My name is Pank. I first became aware of the Shannon Trust when I was given a custodial sentence in 2017 and transferred to HMP Isis in London.
The guy in the cell next door to me was wearing a Shannon Trust T-shirt and he suggested based on my level of education, and my voice that I might be interested in becoming one of its mentors.
Having completed the mentoring course at HMP Thameside, it was definitely something that I was interested in becoming and when I was offered the role of Education Mentor for English and Maths, it seemed a natural fit to become a Shannon Trust mentor too.
Prior to being sentenced, I had mentored 13 to 16 year olds who had been excluded from school teaching them functional English and maths as well as a variety of skills that were transferrable within the film industry. It was very clear to see the effect I was able to have on individuals written off by their teachers, parents and social workers and how with some encouragement and patience, they gained confidence, allowing them to show just what they could do, and I hoped that becoming a Shannon Trust mentor would prove to be the same.
I was very pleased when I was one of those invited to becoming a mentor and to attend the training sessions that were planned. The Shannon Trust volunteer was amazing and I was chomping at the bit to begin and be assigned a learner. More-so as I got to do it with another mentor who I had grown very close to and become great friends with.
There was always a fear when a new learner was identified that they will not want to engage or that they will give up before they even begin, but by understanding my learners and getting to know them a little better, I was able to tailor the sessions to better suit them and their needs.
I remained a Shannon Trust mentor for the duration of my custodial sentence both at HMP ISIS and at HMP Springhill when I gained my recategorization to an open prison.
During these 15 months, I had a total of around 35 to 40 learners whose reading abilities were from one end of the spectrum to the other.
There were at times challenges that I faced as a mentor. These were never with the learners themselves, but with the prison – regimes, staff shortages, lack of quiet areas that a learner and I could use as well as the belief on the prison’s part that what we were doing wasn’t as important compared to other things.
But never one to be discouraged, or indeed brushed aside, a firm stance and insistence that being able to read be seen as a fundamental skill, I was given a room dedicated to the turning pages learners and the Shannon Trust mentors, learners were allowed out of their cells to continue learning without interruption regardless of staff shortages, and Shannon Trust mentors were recognised as being an important part of rehabilitation by being given red bands which allowed them to move through the prison as they wish in order to reach learners on all wings irrespective of what wing they may have been on themselves.
Whilst I had worked as a mentor prior to coming to prison with teenagers, mentoring adults is completely different. You have to utilise a completely difference set of skills when engaging with adult learners and be more aware and mindful that levels of embarrassment, frustration, and at times an unwillingness to learn and raised anger can be more apparent and how one deals with it, is different than how one would deal with teenagers. Using these skills helped me to understand the challenges that everyday adults face both in and out of prison and to better understand the reasons that a learner may have for not having learned to read earlier in their lives. It showed me that the British education system is flawed in so many ways and how it’s willingness to give up on young learners so quickly simply to satisfy trustee boards, Ofsted reports and other parents can so tragically lead to an individual believing that the world has given up on them and that the only choices they have are in life of crime.
The learners that I had the privilege to mentor changed me and the course of my life so dramatically. As a result of being a Shannon Trust mentor, I decided once released from prison that I wanted to do as much as I could to help fix or change a prison system that was antiquated and glaringly unfair to marginalised populations of prisoners.
So, I have over the past 3 years gained entry into a variety of prisons to conduct workshops around sexual health and blood borne viruses, I am part of a team funded by NHS England to research and report on the inequalities in the accessing of specialist healthcare services, I have appeared as a guest on a number of National Prison Radio shows as well as hosted/presented shows myself, and soon will be the host of the second series of Sex Talk. In addition to this I have also been asked to help write the Standards for Management of Sexual and Reproductive Health in prisons by the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV.
My time with the Shannon Trust didn’t end when I walked through the gates of the prison as a free man, not at all.
I applied for and became the Area Coordinator for London South which covers the prisons that I was in fact at and now, in the same way the volunteers supported me as a mentor, I now support them as an area coordinator.
I’m active in groups such as the one set up for Alumni, I’ve even filmed an introduction for the online volunteer training course.
It’s safe to say that my love, loyalty as well as respect and admiration for the Shannon Trust runs deep and far. They are a charity that stand heads above so many others because of what they are able to give to adults at a time when many of them give up or resign themselves to being what so much of society tells them they are. To be a part of changing perceptions, attitudes and lives of learners, giving their families another way to communicate with them and helping them to stand up and be counted not as a prison statistic but as a citizen able to read, is as life changing for me as it is the learners and has given me far more than any other role or industry, I have worked in.
Becoming a mentor changes you.
Every person is different as are the experiences and what they take away from it. But the one thing that every mentor will agree on is that when push comes to shove and when we look back at the difference we have made, nothing will come close to hearing a learner read something their husbands, wives, children, friends or other family have written. Everyone, regardless of who they are or where they land, want and need to feel love.
By spending 20 minutes a day, we allow a learner to tangibly feel that love when they read words that have been written especially to and for them.
THAT is the power we have as mentors and the priceless gift we are able to give.
For me, that’s a legacy I am proud and so very glad to be a part of.
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