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A window of opportunity

Interview with Christopher Syrus

Chris Syrus is a young man on a mission. Raised in south London, he has spent time in prison, convicted at the age of 24. During his time in an open prison, Chris used every opportunity he could lay his hands on to turn his life around, securing employment before release. This role was in personal development and has resulted in Chris undertaking many projects, having a poetry book published, looking after his family and concentrating on an area that needs people like him – motivated, driven and dedicated. Chris highlights the point very clearly that he wants to make to young people. While his mission is to reduce youth offending, he concentrates on tackling an increasing problem in today’s society. What do we do with the current youth offending population? Where do these people go, after conviction? Who takes care of them? Who mentors them on to a path of leading a normal life? Chris has cornered a market that looks at this. That finds a chink in the armour where people who have little or no insight, into what is an increasing problem, and facilitates programmes on a section of society that is rife, yet huddled away in the eyes of the public. He gives them what he found beneficial to him, serving as a prisoner. We hear often, “If I could bottle this and give it to you, I would”. Well, Chris has bottled his own experiences and is handing those bottles over to young offenders, to young people and handing them a brighter future.

During his time in prison, Chris centred his thoughts on utilizing all thatwas on offer. During his time he studied Psychology with the Open University, he completed an NVQ in Advice and Guidance, 7303 Teacher Training and Goals for Young People facilitation. In 2008 he was awarded the Learning Skills Council “Achieving Against the Odds” award. He is the author of the book of poetry, titled LoveLife6958, his allocated prisoner number, which transcribes his progression from his negative past towards a positive future.

On release in 2009, Chris used his acquired skills and training to start his own business, delivering workshops, which are based around arts, music and creative writing. Chris also delivers personal development skills, creative writing skills, movie making skills and the opportunity for young people to accompany him on musical tours. In the pipeline, he’s currently looking to be a Job Centre Provider. He also works in forensic units throughout the country offering his workshops to young offenders. He works actively to secure job apprenticeships for young offenders on their release from prison and young offenders institutions. As if that wasn’t enough, he continues to offer guidance and mentoring to young people for them to go on and become mentors.

In all of the above, Chris’s primary purpose is to offer young people what he benefited from and used to turn his life around. During our interview, Chris wants to make absolutely clear that there is light at the end of the tunnel for young people in the Criminal Justice System. But also, any adult cannot fail to be inspired by his achievements while in prison and his ongoing achievements since then. This is more than just offering a service to a disadvantaged section of society. It is giving young people the opportunity, under his guidance to move forward from the dark days of prison to life on the outside and to discourage re-offending. Chris also reaches out to young people, to discourage offending. Any person can attend any of his workshops. They are available to all. Chris also points out that if given a custodial sentence, young people should approach all areas of education, which was ultimately what kept Chris going through his sentence. He opens a window of opportunity for young people to go through, and move their live on from, offending, re-offending and getting off the hamster wheel of offending behaviour. He points out that offending is behavioural: change the behaviour and the risk of offending and re-offending is reduced.

His hope for the future is to show young people that there is opportunity after a conviction. Nobody can fail to see that Chris has overcome immense obstacles, in a society that discriminates against reforming offenders at whatever age. An open, willing mind and approach to how to move a life on the wrong path, to a good, solid, positive path.

Achievement and growth can only come with a willing mind, a positive approach to one’s own life. In a society where reforming offenders are often denied access routes to employment, education and a right to lead a life without offending behaviour, Chris proves, shows, and continues to offer a service that is priceless.

Taken from Issue 14

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