Lynn, 47, has been a Listener for 22 years.
The Listener scheme was viewed with suspicion by prisoners and prison staff at first, because it was something new and there was an uneasiness about that. You need to build trust in that environment.
It was a prison nurse who first got me involved in the scheme because she noticed that people talked to me. I wasn’t keen at first because I said: “I don’t need a badge so that people will talk to me!”
I met two volunteers from Durham Samaritans and they were brilliant. They were so kind and made me feel as if I were part of a family. That was really important because lots of people lose touch with their family in prison but they made you feel like you belonged.
In the early days, prison staff didn’t really understand how the scheme worked and if someone was kicking off, they would just open up the door and throw me in to try to diffuse the situation. I found that prisoners responded to me because I’m just like them.
At the beginning of my sentence being a Listener really helped me to put things in perspective. Some of the things I heard about made my problems seem not so bad.
I managed the garden for a while and that gave me the confidence to move forward. I also had a dog called Alfie who I used as part of my Listener role. People will open up more when there is an animal involved.
At Foston there was an animal sanctuary. We used to rescue animals. Prisoners came in to help us look after them, it gave them something to care about. We rescued parrots and guinea pigs and hamsters. It really helped people – there was one women who used to self-harm very severely, and it reduced when she was working in the animal sanctuary. She used to say to the animals: “You saved my life”.
The Listener scheme gave me a sense of purpose. I was quite young when I first went into prison and I was also a mum; listening to others helped me channel my nurturing side.
When people first come into prison they are overwhelmed with fear because they have seen the programmes on TV and in the media. Having a Listener in reception is one of the key things we do, because having someone to talk to who is on the same level as you takes a lot of the fear away.
When you first come into prison you feel worthless but becoming a Listener helps you feel as if you are giving something back. It gives you some dignity again.
I dealt with loads of people who were very suicidal and allowed them to explore what they were doing, and choose another path. We talked about the finality of death, which makes a lot of people think twice and take other directions.
I feel sometimes we don’t help the silent people who go unnoticed, unless they come to us with a problem we don’t know they are struggling.
You know what they say, that we have two ears but we rarely listen.