The 2009 Bradley Report showed that more than 90% of young offenders suffered from a common mental health problem, with figures being similarly high for adult prisoners. Prisons are clearly under pressure with suicide attempts being commonplace, and high re-offending rates within one year of release. Over the years, initiatives have been implemented to tackle racism and sexism in prisons, but homophobia and transphobic bullying still remain a significant issue. There is a need to foster an environment where prisoners can develop a better understanding and acceptance of one another. In view of the topics that are raised through Being ManKind, we are keen to explore whether the stories can positively influence the lives of men in prison, and better prepare them for resettlement in the community.
Last year we met with Jonny Benjamin MBE, an award-winning mental health campaigner who was keen to support the Being ManKind mission, and who kindly put us in touch with Loredana Gherge from Pentonville Prison. She works for the National Careers Service and learning and skills department of the prison, and immediately expressed her enthusiasm to introduce the Being ManKind stories to prisoners. After a lot of form-filling, security checks, and a number of other hoops to jump through, Loredana arranged for us to visit Pentonville Prison and took us on a personal tour. We were overwhelmed by Loredana’s dedication to the job, and her drive to make a positive difference to the lives of these men. On top of that, she is also an avid Liverpool fan like myself, and I can’t help but smile when she signs off emails with ‘YNWA (you never walk alone)’!
We were afforded a truly fascinating insight into the lives of the inmates, from walking through the hallways and cell areas, to visiting their wellbeing activity centre. Loredana was concerned that by experiencing the prison setting firsthand we may be deterred from wanting to work there, but it had the completely opposite effect! It’s a daunting prospect, but Jenny, Darshan, and I are ready for the challenge!
Since our initial visit, we have drawn up an outline for five sessions to take place in Pentonville prison from mid-May, covering topics from sexuality to entrepreneurial thinking. Each session will run for 2.5 hours, and features videos, activities and guest speakers to better engage the group. We received word this week that the sessions have been approved, and we are raring to go once the first date is fixed in the diary. In the meantime, a copy of Being ManKind volume 1 sits proudly on the shelf of Pentonville prison library for all to read and share.