life

Women Coming from Prison – Challenging Support Frameworks

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Over the last few weeks, I have been working with CRI following a successful tender bid to Lancashire County Council for recovery services in East Lancashire. Consisting of a brand new model, with a raft of local organisations involved, this is a radical and bold model to support people throughout East Lancashire in all areas of their life. SHE and INCAS are proud to be part of this consortium and for a little organisation that has struggled to survive, we are able to move forward under this localised model that centres around families, housing, clinical, education and training needs of people.

The North West has rolled out early adoption schemes – the first in which SHE & INCAS ran under, was the North West Recovery Housing – Through the Gate scheme called Gateways. Under this, SHE and her bigger brother, INCAS, accommodated men and women coming through the gate into safe and affordable housing. Fifteen providers of different models of accommodation were part of the scheme. Gateways was our first outing as a local provider of services and it was an interesting scheme.

For me, Gateways, although now ceased, left a legacy, if not a gap. That legacy taught me as a practitioner, working with one of the most overlooked group of people in prison, women in prison, how to manage being a part of a founding member of a consortium providing vital services. SHE Project has been a part of my DNA since I was homeless, serving a prison sentence in the community. (Yes, you hang em and flog em crowd, a suspended sentence carries as much as weight as a custodial sentence)  I live and breathe the Project and still, nearly two years since SHE opened her doors, SHE runs through my blood like fat through streaky bacon. I have fought, battled and continue to do so. Largely against many odds and barriers.

SHE Project does not fit into any group of services. SHE has been the leaf blowing around on a blustery night. LA loved her, then they wondered about her, then oddly, they disliked her. But SHE has kept going. Looking back, I am not sure how SHE has survived.

But SHE has.

Why has she? Because SHE is right down and dirty with understanding the local socio-economic dynamics of her geographical area. Add to that, a vital understanding of the needs of women emerging from behind the walls too high to see over.

There is a need for local services. There is little room for a blanket approach on what women need coming from prison. It isn’t enough to be rolling out services from the halls of Parliament or academics who have studied women’s needs. It isn’t enough to tell women what they need – it’s local services where women can feel safe to say “This is what I need, can you help me?”

If we were to break down to each local or district authority, a map of services, there would be a very different graph and demographic image of needs in areas.  What works in the Home Counties, will not work in Cumbria. Models that do work, are not area-specific. It is simply they are fantastic models that work.

Properly resourced and funded local services that meet the needs of their local communities will welcome home women and men coming back to their communities from prison. I cannot bang this drum enough. The moment a woman leaves prison is the moment she belongs in the community she wishes to live in. It is vital she has services to turn to.  Just as any member of the community is able to.

It is time for funding to cease being the bidding pool it has become. It is time for commissioners and grant-givers to ensure local services are fully resourced and able to survive. Let local services care for their own. It’s time.

 

 

 

 

SHE Project. Halfway Mark for First Members

SHE has a few members now. The very first members came to us via the Gateways Project & Lancashire Constabulary.

Our first two women were released from prison in August. No strangers to prison cells, SHE’s women are tough & resourceful.  Naturally, issues have flared up. Our women are firstly human beings who have served their time and deserve support & encouragement. They both needed a home and SHE was able to provide this. SHE offers stable accommodation for six months, with support to maintain the accommodation. We also offer an office where our members can use the telephone to make all those ridiculously expensive calls to the DWP et Al.

Together, as a project, we have learned from each other. These women showed us what they needed and SHE as a project, gave them the space & time to find their feet.

Over coffee today, I approached with our women that we were at the halfway mark of their accommodation six-month period.  I asked our women to think about the road ahead & their plans for when their six-month period was at an end. I offered our continued support if they felt they needed this and we had a unanimous, resounding “can we stay on the project & have another six months?”

With my utmost pleasure, ladies, you can indeed. As our flagship members, these women are settled, have been given the independence they sought, treated as human beings & they have a lovely home in which they are safe & protected.  Oh & Mr Grayling? Two more to deduct from those pesky reoffending figures.

All of this was achieved from a tatty notepad, on a canal bank when I experienced first-hand the effects of homelessness and the Criminal Justice System.

Good news is. SHE has members bringing up the rear. Our males on INCAS are doing well and we have more women who have joined up for support & housing.

We are soon to open a five-bedroomed unit which will serve as temporary accommodation for women coming from prison. This will enable us to assess and prepare people for our project and offer what is a growing way of offering stable accommodation.

