After deciding to find out more about what mentoring meant in a Community Justice context, I genuinely had no expectations going in. Though to be fair, with the beauty of hindsight, I envision I would have been way off anyway.
Fundamentally, and unsurprisingly, mentoring boils down to the core aspect of any lasting and meaningful relationship between two people – trust. Despite all the anecdotes and witticisms about interactions between mentor and mentee, the central pillar to every successful journey remains the same, the trust between two individuals.
“I trust her, I can speak to her about everything”
Does this trust develop instantly? Of course not, in some cases it takes months of painstaking (and often unreciprocated) hard work. However, all the mentors I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with can often recall the moment in which it finally clicks. This may be an individual beginning to open up and share their story, or as simple as someone asking for help.
The conversations I’ve been involved in have had more variance than I could ever imagine, moving seamlessly from listening to descriptions of appalling adverse childhood experiences to discussing chess moves and baking muffins – seriously! People were so ready to open up to me and tell me their story, I felt moved by their openness. What also truly stirred me was the level of introspection and self-reflection individuals showed – potentially the general population could learn something from that(I say somewhat tongue in cheek).
“Sometimes it’s just a cup of tea, but I needed it”
Over the last couple of months, I’ve met with service providers and users in the community, in prison and even been present at a gate liberation. For clarity, this is when an individual is picked up by their mentor at the gate on the day they are released from prison. After this, based on the person’s support plan, they are helped with benefit applications, aided in sourcing accommodation and accompanied to other agencies who can provide additional, specialist support.
From my own experience of liberation day – understanding that this comes with the caveat that not all go as smoothly or are as complemented by optimism – it re-iterated to me the opportunity for a new start, though this time with the foundations in place to actually begin again, coupled with the support from an individual who genuinely wants them to succeed. It is impossible not to develop a relationship with someone after spending time with them and learning about their trauma. So it should be of no surprise that as I left the temporary accommodation, I asked to be updated on their journey as it proceeds. There will undoubtedly be failures as well as successes, and a whole range of emotions, but they at least can count on one thing; the unwavering support of their mentor. As mentors often told me, their phones are never off.
“I feel a bit like a jigsaw builder, putting all the pieces in place to empower them to support themselves”
*Thanks to Joe, Louise and the Wise Group.