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Course helps offenders settle back into society

TOGETHERNESS: Some of the Prison Link course graduates along with assistant PCC Ashley Bertie and Thoughts of Others managing director Jim Sullivan

A WALSALL-based personal assistant who forgave a man who stabbed him, was among those awarded for completing a course to help offenders resettle back into society.

After receiving an award for completing the basic training in prison work course, Mark Harris, 35, explained that his motivation was to help make a positive difference in the lives of the incarcerated by developing a better understanding of the mindsets of those who break the law.

Harris revealed that he had himself been a victim of serious crime: he was stabbed through his left arm by the brother of a woman he sold a car to. She was very upset about the car overheating but she had it for four months. The lady started to get very upset. She went inside and came back out with her brother.


“I thought he was going to punch me, but it turned out he had a knife and he stabbed me with it. I was very angry and upset but when I calmed down I wanted to find out what made him do that to me.”

Harris co-operated with the authorities and his assailant was eventually jailed for four years. Left with nerve damage in his bicep and numbness, particularly during cold weather, Harris sees no contradiction between forgiving his attacker while ensuring he paid for his crime.

“I have no hard feelings towards him but feel it was important for me to do what I did. It turns out that he had committed this kind of offence before. If I didn’t stand up to him, it’s likely he would have done it again.”

CELEBRATED: Husband and wife graduates, Joseph Brade and Andrea Maynard-Brade, brandish their certificates

Currently also studying a university diploma in gangs, youth and violence, Harris continued: “Everyone needs to be understood – including offenders. They aren’t the only ones who have done wrong. This course will help me achieve my aim to work in prisons and help prisoners to become better people by processing situations in life in positive ways.”

Harris was among more than 40 students who graduated from the 10- week course during a ceremony that took place at West Midlands Police’s Lloyd House headquarters in Birmingham.

The course is facilitated by Prison Link (PL), an organisation that was set up following the infamous riots in 1985, in response to the concerns expressed by parents to local church ministers about their newly incarcerated children.

Held four times a year, the course offers volunteers a valuable insight into the criminal justice system. Covering prisons, the police, probation and resettlement, the course combines theoretical learning with practical sessions in a prison and a local police station to give key insight into life as an inmate.

“We have trained more than 2,000 people since the course was launched in 2004,” added PL’s chief executive Ricky Dehaney, who designed the courses at the request of a prison in Stafford that was struggling to manage the behaviour of primarily black prisoners.

PL has had to navigate some difficult times following the loss of its £80,000 Probation Service contract to deliver resettlement programmes to black and Asian prisoners. It survives on volunteer goodwill and sponsorship from organisations like Thoughts of Others, whose managing director Jim Sullivan was in attendance alongside West Midlands‘ assistant police and crime commissioner Ashley Bertie.

Mark Harris amd Michelle Harvey (centre) with assistant PCC Ashley Bertie (left) and Prison Link’s Ricky Delaney (right)

Dehaney added: “We provide a vital function because mainstream community rehabilitation companies lack the cultural understanding of black prisoners that we have. “They aren’t able to gain the trust of the offenders or their families as we can. As a result, black prisoners can become disconnected from their families and once they are released this can lead to re-offending.

“They need to be able to trust the resettlement agency they are working with.” Fellow course graduate Michelle Harvey, 33, of Washwood Heath, Birmingham, added: “My aim is to help our own people. I don’t want them to come out of prison worse off than when they went in. A lot of the success of this work is about cultural understanding.”

She continued: “There was a particular prisoner who chose to speak to me rather than a white officer. When some of the black inmates heard about me, they asked to see me too and they really opened up, which is so important.

“This course has been a real eye-opener for me. I have gained so much knowledge from it and it has inspired me to develop my career in prison and probation work.” Dehaney added: “I am very proud to see another group of students graduate from the course.

“It gives me a great sense of achievement that this course that was created back in 2004 is providing a vital link for prisoners and their families and has helped people into careers in prisons, probation and the police.

“We have created something that has lasting impact.” has lasting impact.” Prison Link is planning to offer the courses to other prisons, including the nearby Birmingham Prison, which has a history of prisoner unrest.

Interested parties should visit, email ricky@prisonlink. or call 07949 203 280.

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