Hardman to mentor: One prison workshop changed violent ex-marine’s life – and now he wants to help others do the same
Ex-prisoner Paul Thompson, who is now a peer educator
BY ANNA BURNSIDE
Read more at http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/real-life/hardman-mentor-one-prison-workshop-7543731#qsR1Lvr1t2GcViCA.99
PAUL Thompson did a stint in Addiewell on an assault charge but his life changed after he went along to an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop.
PAUL Thompson has had a varied career. In the course of his 39 years, he’s been a teenage dad, a member of the Royal Marine Reserves , a Thai boxer and railway engineer. He’s also done a stint in Addiewell on an assault charge .
While he was in prison , Paul went along to an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop. He wasn’t sure what it was all about but turned up anyway.
That afternoon was to change his life.
Paul said: “It blew me away. It helped me understand where violence came from. Where had this learning been all my life? We’re in the 21st century now. This should be in schools.”
Alternatives to Violence has been around since 1975, when a group of Quakers went into an American prison to help inmates there learn to get along without resorting to aggression.
It unpicks the reasons why people use violence and gives them fist-free strategies to use at flashpoints.
In that first afternoon, Paul began to understand the process that had led him to jail. He said: “I got quite emotional. I’d been looking for this all my life.
“I’ve been growing up round about violence since I was a wee guy. I saw a lot of stuff in the house through mum and dad drinking. There were drugs and stuff and I was subjected to that.”
Paul was one of 11 children in what would now be called a blended family.
He said: “I was the second youngest. Five of my sisters from my mum’s first marriage – they are protestants. My dad came along, he’s a Parkhead catholic. I was up against it straight away.
“My second name was Foster. My sisters used to say that I was fostered. You were found on the door son, you don’t belong here.
“There were challenges straight away. First up, best dressed. A lot of that.”
His father, an ex-army man, had a stock response to trouble: “Get stuck into these guys. Kick his a***.
“I was always taught that young boys fight and girls batter young boys. Or maybe that was just my sisters.”
Until he was 12, Paul was a quiet lad. “In conflict, you go introvert or extrovert,” he explained, using his AVP insight. “When I was 12 and below I was really introverted. I was hurting but I just shut up. Then I became a bit older, a bit more hands-on physical, a bit fitter.
“At school, I was always getting into trouble. I was always the fighter of the family. I thought that was natural.”
Paul met his girlfriend at school and they started having babies of their own in their teens.
And although these were happy days and he was a natural father, he looks back on this as the start of his problems.
He said: “We were kids having kids. We were together for 13 years but ultimately the relationship wasn’t lasting. I was trying to hold something together that wasn’t staying together.”
They had five children before the relationship fell apart. And as his family disintegrated, so did Paul.
“I was self-destructing,” he said. “I started going on the drink and not caring. I was in that victim mentality.
“Ultimately with my drinking, my violent behaviour through the drink, she took the kids away and quite rightly.”
When he was charged with assault and found himself in Addiewell, Paul knew he had reached the bottom.
He said: “That was the final bell. I thought my prayers would be answered with me not helping myself. But it doesn’t work that way.”
With AVP, Paul has taken responsibility for past mistakes.
He said: “Before I’d be saying there’s nothing wrong with me, it’s everybody else’s fault. Now I’m manning up. I know I was hurt and hurt people hurt other people round them.”
This year Paul hopes to be back in Addiewell – helping other prisoners to learn the methods of AVP.
He is the first former prisoner to train as a facilitator and take the non-violence message back into a Scots jail.
Paul hopes that his track record will inspire other inmates to learn the techniques that helped him to turn it around.
He said: “At some workshops I went to, guys with longer sentences were judging the
facilitators. They would say. ‘They are reading from a text book, they’ve never really done anything. These guys would be cannon fodder.’ That’s the way life is for some of these guys, they’re extremely violent.
“I saw straight away I could work this to my advantage. I’ve been involved in violence, I’ve been on the receiving end and I’ve been the perpetrator.
“So it would have a massive effect for me to go in there as an ambassador and say, this works, stick at it.
“I’ll be able to clock who needs help and who doesn’t, who’s acting up and who’s interested. That’s invaluable.
“Some guys are so introverted, so hurt and cast away. Then there’s the guy who is dead loud, hiding behind that mask, I can identify with that. I’ve been there.”
Paul’s workshops were paid for by Voluntary Action Fund (VAF), who donated £10,000 to triple the number of trainers taking the non-violence message to Scottish prisons.
Lesley Hamil, (pictured above) who co-ordinates the workshops for VAF, said: “Violence and aggression can be a vicious cycle.
“What we do is to try to change the direction of that cycle and show people that there are alternatives which work.
“We are immensely proud of Paul. He’s exactly the kind of person we really want to get. Hopefully over the next year we’ll get more Pauls.”
While he would happily lead AVP workshops full time, Paul hopes to go back to work as a railway engineer to pay the bills. But that will only be a day job. This is his passion.
He said: “I want to get into schools. Let’s get the parents involved. It’s mum’s fault, it’s dad’s fault, the kids are hearing that all the time and it’s a horrible place to be.
“We could get in and change attitudes, change self-esteem, change belief systems. AVP really has the power to do that.”