Local volunteers match themselves with inmates in the M2W2 program which helps prisoners build meaningful lives within the prison system while planning to reintegrate into society.

Mentorship program helps rebuild lives

M2W2 makes a difference inside prison and on the outside

Meeting Raymond Robyn for the first time, there is the realization of meeting someone, who is passionate about what he does. Robyn met up with the Observer to discuss his work with M2W2, an organization that has been around for fifty years.

M2W2 stands for Man to Man or Woman to Woman and is a Christian pro-active, social justice organization that works to transform lives. The volunteers within this organization work specifically with the prisons as well as in the community.

The goal of meeting Raymond was to see if mentorship is a valuable tool in the prisons, considering the locality of the six institutions in the area (specifically Kent and Mountain).

Robyn is soft spoken, dedicated to his work, and believes that the support offered by the program is integral to the improved quality of life, and reintegration of prisoners into society.

The mentor takes an oath to look after his prisoner for life; no small commitment, but one Robyn and his fellow volunteers take seriously.

Through a careful selection process inmates are matched with a mentor.

“It’s about changing lives, it’s about helping someone who is paying their debt to society, move forward,” he said.

There are three keys to the program, the first being prison mentorship, this is the process in which community volunteers are matched with an offender.

Coordinators view and process inmate applications.

The program is not a free program according to Robyn, or a program that is enforced by corrections, it is a program that is voluntary and one that the inmates take initiative by applying to.

Inmates are made aware of the program through word of mouth, and by parole officers, program staff and other officers in corrections.

“We value our partnership with corrections, we see it as a partnership.”

Currently there are over 240 community volunteers matched with offenders.

On the process of matching offenders with volunteers.

“It’s like being a matchmaker,” said Robyn.

The volunteer thoroughly interviews the offender in which the focus is primarily on the offender’s criminal profile and their correctional plan. The interview can last up to two or three sessions sometimes.

Robyn does interviews every week with inmates who have applied.

Those first conversations are really important to understand the situation of the offender and to determine a little about the inmate, their hobbies, their passions and then a little about their profile and correctional plan.

“These are the key things in the life of an offender,” Robyn told The Observer.

The program caters to all levels of prisoners in the system.

We are in minimum, medium, as well as maximum prisons. Those are the three levels of security.”

We discuss the different local institutions.

Kent (maximum, Mountain (medium) Matsqui (medium), Pacific (medium), Mission (minimum, medium, maximum), Fraser Valley Institute for Women (minimum, medium, and maximum) and Williamhead Institute which is a minimum institute on Victoria Island. They are also about to start a new program at Ford Mountain in Chilliwack.

Robyn works with over 13 prisons in total.

The number 240 can be misleading, in that it doesn’t represent the number of prisoners represented by the volunteers; in fact, volunteers are often partnered up with two or three prisoners at the same time.

“After the interview and when we feel this person is ready to work regarding his or her correctional plan we invite them to an M2W2 night, which takes place the last Tuesday of every month.”

On one of these nights the community and the volunteers all come together as a big team and spend two hours with their matches. If volunteers are matched with one or more inmates, they will spend one hour with each, according to Robyn.

There are cases where prisoners have been in the system for years with no community support and they’ve had very little visitation from family members.

“In many ways they are really alone,” said Robyn of some of the prisoners he deals with on a daily basis.”

Throughout the year there are workshop sessions and that is where the offender brings his correctional file, and the prisoner goes through their correctional plan. According to Robyn, they really have to be willing and at a place that they want to be mentored.

The other nights are geared toward building friendships and understanding.

“They often have a lot of questions about the program, and we have found that they need a lot of time to process individually with their match.”

That is where the volunteer comes in — the volunteer provides the one-on-one experience for the inmate, and establishes a very clear line of trust. It’s about having someone mentoring in your life and someone speaking in your life,” said Robyn.

The most important thing the volunteers do is listen to the inmates, by listening, the volunteers help the inmates find their own solutions.

“We help them to discover their own direction.”

A lot of their time spent together is focused on goal setting and doing the “right thing today.” It’s about fostering a healthy sense of self-actualization and creating self empowerment.

“If you are able to do it today, you have the ability to do it tomorrow and you can continue to build on that.”

Some mentorships start at three months and can lastvup to three years, depending on the trajectory of the person. When a person is moving from maximum to minimum security, there is a journey the volunteer takes with the prisoner.

Regardless of the journey, the goal of the volunteer is to help the prisoner navigate within the system, and to find a healthy path while creating new meaning and direction in their lives.

It is the same when a prisoner is going to be released.

The mentor helps the prisoner navigate the outside world and reintegrate in a healthy manner.

“Men and women can come back and have families, homes, and good jobs,” said Raymond. “It works, they’ve paid their debt to society — they deserve a good life and it’s good to see them do well.”

For more information on the program or to become a volunteer contact the M2W2 association at 604-859-3215, or check out www.m2w2.com