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.