Displaying items by tag: prison
Jock Young has offered many telling insights into crime, power and class structure and recently wrote a fascinating profile of the rise and fall of financier Bernie Madoff (in How they got away with it: white collar criminals and the financial meltdown). This reminded me of my time as a probation officer when I was given supervisory responsibility for Brian (not his real name). Brian's financial transgressions, although on a considerably more modest scale than Mr Madoff, in stealing a significant pot of money from his employers accentuated some pertinent themes arising from white collar crime. When Brian arrived for his appointment for the preparation of a pre-sentence report, his smart, articulate and affluent bearing appeared to sit uneasily with many of the presuppositions that often frame these meetings.
The custodial sentence, as the judge noted, was an 'inevitable outcome' as this was a 'grave breach of trust'. My first post-sentence prison visit to meet Brian was a curiously unsettling experience. The oppressive interview room with all the noise and pent up frustration together with Brian's unflappable demeanour caught me quite by surprise. He asserted that having 'undertaken national service' was a perfect preparation for a spell inside and he cited the offers of help and assistance that he provided to inmates aware of his professional background with letter writing and appeal hearings. The circumstances of his offences appear to owe more to a sense of misplaced loyalty than any narcissistic plundering of the firm's books for personal gain. He politely requested that I make discrete enquiries to ensure that his property remained secure and that I support, if needed, his transfer to an open prison. When next we met it was indeed at the open prison: suitable for his designated cat D status (lowest risk of harm and not likely to mount an escape attempt). By this time Brian had reached a point in his sentence when early release on licence was soon to be realised. His achieved status as a white collar prisoner had, it seemed, resulted in a largely untroubled (outside of the pains of confinement) sentence progression.
I visited Brian after release at his flat close to a busy London landmark and his hospitable offerings by way of lunch made for a stress-free interview. He complied with his reporting requirements and was often seen unhurriedly walking his dog in an adjacent park. The loss of income and livelihood was much more difficult to negotiate for him. There appeared to be no artifice to Brian's return to the community and his modest outlays in rent and subsidence suggested that he had not squirreled away any ill-gotten funds. I remained bemused that Brian appeared to cope with his fallen status and did not adopt the rhetoric of victimisation when faced with the challenge of regaining employment (he was approaching retirement age). Brian's well adjusted and solid persona helped him to re-integrate into society after his time inside. Maybe greed and excess entered into Brian's actions when faced with easy access to financial dealings. The losses sustained by his insider fraudulent behaviour were covered by the firm's indemnity fund and far from 'getting away with it' he was apprehended, prosecuted and jailed.
After one home visit Brian pointed towards a framed certificate on his wall, 'I got that after two years' National Service, maybe you should get a certificate that says you have done your time'!
Happy (Help and Protect Prisoners' Youngsters) gives advice, counselling and free bus rides to families from all over Scotland who are visiting prisoners at HMP Kilmarnock and Shotts. Their aim is to help maintain contact between children and a parent serving time. Without transport, many families would not be able to make regular visits.
The Happy Bus offers a much needed support mechanism and can save not only money but time and energy for visitors.
These were exciting times for me and I took every chance to move on. My Open University studies were the most important thing to me now with regard to my overall rehabilitation to date. Prison industries could not provide me with anything in comparison, only mind numbing work.
Which I was refusing to do now because there was no benefit in it for me, as is the case for most prisoners.
Yesterday I was invited in to a prison by a governor who I met on my travels to help their team to understand the everyday problems of resettlement. One of the things I heard off one of the governors of that establishment was that prisoners get too many benefits being unemployed i.e. free council passes and so on and that the dole is probably the best we can expect in life. I went off it and got into a debate with her, I was fuming!
My argument being: am I not to have any aspirations like wanting to have normal things in life like a relationship, pay bills, start a family and support them? Have a secure foundation after prison so I do not re offend and am a law abiding citizen and not a burden?
This is what we are up against on a regular basis with narrow minded governors, this one worked in a young offenders Institution. So what future prospects have they got when this is the perception of their governor?
After I had a go at her 2 Independent Monitoring Board members come up to me and said what I was saying was having a greater impact on them prior to anything they had heard before.
