INCAS Project delivery has brought me to a new way of thinking. Over the last 18-months, the project has housed and supported men coming from prison.
Running alongside the SHE Project, working with East Lancashire CRCS, Lancashire Constabulary. Sodexo Justice Services (Forest Bank HMP) and Shelter, the INCAS Project was part of an early adoption scheme on “recovery housing” as part of the Through the Gate programme.
The most difficult part of the project was grown men coming from prison and being labelled by referring agencies, as vulnerable. Most of the stories were word-for-word, similar about what had led them to offending and ending up in the slammer. Throwing in a tear or two, I began to challenge these grown men on how they presented themselves. I first asked if there had been any trade they had worked in – this was met with a resounding, “I have not worked for years.” As part of the initial assessment, I had arranged visits to prisons to determine eligibility criteria for the INCAS Supported Living Scheme. On initial assessment, family dynamics were discussed. This included questions around children and where those children were.
Most of the men responded they wanted to be good fathers and to resurrect partnerships with the mothers of their children. The majority of men on the project had been estranged from children for years due to them being in prison.I assessed levels of alcohol and substance misuse and asked them if they wanted to stop misusing alcohol and/or drugs. Mostly, the replies were “it’s not that easy, I have been doing this for years” This to me suggests there was no intention to stop substance misusing.
My thoughts during this process was one of frustration. These are grown men telling me they were having it hard. Being led to believe by other agencies, they were the victims of some incurable disease, I began to unpick the man sitting before me. I am a former builder with earned stripes of alcohol abuse from the age of 14 and in an alcohol unit at the age of 21-years old. I don’t succumb to fluffy outcomes nor do I believe in hand-patting support. Men are supposed to be men, take responsibility for their families, their children, actions and understand there is a difference between fathering & being a father. From an early age in the building trade, a man’s wage meant doing the work of a man.
From here, mental health problems were discussed. Statistics show that men are diagnosed with acute mental health disorders more than women. Homelessness is far more common in men than it is in women. Yet, the INCAS Project was offering men a home, support and the chance to re-establish contact with their children. I had many meetings during their support plan on their wishes to have contact with their children. Following a year’s support, not one of the men had established contact with any of the 42 children INCAS Project residents had between them.
The partner agency in INCAS Project is the SHE Project. Most readers of this blog know the SHE Project. Run and founded by the editor of this site, Tracey McMahon, SHE offers supported housing to women in the CJS.
My simplistic approach is that for change to happen in a man’s life, that man has to accept and take responsibility. My statistics show, men were not willing to take responsibility. This became apparent when I had supported some of the women on the SHE Project who had fully engaged with services and discussed their need for a home and to be with their children. Smart and resilient, the SHE Women have shown how to do it.
This brought me to the gender-gap evident in released prisoners. As a comparative study, results from SHE and INCAS showed the outcomes from SHE project work were far more attractive to read. I can only conclude this is due to the women and their willingness to address and accept responsibility for the reasons that got them inside a prison cell. I put this down to the power of Mother Nature. Separate a woman from her child and there are few more powerful sights than a woman rising from adversity to be reunited with her child or children. As a man who has watched his mother fight back from violence at the hands of my father, cancer at the age of 32 and left with no money to raise her five children during the hardships of the late 50s and 60s, I have always had a deep respect for my mother in what she faced and overcame both as a mother and a woman.
In my eyes grown men don’t cry and ignore their children. They should be a shoulder to lean on for the mothers of their children. They should be getting off substances and caring for their children who are often living with their former partners, struggling to survive. Women are the backbone of communities and society, and it’s time men get off their backsides and support their children. There are plenty of men who have been to prison that I know of back when prisons did not have the attention or the reformers they have today, that have cared for their children and supported the mothers.
As INCAS enters a new era with his much respected sister, The SHE Project, my experience is that men really do have the tissues and women have the balls.