Rehabilitation

When One Gate Closes, Another Six Open…

SHE Project has survived against many odds. SHE’s belief is that no woman should leave prison without a roof over her head. A recent media spin that HMP Bronzefield issued sleeping bags & tents to women peppered my inbox with *Have you seen the news?* subject lines.

It’s been three years since I was street homeless. Three years since I lived on my mother’s sofa following my travails through the CJS.  Since then, I started SHE Project, stood my ground against bigger & much better housing elements than I could ever aspire to. SHE started with a small funding grant from Allen Lane Foundation.

I’ll not forget the day SHE opened her tiny little office at BPRCVS in Burnley. There we were, with a raft of back office support I’d created whilst on licence.  SHE had five volunteers then and we were bemused.  We had an office. We had one house. A phone line. (No Internet,  this took three weeks) Me & our five volunteers looked at each other not knowing what to do.

“Let’s ring some people up’ I screeched.

This is what we did.

SHE Project opened at a time of uncertainty for The Probation Service.  Funding cuts screamed from pages of mainstream media. Within six weeks of SHE opening, my mother died. It was not going well for me as a woman launching a community project to support women  from prison.

Yet, SHE would never have survived this time without her team around her. Strength comes from within. Strength also comes from comforting arms in the form of those whom have struggled as organisations to survive.

SHE’S first annual report is due for publication in a couple of months. I’ve worked this bloody project for three years since I squatted on my mother’s sofa. I’ve watched volunteers come and bless them, go.

We’ve helped 52 women from prison incorporating their families.  We’ve taken part in research.  We’ve struggled to survive and been threatened with closure.

In 18 months, through our doors SHE has supported 339 convictions (including mine) had 22 properties, furnished them, bought 79 packets of tampons, 24 packets of panty liners, 28 tubes of toothpaste, 19 toothbrushes, (12 sets of towels donated through our lovely friends at Cohort4women) 39 duvets and well, had 66 keys cut (TY Timpson) 19 washing machines, 12 fridges, 6 tellies, 19 sets of cutlery.  That’s before support kicks in..

SHE has spent hours on telephone calls, reunited a mother from prison with her daughter from care. Shouted, screamed, argued and fought the corners of our lasses. All here in East Lancs.

As our fellow women in HMP Holloway are shipped out, to prisons hundreds of miles away from families & children,  SHE opens her first six self-contained flats in Greenwich London.

Women from Holloway serving sentences are now hundreds of miles away from family links, families are hundreds of miles away from women in their lives.

SHE is not delighted to be offering this service. SHE felt she had to do something to support women as we have done in the North.

But out of the ashes rises women. When the gates of Holloway close for the final time, SHE can do a tiny part in our big dirty capital to help and support six women.

SHE Project and Women in Prison, in the spirit of their founder, Chris Tchaikovsky, ensure that women do deserve a home on release and do deserve to at least have a foot in the trenches to dig up.

SHE Project Greenwich opens in June 2016.

 

 

Habilitation not Rehabilitation

496854935Picture Source

 

Cameron’s Speech on Prison Reform

David Cameron has stirred up the Criminal Justice System with his liberal speech on Prison Reform. My initial reaction was critical and sceptical, which is often the case when I hear politicians discussing prisons and the crisis.

There are statements which I could tear apart. Such as:

It’s pretty hard to get into prison in the first place

I still cannot get my head around the above. I am the first to admit those who are unjust should be dealt with at the hands of our justice system. Justice underpins the stability of any society. People mention often the law of the land – ensure society functions. I disagree, Justice is and should be for everybody. First and foremost, the victims of any crime should be considered and treated with compassion. Those who commit harm in communities against our most vulnerable, children and the elderly, should be held accountable for their actions. Of all the people I engage with, I have yet to come across any person that denies this. It’s called developing a conscience and taking responsibility. Equally, compassion should be shown to those who are dragged through the courts unnecessarily. Those whom are acquitted, we should allow their lives to be restored to normal.

Naturally, the papers have created a frenzy and in particular provided opportunities to give Chris Grayling, possibly the most unpopular Secretary of State for Justice in history, a good going over with the public chiming in.  I do not see Cameron giving Grayling a thrashing, I saw Cameron thank Grayling and Clarke for the work they had started. Grayling in my view cares not a jot for what people think, he did what he did with a guillotine the size of Greenland and sliced up areas of Justice. However one feels about that. It happened. I feel it time to move forward.

