It is with hindsight due to my experiences as a female con, I recognised there was no system. My work over the last five months has shown me more first hand, how following the Corston report, little has changed for women in prison. Moreover, on release, links are so broken for both women & men it is little wonder reoffending rates are so high.

This week I received a phone call from one of our INCAS members. He was released from prison in November and had nowhere to live. INCAS placed this 30-year old in a property with a male of a similar age. Estranged from his family, he had spent many short-term prison sentences since his late teens. Bill, (name has been changed) had difficulty in trusting people. INCAS were supporting him in housing with a network of drug misuse support services available to him. As weeks passed, it became clear, Bill had no intention of engaging with these services. Slowly, services withdrew. INCAS support never left him. We remained on the sidelines and under the Housing Act, we simply could not throw him out. We let him be and gradually, contact was re-established with Bill. It was clear Bill wanted to find his own feet and contact with his father was developing. His father contacted me and I explained Bill had our support, but that we were concerned about his mental health. Bill was not happy with this contact between us and his father. Bill launched at me that I was trying to ruin his life. Once I had explained that his father loved him, had spent years of trying to help him and that it was Bill who had to do the work, Bill slowly began to emerge as a man who knew he had enough of the life he had led. Small contact sessions with his father had begun to happen. INCAS remained in the background and Bill simply dropped in occassionally.

Looking back at Bill’s story has led to many comments. “A casualty of a system failure” As the INCAS project manager pointed out this week, there is no system in place to fail Bill. Bill repeatedly ended up in the slammer because of his behaviours and while he presented as vulnerable to us, Bill knew what he wanted. Time. Time & stable accommodation to find his feet without pressure from agencies to sign up for group therapies and endless appointments.

On Thursday, Bill called me. He told me he had packed up the house, as his father was picking him up and he was moving closer to family. He told me that he had realised how much support he had had from INCAS and there had never been anything like our support before. He requested he stay in touch should it all “get fucked up again” Of course you can, Bill. Anytime. But drop us a call to let us know how you are anyway.

Bill’s story is one of thousands. A life addicted to class A substances. Is Bill a result for INCAS? Who knows, but INCAS gave him a foothold in the trench to bond with his family, move on and at least give life a damn good shot on the right side of the law. We did this with one little front door key and ensured his home was safe.

The system that imprisoned Bill was not that of the Big House. Being there was of his own making. Bill’s imprisonment came from doing what he had always done. He, like I did put himself there. What Bill has shown is that stable accommodation can make a difference. As our society dictates our lives orbit around a stable address, Bill was given this and he was able to make choices from the trenches.

As SHE & INCAS ethos is homes and sustaining homes, we are now getting members involved in the process. Painting a home for others who are coming through the gates. Peer-led projects do work. We take some getting used to as SHE & INCAS are non-statutory. We are there to help dig footholds in the trenches to move on from. We cannot prevent addicts from using, we cannot make pain go away. But we can and do show how important a home is and how to become better neighbours, contributing members of society and accepted back into the community.

Bill has had the benefit of what INCAS offer and while we are the new kids on the block, Bill is back in touch with his family. What happens from here is up to Bill.

Transforming Rehabilitation….Spinach & Mango Juice

As much as I would like to forget about this excuse for supporting those in the hands of the Criminal Justice System, I cannot let it go. Treating grown women & men as though they are devoid of intelligence, is a crime. Transforming Rehabilitation is not the revolution, the MoJ mouth propagates.

Support for those leaving prison is an omnishambles of that *multi-agency* support. I see it via our referral process. Gate pick-up is early. 9.15am by one agency and the newly-released (adults in my language) person is driven to their locality. Usually their home town.

On arrival, a newly-released prisoner will be taken to various appointments, drug misuse services for the induction on methadone prescriptions, various supporting agencies for volunteering opportunities, essentially, I see a pattern. Cram these newly-released prisoner’s days with appointments so they end up knackered and are too tired to go out committing criminal behaviours. Rather than managing risk, plain as the nose on my boat race, obliterating risk.  Should SHE or INCAS be in the food chain of this lot, typically on a Friday afternoon, at approximately 3.30pm, arrival at our offices occur.

