Lifting from the negative into the positive


Prisoner To Purpose works in partnership with The Safety Box.  

We value empowerment strongly, especially for our young people. Being able to empower the youth of our community and let them know that they have the ability to achieve no matter their situation is something that we pride ourselves on. That empowerment was what was brought when The Safety Box delivered a Black History programme at HMP ISIS, and an Aspire Higher workshop at HM Youth Offending Institute Cookham Wood, a prison which we had not visited in over a decade..

Lifting from the negative into the positive | Blog - Prisoner To Purpose


On the 27th of October, a group of 8, from facilitators, to performers, attended the “Celebrating Black Excellence” event at HMP Isis. The session was led by CEO Nathaniel Peat, co founder of the Aspire Higher program ex-offender Christopher Syrus BEM, ex-gang member and ex-offender Leon Mckenzie, Ruth Brown semi-finalist from The Voice, Reggae rising star Teshay Makeda, Property Investor and Millionaire Nikki Sutherland and social activist and rapper “2Badda” (Jason McLean). 

The program was delivered to 40 young men within the prison, who were excited, interested and vibrant throughout the program. 

Each young man was able to take away a valuable piece of knowledge from the personal stories given by Founder Nathaniel Peat, Chris Syrus BEM, ex-offender Leon Mckenzie, and Nikki Sutherland. From Nathaniel Peat, they heard the message to never give up on their dreams, despite others’ beliefs and that No only means no if you accept it to be a no. He inspired them that their beginning will not be their end if they Aspire Higher. Chris Syrus did a spoken word piece of poetry from his book that he wrote while serving a 10 year prison sentence and showed how he discovered his purpose as a way to encourage them too to have a purpose. Leon Mckenzie gave a powerful account of perseverance after serving almost 16 years in prison. From Nikki Sutherland, they learned that their network is their net worth, and that the people we are around have an influence on where we go in life. Together, the knowledge left was impactful to every person sitting in that room. 

Along with the motivational stories and personal experiences, we also were able to hear music from some amazingly talented and gifted artists. Teshay Makeda brought energy and vibrance with her reggae-driven sounds and inspirational lyrics, 2Badda hyped up the crowd with power fuelled by his activism-focused raps, which had the entire room in a dynamic state. Ruth Brown ended the event with a beautiful rendition, which had the young men in awe, sitting on the edge of their seats and completely taken back by her vocal ability.

When we ended, the young men were extremely passionate about what we had shared with them. They let us know how much we had changed their mindset and wanted more information on what we did. They left the room with smiles on their faces, and an excited disposition.

HM YOI Cookham Wood

The second programme was held at HM YOI  Cookham Wood, for another group of young people. A group of 5 including Nathaniel Peat, Chris Syrus BEM, Leon Mckenzie, Councillor Katy Thompson, the councillor for Waltham Forest, and Chris Preddie OBE  attended to deliver our highly popular and flagship workshop “Aspire Higher”. A select group of high-risk offenders attended the session, and they left the session having been greatly impacted by the message, and eager to speak to us longer. 

Chris Syrus opened the session with his own personal story and a poem, highlighting the “3 steps to success.”
He expressed how he realised his purpose and how he actualized it into reality. One of the key points he left with the young people was the message to take the next step in front of you. That next step is seen as extremely vital, as you do not always know all the steps, but you can do the best to put one foot in front of the other towards your goal. 

Nathaniel Peat’s section was next, and as he relayed his personal journey, you could see the way that the young people became energetic and driven at what was said. They cheered at his successes and were inspired by his journey. 

Leon Mckenzie brought in the relatability and vulnerability to the session, with his story of his life journey, as well as the reminder that you can change your story no matter how you begin. His personal story helped to solidify a rapport, and showed how not only you can become drawn into a situation without expecting it, but also how through perseverance and discipline, you can overcome that situation.

Councillor Katy Thompson came in next, sharing her experience as a young mother in East London, and how she became one of the youngest councillors of a London Borough at 25 years old. Her speech brought a connection with the young people due to their age and she showed how a simple desire to help and support people can bring you to interesting places that you never even imagined.

Chris Preddie OBE closed the session out with a humorous yet impactful anecdote of his life experiences. He brought humour and light-heartedness to the scene, engaging everyone who heard him. When the topic needed to be serious, however, his tone was just as engaging. His story taught an important lesson: that life can change in the blink of a moment, and you may never get back that particular moment in time, but what you do afterwards can have a major influence.

The difference between when these young people entered the room and when they left was astounding. They went from being highly talkative and joking around, to reflective, engaged and deeply interested, so much so that they wanted to stay and talk with our team for longer. The staff who were present with them also noticed the change, with one person commenting that they had never seen a program bring such a drastic change in demeanour within the short space of time we spent with the young people in attendance. The positive impact was felt like a ripple effect all across the room. 

Being able to interact with men, young adults and children who have entered the Criminal Justice System brings about an experience unlike any other. The young people we see always leave more engaged and enthusiastic than when they arrived. We focus our short programmes on developing a positive mindset, sharing valuable knowledge about self-development, confidence, purpose and goal setting. These small yet highly important pieces of knowledge that are given impacts the young people we work with more than we know. 

When we visited HMP Cookham Wood a decade ago, we delivered a programme where over a year period, we were able to reduce the group violence in the prison by 96%. That impact was and still is not only never seen before in a British prison, but our impact was felt and is still remembered. When we returned years later, we encountered an individual who worked in the prison at the time we did the year-long programme, and even though he didn’t remember our faces, he remembered the impact we left in the prison. He remembered how we changed the lives of particular individuals. 

The way our Aspire Higher and Knife Prevention programmes work is that they focus on making these long-term, pivotal changes. For us, it is not just about teaching young people how to protect themselves against youth violence, grooming, Child Criminal Exploitation, Child Sexual Exploitation, county lines, and knife crime, but it is about instilling mental changes. We work through the process of discovering your purpose, setting goals for yourself, and forming positive habits. We take these concepts deeper by looking at self-talk, how the mind works, finding out what you value, and self-defence skills to physically protect yourself from a knife. By working through role plays, demonstrations, personal stories, and our Aspire Higher workbook, we make sure to not just supply knowledge, but change a way of thinking. This is an in-depth process, but it is effective and impactful. Our young people leave with a better knowledge of themselves and their goals, and now they have the tools to go away and change their world for the better. 

Our work speaks for itself. It resonates with the people we come in contact with. We bring the message of achievement against all odds, and showcase real experiences from people who have lived their stories. We use our own experiences because nothing is more impactful or inspirational than a personal story. We make sure to remind the young people that despite the situations that have gotten them where they are, they have the ability to make changes. One of our main messages is, “It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish,” and that message echoes through every part of what we do. The messages and lessons we leave are timeless, and we continue to see the positivity that comes from what and who we’ve worked with daily. It is not just us, however. We are only planting the seed; and once that seed has been planted, it is our hope that each young person who has been powerfully affected by it continues to remember the knowledge. We hope that they take that knowledge and use it to push them into the successful, fulfilling and happy experience they wish for themselves, whatever that may look like.

Original article Fighting Knife Crime can be found here 

Shannon Jordan Writer, Creative, and Advocate.

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