TEENAGER Paul Reynolds beams as he recounts how he was recently awarded a Duke of Edinburgh Award for fund-raising.
For the young offender, who is half way through a five-year prison sentence for serious assault, it is a reward for the six months he spent helping organise and run events which raised money for children’s charities.
Mr Reynolds, 19, of Galashiels, is one of hundreds of young offenders who takes part in a range of initiatives run by the Barnardo’s to care for, educate and rehabilitate inside Polmont Young Offenders Institution and Cornton Vale Prison.
The teenager said: “There is obviously not much to do in here. I’d not been in here long when Barnardo’s came in and asked for volunteers to take part in stuff they were doing. I went along just because it was something to do but I can seriously say it has totally changed my life and I’d be lost without it in here.”
He admits the educational work has helped him come to terms with his past and helped him gain confidence to think about his future when he gets out of prison.
Mr Reynolds said: “Doing the Duke of Edinburgh was fun and really rewarding. It took six months of work and it has taught me I can do things I never thought possible.
“It gives me hope that when I get out I will be able to get a job and start living the life I have missed out on for so long.”
The teenager smiles as he recalls all the projects he has taken part in over the past two years – everything from learning about health issues and apartheid to cooking and managing money.
Barnardo’s employs five youth prison workers in Scotland who meet young men and women aged between 16 and 21 in Polmont and Cornton Vale. Typically they run projects and classes for around 20 hours a week in each of the prisons.
The team’s leader Lisa Hogg said: “There is huge appreciation among the youngsters for what we do. It gives them something useful and practical to do and teaches them life skills. Most of all it is fun. They don’t have to come but more often than not classes are full.
“Everything we do with the youngsters is aimed at building their confidence and teaching them about themselves and the wider world.”
Another young offender taking part in the charity’s projects is Dean Simpson, who is serving a seven-year sentence for armed robbery.
He says he has “shocked” himself by how much he enjoys the work on offer considering he hated studying and going to school.
Mr Simpson, 20, of Aberdeen, said: “The things we do are fun. It’s not like it is a chore.
“I have learned that I can cook, everything from meals to making bread, I love it. I have also learned to play the guitar and write some songs.
“The other day I stood up in front of folk and played the guitar. A few months ago that would never have happened. But I’m more confident now.”
He added: “The talks we have also made me realise the mistakes I’ve made in the past and how it is up to me to make sure that when I get out of here I don’t do anything which will put me back in.”
Mr Simpson has also obtained a Duke of Edinburgh award and hopes it will help him get a job when he is released.
He said: “With that award I am hoping to show I can work and want to work.”
The Polmont group has raised more than £1,200 for children’s charities this year and hopes to reach the £2,000 mark by March.
The young offenders project is one of more than 100 projects run by Barnardo’s across Scotland. The charity relies on donations to ensure their work to help care for, help and educate young people can be carried out.