What we are faced with, are people with their belongings in plastic bags, a food pack, and SHE/INCAS support team are tasked with moving a tired, exhausted, burdened, worried person, who has been sitting in a car for the day and being dragged around to various agencies meeting people who tell them shitty platitudes around how life is going to be wonderful should they follow the support plan pulled together for them on the day of release. Out-of-hours support is non-existent unless one considers being picked up in a stranger’s car at a pre-agreed point on Friday night to sit in a group drinking spinach & mango juice. This is the start of the *recovery* journey. (According to experts)

For fucks sake. A newly-released prisoner is supposed to engineer their rehabilitation in one day, move house, drink spinach & mango juice with other *recovering* people and join every club going to cram their day listening to people who have *been there* I frankly, would fancy heading to the nearest pub and getting smashed on my £47 release grant.

Seen as somewhat of a maverick, because I managed to drag myself through with no support from a service, plus my criminal background, I am accountable to statutory agencies to explain issues raised by those who have never been where I have. People supported me through my journey. It is always people who support other people, not a service, people. Still, in my kitchen, I can drink my spinach & mango juice made by own fair hands.

When will England & Wales wake up? When will Mr Grayling wake up? This is not meeting the complex needs of a person who has left prison, often homeless and with a rucksack on their back. Sitting in a car all day, appointments with agencies, and being told what to do. These people are adults.

And why not try this way round. For those who are homeless & SHE & INCAS are to house, it would help hugely if we knew more than three days prior to release. Moving into a new home should take precedence over everything else. We could have paperwork ready, we could have the property ready, heated, aired, and a new resident can settle down and begin their journeys.

I moved house recently, it was stressful & tiring and I wanted to curl up in bed & not speak to any person for a week. I had the fortune to be able to organise my own house move with support. My supported living service is exactly that. Support into a home, nice home, so people can move forward with stability.

Home and a Front Door Key

Life is full of ‘what ifs ‘ and during my journey through the CJS,one of the glaringly obvious stand-alone issues, I faced, was that I did not have, a mental health illness and/or a substance misuse problem. It is not a lie when I say I was unable to get any help to secure a roof over my head. I was often asked if I had a drug addiction, or a mental health illness. Computer said no, so many  times to me.

I would go as far to say, not having any of the above, made it nigh-on-impossible to get any help. I have worked with three women this week, all have had contact with the CJS and despite their chaotic lives, primarily having no home, these are bright,streetwise, tough and incredibly resourceful women. The beautiful aspect of all the ugliness they have been through shines through in having the simple things in life. Like a bathmat, sanitary items, bubble bath and hot water. Essentially, a place called home. These women had no home and now they do. Three women who came to me via different agencies, have bonded over a coffee and talked to each other on how they could live together. All were sofa-surfing, on two-seater sofas, or mattresses, living under other people’s roofs and tip-toeing around their hosts.

But no longer. These three women now have a home, their own home, they have put pictures up on the wall, sorted out whose cupboard is whose. These women have run homes, raised children and lost everything. I know what that is like. It is soul destroying.

I know and understand where these women have been. Two of these women have dealt with their substance misuse prior to coming to SHE. They had done the hard work while sleeping on someone else’s sofa. I watched them on Friday as they unpacked their food and proudly placed them in the kitchen cupboards. I simply leaned against the wall and smiled. For those familiar with my story, I remember that feeling well. To hand these women, their own front door key was the best feeling for them and for me.

The first ‘live’ week of SHE is spearheaded by these three women, who never knew each other and now work together to begin a journey. Three very different journeys, yet united in circumstance.

Now these women can begin in the safety of their own home. From the sofa of others, to responsibility of running a home. They are all going to write to our women in US prisons and with links into courses, craft classes, wishes to end their dependency on benefits, entering a court dock is the furthest from their minds.

