A few weeks ago, on a Thursday afternoon I went to Hewell prison to take part in the SORI project, by visiting, meeting and talking with some prisoners who are doing the programme.
I was only invited three days prior so I hadn’t had much time to really think about it, but because it was a new experience I was excited. Since doing the day I have encouraged as many people as possible to do likewise, because it was so fantastic!
The group of about 25 visitors met 11 men and spent the afternoon listening as they told us their stories. We got to see some of the work they had been doing whilst on the SORI programme, it was really interesting as they had thought about how their actions had affected not just themselves, but the victims, the families and the whole community. The men also showed several people at a time round the different pieces of work and they presented it in a really humble and engaging way. The best part for me was when each man got up in front of the whole room and told us what had happened, what they had done and how they were planning to repair the harm. It was a very emotional time for all involved and I went from smiling to tears and back again!
The thing is, these guys were doing this amazingly brave thing, to stand in front of a group of total strangers and tell us that they are not perfect and they made big mistakes. They put themselves out there and didn’t know how they would be received. I think that takes major courage. And I’m so glad they did it because as we heard more stories, the more human they became. Often it feels like there is some barrier between prisoners and ‘normal people’. But as they shared themselves with us, this kind of process started to take place, and they stopped being the ‘prisoners’ and they became just people. Just like us. And I realised that actually, we could be them. And they could be us. By the end of the day I didn’t feel like there was any divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’…we were all a group of people who were trying to work out how to do life.
They told us about their hopes for the future, about how they wanted to have positive relationships and contribute to society in a helpful way. This was really encouraging and I felt not only did I want to support these men in achieving their goals but I also felt sure that they would get there. They were clearly not the same people as they were when they arrived in prison!
We got to have food with them and chat individually, and ask questions and have a laugh. Things that you do with people in everyday life. The thing that I recognized was that these men had done bad things. But they are not bad people. I drove down the motorway and was challenged by meeting them. Challenged about how we treat people in prison, challenged how we think of them. Is rehabilitation the biggest priority or are we just concerned with keeping them away from us? As a result of the day it was reinforced to me that I want to be part of a society that doesn’t give up on people when they do things wrong. I want to be part of a society that believes people can change and heal and go on to repair the harm caused. I want to play a part in restoring people and helping them to realise that they are worth more than the things they have done.
If the guys hadn’t done the SORI programme, maybe they wouldn’t be in a place where they can take responsibility for their actions and work to make amends, and to be honest, since everyone deserves that chance, I think every prison should have the programme!
Thank you to the men and the SORI team for your welcome, your hard work, your honesty, vulnerability, for showing that people can change, and for showing me how it really is.