Alex chats isolation tips with our ex-offenders

Video from Key4Life.


‘When you find yourself in these difficult moments the key is acceptance’ Sylv

Social Pantry is well known for employing ex-offenders and it is now that we are turning to these colleagues for tips on how best to survive isolation.

As we all get used to ‘lock down’ I chatted with some brilliant men who are working with, or have worked at, Social Pantry to share their top tips and what they found the hardest when in prison. With sentences ranging from 3months to 5years staying mentally positive is how these guys got through their time behind bars.

Only yesterday when having a zoom catch up with the planning team did we discuss how much respect we now have for our colleagues who have spent time in prison. Yes, we’ve visited the prisons, yes, we’ve seen the wings, bakeries, kitchens and visitors rooms but going in and out in a day is far from similar to what these men experienced.


Sylvester, 50’s…ish!! 

Sylvester has worked with Social Pantry for over a year and a half now. He did two stints in prison, one being a 3 month stay and the second was 9 months of incarceration. He moved prison 6 times during his longest stay.

‘With no TV in the cell the key is to read books to keep your mind busy. You want to visualise what you want to do when free. When you find yourself in these difficult moments the key is acceptance, meditation also used to help me stay calm and not let me get too anxious or depressed. Talking to yourself always helps but only in a positive way! Remember, you are not crazy and not the only person in this situation, it is all a process we are working through.’  


Kiel, 32

Kiel has worked with Social Pantry since last summer. I met Kiel in Bad Boys Bakery in Brixton Prison and he got in touch on release. Kiel has spent a total of 5 years in a cell, but,  since getting a job with Social Pantry prison is a distant memory. Kiel is enjoying the current lockdown with his 4 children and partner in South London. Kiel tried to stay busy when in his cell, he explained that other to avoid just staring at the wall all day you needed to work hard at keeping your mind busy.

‘The hardest thing was the lack of freedom, not even being allowed to go for a walk or go to the shop was difficult. I’ve spent about 5 years in a cell in total’

Kiel’s top tips:

  • Try to stay positive and read a book
  • Try to stay fit: push ups and sit ups can be done in a small space
  • Try to eat healthy food. In prison food is not great, cooking healthy meals in your kettle is essential to stay healthy


Suhail, 28 

Suhail worked with Social Pantry for over three years and was the first ever ex-offender to work with Social Pantry! Suhail was incarcerated in Isis Prison, which is next to Belmarsh and served 1 year of a 2 year sentence.

“The best tip I can give is that I always kept myself busy either in my cell or outside. I got a job as a mentor, studied with the open university. The hardest part was not being able to see family or friends whenever I wanted too”

Thanks to Novus, Key4Life, Switchback and other organisations we have been able to employ ex-offenders over the last few years. They have always been inspiring and now, most of us, have even more admiration!



Alex Head