MentorMe: helping rebuild lives

First published 13th November 2014

MentorMe is a Christian organisation based in Bristol, supporting ex-offenders. They work with ministers and churches keen to offer biblical hospitality to those recently released from prison, as well as individuals who act as volunteer mentors, providing friendship and a listening ear to those ex-offenders who want to rebuild their lives.

We talk to two of the people involved with MentorMe, Sandra OShea and Silas Crawley to find out more.

Silas Crawley (back left) with volunteer mentors Aaron (back) and Pete, with Sandra O'Shea of MentorMe.

What makes a good mentor?

Sandra OShea is one of MentorMes co-ordinators. She explains why they need more volunteers from local Christian communities to come forward and train as mentors, and what being a mentor involves.

As Pete and Aaron have said, getting your life back on track when you come out of prison isnt easy. (You can read Pete and Aarons stories here.

Ex-prisoners desperately need people who are interested in them as human beings, people who will befriend them, journey with them and understand them. As Christians, forgiveness, redemption, transformation, love and hospitality is what we do.

So were looking for volunteers who, driven by their faith, can help offer friendship, encouragement, and act as a sounding board to those leaving prison or who have already done so and who wish to make positive changes to their lives."

Your experience counts

You dont need to be an expert in the judicial system or have first hand experience," Sandra continues. "Ive spoken to lots of people in church who want to do something but they say to me, but I dont know anything about prisons. I dont know anything about jobs or housing and I just say to them, whats your story? Because most people have lived a life and that experience is significant.

During our mentor training we do a session around change what people go through when they make changes in their lives. All of us have been through change, whether we've chosen it or not. Maybe we've gone on a diet and lost a couple of stone, or were made redundant or our children leave home, or we might have health issues or whatever. We've all been through changes.

Its not about having all the answers

You can use that experience. No, its not the same as what people in prison have been through, but theyre the same processes. So lots of people can support ex-offenders. We dont want people to be experts on everything. Its not about having all the answers. Its not about saving somebody. Its about listening to someone and finding out what is really important to them.

And in our training we also explore how to listen properly and focus on what are people really saying to you. Its not about fixing people but allowing them the space to work out what they really want. Its about being interested in them, really listening to them and building a relationship.

Learning relationships

We find our mentors learn as much as the mentees. Its not a one-way street. I personally learn more about my faith by working with these guys than going to church on a Sunday. But I dont set out thinking what am I going to learn here? In these relationships we simply learn from each other.

Welcoming offenders

Silas Crawley is part of the leadership team at Hope Chapel in Bristol, a church that has a long history of welcoming and working with ex-offenders. Silas is running workshops with ministers and congregations who want to be more open to people coming out of prison.

Weve always had guys whove been in prison as part of our congregation. So I felt I could give something to MentorMe a little bit of our story, some of the things we've learned from our mistakes along the way, about how can churches can be more accessible to people from prison who want to be part of a church.

Most of it is pretty simple. One of the things we did was establish a mid-week church so that guys have their church in the middle of the week with people they relate to. Food helps too!

Lose the shorthand

Another basic thing is the language you use in church. If I said at the front, right, lets turn to Matthew, these guys might look around, thinking, well whos Matthew then? When of course Im talking about Matthew, the book in the bible. How do you make your church accessible? You've got to lose all the shorthand. Its all that kind of stuff.

There are times when members of the congregation ask me what Im going to do about people whose behaviour they say is unacceptable. What are you going to do about it? Are we going to have three strikes and out?

Pushing your buttons

But Ive always said, if were going to be a church thats open to everyone then I cant just get rid of people. My strapline is: offenders will only offend the offence thats in me. So I put it back and ask, what is it about that persons behaviour, what have they triggered in you? And I apply that to myself. If someone offends me, the first thing Ive got to do is go away and think what is it in me? Because theyve pushed a button. But that button was already there in me. Of course if someone came and was threatening people, thats different. But if its just bad language or something like that... to be honest a lot of us use bad language but some continue to use it in church whereas others cover it up. Theyre on their best behaviour.

Finding God in the life of the one youre helping

I went to a conference about working with offenders. The one thing I really remember was this guy, about 80, who said you think when you go into a prison, youre bringing Jesus in. What we discover in this ministry is that Jesus is already there, inside the people we are working with. Thats the most important lesson. You might go in thinking you've got all the answers, but what actually happens is you meet God there already. So you see, I cant fix anyone. But I can find God in the very life of the one Im there to help.

Come along to one of Silas Crawleys sessions for churches and ministers.

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