Liz and David’s mentoring story
Applications are now open for the 2022 NCJAA professional development mentoring scheme, which provides opportunities for early career arts in criminal justice practitioners to get support and guidance from experts within the field.
We know what a difference opportunities for connection can make – so whilst applications come in for the 2022 scheme, we wanted to talk to one of our current mentoring pairs and hear their different perspectives. We talked to mentor Liz, a theatre practitioner, and her mentee David, a prison officer, about what they got out of the scheme.
Why did you join the NCJAA professional mentoring scheme?
David: I became a prison officer after I’d worked in the theatre industry for ten years. I was really keen to explore the links between my first career and my new one. I wanted to develop a clearer sense of the underlying rationale for theatre practice in prisons, mostly so I could persuade my bosses to bring more theatre into my prison!
Liz: I work for Geese Theatre Company and I originally joined the scheme by taking over from someone else in the company who was already doing it. I was worried about whether I would have anything to offer as I didn’t know who I might be matched with. However, three years later, I have continued on the scheme as I can see the benefits both for mentees and myself. It helps me to hone my practise and think about why I do the things I do, and as well as (hopefully) sharing some of my knowledge, my mentee gives me plenty to learn from and think about for myself.
What did you work on together?
David: Liz shared some of the key concepts that underpin the work of Geese Theatre, many of which are linked to important ideas taken from criminology. We talked about how these might be applied practically, in a theatre workshop. There was a lot of discussion about how to explore personal experiences of participants without being intrusive or it turning into therapy.
Liz: This has been a strange one as we were matched pre-Covid and then had to stop abruptly. We had a long hiatus of roughly a year and as with many people, plans had changed, so when we got back in touch, David’s role and objectives had altered considerably. We have mainly spent time talking about and thinking through the ways in which the arts can play a more focussed role in prisons. I have been able to share some of the theory and practices we use to help develop some of his thinking as he is interested in taking those things forward into his own practice. As David is currently working in a prison, it has been an opportunity for us both to reflect on the value and importance not only of the work, but also of partnership and investment from those within the prison service that are seeking to bring the arts in.
How did having a mentor help you to achieve your goals?
David: Very simply, it gave me access to an expert and allowed me to ask that expert loads and loads of questions! The mentorship scheme provided a helpful structure for those conversations.
What did you get out of being a mentor?
Liz: I love listening to and engaging with people on every level. I’ve found that this match allowed me to be more assured in my own practice and it’s allowed me to speak with more clarity about it. My main area of work is within prisons but I don’t often get an insider viewpoint of a prison officer (other than them wanting or not wanting to be involved in sessions we may be running!). Although I am aware of some of the pressures, it has been great to be offered insight on the daily aspects of that role.
I also had an opportunity a while back to take part in a Coaching and Mentoring course through the NCJAA and Guildhall which has proven very useful when talking through issues and solving problems. It is something I use not only as a mentor but in my role as practitioner in my everyday work too.
What will you take away from the scheme going forward?
David: It’s clear that Geese Theatre has developed lots of very clever ways of inviting prisoners to reveal parts of themselves that few people ever see, including prison staff. I’m curious about what prison staff could learn from that and how we could involve prison officers much more directly in these sorts of projects. I was also struck by just how well Liz knows prisoners!
Liz: I know I am supposed to be the mentor sharing wisdom, but for me it has been a real confidence boost and has solidified my passion for doing what I do.
What would you say to anyone thinking of taking part in the scheme?
David: Go for it. I felt very free to set my own parameters and the NCJAA team were really clear that it was OK for the project not to have a concrete outcome at the end, which I liked. My goal was to broaden my horizons and learn, which I did, and that was enough for them.
Liz: I found that talking through ideas, plans and the practical nature of trying to be creative in a setting that doesn’t lend itself to that has been engaging and stimulating for everyone involved. It’s a really great experience for those that want some support and advice about the sector and where they want to go with it. It also gives practitioners space to think about their own practice and to incorporate new learning from those they are mentoring.
Liz is an actor/groupworker for Geese Theatre Company. She works with people who have committed an offence or those at risk of committing an offence and all those that may be involved with them: those in secure settings, people in recovery in the community, as well as judges, social workers, prison officers and more. The work she does explores issues of personal responsibility, choice and change through theatre and groupwork.
David became a prison officer three years ago, joining the prison service via Unlocked Graduates. He has also worked for the prison service’s Drug Strategy and Delivery Team. His first career was in theatre: after training at the Jacques Lecoq Theatre School in Paris he wrote and performed in productions which toured across the UK and internationally.