 So you won’t hear me arguing to neuter judges’ sentencing powers or reduce their ability to use prison when it is required.

Yet, the above statement has me toiling arduously on sentencing. In November, I was a co-speaker at the University of Worcester on women supporting women. Organised by Beverley Gilbert, this event had Kristy O’Dowd speaking about her experiences on domestic abuse, Clare McGregor, the author of Coaching Behind Bars and the Managing Director of Coaching Inside and Out, and Lucy Baldwin, a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at DMU, the co-author and editor of Mothering Justice.

Lucy Baldwin, in Mothering Justice has produced the first book that explores Motherhood in both Criminal and Social Justice Settings. Through the chapters written by practitioners and professionals, Mothering Justice gets down to the nuts and bolts of the impact on children of mothers in prison, suffering with post-natal depression, mental health problems and those in the grip of substance misuse along with detailed analysis and critical thinking on how the Judiciary as a whole treats mothers.   At the Q&A of the event, Lucy explained her vision for challenging the sentencing framework of mothers and I agree. Cameron’s statement above does not leave much room for discussing this. However, use prison when it is required is worth a poke around and provides some wiggle room for discussion as today proves.

Now we are 48-hours in from Cameron’s speech, having read various articles on the planned reforms, I don’t feel quite so uptight as I did on Monday when the damn thing aired. His speech has opened dialogue and from researchers to journalists and bloggers, a raft of scathing to critical to slamdunking him with one of Boris’s water cannons, has been rapid. But interesting views from all.

Habilitation not Rehabilitation

There is a rather fabulous group on women on Twitter and we have all experienced the Criminal Justice System in one way or another. With this in mind, a dialogue opened that was powerful, creative and suggestive of ways forward to challenge perceptions and do some critical thinking of our own. This thread began with a question two days ago asking if women are more likely to be sentenced to custody for a first time offence than men? There’s nothing like a gender discussion to get hearty debate going. Dave said debate was to be reset. Well reset the debate we did, Dave. You came out of our debate, unscathed.

Opening the dialogue was @A4587GA, Candy and what she said was bang on. She offered up dialogue on critically thinking rehabilitation, employment, policy in its current form. I didn’t need much convincing I was onto something good here. Candy mentioned resilience and skills. Something I tapped into myself when faced with a journey through the CJS that impacted my life deeply. Then along came @kallyann73, wanting self-employment training for women prior to leaving prison. Bringing up the centre of the debate were the fabulous women from @WomensPrisonsUK throwing in some excellent comments on resettlement, isolation of women in Wales on release and the difficulty in gaining employment. @WorkingChance explained the issues they felt affected women’s chances of seeking gainful employment on release and the difficulties with ROTL or should we say the lack of. ROTL are taking six weeks to and Working Chance explained employers were frustrated with the length of time ROTL arrangements take.

I threw in comments on education at secondary school level, politics onto the curriculum, talk to young women and challenge our thinking. Together the group found positive ways to form new thinking, new approaches and lessen a growing dependency on systems. Throughout the debate there was a hearty thrust that was powerful and engaging. We explored new ways of working, systems all have flaws, yet systems don’t care for us. That’s our job. Any woman that emerges from prison, should begin new journeys, find their path. Of course, mandatory attending of Probation appointments should factor in. In the time of the lifespan of the SHE Project, I have found smart, resourceful and eager women ready to put their lives in a new direction.

This got me thinking, throughout the dialogue, thoughts were written on policy, resettlement packages, which are all the remit of Probation. In my journey, I had to find my way through and out of every ten decisions, I have made seven bad ones. No more so in the infancy period of SHE. The project has been faced with challenges, I have been. But each day, I carry on and with great support, I am able to feel more grounded and level-headed. Between us today, we tore up systems and looked at the strengths of women-supporting-women and the sunshine broke through.

I have never once supported the word rehabilitation. What are we rehabilitating to???

Rehabilitation is not a word I have ever used. I haven’t returned to my former self. I have come through more educated, my eyes are opened, I have embraced challenges that five years ago could have set me back. I have navigated my way through barriers and no longer am I afraid to challenge myself and others on problems.   I have completed my literature review for my Griffins Fellowship on women and homelessness. I have a fantastic supervisor and confidently presented my progress to date.   I have a new contract I am working on… It’s a whole new life for me – still beset with pain, but I am finding it easier to live with.

