Alex was very nervous on meeting his Switchback Mentor for the first time in the prison chapel. This belied a timid disposition but also that he was taking the challenges of release seriously. Alex quickly formed a very strong attachment to his Switchback Mentor and part of the work they did together in the following months, alongside training in the Crisis Skylight Café, was around softening this attachment and building up Alex’s ability to create firm and trusting relationships with other staff members.
It took time to build trust. Alex was reluctant to talk about his offence and the circumstances leading up to it. He felt he had served his time and did not want to acknowledge the part of him that had committed the offence. It was hard for him to confront this and he would often present with a solely positive outlook; not acknowledging the past, difficult, experiences he had been through.
Alex was explicit about having hated prison and it was clear he needed to rebuild confidence, which had taken a knock from time in Wayland. Coupled with this, Alex was someone who learnt at his own speed; meaning it often took time for lessons in the café to sink in and put into practice. For example, he struggled with the barista training and memorising the coffee menu. He found it difficult to master multi-tasking too.
Other Trainees who’d started later were moving on and this had the potential to further knock his confidence. However, his extraordinary resilience meant he persisted with attending both Switchback and the café in the face of these challenges. He acknowledged he was on his own journey. It would take time.
A big moment in Alex’s time as a Trainee was his attendance at Switchback’s prison event in May 2013. Initially, he was reluctant to attend. This was connected to the way he had blocked prison out of his past. He didn’t want to associate himself with prison and there was a sense of nervousness, even hostility, around seeing prison staff so soon after release.
However, in working with his Switchback Mentor, Alex was able to see it in a different light. They spoke of it as a chance to help more prisoners have this opportunity; Alex could promote Switchback to prison staff and increase future referrals. This narrative suited him far better. He realised he now belonged to a new identifier in Switchback, and that he could help it grow. He thrived on being given this responsibility and wore a Switchback t-shirt on the day; even meeting the prison worker who had initially referred him to Switchback. This was a hugely empowering encounter for him as he could present himself as a new person; not another prisoner. There was a sense of roles being reversed through this event; he was taking control of his relationship with the criminal justice system. Presenting himself as someone changed, someone in control, was crucial.
The confidence boost and change of self-perception was palpable and powerful.
At Switchback, we continue to see these developments as Alex pops in to say hi after work (he is employed as a Catering Assistant for Searcy’s around the corner). He has now completed his license requirements with Probation. Reflecting on his transition from prison still feels difficult for Alex, but his journey at Switchback means it is now coupled with optimism about an independent future. He has taken control of his life and as a result it has expanded with possibilities.