We accept that the prose may not be perfect but when writing stirs such a torrent of emotion in the author we respect their right to miss a punctuation mark or two here and there, we also admire the strength of character it takes to share any personal experience in this way. You’ll understand the respect given to keeping an element of anonymity to the piece.
Psycho analysts and those trained to comment on the mental condition of human beings may suggest that the loss or lack or self-respect comes prior to offending or sometimes shortly thereafter, and they may well be right who knows, but we are sharing a story of one persons experience of how they feel their self-respect was also eroded over time not only by their experience but by the justice system and their contact with it, from start to finish.
At the outset we should also add that by including this very brief account here we are not being critical of a person, an organisation or even the system as a whole but more we hope that by highlighting an individual experience that someone may recognise there is perhaps justification for a tweak or two to peoples attitudes within the system as well as the system itself.
Indeed over the past month or so we have become familiar with the term “Presiding with Kindness” and we have watched from afar as many learned individuals throw their commitment behind the concept, that can only be a good thing in the long term for everyone involved in the process of making judgements. Our observation would be that this new approach, so clearly successful elsewhere, should not be exclusive to the courtroom. More it should inspire an approach to the system from that initial consultation with a legal representative and be present throughout the client/representative relationship all the way to the courtroom and dare we say it beyond.
In reality a proper defence should not end in the courtroom. That over time needs to be recognised as an abdication of the systems responsibility to ensure the ongoing wellbeing of a human being.
People enter the legal process broken. In some it is more difficult to recognise than in others, in many cases that fragility is only shared when trust is established and it could be argued that people are entitled to believe the system doesn’t give a toss about them. The system needs to recognise that people are individuals without clear labels and it will require many people with a clear moral compass to effect long term change. That however does not give us the breathing space to sit back and wait for others to make that change, it is up to each and every one of us to make our own small changes in the hope that the collective effect will be produce a kaleidoscope of benefits to those entwined in the system.
“The following may err slightly in chronological terms and is by no means a detailed blow by blow account of events more an overview of emotion and process from my perspective.
When I was first arrested and charged for a white collar crime I had committed I was both devastated and relieved in almost equal measure. Devastated because my life, and more importantly the lives of those around me, from that moment on would change and relieved because the wait for the arrest (I realised later) had been taking it’s toll on me for quite some time. I couldn’t plead guilty quick enough because I had to, in my mind, unburden myself of the load I had been carrying around for so long. My hope was this strategy would shorten the process, protect my loved ones from having to listen to a court lay out what I had done and maybe, just maybe it would prevent them having to attend a public event that may or not be reported in our local media. The process however took me by complete surprise from the first moment and for the purposes of this scribble I choose to make the start of the process when I tried to secure the services of a solicitor for the first time. I may revert to the arrest and experience of being taken to a police station some other time.
It’s difficult to share these memories and the emotional cost of writing them down to me hopefully will see a benefit to someone else in the very near future. I’d like to start by saying I have no lasting feelings of self pity or of having been poorly represented legally, I have only remorse for my action and an overwhelming desire to make a process easier for someone following on behind me. Maybe that’s my penance or my effort to pay it forward who knows I’ll leave that to the Freudian gurus out there so here goes…
Knowing that I needed to retain a solicitor I started where we start so many things these days I engaged with Google in the hope that it would lead me to the obvious solution. So as I typed into Google and as I awaited that coveted first page of results I instantly lost years of insight and experience. You see I was aware how Search Engine Optimization worked and I was experienced myself in creating those first page listings for firms I had worked for before but my desperation (again I realised this later) was such that I believed that if you’re on the front page you have something more going for you than being a smart IT operator.
You may think this is leading to a tale of woe in terms of my selection of solicitor but that’s not the aim here at all. My focus is on looking at the process from the perspective of a human being as opposed to a client in need of legal advice. Essentially what I’m sharing is that your decision making process can be almost instantly flawed when put under the pressure of being in the system as it has been undermined already by diminishing self-respect.
Did I, in hindsight, pick the correct solicitor to handle my legal affairs? That’s open to debate and not something I have the luxury of dwelling on quite honestly. The process is over and my focus is getting life back on track and moving forward in some meaningful fashion. Did I, in hindsight, pick the correct solicitor to handle me personally? I don’t think so but as I have no comparative experience to draw on I can’t say with any confidence that another solicitor would have handled me as a human being any differently.
For years I trained Business Development and Sales staff to close deals and I could spot a sales pitch and it’s veracity or otherwise from a mile away. What I was completely unaware of was that the initial consultation with a solicitor was a sales pitch. Maybe it was my upbringing where we were taught to respect our teachers, our police force and those in a position of authority which seeped through infiltrating my years of self defensive training rendering me naïve all over again but I bought the pitch hook, line and sinker, despite a variety of basic red flags being raised to me. My point is not that the decision was necessarily wrong or that the solicitor did something wrong but more that given the circumstances people should be protected from the initial consultation being a sales pitch. Engagement with kindness I guess is my utopia. I understand people may be under pressure to make a living but in this field of work the human demands in terms of client wellbeing should be equally prevalent.
Treating people as we have them treat us has been my mantra my whole life. It has been the bed rock of good parenting for generations yet it is something which goes out the window when you are in the system. The erosion of self respect takes place over a period of time. Small things which fly in the face of common courtesy such as being left in the waiting room of your solicitor for half an hour past your appointment time without update or eventually sincere apology. Your self respect is being chipped away and your confidence to challenge what’s happening is evaporating. Why is this happening? I believe it happens because people are pre-programmed to believe that this is what is acceptable in these circumstances. It’s not a real person with real feelings in the waiting room it’s a person of lesser standing, by virtue of the fact they require a solicitor, and they will accept a lower bar in terms of treatment after all they are criminals are they not.
This is not unique to the legal profession and my desire is not have a go at the legal profession but more at the pre-programming that occurs within it. For example, I attended a recruitment company years ago and whilst sat in the waiting area past my allotted appointment time I overheard one consultant comment to another that he was keeping someone waiting in reception. The reply when it came was unacceptable, the interviewer who I was waiting to see commented that if the person waiting wanted the job they’d just need to wait. My reaction? To approach reception desk and clearly deliver a message that I wouldn’t be waiting and that I would be explaining my reasons direct to the recruitment company’s client. My reason for mentioning this, if it’s not obvious, my levels of self respect where alive and well. I wasn’t in a position where I could accept being treated poorly, that comes and arises when our personal circumstances change. Then we accept it as we believe that is our worth.
At every appointment in the process I was kept waiting, even the meetings with social work were similarly tardy and obviously when you get through the process to prison the last remaining crumbs of self respect are trampled under the weight of a system which doesn’t respect individuals at all, in my experience. I may, if invited to, write more about that later but for now I’ll include a verse from a poem I wrote when in prison which reverts to state of mind I believe;
Shards of life extinguished by grief
Dreams Fragile as cheery blossom leaf
Daily doses of patronisation
Replacing the illusions of rehabilitation
In summary to what may appear to be a bit of a rambling scribble my hope would be that engagement with kindness finds a lifelong partner in presiding with kindness and that human beings can be recognised as individuals within the justice system. Thanks for affording me the opportunity to share.”
Thanks for taking the time to read todays post on First Time Inside and we hope you appreciate the intention and meaning of today’s effort. We have a desire to assist in the justice process by making the transition to prison a little less traumatic for the someone heading that way for the first time. Whether that is by direct contact with someone facing prison or with a solicitor seeking insight into prison realities we are keen to engage.
The greatest gift we can give some times in life is our experience and one of the greatest talents is listening. Have a great day.