I have dragged myself through from a notepad, an idea and 18 months of writing about my experiences as a woman in the CJS. Our services are now being recognised, I have come up against a system that fails those it could help the most.

Were it not for the support of Burnley, Pendle & ROSSENDALE Council for Voluntary Services, the incredible sassy, professional and wonderful team who give their time freely to the project, SHE could not deliver as she does.

But SHE does. Because SHE can.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SPEAK NOW OR FOREVER HOLD YOUR JUSTICE OF THE PEACE

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Until last week, Abid Sharif was a magistrate who had been appointed to the Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale bench in Lancashire. Following an investigation by the Conduct Panel, Mr Sharif was removed from the Magistracy with the approval of the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice.

The Conduct Investigation into Mr Sharif was in relation to comments Mr Sharif had made to the press* , including the allegation that what he described as the “slap on the wrist” justice system threatened to make vigilantes of householders, that police cutbacks were “crazy”, and apparently that criminals knew more about human rights law than their legal representatives.

On the face of it, Mr Sharif was just the kind of ‘ordinary bloke’ that many people would want to see more of in the magistrates’ court. He is a bus driver and family man, and far removed from the type of stuffy middle-class image that many have of those who sit on magistrates’ benches up and down the country. And in many ways, Mr Sharif was simply expressing views that may well be shared by a substantial number of people up and down the country. So what, exactly, was the problem here?

Well, firstly, Mr Sharif had been the recent victim of a domestic burglary himself where those responsible had stolen some £10,000 worth of electrical items and his wedding ring. Mr Sharif told the press that had he confronted the perpetrators in flagrante delicto and used force to confront them, then he would have been sent to prison for assault. He said “If I had been in my house when these people came in and I had knocked one of them out I would be inside for assault and I don’t think it’s fair.”

In some ways I feel a little sorry for Mr Sharif. On the one hand he was simply displaying his human nature openly, and for all to see. He was honest enough, in the light of what is the obvious trauma of having your home and privacy invaded and personal items taken, to express how frustrated he felt. If he had not been quite so honest he would perhaps have held his tongue, and would now still be sitting in Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale – but still harbouring all these opinions that he publicly aired. And in that circumstance he would, of course, still be sitting in cases involving burglaries, day in and day out, which according to the press report occupied in his experience a good part of the court day.

It is clear that what Mr Sharif said creates an issue in relation to his suitability to continue to sit. At the end of the day, all parties to a criminal case need to know that those who are deciding their guilt, and their punishment, are as free from personal bias against them as possible. Can anyone really say that if they were to appear before Mr Sharif accused of burglary any time soon they would be expecting a fair trial?

Mr Sharif was clearly frustrated by many things, from police response times to incidents, to the powers of householders to protect their homes, to the powers that the law gave him and other magistrates to deal with those who came before him. I don’t doubt that many lay magistrates up and down the country share his sentiments and frustration. It is simply that those who play the game and keep their frustrations to themselves are still sitting in judgement on those that come before them, and Mr Sharif has surrendered to his humanity and told us explicitly what we already know: that the criminal justice system in this country is a source of frustration and is, frankly, in a bit of a mess.

* The original press report is to be found at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/10610025/Magistrate-warns-of-Britains-slap-on-the-wrist-justice-system.html

About the author: Mark Fletton is a former barrister.

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.

Women In Prison

Fabulous – the great team over at Ending Victimisation sent this.

Last night I found an article in the Express detailing a planned naked protest by women in custody (I never call these women “inmates”) at HMP Drake Hall.

It’s such a simple thing, underwear. We take it for granted and many women are passionate about underwear. As the ever-eloquent, Planet Cath points out, the book ban campaign drew immense support. I made a concerted effort last night to bring this to the attention of underwear manufacturers, followers, women in the US and various people engaged in what we have called, #BriefStatement.

We had some fabulous support in the short burst that I did. We had pictures of knickers posted up and I rather daringly posted a picture of me in a pair of knickers. Stretch marks, the lot.

Jonathan Robinson – you know him? He was that idiot who went to prison, kindly produced a pair of knickers for us with the #hashtag added. He did declare this the “strangest” request to date. We also have procured from JR, his #Thongscanonlygetbetter

Knickers With the utmost thanks to my very dear friend, Dr Rita Pal, editor at World Medical Times , who rooted through her knicker drawer to offer her support and the great team who I truly support at and of course, Planet Cath, who has written the original article.

