Let’s start talking about Prehabilitation!

At First Time Inside we have a vision based on our own concept of Prehabilitation.

If you are on Twitter you will over time come across conversation and updates by utilising the hashtag. #ftiprehab

The medical profession have long since identified the health benefits of prehabilitation for patients facing surgeries, whether that be health, dietary or exercise related strategies prior to surgery, and we believe the concept of preparation and immediate appropriate engagement can have a hugely positive impact in the context of the justice system. The drive for rehabilitation and reintegration should start the minute you walk into the door of a prison, we believe introducing a programme of Prehabilitation engaging with those facing prison and those arriving in prison very early in their sentence can potentially help shape positive futures.

Prison is a life changing experience in many ways however we should all work to make it as positive an experience or at the very least a little less traumatic experience, whilst acknowledging the enormous environmental challenges we are facing, as possible. A kind of go big or go home approach if you like.

It is our belief that working with those facing prison is just the first step on a journey that sees the potential for a raft of programmes being developed with a view to engaging prisoners, early in the incarceration journey, in activities that create not only educational development but by engaging with their passions in other areas key personal development. Development that will build a base of self esteem and life skills in those struggling to see a positive image of themselves or indeed a positive future for themselves and a platform for genuine rehabilitation and reintegration further down the road. In effect creating a genuine merge opportunity for a pathway from prehabilitation all the way through to reintegration.

Taking those first steps on a journey of prehabilitation will also require a commitment to ensure that a system of genuine induction and early orientation are in place in every prison in the country.

We want to inspire initiatives that create an environment where everyone from Lawyer to Criminal Justice Social Worker from Prison management to Third Party partners recognise that they have a role to play in this concept of Prehabilitation. Taking ownership of our individual roles, sharing ownership of the development of programmes and engaging with an attitude that is about getting things done with a focus on care and compassion.

We are tired of hearing that the system is broken and it’s set in its ways with no appetite for change. We have encountered a great many people recently, all intelligent, all with a social conscience and all with their own views that the system needs changing in many ways. Some talk about change from the ground up and others talk about creating conversation designed to provoke positive change. On Twitter we see a level of jargon and in-system lingo, for want of a better expression, which whilst being heartfelt doesn’t necessarily lead to change.

Our concept of Prehabilitation puts people first. It is motivated by compassion and a desire to make a real difference. It’s not about endless presentations & conversations. It’s not about soundbites or jargon its exclusively focussed on achievement. We aim to make reference to positive prison experience, to challenging individuals to maximise the opportunity the justice system provides them and to lead a path of genuine care through the justice continuum. We aim to bring innovation, creativity and determination to an area we see, through lived experience, as sadly lacking in positivity or opportunity.

We have a desire to change culture and attitudes.

At First Time Inside we offer individuals, lawyers and others the opportunity to genuine gain insight of prison life with a view to making the transition from regular life to prison life just a little less traumatic but in reality this service we see as simply a staging post on the care pathway that we believe should exist through the justice continuum.

We have set aside a concept driven domain name and the potential for a service specific website under the banner www.prehabilitation.co.uk As we seek to engage in wider conversations with those we see as being able to contribute to this concept we will offer updates through First Time Inside and in time on the website dedicated to the project itself.

Let us make no mistake prison is an environment which can break people or in other cases further damage an already vulnerable individual. It is an environment which challenges the emotional capacity of everyone in there and one which makes exhausting demands on your ability to simply function. Even the most robust amongst us can have difficulty dealing with the daily destruction that prison life can bring to your mental state. But it is also an environment loaded with potential and rather than see that potential lie unharnessed we want to contribute to seeing some of that talent make it into society creating a positive outcome for themselves and others around them.

Prehabilitation may be a concept ignited by the creativity at First Time Inside but we envision, over time, a multi partner network sharing the pleasure of driving the concept forward. To that end we already have meetings scheduled with experienced, positive contributors within the justice system as well as with those who can impact positively on the prisoner pathway. Over the coming weeks we hope to add to that process of engagement with other potential impact organisations.

The short variety of excerpts and poem (some used previously) below, taken from a first time offenders prison diary, inspire us to test the water and create a notional concept of Prehabilitation and to strive to make a difference. They all refer to areas where attitude and culture might welcome a little tweaking.

