Next, we attended an orientation day at HM Prison Thorn Cross. Most of us had never set foot inside a prison before and were anxious, not knowing what to expect. We all had images in our minds from television and the media.
Doors were unlocked and locked behind us, but we relaxed when we were given a brew and a talk on how the prison staff tried to prevent reoffending. One of the ways is employment, which is where we came in.
It was interesting to hear how the justice system and the prison worked. I was also shocked at how little I knew about it! HMP Thorn Cross is an open prison, which means that many prisoners work towards opportunities for Release on Licence (ROTL). This helps maintain family ties as well as working in the community, building towards their eventual release on licence.
There are already a number of services the prison has in place to help prisoners with their resettlement. Thorn Cross has links with the Department for Work and Pensions who help with advance benefit claims, as reoffending is higher when former prisoners have no money. The National Careers Service also liaise with prisoners to look at any courses prisoners can do while they are in prison. Housing charity Shelter additionally provide information and assistance with debt and housing issues.
The most striking talk was from the Head of Security about security awareness and conditioning, as we were told that prisoners were very vigilant and watched the staff at all times, listening to conversations to obtain information. We were therefore advised to be careful what we talked about, even when speaking to each other.
Before we knew it, our first session was upon us, and we began it with an ice-breaker to get everyone involved. Some of the prisoners were being released the following day and would therefore not be completing the course, while others already had jobs arranged for when they left prison. This highlighted some of the difficulties we would face in a busy prison environment, but the team embraced the situation and the session worked well.
The second session about communication and behaviour in the workplace showed that the prisoners were just as nervous as we were, but people soon came out of their shells and we could see bonds forming between prisoners and team members. We worked hard to adjust our material for new prisoners who would be replacing those who had been released. The session was a hit and gave us all a boost to continue and work closely with the prisoners.