John, 56, has been a Listener for 10 years.

"I was alone in my cell, and I’d just started a long sentence at Elmley Prison. In the previous 48 hours I had lost everything – my home, my business, my marriage and my freedom. You start off a prison sentence in segregation for two weeks, so you have a lot of time to think.

"Times passes really slowly, it feels as if everything is happening in slow motion – you relive every second of what happened to you. I had always been in charge, and losing control was really frightening. Not only was I now not in charge, people were talking to me and calling me by my surname.

"Every day between 1 and 2pm, someone knocked on the door and asked: “Do you want a Listener?” I always said: “No”, because I didn’t know what it was. Also, your legal team impress upon you that once you are in prison you shouldn’t trust anyone. I didn’t want other people to know my business, and I was used to sinking or swimming, by myself.

"I got a job as a tea boy on the wing, which meant I got to speak to some decent officers. They said I would be a good candidate for listening, so I was put in touch with the Listeners and signed up for the three-month training. I didn’t like it at first – I thought it was too personal, and it played on a few raw nerves. But I decided to carry on and it got better and easier. 

"I shadowed another Listener for a couple of weeks and went on walks with him. That was a proper introduction to Elmley. It put the training into context, and I took to it. I remember on one early call I took, the man at the other end cried for 45 minutes. Afterwards he said: “Thanks mate” – he just wanted someone to be there when he cried. He acknowledged me later in the corridor – I would never have approached him, he approached me – and thanked me again.

"You get a lot of people who just want to vent their anger and frustration. But I don’t think people realise how important it is in prison to have someone to talk to. I find being a Listener rewarding, it has really changed me and helped me. It taught me a lesson. My voice used to be the only one that was important. Now I have been a Listener co-ordinator in prison and spoken several times at Samaritans conferences. I also do crime prevention work with youngsters which includes taking them into prison and showing them what it is like, and getting them to meet prisoners, as well as talking to them about crime.

"In the past, I used to say people needed an introduction to talk to me, but now I could have a hundred voices talking to me and I couldn’t be happier with that."