Mentoring is not a one-way street

First published 13th November 2014

Paul has helped me a lot. If it werent for him, Id 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 Id be back there now. Easy. But he's introduced me to good people; shown me theres 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 didnt want to be bullied anymore. So Id always fight back. Thats 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 didnt want to go back there. And I wanted to change in myself. I want a better life for myself. I mean, Im 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 dont realise just how little support people get when they come out, explains Paul. Theyre pitched out of prison with their belongings in a bin liner and forty quid in their pocket. People coming out of prison really arent 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.

Its really challenging, says Paul. There arent many places like this available and people in bale hostels are moved from pillar to post. This is a great location but its 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 isnt to sort out everything for Marcus. Instead its about making introductions, keeping things moving in the right direction. And most importantly to be there to listen, to talk things through with.

Ive been introducing Marcus to different people, new networks, a different way of life, Paul says. For people whove been in prison, all too often everythings focussed on what theyve done in their past. But now its about the future.

As a Christian, I believe were all equal in God's eyes, Paul continues. I havent been in prison but there for the grace of God go I. Society often writes off people whove been in prison.

Youre no good. Youll never change.

But God doesnt believe that.

If you've never met someone whos been in prison, you might picture the stereotype of an angry young man, but when Im with Marcus I can start to appreciate what he has been through. There is a vulnerability, a lack of self esteem. Im trying to encourage him to have a different perspective on life.

Marcus admits changing his way of life and his outlook isnt easy. Im looking more at who I want in my life and who I dont. But its hard though sometimes. It takes effort. And energy. But I can see theres 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 isnt 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. Its clear how much Paul is getting from his relationship with Marcus.

Ive learned so much from Marcus and am inspired by him, Paul says. He's a great guy. I just dont know how he's coped with the things he's been through; how on earth he's kept so humorous and happy go lucky. Its extraordinary. It would have broken me, Im sure. It hasnt broken him. He's come back stronger.

If youd like to find out about becoming a mentor yourself, please contact MentorMe.

As Marcus says, You can change a life. Id definitely be back in prison now if I didnt have someone walking alongside me.

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