Another excerpt from the diary of a first time offender who reflects on his feelings about coming into contact with the justice system for the first time.
“After appearing at the Sheriff Court and pleading guilty to the charges against me I was sent away to return for sentencing around a month or so later. That first experience of a courtroom, in front of a sheriff with lawyers present and listening to someone read the charges against you, is excruciating. It’s funny the things you remember or the things that strike you immediately when you’re experiencing something so traumatic for the first time. I remember walking into a small courtroom for what I believe was called a Diet hearing (this food is a real diet) and everyone being in place before I walked in. A sheriff perched high on her bench looking stern and all the legal representatives sat with their back to me as I entered – nobody turned to look at me as I walked in alone. For a split second I had no idea where to stand or go to but a secretary must have noticed my disorientation and nodded to a bench where I was to sit. I’ll always remember her kind smile.
I was told that I was being released under standard bail conditions and that I would have to report to the criminal justice social work department for an interview/assessment prior to returning to court for sentencing. I could already feel control slipping away from me listening to the courts instructions at that point and my experience of meetings with the social worker only served to cement that feeling. At those meetings I can only say that for the first time I felt like a second class citizen. Maybe it was the stress of going through the process which colours my memory but at this stage I realised that I would no longer be treated with the respect afforded me every day in life up to then. I actually attended two meetings and was ten minutes early attending both. I mention that because the timekeeping of the person I was being sent to meet was shocking. I was made to wait almost forty minutes for my appointment and when it became clear that the process couldn’t be completed on that day I was told I had to return for another meeting the following week. I was asked if I would be able to attend another meeting and I stated of course. I made it clear I was willing to attend at anytime the following week but pointed out the only other commitment I had was late morning of the Tuesday that week. After leaving me to check the diary my social worker (God that’s a weird thing to hear even just in your head) returned to tell me the only time that they were available was 11am on the Tuesday of the same week. Whilst I chose to try and fend off feelings of frustration and accept this as fact it lingered like a paper cut in my conscience. They went to great length, having allocated this time, to lecture on the fact I needed to be there as instructed or it would go against me in my court report. As instructed I attended at the time allotted – having cancelled my other appointment – only to be told the social worker was not in the office and was delayed elsewhere, some forty five minutes later they deigned to appear. It was really tough being civil to someone who, at best, lacked the common decency of good timekeeping or, more cynically, was deliberately messing me about. Who really knows but I know that that person made me feel like something they’d picked up on their shoe. It appeared to me that maybe this was the future I could look forward to as a convicted criminal.
Regardless of their reason for delay there was no excuse or explanation offered. That’s when I realised that I genuinely was now a second class citizen in many peoples eyes. My lifetime of living with the motto to treat others as you’d have them treat you no longer felt realistic because that luxury of respect had just been removed. If people were going to treat me this way I had to find a way to rise above their level”.
Self respect is difficult to maintain in prison and perhaps even more so when you return to life outside but at First Time Inside we aim to help people appreciate that whilst their mindset will be challenged by virtue of their environment inside prison or within the justice system ultimately it remains within their power to live their lives with self respect. Learning about what they are going to face in those early prison days can contribute to that.
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