From today, we are launching The Habilitation Focus Group – this will explore women’s issues in the CJS and discuss ways in which we can support women from the CJS – whilst supporting each other in our own enterprises. We emerged as women who felt strongly, the only way to begin to gain change was by being positive. Once we gather support, we will look to begin to channel all that dialogue. Bringing together powerful narratives is a way of moving forward as a group but also as individual women.

So Dave, not quite what we were expecting from you. But it’s opened up some avenues and started dialogue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prisoners are a part of Society. Time to face this fact..

stock-photo-lonely-woman-is-walking-through-dark-tunnel-to-the-light-52591162Six weeks in from launching SHE, I have reflected on society’s perspective of prisoners and prison.

The Prison Estate is needed in any society that has laws & a justice system. Prison protects the public by removing those who are a danger to society and as a reasonable woman, I will not argue otherwise.  Any offence committed should be punished & dealt with by a justice system that is fair and dispassionate from the reasons why an offence has been committed.

The current prison crisis, (and there is one, Mr Grayling, not quite sure how long the sand will keep your ears warm) has not just happened since 2010.  The Corston Report as an example, was written on the back of six female suicides in 2005 who were imprisoned at HMP Styal in Cheshire. Yes, six women in one year. Six. Under the Labour government. Sadik Khan may be fighting the corner of Probation as the meat cleaver comes down on the service, held by the hand of Mr Grayling. But, The Corston Report is gathering dust and we have a crisis on top of a crisis. A total fucking mess.

The British are well known as a public for being curious about prison & prisoners. I see campaigns for more people to be locked up counter-acted by campaigns for less punishment and more rehabilitation.  Whichever way the coin is turned, there is a crisis. Prison is part of our society and it costs money. As a tax payer, I’m content that my hard-earned contributes to keeping a prisoner safe and where necessary, away from the public. On the back of this, I’d go further to say, I’d pay more tax so those who leave prison have a pathway whereby they have a shot at becoming working members of the society I live in.

One of the biggest questions I have been asked since launching live delivery of SHE, is “How do you get on with women who have left prison? ”

I’ll tell you. These women are human beings. They laugh, they cry, they get mad when people clutch their personal belongings as though Satan is in their midst. These women have the same travails that any member of society has. Living on a pittance, waiting for six weeks so their rent can be paid, wondering if their landlord will place an eviction order on them.

These women were still a part of Society when in prison, for non-violent offences. No agency went into help them with resettlement.  In fact one of them was on remand for eight months & found not guilty.  She was dumped outside the gates without a £47 grant and no home to return to. She had the clothes she was standing up in.  She has dangerously low blood pressure and has had to wait for six weeks for a GP appointment. She has never sought action to shout about her situation on being incarcerated for eight months. She’s the least self-indulged person I know.  SHE team have supported her (no payment received) and she’s soon to be engaging in a market stall to be guided in retail skills. A normal woman who has been discarded by a society that claims to care.  She is part of Society. Yet never asked for anything apart from a home where she could build a life.  SHE gave her this.

I was discarded by society in 2013. I never stopped submitting a tax return, I worked and while I was given a custodial sentence, I served a suspended sentence which carries as much weight as a custodial sentence in terms of disclosure requirements. I gatecrashed my way back into being a functioning member of society. Members of SHE will do so too.

So, when campaigners are fighting for more prison sentences for people, remember, it costs money, and all very well locking people up and feeling satisfied when this happens. But 95% of those people at some point will return to society and that society has a duty to ensure help is there to facilitate progress.

Prisoners are part of our society and it is time society wakened from their slumber so that prison leavers are able to move forward.

 

Women in The Justice System: Let women decide their needs on release.

Women in the Justice System is rarely out of the news. There appears to be a distinct interest in women who commit crime. As a woman who has journeyed through a court, I often wonder what is so fascinating about women who commit crime.

Since the news has got out around my project locally, I have been approached regularly by people looking to volunteer. I have had to seriously consider what these women who will be supported in their new homes, need. Having researched women in prison, spoken directly with women who have been in prison, and now housing women from prison, I have to restructure how I, as the coordinator of the project that I built based on my experiences, look for the skills in people to offer support to women who have been released from prison.

We all know a home is required prior to any support that can be put in place. SHE provides a home. SHE provides a safe and secure environment where women can feel safe. Not a person’s sofa or a grotty hostel. (Yes, hostels are unpleasant places, I was in one) Prison is one of the shittiest institutions a country can have. Yet within or behind the gates too high for the public to see over, women learn from each other. They cluster together and get through how the state, ignore the needs of women in their care. I have two former female prisoners who are tenants and have created a lovely little home for themselves. Everybody appears amazed these women are able to run a home. For pity’s sake, these are women who have run homes. Being in prison does not remove the ability to run a home, shop, wire a plug and operate a washing machine. Hello, these women have survived horrendous conditions that would make a woman who runs a mansion, shudder.