In its first week, SHE has housed three women, that is down to hard work from the community, Graham Lightbown, Lancashire Constabulary, Inspire, Community Solutions and the support of the team who work alongside me, not to mention the great team at BRPCVS.

I am highly protective of SHE. Built from the canal towpath, a pen and a tatty notepad, to a live project with a multi-agency approach. No politics, just a simple little piece of metal for three women who were mentally & physically exhausted because of their living circumstances after being in prison and a community-based sentence.

A home is safety & security. Without this, there is nothing. Only then can any person begin to build a life.







GETTING THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM WE CHOOSE Part 1:”Where there’s a (free) will…….”

Smiling barista: “What can I get for you today?”
Me: “Okay, what have you got?
The smiling barista points helpfully to a large board just behind her head, containing a generous list of beverages under a variety of headings. My eyes scan the board. After a few moments I’ve made my decision, and a peppermint tea is “Coming right up!”
What is unusual about this scenario? Absolutely nothing. Every moment of every day of every week choices are being made by every one of us. And these choices are made, I am going to suggest quite literally, without us even thinking about them.

Almost every area of our life, our society, politics, religion and much more besides is based squarely on the assumption that we as individuals have freedom of choice, freedom of thought and freedom of action. The Judeo-Christian theology, and the ‘morality’ that religious enthusiasts are so often quick to remind us is the basis of our morality, our society, and the foundation of the laws that operate within it, rests entirely on the premise that we are ‘free moral agents’; that we are free to think and act as we choose, and that if we choose ‘wrongly’ consequences –in the here and now and, for the religiously-minded, the eternal- will follow. The ‘democracy’ that we are so often reminded to cherish is likewise based upon the premise that every five years we are free to enter a polling booth and place a cross against the name of someone from among a list of candidates to represent us in the legislature, and who will (on our behalf) engage in debate, frame and then vote to enact the laws which we all must obey or face the consequence of punishment. And of course, the criminal justice system is based on the premise that we are all free to think and act as we choose, and that if we choose to act in a way which infringes criminal legislation we can be arrested, detained against our will, charged, tried and (if found guilty) punished in a variety of ways which can range from being deprived of our liberty to the simple fact of having a conviction recorded against our name, which carries with it both stigma and potential discrimination against us by others, thereby affecting and limiting our ‘life-choices’. The criminal, we hear, ‘deserves’ punishment simply because he or she freely chose to behave in a way that the law, whatever law, does not permit. But what if this ‘freedom’ to think, to act and to choose is actually illusory? What would this mean for the criminal justice system which, as I have suggested, is fundamentally premised on individuals having what we call ‘free will’? And what would, and should, it mean for our attitudes towards others more generally?

It would be easy to react to this by responding that this is a debate for philosophers sat in some ivory tower over a bottle of sherry. The fact is that this is exactly what philosophers have done –with or without the sherry- for centuries. The issue of ‘free will versus determinism’ has been the subject of metaphysical enquiry, in one form or another, for thousands of years, and in spite of the intellectual weight of those participating in it, the fact that the metaphysical debate remained unresolved and was still the subject of philosophy examination questions in elite universities probably cemented the not unreasonable view that there was no definitive answer. And if there was no definitive answer, who really would feel compelled to regard themselves as anything other than being able to think and act as they chose? Do you want to consider yourself anything other than free to think, act, choose and live as you want? ‘Freedom’ is an evocative word; something to be sought, to be fought for, to be argued for, and even to die for. You may now be thinking that you are free to stop reading. Part of me wants to say to you ‘well, feel free’, but I suggest the reality is that whether you stop reading or not is not something you are really ‘free’ to do. And for that reason, if you do stop, I should not, and would not, feel any offence whatsoever. This is something I will return to later in the series.

