Michael Thompson will never forget the day he met Jackie Hewitt-Main OBE, founder of The Cascade Foundation, during the very first week of his 14-month custodial sentence at HMP Doncaster.
The History graduate from Greater Manchester stood out from many of his fellow prisoners with his University education and calm, friendly demeanour. Within five minutes of chatting to Michael about her innovative prison project to teach inmates to read and write, she’d realised his potential and recruited him to start mentoring prisoners under her guidance.
“Working with Jackie to teach individuals to read and write gave me a unique insight into why people end up in prison,” explains Michael. “I started to understand that a person’s background could dramatically affect their chances and realised very quickly that if someone doesn’t have any tangible level of literacy or numeracy, the more likely they are to offend.”
By taking on a role of teaching alongside Jackie, Michael was able to apply his own skills to help many others as well as himself. He embarked on a number of training and learning courses, gaining qualifications in Customer Service, Counselling and Business Studies. He also completed a Level 3 ‘Award in Education’ to further improve his teaching proficiency.
“I’ve been a musician since I was about 13 years-old,” adds Michael. “Music is my passion and before I went to prison, I regularly used to attend gig nights in Sheffield where I was studying. Spending time assisting Jackie and teaching others, I decided I’d like to turn my passion into a business and, ultimately, work with young people and offenders to enable them to create and showcase music.”
After his release, Michael did an enterprise course with The Prince’s Trust. He worked hard at his entrepreneurial objective and, with support from his friends in Manchester and Sheffield, he established a social enterprise – Rite Trax – with three of his peers.
“Rite Trax is a platform for music, art, design and poetry with a focus on an underground creative culture,” says Michael. “We’ve got our own premises at Castle Market in Sheffield and we’re working with artists, musicians, painters and writers from all over the UK. We have an event space that holds up to 100 people where we stage music events, shows and exhibitions, and we recently delivered a street party for over 500 people for Sheffield City Council as part of the regeneration of the Castlegate area of the city.”
As well as managing Rite Trax, Michael is a Young Ambassador for The Prince’s Trust and he also volunteers for several local drug and alcohol awareness charities.
“Just like Jackie, I want to keep people out of prison and give young people something meaningful and creative to do with their time,” concludes Michael. “We all have problems in our lives and Rite Trax gives people the space to be themselves for a few hours and, hopefully, provides them with the inspiration and motivation they need to achieve their own goals.”