The men who have learnt to listen

Fourteen of Swaleside’s most troublesome men proudly thanked the prison for a new way of thinking, on graduating as mediators recently.

Holding their certificates, the men spoke of being united, being grateful and about their intentions to improve Swaleside with Michael admitting: “I started this [training] wanting to walk out in the first hour but they saw something in me that I didn’t.


We grew up together in jail and I see our journey from young boys to big men. We’re doing this. Believe in yourself.”

Anton added: “Sometimes you have these things but you don’t see them until someone taps into them and motivates you to believe.


I take it seriously. It’s not just a certificate or to help move prisons – it’s to make our lives better.”

Swaleside asks Crying Sons for help

The scheme – run by Crying Sons –  was a leap of faith taken by former governor Paul Newton, who hopes that the initiative will pay off by reducing gang violence at Swaleside.

The seeds were sown 2 years ago when

Gwenton Sloley, one of the directors of

Crying Sons visited the prison for Black History month. It went down so well with the men that Swaleside wanted him back in.

But Gwenton wanted to get more involved. Both he and fellow Director Bobby Martin convinced Paul that their training had a better chance of getting through to the men than another speech.


It involved setting-up a group of men – alongside safer custody officer, Richard Davies – to be a team that use their influence to create more peace at Swaleside.

Richard was really pleased to be part of the programme. “We had already tried our usual methods,” he explained. “We weren’t getting anywhere because we were putting the men on courses taught by people who were nothing like them.”

Stepping up instead of piling in

Bobby explained how they set about turning men into mediators. He said: “By the time the men get here they’ve been assessed so many times and they switch off. Over six weeks we  teach them the impact listening and speaking up constructively can have.

“As part of that they learn to deal with their inner pain and move forwards, ready to help others.”

Now the men are qualified, the people who once thought violence was the answer can set a better example and use their communication skills to help others settle their scores calmly.

Richard is proud of how far they’ve come. At the graduation he reminded them of the impact they can have. He said: “You’re not always security’s best friends but you’re a team now. You can stop the violence together. If we can stop it at Swaleside, we can stop it in the streets. It has to start here.”

The pilot went so well that Crying Sons will run a second programme at Swaleside soon. (They would like to thank Governor Paul Newton for believing in the scheme with the support of Malcolm Whitelaw for funding it out of the education budget.)

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For more information about Crying Sons and their work contact