The problem for the ‘freedom fighters’ in this debate has intensified in the past few years. What was once an academic metaphysical debate with no real possibility of ever arriving at a definitive outcome is now being invigorated by the intrusion of science; more specifically neuroscience. Where once upon a time fanciful debates over sherry generated little more than heat (some may say warmth) on the subject, science is now throwing much more light on it. Just what science currently has to say on the issue will be the subject of a later post in this series. The point perhaps to make here, though, is that where we could once sweep possibly uncomfortable propositions under the carpet because they could be labelled as subjects of philosophical debate is now not so easy to do, and that if we try to do that, the bulge under the rug will, sooner or later, demand our attention anyway. Science deals in cold, hard facts and is stubbornly resistant to all forms of human prejudice and preconception. And if what science currently has to offer us on this issue is right, or may be right, I am going to suggest that we are going to have to rethink many of those prejudices and preconceptions, including such fundamental things as the very nature of the laws we pass, why we pass them, just what purposes those laws are intended to achieve, how it is they can achieve those intended purposes, and the nature and purpose of punishment, among others. Put simply, if our criminal justice system is based upon the premise that we are free to choose whether we break laws or not, and this premise is (or may be) wrong, how can we justify it? And if we refuse to reconsider these things in the teeth of a truth we simply will not confront, our criminal justice system will remain unjust by definition, as it will be based on an illusory premise.

I know some readers are now already raising the defensive barriers and muttering things such as ‘of course we have free will. What is this idiot talking about?’ They may be looking back at the opening paragraph and suggesting that when I was stood in the coffee shop, looking at an array of options, I had perfect freedom of choice. I could have chosen anything and was free to do so: a Cappuccino (with or without cream), Latte, Mocha, Americano, and pretty much any variation on any of those themes. I could even have told the barista to mix up an iced lemon tea with a shot of espresso and a dash of tomato ketchup, if I’d chosen it. And, by extension, you may say, almost anyone can freely decide whether they are going to steal a purse out of a handbag when they see it – or not, as the case may be. If they decide to slip their hand in and ‘have it away’, that is their choice, and if they get caught, well, they will take the consequences of their actions.

In concluding this part, let me simply offer, by way of an opening gambit on this issue, something that we can maybe all agree on. There are innumerable aspects of our lives – and I would (and will) argue that these are fundamental to much of what makes us up as human beings and shape our ‘choices’ – about which we clearly have absolutely no choice whatsoever. You have not had (and never had) any choice – conscious or otherwise- over most of what makes you up. You didn’t choose when, where, or in which society, culture and/or religion you were born. If you were born into a religious family, you didn’t choose the basis of that religion, the principles it advances, or the expectations it makes of you. You didn’t choose your parents, or the genes you received from them. You didn’t choose your eye colour, skin tone, height, body shape, or hair colour. Born ‘ginger’? It wasn’t your fault, and you had no choice in the matter; but how many of us have personal recollections of the kind of relentless (and unchosen) baiting the ‘ginger kid’ got in the playground and elsewhere, let alone the effects (again unchosen) that this may have had on him or her. You didn’t choose any of the characteristics or experiences each of your parents brought to your upbringing and instilled in you on a daily basis from birth; in fact, you didn’t choose if your birth parents gave you up for adoption and (if so) the situation in which you found yourself growing up. You didn’t choose your pre-school or nursery contemporaries (who brought with them all the things they didn’t choose, either), the schools you went to, the other children who just happened to find themselves at that institution at the same time you did, or the teachers who you came into contact with. I could go on and on with this, but you get the point. For most of your young life, at the very least, your choices were not your own, your mind was immature, still forming, and influenced by things, most of which you didn’t choose or have any possibility of influencing.

Before you run away with the idea that I am saying that anything I mentioned in the previous paragraph amounts to a conclusive argument for the proposition that your actions should not have consequences, both as individuals and within the wider society in which we all have to live, I am not. Those matters I mentioned are nothing more than a list of things we (hopefully) can agree are not matters of free choice, by and large. As I stood in the coffee shop, looking up at the board, did I choose the fact that my taste buds (which I had no part in choosing) simply reject any kind of coffee, and that I would rather drink a gallon of road tar than a cappuccino? Did I choose the fact that at that moment I wanted a hot drink rather than a cold drink, or ever consciously consider why? In those circumstances, was I ever really ‘free’ to choose to act to buy a cappuccino or a glass of water as a ‘free choice’?

