Our Shoulder to Shoulder project in Birmingham, which supports ex-service men and women who are recovering from mental health issues, was recently contacted by Jo Tomlinson, Staff Nurse at Stafford Prison, who has developed an innovative anxiety management course for prisoners.
Jo works closely with resettlement teams at the prison and recognised Shoulder to Shoulder as a key component of a resettlement plan for veterans leaving prison. A recent evaluation of the project showed that having a mentor increased veterans' sense of wellbeing, their trust and hope for the future, making it an effective way for veterans leaving prison to build on the work they've done with Jo, as well as being a valuable stepping stone towards adjusting to a new life in the community.
I went to visit Jo and a potential mentee, due for release next month.
Jo introduced me to the veteran and the three of us sat down to watch a short film made recently by The Royal College of Nursing, in which my potential mentee and two other prisoners talk movingly about how the anxiety management course has turned their lives around.
Jo, who was awarded Nurse of the Year in 2012, spoke at the Royal College of Nursing National Congress in April about the course and is campaigning for it to be adopted in prisons across the West Midlands and ultimately nationwide. She explained that it is based on the principles of care and compassion; it draws out understanding of emotions and equips prisoners with the tools to modify their behaviour, backed up by healthier self-esteem, belief in themselves and ultimately hope for the future.
The 10-week course is available to all prisoners at HMP Stafford and Jo also runs a separate group specifically for ex-service personnel, which is supported by Combat Stress.