Vape shop owners and DJs wanted

Andy Forster Andy Forster

The news this week (Prisons Inspector warns of ‘staggering’ decline in safety at youth jails) made depressing reading for a reason particularly close to home to TimeBank. The Chief Inspector of Prisons reported a “staggering” decline in standards and safety at youth jails in England and Wales. This should be coupled with the fact that the most recent statistics show 69.4% of juvenile offenders released from custody reoffended within a year. Let’s just stop and think about that: nearly 7 out of 10 young offenders leaving prison will have reoffended within a year, with many going back to young offender institutions that the Chief Inspector describes as not safe to hold children and young people.

TimeBank is working with Prospects to pilot a mentoring intervention that can go a small way to address this. Prospects provide the education service for young people in Feltham Young Offenders Institution. In addition to delivering the curriculum, they focus on raising aspiration and providing alternative, positive futures. We have developed a mentoring programme designed to support young men as they prepare to leave the prison, with the aim of reduce reoffending rates and supporting them into work.

Both TimeBank and Prospects believe there should be the opportunity for ex-offenders to have the chance to live a different life on release. To do this we want to nurture and develop the aspirations that many of the offenders have: to be self-employed and entrepreneurial. Having spent time talking to the young people and the professionals that support them, we think we have some insight into the lives the young people want on release.

Like many young men who have grown up in tough inner-city areas their aspirations are, in part, shaped and informed by the places they come from. But that doesn’t mean they lack ambition or should be stereotyped: being their own boss and earning money is the dream – much like any other teenager. So, what do they see as both realistic and attainable? For some it is in the local music industry, promoting events, managing talent or as DJs or producers. For others, it is a career in retail, from the fashion and music they love to vape shops.

But this is not without significant challenges. The inmates are aged between 15 and 21 and the current prison population is about 500. Over 60% of the prison population comes from black and minority ethnic communities and 40% are Muslim. The shadow of gang culture looms large over Feltham. A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons found that over 48 gangs were represented in the prison population with high levels of “unpredictable and reckless violence”. A quarter of the young men with known gang affiliations are on “keep-apart lists”. At all times out of their cells they are escorted around the prison individually by prison officers to prevent any accidental or arranged meetings. Unsurprisingly in a 2017 inspection nearly half of the young people said they felt unsafe in the prison.

So where do you come in? Once again, we are reaching out for some remarkable volunteers – you might own and run your own vaping business, have offended in the past, or maybe you are now working in the music or event management industry. Whatever it is you do, we want volunteers who can connect with some very challenging young men.

You will need to visit the young people up to three times while they are preparing for release and then continue for three visits once they leave prison. Getting in and out of the prison is problematic – you will only be able to go on weekdays and only during office hours. You will be advised to come in the clothes you stand up in but nothing else and very definitely no mobile phone. TimeBank will train and support you throughout your involvement and once inside the prison gates Prospects will support and accompany you always. And now the tricky part. You’ll need to be young, speak their language and earn their trust. Now that’s an odd thought isn’t it? Earning the trust of a young offender? That would put the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” brigade in a lather. But if you don’t, then nothing is likely to bring about the process of change in these young people’s lives.

And one final thing, these young people can spot a fraud or a charlatan a mile off (l wanted to use another word there, but l hope you get the gist) – if you haven’t done it, don’t pretend you have.

If you would like to find out more about this opportunity please email me at [email protected]

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