Last Tuesday, I was invited to a talk that Tom was giving locally, on his experience mentoring James, an ex-offender. Tom brought James with him. My initial thoughts (prejudices?) conjured up some robust views being expressed on both sides, not least because, from James’ point of view, his audience (retired professional and business men) was probably not from his regular crowd, and they may even have come across each other in other more formal surroundings. Quite high risk stuff again, Vicar.
How wrong I was. James gave a fascinating presentation of life on the other side of the tracks. He was no saint by his own admission. He proved himself to be personable & articulate, without apparent resentment or bitterness about what life had thrown at him, and he at it. His first offence at age 17 was for carrying a knife (“I carried one just as you would a mobile phone”.) He preferred the discipline of a boot camp to present prison regimes. Whilst in prison, he worked in the mental health section.
James also spoke warmly of the support that the mentoring scheme with Tom had given to him over the four years he had known him. This relationship was based on friendship alone, outside the usual institutional controls that are imposed by officialdom.
What did I take away from this experience? Well, there are obviously basically decent people who have led lives of re-offending. Mentoring schemes are also truly valuable in providing a refuge at times of temptation and weakness. Most of all, it is that basic human need for unconditional friendship that so many cry out for, in silence.