And here is a closing thought. What am I going to talk about in the next post?

Mark Fletton was a practising barrister for seventeen years, and is now a writer/researcher, living in Exeter, Devon.

Irresistible Force Paradox – The Invisible Journey


When we think of invisible, what do we see? Imagery is created and while we picture in our minds the invisible, we are aware we cannot see the object. I can think of one example here and it was when my son was around nine months old. He was sitting in the bath and I had a shower spray which entertained him while in the bath. He would quizzically peer at the spray of water dispensed, attempt to grab it in his chubby little fingers then furrow his eyebrows, puzzled as to why the water was not present when he opened his hand. It’s the little things…

The theory of desistance is just that. A theory. Therefore, it can be argued. I’ve crashed on for a year on what is not being provided in rehabilitation for women, desistance is my new best friend. I have engaged with many other women on the topic of desistance. Yet, it is primarily absent in services. It is still being defined with academics and they, (the smart and clever beings they are) have yet to come up with a definition of what the word means.

Desistance cannot be rolled out as a model in the way a set of rehabilitation techniques can. There are rehabilitation models out there in use and being used. We have those “service-users” and the delivery is rolled out by service providers. Desistance is not. It is an invisible force. There has been no test to implement the process structurally as there is with rehabilitation. Criminology academics write about it, research it and study it.

As a footsoldier, who has served a community sentence, my journey is well-documented across various channels. Desistance is defined (albeit loosely) as a cessation of offending behaviour. It is this cessation of behaviour, offending is a behaviour, regardless of the act or law it breaches, I am going to explore here.

Looking into my own psyche, I did not “suddenly” offend. A catalogue of years of badly managed choices, a fight in Family Law courts to see my children, some bad relationship choices and some dreadful business decisions led to me signing cheques I could not honour and creating credit card accounts in someone else’s name. That’s the history sorted then… But what of my future – what is it in my brain that prevents me doing it all again?

Fear of Prison? – I do not fear a prison cell. That is not because they are holiday camps as the press would have you believe. I was living on a canal bank, prison would have solved my immediate homeless problem, hooked me into the system and I would have become a “service-user” I would have used prison as a way of re-focusing, re-building and tapped into what was on offer. The custodial part of my suspended sentence of 18-weeks may not have afforded me much in the way of rehabilitation, but hell, I’d have a bunk to sleep in and a sink to wash my hands in post-sanitary needs.

Fear of public’s reaction after journalists have filed articles – Goodness me, this one makes me smile. Honestly, I could not give a flying fuck what the public think of me – I have not seen my children for a decade – that features highly on my agenda and continues to reach way and beyond the public’s wanton need to shout out that women are fraudsters and should rot in hell. If the public want to own what I have taken responsibility for, served a sentence for and changed a tampon on a canal bank for, be my guest. You’re welcome to it.

None of the above – I’ll tell you what it is. It is that I like my life. I like the fact I have a little home. I don’t have much – but it is all mine. I did not re-start. I started. At the age of 45-years old, I changed my thinking patterns. It was always going to happen, and I’d simply had enough of the crap. I do not have chaos in my life any longer. This is because I am not creating chaos. People overlook when I say the words – “It was not hard” Default settings are set within the power of suggestion – how wonderful it is when a person has championed adversity and come through to a better place. I had to learn one thing. I had to overcome what I was always doing. Lying to those close to me, and leading them to believe I was “fine” I clearly wasn’t. I can see where I went wrong and it cost me dearly. I had to look at what I was doing. It was only my behaviour that got me in a dock. When I stopped looking for someone, something, to blame, it was the wake-up call that I needed. I could not hold it, I could not see it, I could feel it but I could not reach it. One day I did. I found my path and started. It was my path and it is not one for another person, their path is their path, my path is mine and if that path is broken by another, I can still remain there crawling along at my speed and taking my time. I might have the odd trip-up and the odd fall, but I keep on it and I live it each day.

