A new pilot project has been launched in one of Scotland's highest security prisons to help inmates give something back to society while doing 'time'.
The scheme - which is now up and running at Saughton jail in Edinburgh - lets cons transfer hours they accumulate while volunteering back into 'credits' that can then be used by others outside the prison walls, a practice known as Time Banking.
Stephen Donald, 54, is six months into a five-year sentence at Saughton and among the first to take part.
A millionaire businessman from Forfar with extensive interests in property and publishing, he was jailed in December for his part in a £118,000 heroin deal.
He is one of the ten prisoners spearheading the pilot which has only just been officially launched.
He said: "When I first came into this establishment, I was nervous, unsure about what happens here. The induction crew, including Officer Stuart Wright, were the first people I met. It was Stuart, who is a credit to this institution, who first explained Time Banking to me.
"I thought it was a fantastic idea. It gives people in here a chance towards getting social inclusion and actually doing something useful. It gives us a sense of worth.
"To me, Time Banking also provides social inclusion for the outside community. I see the people here today – they’re laughing, sharing a joke, chatting, have a cup of tea.
"If you were isolated from the community and you signed up for Time Banking, the benefits are tremendous. You share worries, you share what’s happening in the world, you visit each other houses, you have coffee together."
Stephen is in the Peer Support team in Saughton, helping new inmates adjusting to the strictly regimented life in prison.
He is also helps inmates who have literacy problems write and read letters or fill in forms. He and other peer supporters do most of their work in their spare time, and their volunteering is translated into credits that are passed on the outside community.
He said: "At first others are not too sure about how it works, but then you just explain it’s a barter system for people swapping skills and what we do is we give our credits to people out there that maybe can’t bring something to the table.
"I’ve been telling them to embrace it. The peace of mind that you have when you have, maybe indirectly, contributed to an old age pensioner getting their fence painted or their garden done when they don’t have anyone to do it for them – how good is that?"
Linda Brown, 51, joined the West Edinburgh Time Banking group about a year ago after being referred by the Wester Hailes Health Agency. She gains credits by doing ironing for those who aren’t able, and recently redeemed her credits to have someone decorate a room for her.
"When I first joined I thought 'It’s not my cup of tea. I’m not into things like that.' I didn’t think I could offer the Time Bank anything," she said.
"Then someone suggested ironing, cooking, chumming someone to appointments or shopping. I thought 'I can do that.' I know now that there is a lot I can offer. It’s building my confidence and I’m meeting people. It makes me feel as though I’m useful and I thought I wasn’t.
"It’s a good thing that the prisoners are getting involved. It will make them feel better. I used to think that I was worth nothing and I’m on the outside so what do the prisoners feel like?"
Since the ten prisoners became involved in Time Banking on May 2, they have raised 50 credits.
Time Broker Tracey Lee said: "We try to distribute the prison hours in the community and we use our discretion to try and find out who has the greatest need."
Lydia is one of those who received their credits. She has struggled to get a dentist for seven years, but now has an appointment.
She said: "The services that this group provides are services that the council and other agencies used to be able to provide, but are like gold dust now.
"I think this project will give the prisoners a feeling of self-worth, and give them an opportunity to give something back. That’s what been needed, and it’s been needed for a long time."
There are other prisons around Scotland that are already involved extensively in Time Banking.
Lorraine Roughan, Head of Offenders Outcomes at Saughton, said: "One of the reasons that we really wanted to get involved was that it gives our prisoners a greater sense of self-worth, increases their confidence and allows them to feel that they are putting something positive back into society.
"They really struggle when they come in here, with a lot of things - with self esteem, they fall out with their families, they’re being shunned for the crimes that they’ve done. We want to try to build that back up and make sure that they go back into society better placed to deal with the normal, day-to-day pressures.
"By giving them this opportunity, if they happen to live in the Edinburgh area, some of their family members can benefit directly from Time Banking, which is really positive. Otherwise, other people can benefit from the work that they do.
"While we want to start small, with the peer supporters who help people settle into prison and answer any questions, we’d like to expand it. So for example, if we have someone who teaches someone chess or does something out of the ordinary then we can gather up some momentum."
Councillor Donald Wilson, who came along to the launch, said: "It’s fantastic. It’s good for the prison and it counters an often negative perception of prison. Hopefully it will help people see that it is a good resource that can be utilised in the local area."
Members of the Time Bank chatted and joked with the inmates, enjoying freshly baked cookies from the prison kitchen.
Lydia said: "People in the Time Bank give a lot of support. They are like a family, but not cliquey – anyone can join. It’s friendly, safe place to go."
She recalled the first day Linda joined.
"She was talking about ironing and I said that I didn’t iron. The next week – it was like Christmas. I was having such a rubbish day and she came in with this box. Inside of it was an iron. I was in tears by the end of it.
"There is a genuine kindness in here that people forget in the community. It’s not that it is lost. People have just forgotten it, be it because of the recession or personal problems.
"What we do doesn’t cost anything but what it gives in return is priceless."