Excerpt One – “Well they say every day is a school day and true enough there have been a few of those this week. After being this god forsaken place for two months I learned today that I have a personal officer. A member of staff assigned to me and someone who writes reports on me every week, reports which apparently I can request to read. Might have been good to know that I could approach someone specifically about different things earlier than this but better late than never I suppose. In other news and I find this embarrassing but hugely frustrating I discovered yesterday that I can lock my cell door or at least engage a privacy lock, from the inside, which prevents other inmates walking in at any time. All this time spent with a chair behind my door to prevent it blowing open in the wind and to ensure privacy was apparently unnecessary. The feeling of relief being able to lock your day during the day when everyone is moving around is quite something, the little things really can make such a difference when your head is constantly being challenged in here.”

 Excerpt Two – “This morning during the extended lock up period I could hear doors opening and closing along the wing and realised the sound was getting closer. A tea pack was delivered to each cell. A small plastic bag tied off at the top containing a few tea bags, small coffee sachets and a couple of small milk containers. That would have been a nice touch but mine went straight in the bin because of the guards chosen delivery method. The door was opened and I saw the tea pack in hand. My natural instinct was to smile and say thank you but what happened next prevented that. The pack was dropped on the floor by the door and kicked along the ground a few feet towards me. I felt degraded, angered and humiliated all in a flash by that action. I was going to mention it to my personal officer but chose not to what’s the point? I’m certain staff training didn’t include the delivery method of tea packs. You realise your current and potentially future value to the world at simple moments like that.
Anyway, the tea pack incident aside today was like an oasis in a desert for me. Confined to a room without anyone to speak to. Confined to a room without a view of the world. Confined to a room without a toilet seat – it all seemed so relaxing. You see for a whole day I didn’t have to be alert, I didn’t have to endure the smothering drug culture and I didn’t have to put on my survival cloak today. Some time I think I should apply for acting roles when I leave here because every day is about putting on an act one way or another. It’s exhausting beyond words and soul destroying in a dark miserable way. On the outside I crave human interaction, In here all I crave are family visits because only then can I let me cloak slip and speak to people who want nothing more from me that to get out and get home to be with them again.”

Excerpt Three – “The level of drug use continues to stun me and after a chaotic start to the day the wing was positively chilled all afternoon as there was a plentiful supply of legal high. Given the choice of chaos versus tranquillity I start to wonder if there is actually an appetite to prevent drug use here, it’s hard not to be cynical. The vast majority of this wing were high or low or whatever the buzz was today in fact it was so quiet that for an hour this afternoon whilst walking in circles on the wing not one other person was in sight despite all the doors being open. The guards job is definitely easier on, what I’ve come to describe as, a legal high day than on a day when it’s in short supply. I actually joked with one that I, as a non drug user, should be allowed a carry out for after lock up as everyone else had their fix but I don’t think he saw the funny side of that comment.
The wing was lively again at dinnertime, before lock up, as there was once again a chaotic session of people chasing others looking for whatever making sure they were sorted for Saturday night in their cells. The number of people who approach you before lock up looking or begging for something is incredible especially when they know you have nothing to give.
Anyway it’s now Saturday night and I’ve got Magic radio on and I’m planning on writing letters to my wife and kids – despite having just spoken to them on the phone they are my drug of choice – as well as some extended family and friends. That’s become my Saturday night ritual and as I write to my wife, listening to the soundtrack of Magic Radio, I cry relentlessly.” 

Excerpt Four – “When I was sentenced to go to prison I had no idea what lay in front of me other than I knew in my heart I was going to hate it. I asked my solicitors if they had any advice or guidance leading up to my appearing in court and they simply said “keep your head down and your nose clean”…heartfelt I’ve no doubt but as useless as a paper bag in a rain storm in reality.” 

Excerpt Five – “Entering prison on a Friday means no money to purchase toiletries, no money to buy foodstuffs or essential items. It means that the credit you were given on entry needs to last all weekend and at 7p a minute to a landline and 19p to a mobile that can and did disappear pretty quickly especially when you don’t know the cost at that time. It also means that for two days you are on your own to adjust to the environment without any meaningful contact with support or guidance. It also means if you go to court in your best brogues you’ll be wearing them for the best part of a week potentially, even to work placements. Maybe that’s intentional and a strategy of sorts but I suspect not although it is symptomatic of the way you need to get used to being viewed by those supposedly in charge of you now.
There is no one to one conversation that takes place prior to or immediately after entry designed to help you blend in to this place.”

