Meet Andrew, one of our volunteer mentors

To anyone thinking about it, I’d say – go for it.You’ll have no regrets.

When I retired, I decided that I wanted to spend some of my new-found spare time volunteering in the community, ideally working with local people who were looking for help and support. Then I saw an advert for Pact mentors and knew I’d found the right role for me.

My knowledge of the criminal justice system was very much based on what I’d seen on the television. I knew almost nothing about the people involved – apart from a general view that they had been convicted of a crime and were paying the price by serving a sentence in prison or in the community. So why was Pact looking for volunteer mentors? Why should I volunteer? Would it be a good use of my time? I had so many questions!

Thinking about these questions, I realised that rehabilitation and integration back into the community can be extremely difficult. It’s a time when people face huge challenges: rebuilding personal relationships, finding a job and adjusting back into everyday life. It’s a time when people need help and support. So I applied for the role.

Soon after, when I’d found out I’d been successful, I spent a couple of days in fairly intensive training, learning about the complexities of the criminal justice system, the dos and don’ts of mentoring, and how Pact works. A Pact Coordinator was also on hand to offer her experience and support. And then the day came when I was due to meet my first mentee! I’ll admit I had lots of worries: how would I get on with him? Would I be out of my depth? What would mentoring be like?

The first meeting went really well. I was so pleased! I’m not sure who was more nervous at the beginning – my mentee or myself - but we had been well matched as we shared similar interests, which helped to break the ice.

From then on, we had regular meetings. As we got to know each other, my mentee started telling me about the difficulties he was having about finding somewhere to live, finding a job and meeting up again with his friends – some of them were supportive, but others were distant because of his conviction. He felt able to talk to me about these worries because our conversations were confidential and I am always non-judgemental about people’s pasts, and current problems. He told me that meeting up with me was always something he looked forward to because it was almost the only opportunity he had to talk about the problems he was facing in a free and open way.

Almost two years after our first meeting we are still spending an hour or so together every fortnight or so. There have been some successes – my mentee is enjoying some challenging voluntary work and has reinforced some long standing friendships – but there have also been some disappointments – particularly finding a fulfilling paid job. However, my mentee remains determined to put his past behind him and to keep making positive changes. I am looking forward to working together with him to help him achieve what he wants to.

For my part, I have learnt a lot about the difficulties that people face when they are released from prison, and the importance and value of the support which a volunteer mentor can provide in helping them overcome these difficulties.

Was my decision to volunteer as a Pact mentor the right one? Undoubtedly YES! The training, and the support from my manager, has given me the knowledge and confidence to work with my mentee – and on a personal level I know that I am using my time well – to help someone put their past behind them and move forward in their life. To anyone thinking about it, I’d say – go for it. You’ll have no regrets.

If you want to find out more about Andrew's role or if you have any questions about volunteering with Pact, get in touch with us on [email protected].