Ladies, we and many others support you in your protest. There aren’t many of us who are shouting for you, but by bra hook and knicker elastic, we are with you…

opinionatedplanet

This week has seen the most blatant display of women’s erasure that I’ve seen in a while.
Firstly, there was the Centre for Social Justice report on Girls and Gangs on 24th March.
Then there was the HMIC report in to the failing of the police to tackle domestic abuse.
And now it’s the book ban for prisoners which Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform wrote extremely passionately and eloquently about here.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m as appalled as the next woman that those who are incarcerated for rehabilitation purposes are being refused access to books. As a former youth justice social worker, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in prisons, and I am fully aware of the importance for prisoners of being able to escape from the reality of prison life.
I don’t oppose the writers and poets who…

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Cheery Advertisements for Adopting Babies – Give me my Baby…

ImageLast night a cheery advertisement appeared. Of course, this is a registered charity. It is called Adoption Matters (North West) and is a combination of the (formerly known as) Chester Diocese of Adoption Services & Blackburn Diocese Adoption Agency.

The cheery flashcards appeared in front of smiling couples. Same sex couples, older couples, working couples and younger couples. It’s aim, I have translated to “we are open to everyone” Beautifully delivered with pretty colours and smiling children doing finger painting and such. Lovely…

Prior to seeing the cheerful marketing piece, I’d read a report from the Lords discussing women in custody. In there were some sobering figures. 18,000 children had been separated from their mothers who were sentenced to short-term custodial sentences. If you’re getting my drift, you’ll be expecting a rant on short-term prison sentences for women and how costly these are… But no. I have done that one till it’s died, been resurrected, reborn and then some.

I am a birth mother. At the young age of 20 years old, I found myself pregnant. My family were in a pickle and did not know what to do with me. This pregnancy split my family deeply – and eventually, a member of my family found me, took me home, decided I was unable to care for my baby and arranged with my GP to begin the adoption process. This was in 1989. I gave birth to my 8lb son after 15 hours of labour at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral. I was allowed contact with my baby for the two days I was in hospital and one memory that truly hits home is the tiny wristband – Baby McMahon – for adoption. I left my son in hospital after 48 hours. My feelings were not addressed as a young woman, I was on tablets to stop my milk & my family told me to get on with my life. We registered the birth, we completed the forms for child benefit and a social worker came to visit me to inform me of the process. When my son was six weeks old, I was allowed to visit him with the foster parents he had been placed with. I was given a short-list of “picked” parents and I dutifully chose a couple. In the run up to the birth, I had made an album for my son, with a letter that I had written to him. This detailed our family background, as much as I knew of his father and a nice analogy of how happy our family were, but that I was unable to care for him and I felt this was the best way forward. I met with the couple I had chosen, I handed them the album and said the words, “You will be his parents, you may not want to give this to him and I understand if you don’t, but it is there for you should you feel it will help him to understand his biological family.

When my son was six months old, I signed the papers presented to me by the social worker. I simply signed my name and that was it. Officialdom was done. Child benefit was dealt with – (the child benefit during this time was sent to the agency to pay for the fostering fees) and away I went with my life.

But you see – nobody can ever fill this hole. Platitudes of “it must be awful” and “only a person who loves their child would do such a gracious thing”  honestly? They do nothing for me. The tears of parents who are broadcast on programmes finding their loved ones, I cannot watch. They make me feel sick to my stomach. It isn’t a grief that ever goes away – it is a grief that remains daily. A pain that can never be soothed no matter how much balm one places on it. Grateful parents who are unable to have children rain down immense amounts of praise on the birth mother and make promises of caring for this gift they never thought they would have. I’m supposed to feel proud and a good person for doing something worthwhile. When I actually feel like screaming out “give me my baby” No counselling, no therapist can ever remove this. Because there is not a godamm fucking thing you can do about it. All I could do was come to terms with walking away, signing some court papers and holding onto to one picture that was sent to me of my baby sitting on a furry rug in an outfit that I had knitted for him.

Of course, my life has not been smooth – the state took me away from my mother, then took my child at the behest of my family, then allowed the eroding of my relationship with my two children from my marriage. Ending up in a criminal dock with a Judge holding my liberty in his hands was the ultimate straw that broke the camel’s back. Smashed to bits, I have thrown myself at walls many times, smashed myself up and committed acts that are against the law… the last year has been forming a new existence and working myself into the ground to work to help women who have lost everything. I don’t care what they have done and when they have lost their children, I see it in their eyes. No matter what nasal-expanding exercises they engage in, no matter what they steal, I know there is pain there that can never be dealt with in the realms of rehabilitation.