At these events I call myself an 'ex-offender'. Another governor who I know through my travels does not like me to describe myself like this, but after yesterday's debate, that divide is still there. Them and us. She has just affirmed that with her beliefs of what we are and what to expect - nothing.
But, getting back to prison.
I could see light at the end of this long dark tunnel and even start planning for my future release.Time was flying past.
I was in the prison badminton team and we used to stay out until 11pm in the prison and were told to make our own way back to our cells. I didn't need to ask permission to go anywhere. You were responsible for yourself and everyone embraced it. The opportunities were unbelievable, paid work, college, Prince's Trust, voluntary work - basically anything you wanted to do the prison was geared up for it and helped you achieve it.
Within days of being there, I had to send my Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) forms to my probation officer who had eight weeks to return them for me to have a full day out with my family. One morning my pad mate came back telling me he was out for the day next week and asked me if I had my ROTL. I chased it up in the wing office then down to the ROTL clerk and anywhere else I could think of. There was nothing there for me so I phoned my probation officer. She was on visits in but was due back in the afternoon. I was missing my deadline date if I didn't get hold of her, when I called back in the afternoon they told me she was on holiday and would not be back until next week.
When I say I lost my head you better believe it!
I called the Chief Probation Officer for Teesside and she had to do my ROTL, something that had never been heard of then and today. First she did not want to talk to me but I'm persistent and wouldn't be fobbed off. I was in the right and I have waited a long time for this. I refused to work with her any further she had no time for me and vice versa.
My time there was great but, as a resettlement regime, for me it was too far away from home and therefore no long term benefits for my release and I asked the governor for a transfer closer to home.
He gave me another ROTL to make my own way there and told me it was the worst cat D going and I was making a mistake, I was better off there. But I needed to be closer to home.
I was off again.
It takes more than 20 minutes for them all to wander in. There are only ten of them but they come from different wings, and some of them like to wander slowly when they're outside because they get so little chance to feel the breeze or see a full sky. There's no sign of that Monday morning feeling either; not with being locked up for so long at the weekend. Some are full of chat about the football results, but most just want to get on with things.
Within five minutes, the atmosphere is settled, the computers are being switched on and papers are being shuffled. These men are serving at least ten years each, though a couple who have just two years' incarceration left, are on the slow home straight. One is writing his autobiography so that his bank manager dad, who was often absent from his life, can see how he turned out this way. One is writing a novel set in early twentieth century America, with the dawn of silent cinema. Then there's the feller who's writing short stories based on his service in the army, the man who's doing advanced creative writing with the Open University, three men who are doing Level One creative writing and never felt confident at school, one who's writing a film script because he's sick of British films' unrealistic portrayal of black youth, and the man sat in the corner who's writing poetry because it might just stop him from self-harming or committing suicide.
Hardly a bunch of stereotype thugs, I'm sure you'll agree.
This may not be an ordinary class, but it's not unusual in my experience. I teach four lessons of creative writing at HMP Frankland and have done so for over five years. I've been writer in residence at HMP Durham and have facilitated numerous creative projects at HMP's Low Newton, Deerbolt and Northumberland.
Prisoners' writing may be controversial to some, but most prisoners write because, in times of crisis and despondency, the pen is indeed a mighty instrument. When your life is curtailed through incarceration, your future blocked by concrete walls, it is natural to turn backwards and ponder, to investigate decisions and actions that led to such a predicament. And it can often be reassuring and warming to gather up some of those good memories too. Most students write about something that is connected to themselves. I spend time with them, offer editing and advice, read over sections of their life that don't appear on charge sheets, or on psychology files. Frequently, I am amazed at the beauty and power of their work.
Writing is good for them. It is good for all of us, regardless of our ability with literacy, our levels of creativity. In this era of increasing tick-boxes and targets, of huge cuts in funding, the importance of the arts grows stronger than ever. For in difficult times the arts work in ways that speak to the self, and weave paths of understanding that help us understand ourselves and move on with greater confidence.
Good Vibrations helps prisoners, patients in secure hospitals, ex-prisoners and others in the community to develop crucial life and work skills through participating in Gamelan (Indonesian bronze percussion) courses.
