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Tools for Mentoring #2

"Making it work in the legit world."

This article is the second in a series we are creating to assist mentors in our Federal Reentry Court here in the district of Minnesota. I can't think of a better title than the one we've chosen because this is the goal! Guiding high-risk individuals through the complexities of managing multiple transitions (halfway house, probation, special conditions, felon label, etc.) until a certain sense of realistic confidence begins to show and life starts to slow down. It takes skill to be a guide, and some useful tools as well. I trust the following articles will help!

Tool #1: Have a clear perspective of what the goal is.

This entire process will be much easier if the mentor understands that the main goal is to guide their mentee into the legit world and discover how it works. What that ends up looking like is not the concern or the focus of the mentor relationship. Try to find one area that needs some guiding (this should not be a problem) and offer some insight. If you get a response, then make a plan for addressing this area. For example: If your mentee tells you they need a driver's license, but they've never had one before, you now have an excellent opportunity to talk about the steps they'll need to take to accomplish this. Navigating the DMV in any state can be a traumatic experience. Nobody seems to know what to do or what building you're supposed to be in. It's like asking a guy for directions, and the response is "You can't get there from here"… It won’t take too much of this kind of confusion until your mentee decides it’s easier and less stressful to just drive without a license – and now we’re going down a familiar path. Remember – you're the one that has navigated this world with some degree of success, and you have a lot to offer. Problem-solving has been part of your journey, and now it's time to share what you know, or at least find someone who does know.

Tool #2: There is no formula.

I've worked with many mentors over the years that think the goal is to create a mini-me. They try to impose their values, preferences, faith, and a host of other things, thinking that the formula that worked for them should work for others. It doesn't.

The "formula" approach is common within faith-based groups. The goal doesn't seem to be assisting with the multiple issues facing the mentee but rather, getting them to make some sort of profession prescribed for them. I think the thought is that if a person just verbalizes this formula, says 6 of these or 4 of those, then all is well and life will change. The problem comes when life seems to return to the former style, problems continue to stack up, and the mentee no longer looks or sounds like the rest of the group – in other words, the wheels come off. The go-to line then is that the mentee wasn't sincere enough or wasn't a true believer — what a cheap way of treating people. What comes to mind is Kant's moral philosophy – People should not be treated as a means to an end but instead, be treated as an end themselves.

Another group that seems to embrace the formula approach is the professional corrections world. For years we've been hearing and reading about the importance of a job in relation to recidivism. In fact, it's listed as one of the central eight criminogenic needs. Just get an individual a job when they come out of prison, and you're well on your way to desistance and success. And yet, the recidivism rate has pretty much stayed the same for the past few decades, why is that? Getting a job is not the issue. Keeping a job, so that you can get a better job, (pretty much how it works in the legit world) should be the focus! But we stick to the formula and continue to get the same results. So be ready to avoid formulas and put in some hard work that involves a process.

Tool #3: Hope

Every small, seemingly insignificant piece of progress and follow-through, should end up creating some hope within your mentee. This is one of the few times when talk matters. This is when it's essential to start the vocal reminders that together, you’ve got this. And then it's on to the next already identified task so that you continue to build resilience and trust. All this can all be summed up with the word HOPE. Your mentee needs to believe that the skill required to make it in the legit world is attainable, it’s not a formula but rather a process, and that there’s a lot of great stuff to discover!

Hope this helps.

(Rocky DeYoung manages the mentoring program for the federal reentry court in the district of Minnesota)

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