Not many approaches can claim success when it comes to rehabilitating young men who have been in serious trouble with the law. A social enterprise based in Brighton is leading the way.
Lucas Pyke is a smiling, self-assured young man who has recently enjoyed some time in Ghana volunteering on a turtle conservation project. He is currently in employment and plans to go into further education to study psychology. In short, his life is on track.
But things were not always this positive for Lucas. A few short years ago he came out of prison having served a sentence for GBH and was at rock bottom. At that point he was referred to a social enterprise called abandofbrothers which exists to help people like Lucas find a new way of living.
He says, “I met abandofbrothers four months after I came out of prison and I was actually very depressed and thinking of taking my own life and these guys seemed to actually care about what I thought and how I was. They really gave me genuine care to help me change rather than just ticking some boxes.”
abandofbrothers is a mentoring project which facilitates an essential form of alchemy for young men who have found themselves in trouble with the law and at war with themselves. The young men meet up with a group of adult male volunteers and take part in a wilderness rites of passage experience over the course of a weekend. Then they are teamed up with a personal mentor who they meet up with once a week. Longer, weekly group sessions are also ongoing.
Co-founder and chief executive Nathan Roberts explains what inspires this particular approach. He says, “Offenders are often hurt people who hurt people. We – myself, Michael Boyle and Richard Olivier – wanted to find a way to offer young men a place of healing for them to resolve the hurt within themselves to the extent to which they can then not hurt others and also not hurt themselves.
The vast majority of young men who go through the programme manage to turn their lives around just like Lucas has. Given that young, disaffected males pose such a high risk to communities in terms of their potential offending behaviour, this work is vitally important. And it works.
In fact 41 participants had gone through the programme by autumn 2013 and, amongst that group, there was an 80 per cent reduction in offending. Also 70 per cent had found employment. Given that every single one was unemployed at the time of their initial involvement, these are significant outcomes. When it is considered that around 60 per cent of the young participants have some experience of the care system, then the programme’s focus on breaking cycles of negative behaviour is extremely important if the children of these men are to avoid the same fate.
Lucas was paired up with carpenter turned shiatsu practitioner and life coach, Robin Life. That was after he had spent an entire weekend with a group of mentors and other young men. In order to maintain a sense of mystery and occasion around these events for the benefit of those who will take part in the future, participants do not disclose details of what is clearly a powerful process.
However, the general idea is that the young men undergo a rite of passage; something which is seen in many cultures as an essential part of a successful transition from boyhood to manhood. And all the volunteers have to go through a similar process before they become mentors, to ensure they understand their inner world to a sufficient extent to help the young men get to grips with theirs.
The quest weekend clearly had an impact on Lucas. He says, “I have more self control now. Before, I was smoking weed every day and after the initial weekend, I was able to not smoke if I didn’t want to. I used to think that being on drugs meant having a deeper connection but I now know that being sober means having a deeper, more real connection because your mind is more focused and you remember what happens.”
Nathan, who used to work as a risk analyst in an IT company, has been involved with youth work for over a decade. However he objects to some of the jargon used in those circles and wanted to challenge conventional wisdom about how best to work with young men.
He says, “I don’t like referring to young people as excluded. I think of our clients as having come from a tough reality; of having faced some very tough situations in their lives. I’ve come across other programmes that are good at building self esteem but that sometimes amounts to little more than a veneer which can leave unaddressed trauma in a person’s psyche. Human beings don’t like being told what to do. We prefer to imitate. By role modelling a different way of being, of working collaboratively, of dealing with conflict within the group, we find it has had a strong impact on how our young men respond to people and situations.
So does Lucas now know how to control his temper? He says, “Oh yeah definitely, a lot of the time if I was in a situation where things might be kicking off, I might give someone a slap just to try and intimidate them. Now, I stand back and ask what the other person is trying to gain from the situation and how we can sort things out without coming to physical blows and hurting each other and both being arrested.”
The hard-earned wisdom of mature, male mentors is the valuable resource on which the success of the programme. And they are a diverse bunch. A CEO of an oil and gas company, an actor, a painter and decorator and a web designer are amongst their numbers.
The abandofbrothers model could be replicated throughout the UK, so long as the funding can be secured. Presently most of their funding comes through the probation service and that is undergoing a shift towards privatisation, so the future is far from certain.
What is clear is that there are many men who want to do their bit to help the next generation. Nathan says, “Generally men don’t volunteer yet we have community of 50 adult men who are running programmes for young men who have come out of prison. It’s amazing really and shows how men do want to step up and make a difference. There just has to be a positive vehicle to allow them to do that.”