As I approach a summer break, two weeks away from Blogging, meetings and new connections, I can reflect on the development of First Time Inside (FTI) to date and the small challenges met along the way these past few months.

It is also an opportunity to add a little personal flavour to the blog as Gerry @firsttimeinside.

The idea for, or concept of, FTI really was born out of a caring upbringing. Being brought up to believe that we should treat others as we would have them treat us and witnessing how an experience of the justice system was so far removed from that ethos it compelled me to do something about it. Seeing people treated like second class citizens as a matter of course across the justice continuum, seeing them disregarded daily by a culture well established and watching those responsible for managing each persons journey through the process fall foul of that culture almost by habit or instinct.

There was one major obstacle to overcome if I was to make a success of this concept and that barrier was lived experience. The very same prized asset which is lauded elsewhere in the system as being immensely valuable in understanding the mentality or psyche of different individuals. Within that recognition however lies an uncomfortable truth. Many people believe there should a ceiling, of sorts, to the possibilities open to anyone with lived experience and that attitude is not terribly well disguised in some quarters. In fairness to others it may be that I once shared that unconscious thought however much that irritates me now.

That is simply a reflection of the engrained culture which has grown on a punishment agenda over decades in this country. I am firmly of the belief that many people who harbour that view would contest otherwise as it has developed seamlessly almost like a second skin into our daily lives. Like so many other forms of discrimination only when we stop to consider our actions and beliefs do we really have a clear understanding of what we believe. When does a human being become undeserving of the levels of care, respect and attitude we demand for ourselves? To avoid the individualisation of the question as there are cases which abhor even the most liberally minded when does a name tag immediately classify an entire section of society as less worthy than the person you see in the mirror every day?

Over the past three months I have been privileged to meet quite a few exceptions to that rule to compensate for those who I choose to refer to as slow burners. Taking someone who holds that outdated belief and bringing them onto our journey, in any collaborative or partnership way, is incredibly satisfying. There are a number of new connections who I know already will be long term if not lifelong assets to my life and hopefully me to theirs. There are some I have only met through social media who quite simply get it, people who have impressed me from afar and people who I hope to make contact with soon after this summer break. Which brings me back to the obstacle of lived experience and a methodology chosen to remove that from the conversation at least temporarily whilst initial contact was made and mutual consideration achieved.

Concept creation has been a large part of my life and something which I know I am good at. Recognising gaps in a market place, even in the most niche sectors and merging concepts to market are all part of my DNA. Market sectors I hear you say? I had someone take me to task on that phrase recently when I referred to the justice sector as a market place of sorts. It’s simply about perception and perspective. People within that network make a living, firms or charities focus on selling procurable products within that network and there is a conference industry thriving in that network. Just a few examples to highlight the not so crazy leap to view the network as market sector. So how would someone with vast life experience and a self imposed cement block of lived experience approach this justice network? How would I find a role for me?

My initial answer was twofold, Twitter and blog. My strategy was to be open about the service, open in conversation about the background and not to ask for a single meeting for the first eight weeks of being on Twitter. Not only open but positive about an otherwise sombre subject. No point spending the day ranting and complaining about the status quo, my thought was to create a solution or at least contribute to a positive conversation, merge the two sets of experience for the benefit of developing something worthwhile.

My aim was simple. To develop social media relationships which would generate invitations to meetings. I am delighted to say that this approach, which some questioned as lacking clarity of thought (even this guy in the mirror), worked and I was invited to meet quite a few inspirational people. In part I have moved beyond this approach but am still delighted to say that invitations are still forthcoming from law firms and third sector partners alike without needing to pick up the phone or send an e mail as would have been the norm in a previous life.

Someone told me recently that almost 70% of this years Primary 1 intake at schools would create their own careers. A stunning statistic which may not be wholly accurate but one which does point forward to a time when people will need to move beyond classic workplace perceptions. Which other group of people could be identified as needing to create their own futures given all that has been mentioned beforehand? I’m blessed with the skills to do that and at some point in the future I hope to share that possibility with others currently disadvantaged by circumstance.

I view First Time Inside simply as a starting point or staging post on the route to developing the concept of Prehabilitation within the justice network and only the first of three concepts all of which can contribute to helping vulnerable individuals, families and communities when faced with contact with the justice continuum. After the summer break more details will be shared about those ideas. Everything created will be driven by the ideals of smart justice.

