“The inmates are a group of 17 young men. They are seemingly tough guys, but in reality they are kind and engaged. They are trying hard to change their lives and to try get something positive out of their situation.”
These are the words of Louise Vinther-Larsen, a technical advisor from the Psychosocial Support Centre in Copenhagen*, who came to Ireland in late November. Louise is referring to Irish Red Cross volunteer inmates who are participating in the Community Based Health & First Aid (CBHFA) programme which is run in all Irish prisons, organised by the Irish Red Cross, the Irish Prison Service and the Education and Training Boards Ireland.
The CBHFA programme sees inmates become Irish Red Cross volunteers and in this role they act as peer-to-peer educators within prisons, spreading information and messages about good practice in the areas of health, hygiene and safety amongst others. These particular inmates were chosen to be Irish Red Cross volunteers because they are committed, have a good behavioural record and already enjoy the respect of the other inmates.
Louise Vinther-Larsen was in Ireland to deliver psychosocial training to these inmates and she was joined by Nancy Claxton, an International Federation of the Red Cross senior officer for Global CBHFA. However the training had another purpose – to act as a pilot for a psychosocial support training module which is being added to the revised eCBHFA Manual. eCBFA is the updated version of the 2009 IFRC publication to support volunteers worldwide in learning and doing Community Based Health and First Aid which. Although the Community Based Health and First Aid programme exists in 150 countries around the world, Ireland is the only country where this programme is run in a prison setting.
Louise described her experience delivering training and piloting the module in Mountjoy as “one of the most inspiring trainings” she has ever been involved in.
“The volunteers are so motivated and engaged in the topics…there is a good atmosphere in the training with jokes and laughter and at the same time they take it very seriously. They appreciate having a safe space where they can talk about stress reactions, loss, crisis events, feelings and thoughts without having to be tough and act cool.” Very positive feedback was received from the Irish Red Cross volunteer inmates themselves with one saying that this training “is the bulldozer that breaks down the barriers between them.”
*The Red Cross Red Crescent Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support (the PS Centre) acts as an outsourced capacity of the International Federation Secretariat in Geneva and has a mandate to speak on behalf of the Federation on matters relating to psychosocial support. Apart from that, its main objective is to promote psychosocial wellbeing for beneficiaries, staff and volunteers.