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Interview with RECOOP volunteer - Ben Huntley

Ben Huntley was a volunteer with RECOOP’s parent organisation BCHA before volunteering with RECOOP in Guy's Marsh prison, Dorset. He’s there one day a week and makes himself available to anyone who wants to have a chat for half an hour.

NLM: What drew you to be a volunteer with RECOOP?

BH: I did some training as a mentor with BCHA, and a placement was suggested with RECOOP. I hadn’t any experience of prisons, but I think I was interested. I could see a need there. Older prisoners are one of the largest groups within prison.

NLM: What sort of expectation did you have?

BH: I suppose I had in mind the sorts of images you see on TV. You know, a harsh environment, grey and oppressive. But Guys Marsh isn’t like that. It’s a very open layout. I was also worried I might be seen by the older men as a bit young at twenty five. I thought they might wonder what I had to offer them and give me a hard time. But they were welcoming from the start, and seemed delighted to have someone to speak to who wasn’t part of the prison system.

NLM: Can you describe what you do?

BH: About half my work is helping with whatever RECOOP is doing at the time. It’s very varied. But an important part is being a kind of mentor to people. It’s a little bit like counselling, though I’m not a trained counsellor, which I make clear to them. It’s a structured session, in which I listen, let them talk about their problems if they have any. I can help signpost people sometimes to help that might be available. I don’t give advice, but I might suggest options for them to consider. A good conversation is therapeutic, I think, so I just try to be with them for a while, without judgement. Of course there are rules in prison about disclosure, but we all know them. I pre-arrange my sessions. People catch on very quickly to what I’m there for.

NLM: Listening to people’s problems can be quite stressful. Is this a problem?

BH: Not really. I have excellent support from Sandra (Seldon, RECOOP worker in HMP Guy’s Marsh). Really, she’s the best boss I’ve ever had. I can talk things through with her.

NLM: How would you describe older prisoners’ needs?

BH: Like all of us, they need to connect with people. They need to be able to open up sometimes. We’re all vulnerable.

NLM: What would you say to anyone thinking of volunteering with older prisoners?

BH: Try not to judge people. Don’t worry too much about the prison environment, the walls, the doors, all those things: they’re not as daunting as they seem. You get to meet some great characters, and if you’re a people person, as I am, you’ll enjoy it. I believe I’ve gained a lot of deployable skills by working with older prisoners.

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