At times I question the sanity of what I am doing developing the project that is First Time Inside.
I mean why would anyone in their right mind choose to relive or discuss the most abhorrent experience of their lives every day, wouldn’t it be better for them from a health perspective to simply move on? Why take such a tiny period of your life and make it the focal point of your daily challenges, crazy right?
There are moments when I think to myself, if this hasn’t been put in place before it must be because there is no appetite for it (for whatever reason) or because their is a genuine lack of caring in society. I know from experience I’m a creative soul, with a life history developing or engaging with new concepts, but this is such a simple premise that, given the collective intelligence in the justice sector, it must have been considered before?
Scotland has long since be known for its spirit of invention but this concept is so simple it still baffles me why it’s not an automatic part of the justice process. Has our sense of community eroded so much that we simply look the other way when we should be engaging with each other?
In truth we all know the answers and they don’t reflect well on our society as a whole.
First Time Inside is about making a difference to people who find themselves in real need, to people who can see trauma coming down the road and have no power to prevent it.
Yes, we also want to assist or lead a drive towards a prehabilitative pathway -under a banner of Prehabilitation – and to challenge existing mindsets in terms of making the prison experience (or the initial contact with the justice system) as positive an experience as it can possibly be but initially our aims have been relatively modest. To engage with those people who have the lives of others in their hands and offer them a service which adds value not only to their portfolio but more importantly offers great benefit potentially to human beings who find themselves in a vulnerable position. To that end we have enjoyed making new friends and impacting on peoples lives but we must do more as a collective, we must create greater engagement. That is our challenge and one we will continue take on with great passion and determination.
Over the course of the past two months I have met some truly inspiring people. Individuals who have a will to improve a system that is in need of, let’s be kind, a tweak here and there but perhaps more importantly well intentioned, well placed folk, who are focussed on a process of putting people first. These people supply enough motivation to fuel our desire that First Time Inside hopefully has a role, peripheral or otherwise, to play in that drive for change and we look forward to participating.
Last week a lawyer asked me, he was not the first, if it was possible in a workshop style situation to recreate the prison environment for him and his colleagues. If you read the excerpt from a first time prisoners diary below you’ll understand, as we explained to him, that we cannot recreate the mental anguish that people can experience in prison. Yes, we are willing to create a workshop where we inconvenience people, dare I say it really piss them off, we can let them experience being treated with disdain and misguided authority all with a view to giving them a small understanding of being on the other side of the fence but even that uncomfortable experience will not truly replicate the challenges like that experienced below.
We have used this excerpt before but in the context of today and the fact it was some time ago when fewer people were aware of our blog we have chosen to use it again.
“There was staff training today and we were all confined to our cells alone for the majority of the day with a break in restriction only for lunch. Work details were cancelled, education classes postponed and even the gym and physical activities were set aside to accommodate whatever the training being delivered was. It was a glorious sunny day but I couldn’t have been happier being locked up in isolation today despite the fact I’d miss my art class and a chance to attend the gym.
On the outside I love interaction, I love speaking to people. I love the ebb and flow of a decent discussion listening to others points of view and debating the business of the day. In here real conversation exists only in the fleeting contact with some of the more socially inclined staff who are above patronisation and can see a glimpse of your ability to be more than a number behind walls. I added to my dismally amateur poetry collection today and have even taken to decorating my walls in verse – paper not graffiti – I’ve actually came back to my cell at times and found guards reading them. I hope they’re not looking for inspiration because the subject matter is being defined by my surroundings at the moment.
Going back to staff training I hope there’s a motivational coach in here today because the staff seem miserable at work. Not necessarily stern or strict as you might imagine but utterly demotivated and looking for any way out. We have something in common at least.
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. I had an idea for starting a new business today but will come back to that some other time. The three verses of my latest poetry effort are about the lack of real conversation, the overt drug use and how staff and I get through the days. I hope they don’t read my diary when they search cells whilst you are out doing other things.
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
So in a sad way today has been a good day without the need to talk to anyone I wouldn’t mind hearing the staff training lasts all week, that would be like a lottery win. Tomorrow I have a family visit and I can’t wait to briefly hold them, drink in their faces and listen to them talk about their daily lives even though their lives have been damaged by my actions I crave their contact in every way.”
Thanks again for taking the time to read our blog posts, we really do appreciate it. If you are so moved we would love if you could share our posts via your own social media and with your own contacts as we strive to create greater awareness of what we are trying to achieve.
Have a great week, we look forward to meeting or speaking with you soon but for now this is @firsttimeinside out.