Life coaching: a prison officer’s perspective
2 November 2020
Following our recent initiative to offer life coaching to prison staff, James Kurszewski, a Prison Officer, has blogged about his experience with coaching.
I’ve been a Prison Officer working with young offenders for eleven years. These days, I’m a Physical Instructor, which means I’m working with the boys in the gym. I love getting to see a side of people that maybe they don’t show in other parts of the prison — the reality is that colleagues in different parts of the prison unfortunately don’t always have the time to be able to build relationships with all the boys. But there’s something really rewarding about working collaboratively with the boys in the gym, heading toward fitness goals that are tailored to the individual – we all have to start somewhere at the end of the day!
Opening up and slowing down
I didn’t quite know what to expect from life coaching, it wasn’t something I knew much about before taking up the offer from Spark Inside. I’ve managed colleagues in the past, and it can be a stressful environment, for both prisoners and staff. A lot of my job is about being a listening ear to people, and reflecting back to them what some of the consequences of choices might be, and I thought life coaching might be able to help with that.
I had six sessions with Mark from Spark Inside, and I’ve definitely learnt things that I can take into working with the boys. One learning that really stuck with me was that I can sometimes be a bit too eager coaching people in the gym to make sure they have the ‘right’ answer, and I’m maybe a bit too keen to jump in, when I could be helping someone else to come to their own conclusions. You do that by asking good questions, listening, slowing things down and reflecting things back to the person you’re working with. You lay down the first few stones on a path, and then help someone else to lay the rest of the stones themselves.
My experience of life coaching is that it builds people’s ability to change, and helps them make better choices, in a way that just forcing the ‘right’ answer down someone’s throat doesn’t. It also teaches you how to lead through behaving in a particular way, rather than just telling people what to do. That’s really important in a prison because you need to have more than one approach in your locker! But it takes time, and an investment to build that sort of relationship with someone. I’ve actually decided to pursue training as a life coach because I’ve seen first-hand how effective this way of working with people can be.
Achieving and believing
One of the best things about working in a prison is when you’re able to help someone achieve something they didn’t think they could. You sometimes have to work hard to encourage the boys to get a qualification while they are with us, especially when they haven’t had positive experiences in education in the past, or just haven’t had people telling them they are capable of achieving things.
After my sessions with Spark Inside, I felt like life coaching could help the boys. I took a proposal to the Acting Governor to provide life coaching to the boys and my colleagues and I’m hoping that we will be able to provide something soon. I know life coaching could help those of us working in the prison to be more effective in what we do on a day to day basis. Most importantly, I believe it could also give the some of the boys the best possible chance to make changes, learn from their time with us, and take some positivity and growth out into the world when they leave.
Vicki Cardwell, Spark Inside’s CEO said:
“Spark Inside provided more than a hundred free life coaching sessions to Prison Officers during lockdown as a way to support safer, rehabilitative environments in prisons. Prison Officers and their colleagues do an extremely challenging job – a job that can have a huge impact on the rehabilitative journey of a young person in their care – and have to face all the difficulties of working in an overcrowded and underfunded system. I’m really pleased that James took so much from his experience with life coaching.”
We’re delighted that life coaching has had such a positive impact on James at such a difficult time. We began offering free life coaching for prison staff as a specific response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the initiative has seen over twenty prison staff receive coaching, totaling over 100 hours.
Spark Inside launches unique community coaching programme
2 October 2020 Spark Inside is partnering with Youth Offending Services in two London boroughs to deliver a tailored life coaching intervention to young people recently released from custody, or those at risk of entering custody.
The new service is a unique collaboration between Spark Inside, the Lewisham Youth Offending Service, and the Southwark Youth Offending Service. Clients will receive tailored one to one support from Spark Inside’s expert life coaches through its Hero’s Journey™ programme, and will benefit from improved decision-making skills, improved empathy, and improved wellbeing.
It will make use of innovative digital approaches to overcome any practical barriers to delivering face-to-face interventions. Clients will be given the opportunity to choose a preferred coach from a number of options, increasing their agency and allowing them to benefit from the positive effects of a genuinely bespoke intervention that places the client at the heart of the process.
The service also reflects Spark Inside’s commitment to pivoting its services in response to the particular challenges of Covid-19, including the ongoing restrictions on rehabilitative and educational provision inside prisons.
Commenting on the new service, Andrew Hillas, Head of the Youth Offending Service in Southwark, said:
“We believe the new service has excellent potential to enable positive change and help our young people to flourish. We’re particularly pleased that Spark Inside’s expert life coaching programme is flexible enough to respond to the developmental maturity of our young people, and it’s also critical that clients continue to be supported even when they are no longer eligible for support from a particular statutory provider.”
Lilian Flynn, Spark Inside life coach, said:
“We’re hugely excited to have the opportunity to deliver life coaching to young people in London as they navigate an incredibly challenging environment. Spark Inside’s Hero’s Journey programme allows clients the space to reflect, identify their own goals, and make changes that last — it’s powerful stuff!”
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Participants Stories: Christopher, 20
13 August 2018
I’ve been in and out of trouble my whole life and started stealing clothes with friends from shopping centres when I was just 8 years old. By 12 I had graduated to selling drugs at school, but I was young and naive and either smoked away my profit or gave people credit they didn’t pay back.
By 14 – 15 though I had taught myself the business and it blew up bigger than I could have imagined. I was making more money than the teachers at school and spending everything I earned on clothes and drugs or on my friends and family.
Somehow I ended up selling class A drugs at 16. I was caught in possession and eventually ended up in jail. I got out but 10 months later I ended up back in again on related charges.
If it wasn’t for Spark Inside I probably would have ended up back in prison a third time.
I attended their workshops about 3 months before my release and it really made me more optimistic about life and what I could achieve. I learnt things about myself I didn’t know like my values and discovered strengths I didn’t realise I had.
The Spark Inside coaches really helped me to see that there is more to life than jail and that if I continue to reoffend then what I want out of life may not happen.
They helped me to see that I can rewrite my future and that I am the author of my own future. I’m aware it may not be easy, but it is possible.
Before I was really impulsive. I didn’t think before I did things or really think about who I was hanging around. Now I feel much more emotionally intelligent, I’ve got hope for the future and feel confident that I won’t reoffend.
I’d tell anyone in jail to go to the Hero’s Journey workshops. They don’t have to feel trapped by the system, they can do the things they want to in life and these workshops will help them better themselves and their life.