What makes the biggest difference in rehabilitation?

February 5, 2016

I have not long come back from a 500 miles odd roadtrip round parts of the North of the country. I had the privilege of visiting three of our community projects and one of the prisons where we run a Challenge to Change programme.

But it wasn’t the long hours in the car that will stay with me, the odd moments of frustrating traffic or the breathtaking scenery that I was privileged to see (the Lake District is beautiful even in winter!)

What will stay with me is the stories that I heard, the experience of our residents, the anxiety about the future, the desire to not mess up and the pride in doing something positive now that would change other people’s lives for the better.

Offender rehabilitation isn’t rocket science. There are some core things that are needed for every person – e.g. a safe place to stay, constructive activities to fill the time, getting off drugs and alcohol and having the right mental health support if there are issues there.

But the most important thing – which came home to me again on this trip – was having that one person – or support network – who believed that someone could change. Who cared enough to go the extra mile with them, work with them on the bad days, celebrate with them on the good and challenge them to come up higher.

I believe this is deeply rooted in how we are made for community and when community works best – when it’s small enough to care for the one but big enough to impact many. We’ve got some way to go before we are there. Our rapidly growing population and the degeneration of stable family life doesn’t always lend itself to that.

But where there is that person the change can be incredible. I was deeply moved by the story of one resident whose step-dad used to hit him and made him get up in the middle of the night to cook for him and his gambling friends. He ended up as an angry boy, then angry young man, abusing drugs, getting into all kinds of trouble and feeling like prison was safer than the outside world. He was smart and articulate – he was clearly a person who had great potential. And he wanted to rectify the mistakes of the past – to create something good out of the future.

The person who had made the biggest difference to him at Langley was his key worker – who reminded him of his mum. She was close enough to care, tough enough to challenge. It was a touching reminder of how that personal connection makes all the difference.

The men I met were far from the write-offs, despicable and depraved ‘thugs’ that we so often see in our media portrayal. They had done things that they regretted – and things that they knew needed punishment – but they were men who were now determined to make a new start and to give something back.

It left me with great hope about their future – and I am proud to be part of an organisation that is at the forefront of providing that ‘one’ who will help create real and lasting change.

This week’s blog is from Samantha Waterton, Business Development Manager, Langley House Trust