Research, commissioned from Birmingham City University's Centre for Applied Criminology, looked at the impact of taking part in Gamelan on participants 12-18 months on and reported that the courses:
- Significantly improves confidence, listening and communication skills, along with ability to cope with the stress of prison life
- Enhances participants' levels of engagement with further education and training
Fine Cell Work is a social enterprise that trains prisoners in paid, skilled, creative needlework undertaken in the long hours spent in their cells. The scheme has 60 volunteers from the Embroiderers and Quilters Guild who go into prisons every two weeks to teach and mentor the inmates learning the skills of stitching. In 2010, over 2,500 pieces were sold, including cushions, rugs and quilts.
As one prisoner said: 'The thing that I mostly get from working in the Fine Cell workshop is satisfaction, working with others, seeing the finished article and knowing that the things we make here together are good enough to be sold outside the prison and will end up in someone's home.'
My time in prison was passing well and I was happy. It may sound mad being happy but it was a big part of my life and I made the best of it.
The officers in there were becoming a bit more approachable to me and I ended up getting a bit pally with a PO and luckily for me he was made in charge of recategorisation. There was only one category left for me and that was D. He put me in for my cat D after 4-5 months in cat C and I got it. On top of that he said I could make my own way to the cat D. I could not believe what he was telling me, I thought he was joking.
I put in the paperwork and got a ROTL (Release On Temporary Licence), I had eight hours to get from Leicestershire to Derbyshire. Our mam and my sister came to collect me, it was a beautiful summer's day. You can't imagine my feelings at the time. I had been in prison for nine years so far. My sister put the details for the cat D in her sat nav and we set off. It was the first time I had seen a sat nav and could not believe what I was seeing. It did not take long to get there and we had plenty of time left so we went shopping. I spent a few hundred quid on accessories, a quilt pillows, new ghetto blaster, toiletries and so on.
I loved it, freedom!
I had to be at the prison for 2pm, my family left me there. We were all buzzing, you can't imagine the happiness we all shared together. And finally we could all see this coming to an end.
In reception I had to declare all my stuff. The officer was just looking and he had to go through it all. He kept on asking we where I got all it all from and I kept on telling him my last prison. Until he found the receipt for the shopping, he was alright about it and let me keep everything.
The following day after my arrival I had to go and do my induction. I was given a card with a few locations on it and I had to go and basically see what was going on and what I wanted to do. I went in for cell study and got it but had to do part time education with it.
There was a new education block and it was fantastic, there was no pressure and nothing was a drama. The library was unbelievable and open all day, you could just walk in. The overall facilities for further education were very accessible too.
It was definitely the best prison I have been in for getting people back into society via education, employment and training opportunities for everyone. You only saw officers at role checks through the day and after that they were very hard to locate. The whole emphasis was on you to take advantage of the facilities in a formal constructive way.
It was a very happy prison.
I knew a few lads when I moved to the next prison who I had met along the way and you just get on with it. My 2 Scouse mates got me on a part-time catering course with them. But I was behind on my studies and I needed to catch up and quick.
I’m laughing to myself because on my induction when you see the PO, he looked down at my file then up at me. It was about 5 inches thick!
I told him what I wanted and this was part of a progressive move in order to get myself in a good position for my cat D and later my parole. He asked me about work and I told him I was behind with my studies. He was alright about it and told me to crack on and stay off the radar. Sound.
I’d got to continue my education part time in the mornings and do cell study the other free mornings I had. Everyone who knows me know that I took cell study to another limit! Hahahaha...
In the afternoon I would go to catering, smash it in there. I’m a wicked cook and so were my 2 mates. We’d have some fantastic food in there and take it back for our pals too. It was a real treat.
I was enjoying my studies and the facilities in the jail were excellent. Access to education and resettlement was open all the time to everyone.
I knew the number 1 Governor from my time in HMP Frankland. We were shocked to see each other again but he was a very approachable guy with a top memory. He asked me what I was up to, knowing in the back of his mind I will be blagging him too! He was very supportive and made sure I had good access to education to facilitate me doing my degree with the Open University.
I was averaging scores on my tutor marked assignments from 75-85 per cent. I was enjoying it and it gave me an optimism I never had before and that was hope.
My tutor from the Open University used to come and see me every 6 weeks and he helped me a lot by encouraging me. The overall package from the OU was excellent during my time.