I have kept relatively quiet while our women have settled into their home. I have given them the space, respect and courtesy to settle into their new home. There have been disputes, but these women, and let we not forget, have resolved, as the adults they are, in-house, these disputes. See, that is what they did inside. Today, they came to my office & had coffee. They always cheer me up, they talk over one another and speak loudly, because this is what they had to do inside. And the best bit? We laugh. They are a pure joy & delight to work alongside and are capable, streetwise, sassy and bloody smart.

Back to volunteers. Having been approached by many, who I have spoken with, I find (and I am not dissmissing volunteers at all) there are some who have used pre-defined ideology on what these women need. Our tenants have shown me the way, without knowing it. They have shown me what they need. By their words, the thank you they give me when I ask their consent, consent majority of humans take for granted each day, but most of all, our women have told me what they need. To find their own path and less of a regime than they have been subjected to behind the walls.

Of course, SHE has to abide by many guidelines and we do. We have a duty of care. To encourage a visit to the GP on acceptance to the project, to ensure correct insurances are in place, offer support when asked for support and most of all, show respect that they are free to make informed choices around their needs.

The pathways that women need, according to many, are in place and a paper by Baroness Corston has been gathering dust. Let women who are released from prison, choose for themselves their needs. All our women wanted, was a home. They have settled in and are content. Their further needs are met and where we cannot meet them, we have close links with organisations that can.

I have been known to be up in arms over how women in prison are overlooked on release. I can only offer my support as a woman who has been through the CJS and served a suspended sentence. I can offer support as a woman who has been homeless. I can offer women support when they are separated from their children. I know that pain.

The simplicity of what a woman who has been released from prison, needs, has been swamped by glossy brands. SHE is simple. It costs little, she needs supporting at times, SHE knows what she needs to do. Listen, provide the basic essentials and the rest will fall into place. Needs change, just as they do in any woman who has not been through a prison gate.

Give these women the freedom to make informed choices. They have served their sentence…. they paid the price for their behaviour. At a time of difficult change in rehabilitation, let us, as a society, offer what we all have. The freedom to make informed choices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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”

 

 

Empower Women – Resist Justice – Transform Lives

Determined womenEmpower Women – Resist Justice – Transform Lives (click)

 

The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies has launched a call-to-action for interested parties to build a network of people in order to get to the root of problems faced by women in the criminal justice system. Of course, this is a matter close to my heart and is no secret. Women are shoehorned into a justice system designed by men for men. I am not a feminist who is ranting that women are treated unfairly in comparison to men, I believe that both genders should be treated fairly. I am a woman and I have been through the justice system and I have direct experience to understand what challenges are faced by women in the CJS. In particular, older women, such as myself, who do not fit into the youth offending age range. There are very few services out there who have refined their services enough to drive down to the direct needs of women.

The Centre for Crime & Justice Studies was one of the first organisations I contacted last year post-sentence who actually listened to me around what I found was lacking not only in services, but in the justice system as a whole. The system fails those it can help the most. Help to keep families together, to ensure that children are cared for and to truly enable women who are in the hands of justice, to empower themselves to rise again and lead a decent and workable life where they can care for their children and sustain themselves.  The MoJ’s mantra, “Justice must fit all” isn’t working and nor will it ever while women are shoehorned into the current system.

The Centre for Crime & Justice Studies have collaborated with Women in Prison to form a strong network of willing people and organisations to tackle and prioritise the needs of women rather than CJS objectives.

It is time – justice is about help, support, empowerment and dealing with injustice. I wholly support this and it means so much to me as a woman who has journeyed through the CJS. Let us support Women in Prison and CCJS as they have set the foundation to bring about some change and justice for women in a system that largely ignores women.

(more…)

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?

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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?”

What the Papers Say…

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The British and their love of the media is well-known and even more well-known, is the British media and their reporting of events. We all subscribe to it one way or another.

