Mentoring is not a one-way street
“Paul has helped me a lot. If it weren’t for him, I’d be back in prison now.”
Marcus was released from Portland Prison in July and through the MentorMe scheme was partnered with his mentor Paul. We meet up with them in Marcus’ temporary bedsit in Bath, where he’s staying until longer-term accommodation becomes available in Bristol.
“Paul has helped me keep out of trouble,” says Marcus. “I came out of prison in the summer and I’d be back there now. Easy. But he’s introduced me to good people; shown me there’s good out there.”
Originally from Birmingham, 28-year-old Marcus has had a violent past. “There was a lot of trouble; a lot of fighting and drugs. My dad abused me and I didn’t want to be bullied anymore. So I’d always fight back. That’s how I ended up in prison.”
But his 22 months in Portland really made Marcus think. “It was hard. I hated it in there. Just banged up 23 hours a day. It did my nut in. So I didn’t want to go back there. And I wanted to change in myself. I want a better life for myself. I mean, I’m nearly 30 now.”
Since July, Marcus has been meeting up with his mentor Paul on a regular basis; every few days initially and now around once a week.
MentorMe makes contact with people in prison to extend the helping hand of a Christian mentor, if they want one, when they are released.
“Most people don’t realise just how little support people get when they come out,” explains Paul. “They’re pitched out of prison with their belongings in a bin liner and forty quid in their pocket. People coming out of prison really aren’t helped.”
Marcus was sent to a bale hostel, a difficult environment where he was surrounded by drugs and violence. For Marcus, who is in recovery, this was tough. So one of the first things Paul provide support with was finding somewhere to live, away from drugs. It took some effort, but a couple of weeks ago, Marcus moved into temporary accommodation in Bath, in a house run by Christian charity, Julian House.
“It’s really challenging,” says Paul. “There aren’t many places like this available and people in bale hostels are moved from pillar to post. This is a great location but it’s a small room, so the plan is to help Marcus get to a shared house with just four people in Bristol.”
Paul is keen to point out that his role as a mentor isn’t to sort out everything
Marcus. Instead it’s about making introductions, keeping things moving in the right direction. And most importantly to be there to listen, to talk things through with.
“I’ve been introducing Marcus to different people, new networks, a different way of life,” Paul says. “For people who’ve been in prison, all too often everything’s focussed on what they’ve done in their past. But now it’s about the future.
“As a Christian, I believe we’re all equal in God’s eyes,” Paul continues. “I haven’t been in prison but there for the grace of God go I. Society often writes off people who’ve been in prison.
You’re no good. You’ll never change.
But God doesn’t believe that.
“If you’ve never met someone who’s been in prison, you might picture the stereotype of an angry young man, but when I’m with Marcus I can start to appreciate what he has been through. There is a vulnerability, a lack of self esteem. I’m trying to encourage him to have a different perspective on life.”
Marcus admits changing his way of life and his outlook isn’t easy. “I’m looking more at who I want in my life and who I don’t. But it’s hard though sometimes. It takes effort. And energy. But I can see there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, you know? Life is beginning to look better and Paul is helping me get there.”
Since meeting Paul, Marcus has started going to church and now describes himself as a Christian. This isn’t part of the MentorMe ‘deal’ but if people want to explore their faith, it is something mentors are able to support.
“I chose to go to church,” says Marcus. “The people were welcoming and the preachers there talk sense about the stuff I need. I went away for a weekend with the Woodlands’ life recovery group. It was brilliant, that was. 40 or 50 Christians, all from different backgrounds, different parts of the world. Out in the sticks where I could gather my thoughts.”
But mentoring is not a one-way street. It’s clear how much Paul is getting from his relationship with Marcus.
“I’ve learned so much from Marcus and am inspired by him,” Paul says. “He’s a great guy. I just don’t know how he’s coped with the things he’s been through; how on earth he’s kept so humorous and happy go lucky. It’s extraordinary. It would have broken me, I’m sure. It hasn’t broken him. He’s come back stronger.”
If you’d like to find out about becoming a mentor yourself, please contact MentorMe
As Marcus says, “You can change a life. I’d definitely be back in prison now if I didn’t have someone walking alongside me.”