High Sheriff of West Sussex learns how A Band of Brothers helps young men move from crime to a future filled with purpose

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The High Sheriff of West Sussex, Dr Tim Fooks, in his weekly briefing, meets the man behind the charity A Band of Brothers’ mentoring training for volunteers working with young men involved in the criminal justice system.

Criminal behaviour is a male-dominant condition. Government data has shown that men account for eight out of ten people cautioned by the police, and nearly nine out of ten people found guilty for indictable offences are men.

Men are responsible for 97 per cent of burglary and 92 per cent of violence against the person. Unsurprisingly, 95 per cent of the UK prison population is male.

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In other articles, I have discussed how offenders are often those who have experienced significant difficulties during childhood and are prone to becoming entrapped in a cycle of crime and violence. And, although thinking of crime and criminal behaviour as a ‘disease’ is over-simplistic, if we have understood nothing else from the current pandemic, studies from both crime and the coronavirus agree that prevention really is better than cure.

Abob mentors with young men they are helping at a dragon boat raceAbob mentors with young men they are helping at a dragon boat race
Abob mentors with young men they are helping at a dragon boat race

Indeed, the work of A Band of Brothers, a charity established in Brighton in 2006 and known affectionately as Abob, has demonstrated a dramatic impact on the outlook and outcomes of those who are either at risk of crime or are already getting into trouble.

And, recently, I was fortunate to be able to discuss their inspirational work with Mark Nightingale, who leads the charity’s mentoring training across the UK.

Mark explained to me that the problem of disaffected young men is due to a failure of our culture to address fundamental male issues.

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The disintegration of traditional family units - 85 per cent of prison residents come from single parent families, weaker bonds between father and son, the decline of community support structures, the proliferation of mass society, rampant consumerism and the lure of drugs and alcohol have resulted in unprecedented challenges for many adolescents and, therefore, for society.

Abob members and community volunteers working together to complete Logan's Garden in CrawleyAbob members and community volunteers working together to complete Logan's Garden in Crawley
Abob members and community volunteers working together to complete Logan's Garden in Crawley

As a result, many men enter adulthood with a combination of very poor self-esteem and also a great deal of anger. As the saying goes, ‘urt people, hurt people’ and such powerful emotions can result in violence, not just against others, but also towards themselves. It is no accident that the suicide rate among men is three times that of women.

However, for those who want to become better men, making the most of their time and fostering values they can respect and live by, Abob offers them a real alternative.

At the heart of the Abob approach is a community within which adult men are engaged and trained to act as mentors and allies for local young men, thereby bridging the divide that exists between generations of males. Within the safety of these communities, ‘hurts’ can be addressed and managed through cognitive techniques which are proven to help reduce experiences of violence. At the same time, the participants are encouraged to discover a new meaning and purpose for life that is grounded in a respect for humanity and nature.

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To choose to belong to an Abob community is a major decision and much time is spent at the all-important Quest weekends to ensure that this step is right for an individual. However, for those who commit, the impact is often life-changing.

Abob graduates are much less likely to be involved in conflict or to engage in severe substance addiction. Many have been able to move into secure housing and three quarters enter employment, education or training. Most importantly of all, perhaps, is that 81 per cent showed an improvement in levels of self-esteem and self-worth.

As Jake, who has become an Abob ‘graduate’, said: “I had never believed I was worthy of anything, but the Quest weekend helped me realise that I was worthy of a job, a future and more. I really like that all the men are there for each other. It makes such a difference.”

If you would like to make a difference as a band of brothers volunteer or to learn more about the charity, please contact them via their website abandofbrothers.org.uk

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