Pentonville prison worker on the pros and cons of her work

Angela Kirwin on her bike

Angela Kirwin on her bike - Credit: Archant

Ever wondered what goes on in prison to rehabilitate offenders? Meet Angela Kirwin.

The 28-year-old social worker spends her days in Pentonville running classes helping prisoners work on their mental health and tackle drug addiction.

Tomorrow (Fri) she will set off from Land’s End on a 969-mile bike ride to John O’Groats in support of the Prince’s Trust, which tries to get ex-offenders into work.

Speaking to the Gazette, she said her passion for helping people stemmed from her upbringing in Manchester.

“Lots of my school friends ended up in prison or in trouble,” she said. “So I trained as a social worker.

“It’s brilliant. I run groups but they are quite peer-led – the prisoners take charge.

“We work on how to improve mental health and become drug-free. A lot of them are into exercise as a way of coping.”

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Angela will often see the same faces returning to her sessions, but she’s not there to judge.

She continued: “I’m not there to shout at them, it’s a really long journey. It might be the 10th time before they decide to change. The systems of support aren’t there anymore. A lot go out homeless and sleep rough and their profound psychological problems are not addressed.

“I work with young gang members and people think they are just really angry but they have real mental health issues.”

Angela often sees people she’s worked with sleeping rough in Shoreditch, where she lives, some of whom will nod in acknowledgement. It’s a hard job, though she stressed she gets to see them at their best.

“They aren’t bad people, they just do bad things,” she explained. “No one intends to end up in prison. It’s life circumstances that lead them to places they don’t want to be.

“I told them I was doing this bike ride and they all offered to sponsor me. They earn £2 a day in prison.

“I had a guy who was released a couple of months ago. He’s 55, a chronic alcoholic and had been homeless. I just got an email [from his social worker] saying he has been brilliant [on the outside] and he thanked everyone. That’s the reward – when people make small changes, because small changes lead to big changes.”