Gary is about sixty, but has various disabilities which, for quite some time, have severely hampered his ability to take part in anything, whether work or education, in the prison. He has had diabetes for 50 years, since a child, and two years ago developed serious bronchial pneumonia. As if that wasn’t bad enough with his compromised immune system, he contracted a superbug which nearly claimed his life. Since then he has been losing his mobility, his memory and his speech.
The only thing that kept Gary going under such difficult circumstances was his artwork. But it was difficult for him to acquire any new paper, canvases or paints.
It was at this point that Jackie met him while walking on his wing, talking to people as she went. She could see that this man had a lot of problems, so she went over to talk with him and they shared their stories. She talked to the officers about him and they said that he just used to totter around the wings and nobody knew what to do with him. So it seemed he was having no help.
Jackie noticed how unsteady he was, the look of worry on his face and how much his head and hands shook. The first thing she did was to give him a squeezy ball to hold in each hand. As he squeezed them, his hands and head stopped moving so much and he seemed calmer, talking more fluently.
She wanted to help him so much more, so she told him the story of her son, with his head-injury and his memory problems. Gary recognised the similarity with himself and he could really understand that. To Gary, this was a big thing.
Just as Jackie had taught her son, so she wanted to help and encourage Gary. Then one day he showed her a painting he had done. She was astonished that he was such a good artist. He explained that couldn’t get any new paper and she brought some in for him. She noticed that, as soon as he started drawing, the almost constant tremors in his hands stilled and he was able to draw with real precision. His artwork gave him peace of mind.
Jackie had helped him and this made Gary want to help her by helping some of his fellow inmates. He has been a brilliant peer-mentor to one young lad in particular, helping and supporting him with his problems as well as with developing his reading and writing skills.
There are more than forty years between them, but this peer-to-peer mentoring has helped them both equally to make progress in their lives and to have hope for the future. And the added bonus is the great boost to Gary’s self-esteem, not only in helping the young man to learn, but also in doing a job that he loves and gets paid for, which helps him pay for new art materials himself.
“If it wasn’t for people like Jackie and Colin,
people like me would just be sat in our cells 24/7,
because no one else cares.”