Interview with RECOOP volunteer, Barrie Duke
In the first of a series of interviews with RECOOP volunteers Nick Le Mesurier, independent evaluator of our mental wellbeing work, speaks to Barrie Duke, who volunteers with older prisoners in Devon.
Barrie Duke is CEO of AgeUK Okehampton and Torridge. A Baptist minister, he has a long standing interest in criminal justice system. He has given talks and personal advice on benefits and pensions to prisoners in HMPs Exeter, Dartmoor and Channings Wood for six years
NLM: How did you start volunteering with RECOOP?
BD: I was involved right from the start, when it was a project run by Age Concern. I’m not sure where the idea came from to give advice on benefits. It might have been something said directly to me by prisoners, or it might have been something said by them to Liz (Ropschitz, RECOOP worker in the Devon Cluster). There are a lot of barrack room lawyers in prison, but some of them knew they didn’t know what the facts were.
NLM: What sort of problems do older prisoners face in terms of their benefits and pensions?
BD: The benefits system is very complex, and it is constantly changing. People have to be much more pro-active in claiming support than they used to be, which means they have to understand what they are entitled toand what they have to do to get it. You have to do so much more for yourself than you used to, such as keep a record of what you’ve done to find work. So much is on computer now. Many older prisoners are just not used to doing these sorts of things.
NLM: What sort of help can you give?
BD: I give talks to groups of prisoners in each of the prisons, and if I can I give one to one advice. Everybody’s needs and circumstances are different, and so I try not to take a one-size-fits-all approach.
NLM: What are the sorts of challenges you face working with older prisoners?
BD: Some people feel very isolated, very lonely in prison. They might have little or no contact with their family. They’re also quite frightened of what the future will hold for them. A lot of them are ‘old school’, and have served time in the military. It’s a generational thing. They know how to keep their heads down, not to draw attention to themselves. They expect so little. It takes a bit of courage to say, I don’t understand something, can you help?
NLM: So it’s as much emotional as practical support that older prisoners need?
BD: You have to start from where people are right now, and help them to look forward to a time that for many might seem quite remote and difficult to imagine except in very general sorts of terms. Some see the future only in terms of what they have known in the past. You have to reassure them, but at the same time be realistic. I try to give them the information they need, such as what they have to do, where they have to do it, and when. And who can help them if they need it. They need to know they don’t have to be alone.
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