Mentorship is a personal relationship founded on trust and respect. Mentoring gives ex-offenders a chance to:
- Set goals
- Create a plan to reach those goals
- Establish and talk through fears and concerns for re-entering society
- Build a trusted relationship
- Receive guidance on attaining additional resources
The Centre for Social Justice defines mentoring as “a voluntary relationship of engagement, encouragement and trust. Its immediate priority is to offer support, guidance and practical assistance to offenders in the vulnerable period around their release”.
Each ex-offender has their own individual experiences, including in their upbringing, the offense they committed, their experience in prison, the support they have (or lack of), and the assistance they need to reintegrate into society and avoid recidivism. Because of this, it is important that each mentorship uses a person-centred approach focused on that one individual’s needs and wants, rather than implementing one plan for all ex-offenders. What works for one person will not work for everyone.
Mentoring as an aspect of the journey
The process of leaving incarceration and reintegrating back into society is a journey of self-discovery that each individual takes uniquely. The journey may involve the need to gain self-confidence, to become self-sufficient, learning to be open to new opportunities, allowing others to help, and welcoming positive change.
A mentorship relationship is not a one-stop-shop for fixing every problem or concern immediately, but rather to be an important aspect along the journey of adjusting to and reintegrating into society.
Many individuals leaving incarceration lack strong positive social relationships in their lives. The social support of a mentor is beneficial for learning to gain trust and respect in another person and to open up and share personal feelings about their reintegration process.
Mentoring is one aspect of an integrated system of sources for ex-offenders. As part of the integration journey, one may need support from a variety of resources which mentors are equipped to recommend and get individuals in touch with, including:
- Job centres and employers
- Counseling and mental health services
- Navigating the NHS
- Housing services
- Legal services
- Financial services
The combination of these support services in addition to a mentorship allows individuals the opportunity to not only receive the basic necessities for living their lives, but to have someone they can share it within a trusted, respectful, and encouraging setting.
Benefits to both sides of the mentorship
A 2013 research project interviewing mentors of ex-offenders in London discovered that mentorships are not only beneficial for the mentee, but the mentors as well.
Becoming a mentor made them feel empowered and emotionally rewarded from giving back, as well as experiencing an increase in self-esteem. Furthermore, both the mentors and mentees found the mentorship relationship allowed them to develop interpersonal skills, to build trusted relationships, and strengthened their openness to change.
A person-centred approach
Mentorships for ex-offenders have the potential to be incredibly positive and valuable relationships. They provide a safe and trusted space that many individuals leaving prison may not otherwise have.
The most important aspect of a mentorship is the focus on a person-centred approach; to use the mentorship for each individual’s specific needs and recognizing each individual for the person they are rather than simply as an “ex-prisoner”.
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