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Interview with RECOOP volunteer - Mavis Davis.

In the second of a series of interviews with RECOOP volunteers Nick Le Mesurier, project evaluator, speaks to Mavis Davis, long-time volunteer with older offenders in Devon.

Mavis Davis has been a volunteer with RECOOP for six years. She cuts a slight figure in the prison environment, but her presence is enlivened by a broad smile, which she shares with everyone. A committed Christian, her faith informs her approach to volunteering.

NLM: What attracted you to become a volunteer with RECOOP?

MD: I had thought I’d like to work with prisoners for some time before I started. I didn’t really know what to expect. I wanted to do something that helped affirm the human dignity of everybody, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. I felt that prisons are a part of society where there is still a lot of work to do. I think it is enough to take someone’s liberty from them without inflicting further punishment. And so when the Mothers Union, of which I’m a member, were approached by Age Concern some years ago I was pleased to take the opportunity.

NLM: What sort of things do you do with RECOOP?

MD: I go in to Dartmoor prison most weeks. I’m just there to help really, to talk with people if they want to talk, to be a familiar face. I recently took part in a play that some of the prisoners put on – that was fun! I like to be involved with the students who come in.

NLM: Prison is an unusual environment in which to work, and it doesn’t suit everybody. What were your expectations when you started?

MD: I don’t think I had any very firm expectations. I had no idea what a prison might look like from the inside, apart from what I’d seen on Porridge! Maybe I thought it would be quite grim, lots of people wandering around in a quadrangle, that kind of thing. It turned out to be a lot more colourful inside than I’d expected. I think I also thought that the older prisoners might have a kind of authority over the younger ones. That idea definitely came from Porridge! But I soon found out it’s the other way around; which is no different from the rest of society, really. Perhaps that’s a pity.

NLM: What sorts of things do you think older prisoners need most?

MD: Many have been in prison a long time. Some people decline quite visibly, and they’re not always very confident in speaking up. They need to be told things, because they’re not in a position to find out or make arrangements for themselves; things such as health problems. There was a session recently on men’s health and how to recognise the sorts of things that affect men as they get older. That was useful.

NLM: What would you advise anyone thinking of volunteering in prison?

MD: Have a respect for each person’s humanity, but also be respectful of the rules. You mustn’t be too familiar, but you can still offer kindness.

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