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From the Army to prison

‘What are you going to do when you leave?’ It’s a question that everyone hears as they make their way for the exit from military service.

Much has been written and understood about this 'transition'. Even the term makes it into a military process. Yet, for some it is akin to the grieving process (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). The world is quite different on the other side of the fence. I have found myself working in a place I never would imagine, I have gone from serving in the Royal Tank Regiment to prison.

Not in prison in the convicted sense, although the departure from the structure, camaraderie and security of Army life to civilian employment can be a huge challenge for many; some Army leavers will end up in prison.

Instead I have found a new challenge by establishing 3 Pillars Project, working within the criminal justice system to provide positive role models through rugby coaching courses. Using excellence in sport and military leadership, we focus on three pillars of exercise, education and ethos as a foundation for effective rehabilitation. We offer long-term support to all course graduates and are committed to empowering individuals' potential to make a positive contribution to society in the future, regardless of their past.

Getting to this point has not been a simple process however. I am on my fourth job since leaving the Army, but I have gained something from each one. 75% of Army leavers change job in the first year. This is something to be considered by anyone pursuing resettlement. A wise man would 'skill up' but not keep his focus narrow, sometimes you have to put in the graft on something you do not enjoy to get to your dream job. Or, as I have found, your most rewarding work can be found in an unexpected place.

To develop financial understanding, one of my 4 jobs was an internship at a bank. I thought that a year working hard there would look very good on the CV. This didn't suit my more independent side. Before that, I did a short stint of work experience for a politician. It taught me that the army endows us with a huge range of skills and we should pitch ourselves competitively against civilian equivalents. Finally, I worked as a youth mentor and tutor; akin to Mary Poppins in trousers.

Perhaps what leaving the 3 jobs suggests, is that if I was to walk away from the many good things the Army offers, you must get some reward in a new job. I sought meaning. For me it lay in the autonomy of running a new social enterprise and helping others in a tight spot.

And that's how I ended up working in prison. I have settled on the route to becoming a social entrepreneur. In 2015 I started a social enterprise, 3 Pillars Project; using the skills we learn in the Army to engage young men in prison to engage with education, sport and work and turn away from crime. I found that all that we learn as NCOs or Officers has huge applicability to a people focused role of prison based mentoring. Having met a young 16-year-old serving a prison sentence, I was struck by how much this boy could have benefitted from the purpose that the Army gives young men. Perhaps he still could, I have met amazing soldiers that have served time prior to the Army.

This month we start our second prison based course teaching 15 prisoners how to play rugby. The true impact of the course is far greater. By teaching them a new skill, teamwork and giving them value, they are filled with self-belief. It sounds incredibly similar to what the Army does for many young men. We have developed a partnership with the Royal Tank Regiment to offer volunteer opportunities to serving soldiers to boost their wider mentoring skills and experience. It is not an Army recruitment effort, but we believe this synergy between the Army, Sport and Mentoring is a path to success to turn young men’s lives around that is currently untapped.

Young men on the course open up and share insights into their lives that they would never normally do. With this experience we hope to contribute to the wider debate about rehabilitation. Some believe in long harsh prison time, but this doesn’t work, it’s an expensive waste of life, money and time. In partnership with Cambridge University, we hope to measure the effect of exercise based mentoring on well-being and attitudes to violence. We want to really understand the neurological development that is occurring. By better understanding a problem, you have more chance of solving it.

Leaving the army thus far has been a varied journey for me. And I'm sure it will be for most people, but it has also led me to something incredibly rewarding. If you are thinking about resettlement, be sure you want to do it,  keep your options open, but most importantly find meaning in what you will do.


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