitation of offenders.
The first experience was my first visit to a prison as a trustee of the Shannon Trust. Seeing and hearing at first hand what we do at HMP Cardiff was very encouraging. But what Shannon Trust does in prison it isn’t easy: enabling prisoners to read by equipping, engaging and inspiring them doesn’t just happen by turning up. It is the outcome of some really skillful and dedicated work. What is most important, as I learnt from the years I worked in prison, is establishing, growing and sustain good relationships. Our volunteer at Cardiff prison, Helen, is remarkable. We are fortunate too to have a great officer lead and good support from our Senior Management Team champion and the Governor himself. The work of our Mentors is impressive too – they deliver on average almost four Reading Plan sessions to each Learner each week. Through all this hard work it is more than cell doors and gates that are opened. Being able to help that happen, albeit in just a small way, is a big part of my motivation as a trustee.
The second experience that has motivated me as a Trustee has been my involvement in the activities of Shannon Trust’s Board. My experience of other charities has shown how trustees really can make a difference to how the really important work in prisons is done (Board meetings too are about establishing, growing and sustain team relationships). Shannon Trust’s Board is well organised and sharply focused: its discussions relate to the purpose of the charity and to the work of its volunteers and Mentors. It conducts its business with a blend of challenge, enquiry and due diligence discourse. It leaves day-to-day operational and managerial matters to its excellent Chief Executive while ensuring clear account is provided of what’s happened. The Board also keeps a sharp eye on the future to ensure the well being of the charity is secured.
Never far away is a consideration of how can we best help prisoners who can’t read, to read. Enabling prisoners to open a book and read for the first time really is the start of a new chapter in their lives.