When First Time Inside was formed in my head it had fairly modest goals.
The idea was to utilise the experience of myself and others to make the horror of going to prison a little less traumatic for others where possible through talking to them and sharing lived experience. In addition I thought it would be good to have the legal profession engage with the idea and offer solicitors the chance to lean on that lived experience so that they may offer a relevant perspective to their clients facing incarceration for the first time.
To assist with the process I decided to start a blog, scribbling about experience and doing what seemed an anathema to me previously i.e sharing negative experiences.
The blog has surpassed all expectations with over 100k Twitter actions in each of the last two months and for that reason I will be looking to expand the idea in the coming weeks and months to include not only other writers but also to offer a collaborative, commercial approach to like minded partners in our quest to generate a concept or mindset around prehabilitation.
As the diary excerpt below suggests it would have been easier to launch the blog and concept from within an organisation already structured to adopt such an approach but the challenge of starting from scratch, as it where, has been rewarding. The process of engaging with so many people in and around the justice network has been both illuminating and in many ways inspiring. There seems to be a real appetite for improvement and we hope to contribute in our own way to that moving forward.
As always, comments and ideas are welcomed as we have an entirely flexible mindset to development and we look forward to sharing more of our vision in the coming weeks.
In another life I “blow up peoples tyres” and safe to say unless we’ve met you’re probably thinking of Kwik Fit or some such organisation but in reality it’s a metaphor for taking a companies message and adding some much needed air to it with a view to adding impact or commercial value however that is measured. I’ll expand on that later but it’s that experience which creates a foundation for this project.
The excerpt below continues to display the mental challenges of being in prison, we hope it catches your attention in some small way.
“It’s been a hell of a weekend. As I sit here scribbling on a Sunday night I am actually dizzy with all that’s happened and the toxic environment I’m living in.
I read a statistic on Saturday morning that somewhere around 65% of kids starting school this year will create, or will have to create, their own jobs when leaving school. That was a startling stat, if accurate, in itself and made me think just how much the world has changed from the days of kids walking en masse into apprenticeships and other employment after leaving school. It also made think how much the role of a teacher must be changing as the demands of a modern world create new subjects and skill requirements. Looking back on my own school days I remember it was a fairly regimented regime with clear subject choices and routes through high school fairly well defined by the labour market of the day, although at the time I never realised the channelling that took place in those terms.
Sitting here today I realise that I have something in common with the infants of today. It is a very real fact that I may have to create my own job when I leave here because the impact of a prison sentence on employment prospects is fairly brutal. In that regard I’ve always been fortunate because ideas come relatively easily but it’s one thing taking an idea and making it work when you have resources aplenty but when you’re depleted that’s a whole new level of challenge but one I may need to accept as being my own personal Everest when I leave this God forsaken place.
By my calculations I will be faced with a situation where my extensive experience, representing some 98.8% of my working life, will be outweighed in a way I’ve yet to truly experience by virtue of spending 1.2% of my possible working life in HMP Broken. Maybe I’ll be lucky and someone will recognise the value I can bring to their organisation without dwelling on this small percentile. Aah, the mind can truly wander in here.
This was the second time this weekend I’ve thought of teachers, the first came after a rather disturbing event on Friday evening. An inmate was assaulted, allegedly according to jail wing chatter, because his crime was frowned upon by the population. The curious thing for me was that he had been here for a while without incident but immediately after a verbal run in with a prison officer everything changed for him. Why did that make me think of teachers? Well, I remember back in the day you were brought up to respect people in positions of authority. In reality you were taught to respect their position whether or not the individual warranted that respect but somewhere inside me there must remain fragments of that upbringing because my default position is always to start from a position of respect until someone displays they do not deserve it. Some of the prison officers remind me of some old teachers from back in the day. They mistake a uniform, as teachers did with the belt, as approval to behave less than appropriately to people in their care.
Recently, I had an officer deliver a tea pack into my cell, by kicking it along the floor, effectively treating me like, let’s be kind, a second class citizen but in my mind it says more about them than me. In the same way knowing that every third period on a Friday morning would bring three of the belt from a maths teacher, who was clearly in the wrong profession, for sins as serious as using too much paper when working out sums or breaking the lead in a pencil too often. The ironic thing back them was that if you told your parents you got the belt their instinct was you must have deserved it. That level of trust, from parents and in this case from the state, doesn’t suit everyone entrusted with or granted it. The acceptance of a regular pay check shouldn’t be qualification enough to get job in any of these fields.
Just like school there are individuals here who rise above that mindset and do their jobs well, even displaying genuine compassion and a degree of empathy to those they are entrusted to look after. In fact only yesterday one of the officers chapped on my door and dropped off a newspaper, had a chat for a few seconds about everything and nothing and went on about his day. Small kindness which in here seem so much more and generates a little respect for someone relaxed in their own skin, as opposed to just a uniform.
Saturday morning started with a “Spin”…that to those like me who didn’t know before now is a search of your cell and a strip search of you in your cell. Apparently, the computer generates random cell numbers and the officers appear – in this case when I as still asleep – to check for contriband etc. Even although I know there is nothing to worry about during the process it is still a stressful few minutes as the whole idea of being strip searched etc remains demeaning to me although I get the fact it’s part of the experience of being here and I guess part of what I deserve for making a mistake in life.
Saturday afternoon brought a whole different type of Spin to my world. I called home, really needing to here a friendly voice, and was met with a clearly distressed voice at the other end of the phone. My family had been in a car crash earlier that morning and whilst I was worrying about total nonsense in here they were outside living their own bad day. Thankfully, none of them were physically injured but the upset of the event and the fact that I wasn’t there to deal with the aftermath was entirely debilitating. The car is apparently badly damaged, the blame is on the other party but none of that matters really. It is events like these which ram home the fact that you are helpless to influence what they are going through. The fright of the accident and the added realisation for them that you can’t be there to deal with insurance and replacement cars etc just brings the whole series of events back into an excruciatingly painful light. The inability to simply put your arms around them and reassure them that everything will be ok is horrific for us all. Their upset and their pain borne out of this situation is soul destroying for me. Just as teachers and officers should look after those in their care so to should fathers look after their family, my not being there to do that for them is tough to bear for us all.
The lack of control over events in here is in itself exhausting. I retreated to my cell to make a list of the things that needed to be done in relation to the crash but found the whole exercise pointless as I seemed to lose all control of my emotions for a short period of time. I locked my door, closed the curtain over the window and just lay down in tears thinking of my family’s vulnerability. When I called home later on Saturday prior to lock up here they had regained their composure, or at least had slipped back into reassurance mode for me its funny we all do that to each other now without actually acknowledging the fact that it is happening, to the extent they were talking of ordering takeaway food and having a family night watching movies etc. They are quite simply the most incredible group of people I’ve ever met in my life.
I woke up today, Sunday, knowing that I had a family visit to look forward to and that immediately lifts the spirits.
Before visits today there was a period when there was an electricity in the air because their was a shortage of whatever was needed to get people through their day. Arguments, a couple of fist fights and a Sunday Brunch as cold as the metal bars on my cell window all served to diminish those positive vibes I awoke with.
Thankfully, the visit went well. The family seemed to be ok, or as ok as this place allows them to be, and we actually managed to laugh about some trivial stuff before they had to leave.
We are now locked up on Sunday. It’s just after six o clock now and the relaxation that comes with knowing that there need be no more interaction today is palpable. I have thirteen hours before I’ll see anyone again that’s strangely comforting. I wish I had a phone in my room to call home but then I wish that every night.
It’s time to press the reset button and remind myself that it’s the start of another week and one week closer to being home.”
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