Excerpt Six – “When I was taken downstairs from the courtroom after being found guilty my legal team visited me and on reflection, I’d forgive myself for thinking, their main concerns seemed to be confirming they had done all they could and re-affirmed that they had told me that this was indeed a possible if not probable outcome. At that time all I was interested in was how were my family who had just sat through sentencing and what was literally going to happen next to me. I’m not suggesting for one minute they didn’t do their best (because where I am that thought process would be entirely destructive) or that they didn’t care but at that moment it was confirmed to me that they had, to a large extent, failed to understand me as a human being.
They explained that I would be going to prison shortly but they had spoken to staff in the court and I’d be going to a single cell i.e. no cellmate, which had been a concern for me and that they’d be visiting me in prison to check on me despite there being no other legal matters to discuss but they would visit because they were interested in my wellbeing. My point is they didn’t negotiate a single cell, as was inferred or subtly suggested, that’s just the way it is here. Why they felt the need to do that still puzzles me. As far as visiting me goes I’d bet my life they don’t. I realised at that moment that I had fallen for a sales pitch from someone who made personal, human, promises that simply couldn’t or wouldn’t be kept. For me that is quite distinctive from their ability to protect me legally and I regret allowing that personal negligence to develop but despite always being an assertive person in regular life I felt almost disabled by my situation. It was as if I had accepted that this level of interaction was all I deserved now after all I had done something wrong, I had let my family down, I had ruined my life and maybe this was just one of the things I needed to accept moving forward.
I think back to sitting waiting for appointments way past the allotted time, to being told that I’d get a call on one day only to find it wouldn’t come at all. To not getting replies to e mails or requests for feedback despite being promised the same and thinking why the hell did I put up with that. I try not to include anything in this diary which leads to personal information being exposed that could be used against me in here, making a note of the cost of my solicitors may lead to some trying to befriend for want of a better expression. But when you’ve laid out enough to buy a small flat at Glasgow Harbour you feel you’ve missed out on something along the way.” 

Excerpt Seven – “During the intervening period I did go to the local authority offices that housed the CJSW on two occasions and it was at those meetings that I met with the next step on the spiral of confusion because that’s when you really feel for the first time that you are a criminal. From being made to wait an inordinate length of time in reception for appointments, which were allocated a specific time, to being spoken to in a manner which leaves you in no uncertain terms aware that you are the inferior person in the room you start to get a sense that your world has already changed. There was, I recall, great emphasis placed on these appointments and the reports to be written by the Sheriff in court and the person I met with went to great lengths to explain that they could have a significant bearing on my sentencing outcome.
In my case I had to return for a second appointment because the time management skills of my interviewer were lacking and the first appointment didn’t start until half an hour after it should have. The second appointment was also approximately 40 minutes late starting. On reflection I genuinely don’t know if that was a tactic of sorts or I just found myself at the mercy of someone incapable of operating a diary or their time effectively. My point is not that delays were a pain in the neck or indeed that the person I saw was time incontinent but that there was an attitude that you just had to accept that this is the way things work and you, being a criminal in waiting, had no right to complain. Indeed  when I was informed at the first appointment that I had to return for a second appointment I made it clear I could attend any day of the following week and that the only thing I had in my diary was at 11am on the following Tuesday. I’ll let you guess the only time that the CJSW interviewer was available that week. You see it was made crystal clear that this report was important to the Sheriff and your input, including your own time keeping for appointments would you believe, would be reported to the court. In short you have become part of a system which already has you relegated in standing by virtue of pre-existing attitudes.”

Concrete floors and steel white doors
A wing afloat on a wave of scores
Blind eyes turned to stupor ablaze
Strategic philosophy of surviving the days

Conversation is rare but speech is loud
Layers of humiliation dismantle the proud
Forlorn quest for normality dulls the senses
Security vetting required to paint fences

Shards of life extinguished by grief
Dreams fragile as cherry blossom leaf
Daily doses of patronisation
Replacing the illusion of rehabilitation

@copyrite firsttimeinside 2019


I think we can all do better and hopefully we can through First Time Inside and through our new concept of Prehabilitation #ftiprehab on Twitter we can inspire, or at the very least provoke thoughts on, positive change.

As always thank you for reading this post please do not hesitate to comment either via our Contact Form or on Twitter @firsttimeinside we welcome all engagement, have a great day. @firsttimeinside out.

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