Bishop joins comedian Jim Davidson to help military veterans at HMP Nottingham

The Bishop of Sherwood, the Rt Revd Tony Porter, joined Comedian Jim Davidson OBE, and fellow members of UK charity Care after Combat at Nottingham Prison last week to discuss a project aimed at reducing re-offending amongst military veterans.

Care after Combat was founded in November 2014 by Jim Davison OBE, (Chairman) Simon Weston OBE and ‘Goose’ Cryer MC, and provides professional assistance for the well-being of the forces veteran and their family.

Bishop Tony said he is very happy to be involved with and support the work of CAC : “It gives soldiers who are in prison a genuine opportunity for a second chance, which they deserve. Personally I’ve never been on the front line or been involved in the theatre of war or witnessed my colleagues being blown up, so I cannot begin to comprehend the mental stress being experienced by these soldiers. As a nation we should do everything we can to give these soldiers a second chance.”

He visited HMP Nottingham with Jim, ‘Goose’ and consultant psychotherapist, Jane Jones from CAC to talk to the Governor, Dave Bamford and Head of Reducing Reoffending, Claire Hussey about Project Phoenix, which aims to reduce re-offending in the veteran prison population. Claire said:

“We currently have around 40 men, about 3.8 % of our population, that have identified themselves as ex-forces when they entered custody, however we suspect there are a lot more.  Working with Care after Combat we hope that more veterans will have the confidence to identify themselves, get the help and support they need and then reduce their chances of reoffending on release from prison.”

Governor, Dave Bamford added: “We’re glad of the help.”

This is a serious cause close to Jim’s heart, but naturally he made a light hearted quip: “When I went to Winchester prison they shouted: “Come to pick a cell Jim?” He is also very impressed with the hopefulness demonstrated by veterans, when they feel ‘they have let the side down.’

This is a reflected in a comment by CAC Trustee, Simon Weston: “You just don’t turn from being a proud warrior into a criminal without a reason…we hope to find the reasons and deal with them.”

The project became operational in May 2015 and is available to all veterans who are serving the final 18 months of their sentence. Following the initial visit, veterans are invited to attend a general forum and, if in agreement, join the project. Those who are in their final 12 months of sentencing may join immediately whilst those who have 18 months remaining are invited to attend the general forum which is held on a six weeks basis. A mentor is provided during the last 6 months in prison and for a year upon release. The forum also serves as an opportunity to explore health issues together with an education programme. A Consultant Psychotherapist is in attendance. To date a total of nine veterans have been released, several are employed and none have re-offended.

Issues which concern veterans include homelessness, unemployment, poor health (generally as a result of service experience), war pensions, accessing/setting up bank accounts together with the immediate period of time following release.

HM Government has recognised the importance of the work of CAC, and as a result the number of prisons has gradually increased. It is envisaged that the project is likely to become available across the prison estate (Category B,C & D) in 2016.

Nottingham born CAC Trustee, Gary ‘Goose’ Cryer served with the military for 22 years (Parachute Regiment), and is well known amongst the biker fraternity nationwide. A church-goer – in Hull presently – he has Bible verses emblazoned across his American ‘Victory Kingpin’ motorbike. “I think it’s important that the military community are looked after when they leave their units; the cohesion they’re used to sometimes falls apart. I’ve worked in the security sector and the armed forces so I understand both aspects. It’s important for those who fall through the cracks to be reached out to…”

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Photo shows (L-R): Jim, Bishop Tony, Governor Dave Bamford, Jane Jones, ‘Goose’ Cryer and Claire Hussey outside HMP Nottingham. (Brian Pickering).