I’VE BEEN IN AND OUT OF PRISON FOR 28 YEARS
First time I was in prison was in 1991 for 6 months, for assault on a police officer. I was released in August 2019 after 4 years. I started volunteering for User Voice in September and started paid employment with them in March 2020.
WE DIDN’T HAVE USER VOICE IN THE PRISONS I WAS IN
I didn’t know about them till after I was released in 2019, when I was on probation and started volunteering and then working for User Voice.
I’d just started volunteering for User Voice and the first thing I did was go to The Mount for a User Voice council election. The election is where prisoners get to vote on what issues they’ll raise to the prison council.
I’D JUST BEEN RELEASED FROM PRISON SO GOING BACK THROUGH THE GATES…IT WAS A BIT WEIRD
I recognised a lot of people. A lot of them asking me ‘when did you land’? It was cool though, seeing a lad I’d known for a while and seeing him see my User Voice ID badge and that I was there working.
We walked around the wing, getting votes and managed to get most prisoners involved. It was eye-opening to see the prison working with User Voice. I didn’t expect so many staff to get involved as well.
As a prisoner, I’d say nothing ever changes. But obviously it can. What I’d like is to see the bigger things be changed. I guess that’s it though, the small steps become big steps and the more things we manage to change the bigger they’ll get.
WHEN I WAS RELEASED, I TALKED TO MY RO ABOUT HOW I FELT I’D CHANGED AND THAT I WANTED TO GIVE SOMETHING BACK
He told me about User Voice and that they work with people in prisons and on probation to make changes to the system.
I got the User Voice manager’s phone number, she rang me back when she said she would, met me the next day and actually showed an interest. They followed it through and that’s really why I got involved with User Voice.
WHEN I WAS RELEASED, I KNEW IT WAS GOING TO BE DIFFERENT THIS TIME
My daughter went into care on sentence. I realised I couldn’t do it to her again. I had been a drug addict for many years.
Now, I knew I’d need to jump through hoops to get her back. To be honest I did it for her.
I’VE ALWAYS BEEN ADDICTED TO MONEY, FAST MONEY
I thought it was great. I had all the houses and all the cars. But this time, I was coming out with no house, no car, no partner, no money. I knew this wasn’t the right lifestyle. I’ve got no pension!
TO BE TOLD BY USER VOICE THAT I’M A MENTOR, I NEEDED THAT AFFIRMATION, IT WAS A LIGHTBULB MOMENT
The first time I met my probation officer he was a bit standoffish. Then, I told him my story. Not just the history but about my daughter and that I felt different on release.
He warmed up and then on like the 5th meeting, he apologised. He said he had read my file and was judging me based on that. Now we’ve got a good relationship and we’re colleagues.
I feel like it’s early but this is a step in the right direction. Hearing my manager saying he can see me involved in the future of User Voice makes me confident in myself, what I bring to the table and the decisions I’ve made.
PRISON DIDN’T WORK, I WORKED. I CHANGED MY THINKING. PRISON YOU SIT DOWN AND IT CAN BE EASY TO JUST GET STUCK IN IT.