I did not need to cease offending. I needed to alter my whole world to how I once knew it. It is within the creation of a new life, I was able to look at what I was doing and not break the laws in this, our green and pleasant land. I did not find the answer from Probation, I did not find the answer from a research paper. I found it, where it was always lurking, popping up on my shoulder, wagging its finger at me and saying “Trace, is this really a good idea?” I found the answer in me.

To quote: “when an unstoppable force meets an immoveable object”

That is my desistance journey – and this time, it is not going to land me in a dock. There is not a law in this land that can tell me how to manage this one…

But good luck trying…:)

The End – A Woman’s Journey in the CJS is complete. It’s not over till the Disclosure & Barring Service Sings

ImageThe journey is complete. I have been through the grubby hands of Mr Grayling’s department for a year. And what a journey. Homelessness, a trip up the M6 in a “sweat van” bringing my business back from the brink of collapse and myself back from the edge of brinkwomanship. (Not a word, but it is now)

I have also watched Probation (sadly) as we once knew it, end. My journey has been well-documented in various outlets connected with the CJS and I have learned a new skill or two.

There are positives despite what the tyrannical risk-aware DBS says about me. I have sent out my CV as an experiment to various job advertisements detailing the gap in 2013-14 as being in The Criminal Justice System. I added “Further details to be disclosed at interview”  The response? I shall update here if I hear anything back. This is to look at the discrimination that is not always evident but is hidden away as let us face it, companies are hardly going to admit to discriminating against a person with convictions are they?  Given a quick Google of my name leads back to everything I have written about the CJS,  my court appearances and sentence, why would I not offer up the information? This really will prove whether I shall be discriminated against. Having spoken to one HR department of a local company, they were unsure of their own policy and I was told the usual “Each case is based on the circumstances”  This was the same when I asked Fostering Solutions for a discussion on their policy on fostering with convictions. Aside from the obvious that any person with offences against children would not be considered, the same answer: “It depends on the offence, when it was and what it was”  Given the climate of risk-aware DBS, I’d like to think that Fostering Children Solutions were able to deliver concise and up-to-date information on their screening process over the telephone. Seemingly not… Yes, for Fostering Children…

Essentially, what stands out for me is the lack of knowledge that is still in place around disclosure. There is little room for discussion and while I am not looking for a job as in paid employment, I know the rules around this data. I have studied it for a year and what a knotty topic it is. Frankly in my experience and my full-time work does not require me to disclose information, the most people who know about the DBS are those who are concerned about it the most. Those whose hearts sink with a thud when the “have you ever” question appears.  My regular clients are fully aware of my history and have no problem with it. In fact two of them had no idea what I was talking about in terms of DBS. As I often work in a supply chain, the end user in two projects I work on, is the employer. He needs to learn about this and we are currently working on this.

What else have I learned? Lots. I have learned as an “ex-offender” (a term that should be abolished to the nearest bin with immediate effect) if you have knowledge of how the CJS and the rehabilitation process works, this is the biggest obstacle. If you’re not willing to confirm to the standards and “volunteer” I have gained from my journey, I’ve about as much chance as becoming the Governor of the Bank of England with a fraud conviction than I have of ever providing a service to other women in the hands of the CJS. But, I can certainly look at alternatives and emerge from the ether. I am nothing if not a little resourceful. There are some excellent services out there to help those who are in the community and soon about to be given 12-month’s supervision. I know many of these services do work yet we are still missing the bigger picture. With the best will in the world, only those who carry out acts of criminal behaviour, can stop doing what they’re doing.