I have been poking around in dungeons of research and have found a handful of papers that reflect my thoughts since the shabby reporting of my cases. Despite the usual comforting platitudes of people over and around the usual – you’re not a bad person, chip paper, people forget – there is always someone waiting like a lion/ness in the wings to look up the goodies that cause shuddering outrage. It is akin to legalised terrorism. To install terror into communities under the rather flaky smokescreen of that old favourite – in the public interest – or the even more disturbing,- the public have a right to know -. Despite claims of never believing everything in the media, there are many who do. It is a cultural failing of the human race. Let us look up this person and find out what the papers say.

The reporting of women who commit crime in the media is harsher than the reports of men who commit crime. The Sun has it down to a fine art. “Monster Mother is released from prison” was thrown around in the latter months of 2013. Monster is a childhood image formed by parents during bedtime stories. Children are scared of monsters, The Sun however, sees it differently. What better way to sell copy than terrorising the nation into believing there is a monster roaming the streets? Even more terrorising is the monster is a woman. Furthermore, she is a mother.

Women do commit crime. Infanticide is committed by more women than men. Any loving parent cannot even begin to comprehend such an act. When a woman commits a violent act, I understand the media frenzy, we wimmen are not supposed to act in this way. If we take “Sam” from my previous post. Despite her crimes, I do not care what they were, I have no wish to know, she made herself homeless according to LPT because she “surrendered” her tenancy to her partner so her children’s home could be protected. Once a mother, always a mother.

There is a manufactured belief that women are kind, compassionate, and should not commit crime. Studying comments in “below the line” sections, women will happily go along with such words such as “My children are my world, how could any woman do such a thing?” Along come many “thumbs up” to this wonderful woman who adores her children showing the world how she can never imagine another woman committing such a crime? It is unthinkable to contemplate what could drive a creature who is compassionate, kind and gentle to kill her young?

When a story like this breaks, the qualification of such actions brings a woman’s femininity into the equation. Then of course her mental health is brought into the mix to throw up a cobbled story with little or no substance. Backed up further, is the failings of systems who were either involved or should have been involved to prevent such an act and hence, media frenzy follows.

If we were to ask 100 people which woman represents a “monster of a woman” I’d lay a pound, each of those 100 people to come up with the name of Myra Hindley. Myra Hindley is not remembered for being a woman. She is remembered for her acts as a woman. The media portrayal, half a century later, depicts her as evil. It is accepted Ian Brady committed acts of horror, yet more has been written over Myra Hindley’s involvement. We understand Brady and his psychopathic tendencies, but even today, Hindley’s involvement is hard to define.

Yet, we have many women who say they would do “anything” for their children. These women are portrayed as heroines. Movies detail such events. A woman who commits murder as a revengeful act against a person who has harmed her child is depicted as a woman who was driven to this because of the act against her child. She has conviction, a determination and her loss is driven by her maternal need. She kills the person who has harmed her child, everybody applauds her. Sympathy and empathy follows from many who say they would do the same. There is little condemnation of a woman who commits an act against someone who has harmed her child.

I have given birth to three children and none of those children are with me. Two have spent their teens with another woman, one who I do not know. She is married to their father. She has her own child now. Frankly, I feel the lesser of the two evils, despite having had the long finger of Regina pointing down on me. Any woman who takes, without permission, children of another woman because of her love for a man, commits the biggest of theft imaginable. I mean really? How many mothers would give their children to a stranger? Yet there are no press reports around her – only me. I committed acts of fraud. Looking at my mother, who last saw her children being driven away by another woman in 1977, after a Judge ordered the removal of her children (one of them being me) and given to another woman who fell in love with their father. My mother was then abandoned by the state, her doctor, the father of her children and it took me until I was 42 to find her side of the story. I found her homeless, broken, having been spat on, robbed and walked past many times a day. Again, platitudes of “poor woman” or “how could this happen?” She will never recover from the loss of her children and it’s all very well for those who say “Oh how lovely you’re back in her life”

Press reports on women who commit crime are never easy for me to read and I have flown a one-woman-plane in commenting on how harsh the media is on women. Naturally, I get the usual “whataboutery” from men who claim they have just as hard a time, but the biggest resistance, anger, hatred and awful comments have come from women.

There are a handful of people who I have spoken with who truly do understand what a woman goes through when she commits a crime. Usually women who have also committed a crime.

It is pointless asking the media industry to tone down their reporting – we all having a living to earn, right?

Media reports lull us into believing that women who commit crime are evil. Societal norms drive social engineering and the media play a huge part in socially engineering that women who commit crimes are evil, mad or downright bad. So the next time any person reads a headline where a woman has committed a crime, perhaps remember the very contribution to society’s attitude around women is being created because of what is sold as copy.