We know that for many offenders, breaking the reoffending cycle is a difficult challenge. There can often seem to be limited options when they pass through the gate and into society: the numbers tell the story with up to 60% of offenders going on to reoffend within 12 months of release.
With the right advice and with the right support, however, the chances of a successful rehabilitation are greatly improved.
This is Nnamdi’s story.
“I’m proud to introduce myself as an SME. For those of you who don’t know what this is, don’t worry, a few months ago I didn’t either. It means a Subject Matter Expert – the capacity in which I have been employed by MegaNexus to work on the new and improved Virtual Campus solution. And just why am I a Subject Matter Expert?
Because only four months ago I was released from HMP Isis in London.
I was fortunate enough to have been released on good behaviour on Home Detention Curfew (HDC). Also known as ‘tag’.
It was June 23rd 2017 that I was sent to prison. It was the worst day of my life. I was separated from my family, from my wife and my two kids. There were a whole mix of emotions going through my head, but the primary one was concern for my family – how were they going to be feeling? How were the kids possibly going to be ok with Dad in prison? Was my wife going to be able to cope with their questions and having to face all that on her own? My own situation seemed to pale into insignificance when I thought of them.
When I arrived at prison I was booked into HMP Pentonville, and began the process. I was ushered into numerous rooms, with no idea of what was going on. I was assessed in different ways, and it all became a blur – passed from one uniformed person to another, from one bare room to another. I went from court to a cell in eight hours.
Throughout that whole process, all I remember is that it was jargon overload. The terminology that both the inmates and the guards used was foreign to me, and I was desperately trying to remember the things they were saying – such as where my dinner was going to come from and how to get hold of essential items. I was also still fretting about my wife and kids.
I had to adjust to a new routine that was totally alien to me. And I was expected to adjust instantly.
Amongst the assessments I had to undertake in that first week or so was to assess my literacy level in order to engage with educational courses and employment. I was lucky in that I got the maximum level on the literacy and numeracy assessment, but unlucky as this meant I had very little to do for the first two months. The education system just didn’t cater for me. When I got to see the Virtual Campus it was a godsend – finally I could engage with something that made me feel like I was part of the real world again.
It was an important moment. Just that small thing of sitting by a computer and tapping onto a keyboard felt real, like a connection to a world that had felt so closed off to me.
I then got transferred to HMP Isis and managed to get a prison job as a Virtual Campus peer mentor. I found myself helping others to navigate their learning and vocational courses, helping people to make CVs when they had never done so before.
A few months later, MegaNexus visited HMP Isis and offered me a job. I was over the moon – suddenly I had a link to the outside, and a reason to better myself.
For the vast majority of prisoners, for those I interacted with on the inside, employment is a huge and very real concern. It’s a barrier that everyone is aware of, and the challenge of overcoming it is intimidating to the point that most simply opt out. You hear it all the time: “I can’t get a job because I’ve got a criminal record”, “these jobs are only for the squeaky clean”, “what’s the point of coming to education classes if on the out I can’t get a job because of my convictions?”
A lot of offenders simply lose hope at this point. Reoffending becomes a realistic and enticing option. More, it appears like it is the only option available.
Then we get to what I call the ‘Danger Zone’. This is the week before you are released and the week immediately after. During this time, excitement levels are absolutely through the roof – it’s difficult to sleep at night because you know you are getting out.
And why is it the Danger Zone? Because this is the period in which you make those decisions. For the week before release you are full of good intentions: ‘I’m going to see my family’, ‘I’m going to get a job’. And then the release date gets closer and closer, and reality starts to creep in. What am I going to do when I get out? How many options do I really have?
The world that you have known – the routine with everything set out clearly and without deviation is about to be left behind. Suddenly you have to make choices and that can be a terrifying prospect. You start to question yourself, question whether you are really prepared, whether you have the coping skills to be able to function ‘on the out’.
I was given my signed documentation, my travel money, and the belongings that I went in with, and suddenly I’m standing outside the prison. What has happened in the world since I’ve been inside? Are there new things I should know? Has the world changed?
Have I changed?
The first thing I had to do was to see my probation officer. My next stop, I admit was KFC (please note that other fast food outlets are available). And that was a fantastic moment. Then I went home to my family, and I will admit to crying a bit at that point.
The next day was another critical point. I woke up with a simple question in my head – just what do I do now? I was lucky: I had a job to go to. For many, this moment can mean a crucial crossroads. The doubts have had time to gestate, and the options can seem very few and far between.
When I first went to work at MegaNexus, I found it difficult to adapt to the work culture. What did people expect from me? I found myself asking my manager if I could visit the bathroom! It seems ridiculous now I look back on it, but it was so ingrained in my life for so long that it became natural.
The world of work was strange. Suddenly, I had responsibilities – to myself and to my colleagues and the company. People were looking to me to help them and to contribute, and I felt out-of-place doing so. I was so far outside my comfort zone that I came extremely close to throwing in the towel completely.
Fortunately, I was working with a great group of people who supported me, and made me feel welcome, and even took me for a beer at the end of the day! I was able to settle, and I felt I was making a real contribution.
We all have dreams and ambitions – offenders probably most of all. Those who have nothing dream of everything. Of anything. And once they have a pathway and a clearly defined route, those dreams can be made more real. And they can come true.
My experience has shown me that education within custody is not just about books and qualifications – it’s about preparing for life on the outside. It’s about gaining the skills and the knowledge needed not just for finding a job but being able to contribute to it and not feeling like an outsider.
It’s these elements that have been incorporated into the new Virtual Campus: preparing people for a life on the outside that lasts.
This is how we break the reoffending cycle, by working together to give people the skills they need not only through-the-gate, but into the community and beyond.”