But the biggest area in which I have learned is that the system is so hard. It in many ways makes it harder because connections with other systems are swamped with people. The creation of new services is all very well and there are many fantastic opportunities out there for people released from prison or on a community sentence. But we are still missing the largest area of any person’s life on where they are to build a future. That of homes. Any person cannot build anything if they are sofa-surfing or in hostels for long periods. We have to find a way of getting things the right way around. A training course is pointless if a person has nowhere to call home and the rental market is so hungry, landlords can cherry-pick the best tenants. A person who is released from prison, with little more than £47 in their pockets needs to have any housing issues dealt with first and foremost before a journey can begin. I have recently seen a woman passed around from department to department and endless trips to housing benefit departments. She has had an unsettled history, has forsaken many tenancies previously, there is not a landlord around who is going to accept a person unless they have clean and healthy past. The private rental sector has become another monster and during my research, even those who are renting rooms in their homes are asking for a month’s rent in advance. Because of my history, I had to have a guarantor. Fair enough – a landlord should have his/her rent paid when due and be assured that his tenants are going to look after his/her property/home. I was lucky, I had people around me who were happy to support and guarantor my home. If the rental criterion remains as strident as it is currently and with more people ending up in the hands of justice, then we are going to end up with an even bigger homeless situation.

Everything I have come across takes me back to education and those around me as a child. Fair enough, my parents were not quite tooled up to have a child, I was a mistake and a shotgun wedding followed quickly. Two people who should never have married and even more importantly never had a child together. By today’s standards, I’d have been whipped into care and that is one awful system from what I have read and spoken about with little support for care leavers. I had grandparents who saved me as my parents entered a bitter war in the seventies that took me to Ireland and back many times as my parents battled it out viciously over me. My grandparents protected me and ensured I had an education. Educated enough to not break the law – but I did and I knew I was breaking the law. That’s why I pleaded guilty, eventually. to what the acts I chose to do. There is much about rehabilitation in prison and what is not happening. In my experience, I have seen more educated people who have been in prison and emerged from those gates as educated and smart people who I would and do trust implicitly. So something goes on behind those walls.. Those who are illiterate went in illiterate.  Nuff said…

Am I free? Free of the CJS now. Or will be on Friday. There are endearments to be felt of the amount of support I have had from friends and family. It has been a journey and a new journey begins with added knowledge of the CJS. Rehabilitation from behaviours that are against the law can only be actioned by the person who commits them. Support is plentiful in moving forward, some of it misplaced but with the best interests at heart. Rehabilitation comes from inside the person who really does want to change their life for the better.

One thing I am not, is an ex-offender. This is a manufactured term which has become a money-making gravy and ketchup train. I am still the person I was before, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend. Older, a little wiser, happier and sure of my own territory. I have left the past where it belongs, and can move forward and no doubt I still cause a twitch of a net curtain, but I cannot change other people’s opinions of me and I cannot change the acts I once committed.

I paid the price and I have served my sentence. When I wake up on Saturday, it will be as any other member of society… What the DBS sings about me is of no relevance unless I choose to make it relevant. It might sing the joyous tone of my criminal acts but it’s just data used in a society that is over-burdened with risk assessing. Risk-assessing is data gathering and only data gathering for the purposes of monitoring. Given I was not monitored in the last year, the DBS can fuck off with their singing. :)))


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?”

Aurora Youth Development Programme – West Midlands Fire Service

It was with great delight I attended the Aurora Youth Development Programme award ceremony at West Midlands HQ. Having covered this programme in Criminal Law & Justice Weekly, I was invited to see the programme in action. Three weeks ago, I met with the team headed up by Adrian Lydon in Cumbria. A trip to Cumbria is a bi-annual and residential event that forms part of the programme. It is quite clear the dedication of operational fire officers who work tirelessly with groups of young adults over a 10-12 month period.

I have covered previously in CL&J how the guillotine of the government has affected The Fire Service across the board. However, seeing The Aurora Programme in action has made me certain that without this vital service to the community of West Midlands, there would certainly be 150 young adults out there who would have little to concentrate on. This is not a charity nor is it a newly funded CRC company that is wrapped up in the world of funding rounds from NOMS. It is well respected and has fire service industry standards with vital risk assessments in place. The wider trust from people for The Fire Service is vast. Who doesn’t trust a fire officer? As a service, they surely are at the top of the list in polls.

