Rehabilitation… What is it?


Rehabilitation – the word itself carries so much weight. Mr Grayling uses the term loosely in his revolution and with an array of services, the area of rehabilitation is one of vast proportions.

I am an on the ground sorta gal I like real people who have laughed in the face of adversity, come through their stuff and can look back often and fondly with a smile, a nod, a wink and just an understanding of how to sort their crap out. I met what in politically correct terms, would be a former offender last year while in Malaysia, he was 67 years old and described himself as an old lag. He had been in prison and had one of those faces that told many stories. He had a tale or too to tell me about his time in prison – how he went on to get married, have children and is now retired. We got chatting and like any expat, he engaged with me as I talked about home. He’s always stuck in my mind and occasionally, I reflect on last September, three months post dock when I was just beginning to see the light after my court case had been dealt with.

John laughed when I told him the extent of rehabilitation in the UK. Looking back now, I can see why. Rehab is described for those with addictions. The same word is used for offenders. The money market that is now, the rehabilitation of offenders is huge and the balance sheets are certainly full of a number or two. His words still ring in my ears: “Rehabilitation? What the fuck is that all about? We had nothing after prison and had to get on with it”

My take on Rehabilitation of Offenders given I have offended is quite simple. I am simple in a complicated world. It is down to behaviour. If a person commits a crime, that is a behaviour. The events that contribute to such behaviours are important, of course they are. I refer to my pre-sentence report conducted by a fabulous probation officer who was clearly dedicated and professional at his job. He looked at one simple area. “Why have you done this?” I know exactly why I did it. I would do it all again too. There is not one part of me that would have taken a different path when I signed cheques. Those were the shoes I was in at that time. Confused, hurting, angry, wondering how I was going to survive, not thinking of the consequences of my actions and certainly not thinking about the hurt I was causing the ones who loved me. I did not care. The years preceding those events no longer matter. They have happened and cannot be changed. Yet, rehabilitation has never featured in this, the post-dock period. I simply stopped doing what I was doing, paid the price and with the support of a few people who saw past the behaviour, I built a life. I am not entrenched in struggling to stop breaking the law. I just do not. I have sadness over my children, I miss them deeply and wonder what they are doing. I shed a quiet tear in private for the hole in my soul where I can still visually see them as little people who were once my world, but I function and get through for the most part.

So what is it about rehabilitation that is so hard to get right? Do we rehabilitate to or from? I stopped doing what I was doing and losing everything taught me a thing or seven. I do not want to live on a canal bank. I do not want to stand in a dock again and I do not want to see the inside of a police cell ever again. This one word that causes frenzy, forms businesses, has the House of Commons in uproar and is an area that is immensely popular when it comes to rounds of funding. But what is it that is being offered? Services? What services? Or where there are services, being handed over from one service to another. I stopped offending behaviours. I no longer do the things that put me in the dock of a crown court. I did not need supervising, I am not a risk to the safety of the public and when I place things in a shopping basket, I pay for them before I leave the shop. If I cannot afford something, then I cannot have it.

Rehabilitation is a balance sheet. Some offences deserve the incarcerating of those who commit them. Absolutely they do, who could argue otherwise? The public need protection from those who commit heinous crimes against children and adults. Yet, there is no rehabilitation in terms of a product. We cannot see it, we cannot feel it, we certainly cannot buy it. It is a marketable commodity – but it does not exist. And why doesn’t it exist? It is an inner behaviour and only that. Drinkers can stop drinking – substance users can stop using and offenders and only offenders can stop offending. It is that simple. Yet many say it is not that simple. How hard it is. How it can take years to come away from an addiction. I was once dependent on alcohol, till I went to AA. I got pissed to prove a point after 18 months in AA because I just could not stand this “disease” business. Now, I like a glass of wine to have with dinner and all is well. I have my priorities in order now.

Will I ever stand in a dock again? Who knows, do any of us know? It only takes a moment to go over that speed limit or to say something to someone in a heated argument and have the police at your door. One behaviour could have us in the dock quicker than we can pronounce the word, “rehabilitation”

Probation did not help me to stop my behaviours. They were there to ensure I attended the meetings on my first sentence and sent me on a horticultural course to tick those boxes. I have turned my life from a mess a year ago into one which is lawful and an acceptable existence. It has not been an effort to rehabilitate from one behaviour to another. There was nothing to rehabilitate to and all I have to do now is to check my bank account before writing a cheque. Little bit hard to get away with now, since faster payments have come the norm.

Rehabilitation is a theory – like any theory it can be argued. As John, the old lag stated, truly, “what the fuck is that all about?”

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