As I sit here now, in my little home, watch cheery, colourful marketing ploys for adoptive parents, look at colourful websites with call-to-action statements to “contact us” I look and think of picking up a sledgehammer and smashing it through the TV screen and say:

“Give me my Baby”

 

 

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. :)))

 

Modern Times

Modern-Times-poster As a 55-year old man with shall we say, some experience of the Criminal Justice System a quarter of a century ago, I want to look at modern times.

I am amazed at what goes on in the CJS. I live in what can only be described as a shithole. That is how we describe it. Lefties would describe it as a poor, deprived town, righties would describe it as somewhere up North we would rather not mention, it’s a shithole no matter which way you look at it. We are simply too afraid to say it out loud.

Let’s take criminal behaviours. When we commit crime, we are behaving. I used to behave in a way that was against the law, I no longer behave this way. Why? I didn’t have rehabilitation (as it is called today) we simply stopped doing what we were doing and nothing was made of it, we weren’t given awards nor were we given a Channel 4 documentary. We didn’t know what the word rehabilitation meant, it was never used. We were piled in the back of a van, taken to the “nick” and on one occasion I was handcuffed to the custody sergeant’s desk. Superb sergeants and police officers who were just as gritty as we were. Them were t’days.

I read and educate myself and I have a fairly good understanding of politics, government agendas and all-in-all, I am fair-to-middling in the grey matter area for a former builder from one of the shittiest towns in the North. I’m not a writer (I taught myself to read at 21) though. I’m a working class Northern lad who has taken a look around at the broken communities. I look at criminal behaviours and little tow rags committing some savage crimes. There is little honour in teenagers these days,. No respect, I  might have been a pain in the royal behind to the local constabulary, but I would never speak to an elderly person with disrespect. Despite coming from a family of alcoholics, poverty and cockroaches crawling in the sugar pot, we had values drummed into us. The youth offending (a new name) sector seems to be a business these days and is out of control and there is no coming back from this. Rehabilitation is not working, clearly not, Grayling is building a new borstal somewhere, preparing for these “youths” to break the law. When a treasury builds new prisons, yet throws immense amounts of cash at rehabilitation companies (lest us forget the recent sledgehammer on Probation) that tells me everything. Rehabilitation is not happening. It’s a word that is used to dumb us down into not seeing the real issues going on.

Criminality is rife. It ain’t going anywhere soon, Grayling. The gravy train for that one is too big.

Victims – My favourite topic. I am soon to be called victim-.blaming I suspect. There is a crusade going on. My parents were alcoholics. Am I a victim?  No, because today’s society only concentrates on its young. We have more victims because there are more laws. Should I report my parents for abuse? My father is dead, we could convict him for being an abusive bastard to his wife and children. I am disgusted just as much as the next person when I read stories of children being subjected to abuse and I mean abuse, yet we have a society that seems hell bent on criminalising almost everything. Social media reporting, newspaper copy and an abundance of women’s magazines with stories that simply are families making a bob or two for their problems. I was married for 18 years and while it was a marriage that I regretted two years in, I made an effort to remain in that marriage for my son’s sake. That was what we did and my wife drank neat vodka every night. It was hell, but had I left, what would have happened to my son? She was also in a profession that cared for those with mental health problems. I prevented my son during his childhood from being a victim by modern standards. That was my duty as a father and one I took seriously. The current call for victims is nothing short of inviting problems. Domestic abuse is not defined and I suspect, at some point or another, we are all victims at some point in our lives. Victims of crime go through pain of course they do but being “brave” is now considered telling a story to all. Bravery and courage has lessened in meaning. My 78-year old mother was beaten by my father. She cannot talk about it to this day. That’s not a sign of modern times, that’s a woman who has moved on with her life and come to terms that the man she married, my father, was a out and out bastard to her. People fronted it out and got on with life. My sisters and I look after her now and she was no shrinking violet herself – she was handy with a slipper or two when we were kids. We didn’t use the word “victims” we were poor, neglected and lived in extreme poverty.

There is a mixed reaction as we have many generations living in modern times. People are living longer and many can remember the tough times of the post-war era and compare with today’s events and how hard life is. I was a child in the “everything goes” decade, the 60’s and began my first drinking (soon to become a huge problem and related to my time in police cells and magistrates courts) binges in the tough 70’s. While drugs were appearing more in public and the elite have always taken drugs, I was never able to afford them.

Modern times have a lot to answer for. Society causes many of its problems. Is it any wonder our younger generation are in trouble and the treasury is preparing to “secure” them?