So, after being strapped into a harness by chaps who looked like they knew a thing or two, I ventured up the side of a quarry in Borrowdale, Cumbria. I was swinging my safety helmet with all the courage of a woman who has seen a side or seven of life. My dog was at the bottom of the quarry looking at me pleadingly as I left him in safe hands of the instructors who would be greeting me at the end of what could only be described as a piece of knicker elastic. Apparently, I was going to zoom down this wire and the test runs made it look oh so easy.

Now, I don’t how many of you have been on the side of a quarry that is at least 120 feet high. Standing at the top of 120 feet and seeing young uns zoom down the knicker elastic effortlessly is one thing. The same young uns telling me, “Tracey, once you have done it, you will want to do it 100’s of times again” is not the most reassuring draft of statements I have ever come across. Two of the group’s participants were still up there and deals were struck if I threw, yes, threw myself onto the knicker elastic and skidaddled down said elastic into the safe hands of instructors at the bottom of the quarry. Talk about panic? Panic and I had a conversation and panic won. Well, at least for 45 seconds before I found myself attached to a hair clip (seriously, I have bigger hair clips than the grip which was attaching me to the knicker elastic) and PUSHED off the quarry side. Coops, one of the instructors, shouted “You’ve written about worse things than this” Ah, yes, words are cheap Coops, words are cheap.

As luck had it, the knicker elastic held. I ended up in the safe hands of “Wes” (finding a fire officer with a proper name is hard but here was Wes waiting to catch me) who instructed me to let go of hair grip, release one hand from somewhere and throw back a lever and get down. Eventually the words from our Wes “This has never happened before” and I was dangling as I fumbled with hair grip, knicker elastic and was suspended in mid air for 45 seconds at least. Thinking about the unattractiveness of it all is enough to make me shudder.

Exciting or wot??? But, spending time with the young adults and the team who welcomed made it all so much worth while. These young adults have suffered in that they are excluded from education or come from the CJS. There are no airs or graces and the dedication of this team moved me so much. Freddie the chocolate brown Labrador was bouncy and alert. He also had a part to play and my old Grandpa of a Labrador had a great time. Freddie is used to these trips and has been trained to round up the ones who drift behind the group. Freddie watches that all the group in intact and only when he is satisfied is Ade, one of group’s founders, allowed to continue.

It was with great pleasure I was asked to address the parents, Chief Superintendent Jo Smallwood, Chief Fire Officer Phil Loach, Cllor John Edwards, the Chair of West Midlands Fire Authority, Sue and who this programme was all about, the young adults at the award ceremony this last Monday evening at West Midlands HQ. I spoke with parents who openly told me how Aurora had given them their child back and how much better life is at home, proud parents who had previously despaired.

It is great programmes like this which are few and far between. People are people, yet the programme reunites families, enables children who are excluded from school to achieve something rather than be lost in a system that still, in the 21st century, loses its young. This programme has been developed from the heart and soul of The Fire Service and challenges behaviours as opposed to who those young adults truly are. With investment and time from the team who give up their own family time to work with these young people, what emerges is the product with which I was proud to be a part of. The award ceremony which gave young people the chance to swell with pride over their achievements. We talk often about how proud we are of our children, imagine staring adversity in the face and tackling some of the highest fells this country has, camping out and getting drenched each day. Of course the knicker elastic activity is fun and is known as a zipwire, nevertheless, this is a programme that deserves a wider audience. Yet somehow doesn’t need one. The results speak for themselves. Parents having their children back from the CJS, reintegrated into society and young adults who are determined to avoid trouble.

The current state of the CJS, with the Offender Rehabilitation Bill should take a leaf out of the Aurora programme and look at what currently works. The Aurora Youth Development Programme does.

Thank you, Aurora for pushing me off a 120 ft quarry side, but thank you for the great work you do. Tirelessly and aimlessly to bring us young adults we can be proud of and who are our next generation.

To Adrian, Sue and the team. Superb and thank you for welcoming me to share in this wonderful programme.