One year on from joining Spark Inside’s coaching team, our Hero’s Journey life coach Audrey Cairo reflects on the reality of delivering coaching in prison, and what she’s learnt from young people so far.
I remember well how excited I was when I first learnt about Spark Inside’s mission. Now, it’s been nearly a year since I started delivering their Hero’s Journey life coaching programme to young men under 25 in prisons across London. Hero’s Journey begins in prison with group workshops for up to eight young people, and can continue in prison or the community with one-to-one life coaching sessions.
After going through the Hero’s Journey training, a Youth Coaching training day, paperwork, a bit more paperwork and two prison trainings, my first Hero’s Journey workshop took place. In the early stages of the recruitment process I remember the word “patience” being key as we discussed how working in the prison system, where our clients are living, could be a real challenge.
The first time I went to a training session in a London prison was the moment I was slapped from my pink coaching cloud. I had the realisation that the young people I was about to coach are living in a forgotten world. A world that if you’re lucky, you will only know through Orange is the New Black or Prison Break. A world we don’t know until stepping through the gate.
From theory to reality: running a Hero’s Journey workshop
For my first workshop I was paired with Tony, an experienced coach who has been delivering the Hero’s Journey since 2013.
The eight young men in my workshop were loud, but kind, respectful, intelligent and all with their own story. Everything might have gone smoothly in the training, but in prison, a ‘perfect’ workshop is a mirage. Even if the exercises do not always resonate the way we thought they would, the positive impact of the Hero’s Journey is what sticks. As Hero’s Journey facilitators, we must work with what is happening in the space and coach the young people where they are: there might be different energies in the room, different personalities, as well as distraction and disruption, but there is also deep conversation about life stories.
My first workshop showed me how the Hero’s Journey can give young people an opportunity to reflect on their life and where they are, with a helicopter view of their own journeys — and I loved it! I realised how valuable it is to create a space in prison where the past doesn’t define the future. I saw how each young person valued being given this non-judgemental space, the opportunity to stand still with their own story, listen to others and to see where they want to go in their future.
Every workshop can bring a variety of challenges; from having to negotiate to find rooms to getting the young people to stay, from someone not wanting to talk to someone who talks too much, from not being able to run the workshop at all to having more new young people join the group at random times.
But, once you get started, you never know what wonderful things might happen.
One thing is certain, at every workshop I ask the young people to leave me with one word, and it has always been a positive.
Even when I personally thought that some young people weren’t engaged, most of them always sign up for one-to-one coaching. Where they might not have wanted to show their vulnerability in the group workshop, they were quietly taking things in and creating a different perspective on their own journey.
With the one-to-one sessions, I’ve learned the hard way that even if I have arranged a session with my client, there is always a chance that they might be asleep, not in their cell or that they have even been transferred to a different prison.
Coaching young people in prison is a different dynamic from my usual clients.
My first few sessions likely start with my clients saying “we can do whatever you want miss”, or “you just do your tricks miss” but when they realise and trust that this is their space to open up and explore, something always arises.
Some clients need more time to build trust, whereas others are open from the get-go and have a topic or goal ready from the start.
Every client is different in their own way. I remember coaching a whole session around football, as my client said that there wasn’t a specific topic they wanted to discuss. But we moved from football, to what position they hold in life now, and what type of leader they are and want to be.
Over the past year I’ve witnessed some great “aha!” moments in my coaching sessions and honestly, sometimes it feels that my clients are teaching me something. They’ve taught me what true patience and resilience looks like.
More importantly they showed me the power of creating a safe space where they can be themselves. As they are unique in their own way and hold the answers to their own life.