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Spark Inside

Jack Merritt, about 5 years ago

"Sometimes when we talk about prisoners and prison, we forget that we're talking about people. These are parents, siblings, children." - Baillie Aaron, Spark Inside Founder and CEO

Spark Inside Founder Baillie Aaron: 'Why we need to rethink England's prison system."

“Spark Inside's work is vital and unique. It is the global pioneer in offering life coaching to young people in prison, enabling those facing the most significant life obstacles to have more fulfilling, purpose-driven futures. Spark Inside provides that rare antidote in today's complex criminal justice climate: hope." – Rt. Hon. David Lammy MP, Member of Parliament for Tottenham

According to Spark Inside, prison doesn't work, because it isn't effective in reducing crime. Although 97% of prisoners say they want to leave crime behind, 49% will go on to reoffend within one year. This figure increases to 65% for 15-18 year olds. Spark Inside wants to see people leaving prison break this cycle of reoffending. Founded by Baillie Aaron in 2012, Spark Inside aims to bring about a criminal justice system which prioritises rehabilitation.

How do they plan on doing this? Through two innovative and effective coaching interventions.

The principle behind coaching is simple. It recognises that we are the best experts in our own lives; and that sustainable transformation can only come from within.

Spark Inside's flagship programme, Hero's Journey, is a life coaching programme for 15-25-year olds that begins in custody, and extends through the gate and upon release into the community. This award-winning programme equips young people leaving custody with the motivation and skills they need to move beyond crime towards meaningful education and employment.

Over the course of 3 practical workshops, Spark Inside's professional life coaches empower participants to apply the Hero's Journey model to their own lives, gaining insights into their current life stage, past decisions and potential future options. After these workshops come to an end, each participant is given the opportunity, both in custody and on release, to continue with around 6 hours of one-to-one coaching, which is taken up by around half of the overall course participants.

Hero's Journey is currently being offered at HMPs Pentonville, Wandsworth and Wormwood Scrubs, as well as HMYOI Cookham Wood, HMP and YOI Feltham and Medway Secure Training Centre. An independent evaluation of the programme from 2015 showed a reoffending rate among participants of just 10%, alongside improved self-awareness, greater positive self-identity, as well as increased exploration of goal-setting and consideration of alternative futures.

After being given a life sentence for joint-enterprise murder in 2013, Michael* was able to turn his life around thanks to Hero's Journey. Here is his story:

“Growing up in North London I was quite an energetic young man; always up for a laugh and sometimes getting caught up in mischief. Some of the people I was meeting and going out with were drug dealers. The money was very attractive so I started dealing too. As I got older and saw my friends going to jail for 6- or 7-year sentences, it made me want to try and quit dealing. I had my hands in a bunch of pies like youth work and bar work, but I didn't really want to get out of the business altogether. In the end it was my associations with the wrong kind of people that got me sent down. In 2013 I was given a life sentence for joint-enterprise murder in a tit-for-tat feud.

But thanks to the Hero's Journey workshop, I was able to see that I could use my time in prison to my advantage, so I am doing a psychology course, a barber course, and gaining from my time here rather than letting things get to me. This course and the coaching makes you analyse your life and helped me to understand where my head needed to be – focused, determined and getting the most out of my time here. I now feel a lot less anxious and stressed and the tools I learnt help me to steady myself and feel more controlled and balanced. The course also showed me that in the cycle of life, things get harder before they get better. I am going through hardship so things will get better – it gave me hope."

Spark Inside's second programme, The Conversation, aims to bring about a culture change on whole prison wings. Using systems coaching methodology, staff and prisoners come together as equals to participate in a series of workshops designed to encourage dialogue, reduce conflict and tension and inspire empathy and cooperation. Positive evaluation results mean that the programme is set to be delivered at a number of prisons, including HMPs Pentonville and Belmarsh.

Over the next two years, Spark Inside plans to refine and scale the delivery of Hero's Journey in prisons across London and the South East. They are looking to expand their services to the female prison population and to deliver specifically tailored programmes to those who may benefit most, such as those who have been through the care system. They are also exploring ways to keep the young people who have been through their programmes involved in the initiative, empowering them to assist in refining their services, to maximise the impact they will have for others.

However, Spark Inside is not solely focused on preventing re-offending and reducing violence. They also want to ensure that a more rehabilitative culture is established throughout our prison system, one that enables people to reach their potential.

“When people have a firm foundation at their core, one that feels true to them, they can lead themselves (and others) through change. I'm passionate about bringing coaching skills to those who really need it, yet don't necessarily have access." – Nina Bainbridge, an independent Executive & Life Coach (CTI trained, NLP certified practitioner, member of the IFC) and one of Spark Inside's Head Coaches

*This name has been changed for the purposes of anonymity.

** This blog was updated on 3 July 2018 in collaboration with Spark Inside