Futures Unlocked works hard to support those who have committed offences in leading crime free lives, by providing a range of practical, emotional and spiritual support.
Futures Unlocked are committed to breaking the cycle of re-offending by assisting individuals who have been caught up in the criminal justice system with a number of issues identified by the NOMS reducing re-offending ‘pathways', such as accommodation, employment, financial needs, substance misuse and health issues. The support provided by the trained staff at Futures Unlocked assists individuals in steering away from crime and improving their life-chances.
The spiritual work of Futures Unlocked reflects the values of the Prison Service Chaplaincy, which seeks to serve people of all faiths and none; help given by them is holisitic and will not seek to proselytise or promote any faith or religious belief. They recognise the importance of faith community involvement, and work to maintain and increase this wherever possible by helping to develop community solutions to crime. Futures Unlocked also strongly believe in addressing issues of inequality within the criminal justice system, and are committed to ensuring that the needs of women, ethnic minority groups and disabled people are better attended to.
Futures Unlocked are based in Leicester.
In the latest Prison Inspectorate’s Annual Report the Inspectorate's observations capture some of the challenging and complex relationships existing between staff and prisoners. This reminded me of a particularly difficult interview that I undertook with a lifer at a High Security Prison as his Home Probation Officer.
Patrick (not his real name) was serving a life sentence for murder with a 20 year tariff. That is the minimum term to be served before the Parole Board can consider release on life licence. I met Patrick 5 years earlier when he was serving his sentence at a Category B prison. At this point in time, he had had very limited contact with the Probation Service, and his splenetic views as to this hiatus were conveyed in such a manner, that one of the prison officers near the interview room thought I needed 'rescuing'. In the event, I recall recognising that this had been an organisational failing, as many lifers preferred to delay contact with probation until nearer their tariff point.
I left the prison determined to offer greater continuity of contact and to follow up Patrick’s request that I arrange to see his elderly mother whose well being was his principal concern. His mother was the most important family member to visit him and such occasions were prefigured by a great deal of written correspondence to the office. Patrick's progression through his life sentence had oscillated between periods of emotional stability and periodic 'psychotic like' symptoms, resulting in transfers to a special hospital under section 47/49 of the Mental Health Act. On one planned prison visit prior to his transfer I was notified at the prison gate that I wouldn't be able to undertake our interview as he was 'too ill ' to be seen. I was then invited to 'listen in' to the segregation unit by phone, it was explained that Patrick had ingested hallucinogenic substances (following, it was claimed, a family visit). I vividly recall hearing what sounded very much like 'drug induced' hypomania.
After visiting his mother, I began to build a more trusting and meaningful relationship with Patrick. The changing landscape of prisons and probation signalled by the inception of NOMS in 2004 had yet to surface and the cultural differences between probation and prison staff in terms of occupational role boundaries and multi-agency practices meant that my contacts with prison staff at times often remained aloof and distant. Certainly when I prepared to attend a Life Sentence Review meeting at the prison I approached this with some apprehension. The preparation for sentence planning was, I sensed at the time, a little threadbare and I braced myself for what I perhaps unfairly imagined would be a tense and difficult meeting. In the event, my prison based probation colleague indicated that the meeting would be held on the lifer wing of the prison.
When Patrick entered the room he exuded a confident bearing and this was, I later realised, partly on the basis that I was 'on his side' having formed a good rapport with his mother. I managed to convey some of the issues that I felt needed to be discussed and participation with some of the embryonic offence -related programmes available via the prison was mooted. Patrick appeared ill at ease with any prospect of undertaking prison based programmes. At this point I realised that, without some core understanding of Patrick's deeply entrenched pattern of denial and minimisation surrounding the commission of his index offence, progress towards eventual release would be highly problematic.
Nonetheless, I was able to provide what I took to be the beginnings of an effective and consistent professional relationship which did, as I subsequently discovered, offer an opportunity for Patrick to think afresh about the impact his offences had caused to others and his own carapace of deeply held anger.
At the conclusion of the meeting, held a little unnervingly in one of the vacant cells on the wing, Patrick held me in a constricting embrace and said unabashedly 'Mike I want to be free someday to see my mum at home and you have made that dream seem possible'!