The contribution of the blog on the FTI website cannot be underestimated and the feedback received to a variety of blog posts has ranged emotionally from entirely humbling to utterly inspirational. This was simply intended to add a little personality to the FTI services but has over the past few months developed a role all of it’s own which is wonderful and something I am extremely proud of and appreciative of in equal measure. Thanks to everyone who has interacted with it so positively. Every time I release a blog post I have a little moment of trepidation as I press the publish button on the FTI website, what if this is the one that sparks the negativity or what if this is hopeless but up to now that has passed almost instantly with feedback coming fast from all quarters.

In Twitter terms there have been so many who have embraced the concept, shared tweets and driven awareness and to all of them a heartfelt thank you. The next modest Twitter target is to achieve 500 followers after which I will commit to making live broadcasts from some interesting places across Scotland. Perhaps readers of this blog can help FTI achieve those followers?

FTI will also become active on Facebook in August 2019. We are excited about the exposure that will bring, particularly to those in need of our services.

The journey so far has been fantastic. Yes, there have been highs and lows but on balance it has been electrifying to experience. There are so many intelligent, passionate people in the justice network and it’s been my privilege to meet so many in these first few months. They give me hope personally that change can be found where it’s required.

I have been inspired by the staff at Community Justice Scotland (CJS) who seem dedicated to improving the system for people, meeting the force of nature that is Karyn McCluskey was highly informative and appreciated, with further meetings already scheduled. Having Keith Gardiner of CJS mention FTI during an address to conference was both humbling and motivational, Keiths immense knowledge of the justice system and his willingness to share with a virtual newbie has been a highlight of my short time in this new world. Talented intelligent people in key positions. Further inspiration has been gained in meetings with law firms who have embraced the concept of FTI as a positive step forward. Lawyers like Gary McAteer of Beltrami & Co, Aamer Anwar of his firm by the same name and others like Tony Bone and Keegan Smith who have a refreshing approach to criminal law to name but a few. Seeing the dedication of others in the third sector passionate about improving the lot of vulnerable people, folks like Mark Gallagher and Isabel McCue who are 100% committed to positive change and many others I have admired from afar. It was also encouraging to meet with Sean Duffy and his team at The Wise Group and recognise that business oriented organisations can flourish in this sector. In reality there are too many to mention but all have served as inspiration in their vastly different ways to me in the past few months, some blissfully unaware of their impact no doubt 🙂

Watching the remarkably brave fight of Linda Allan to improve systems in Polmont YOI as a result of the tragic loss of her daughter Katie warrants special mention and being in contact with those facing court and prison for the first time, all have convinced me that this project and the concepts to follow are very much needed.

We have a number of exciting meetings lined up for after the break and all of those will no doubt be shared on our Twitter feed as they happen. For those used to seeing our daily Twitter presence we will through the wonders of social media creativity pre-programme or schedule some tweets we hope are of interest for you whilst the sun and cold refreshments energise us for the remainder of 2019.

I hope to sit down with Humza Yousaf in the near future after he requested I e mail his office. A contact made through Twitter. That contact was further encouragement to get things right.

There is a compassion gap at professional levels in Scotland and in the future FTI and all Prehabilitive concepts will help bridge that gap for those still to encounter the process.

In language being developed here I believe the combination of life and lived experience creates a hybrid perspective. Let’s hope we find a way to make that perspective count moving forward.

Thank you again to everyone who has offered encouragement and positivity to us so far. Enough of the rambling for now, thanks for your welcome to the justice system, and back to the regular blog content below;

Todays diary excerpt again highlights the tough mental challenge that prison can present to an inmate, one year ago to this very day this was me. My comeback is nowhere near complete but it is moving in the right direction. If we have yet to meet let’s get together soon.

For the past few weeks I’ve had the sad misfortune to watch the gradual degeneration and then sharp decline of someone who has become increasingly reliant on legal highs to get through the days in here. Someone I suspect who was not a regular user of substances on the outside.

This guy arrived on our wing and was quiet, reserved and kept himself to himself. Today I saw him snap culminating in him being carried off the wing by a number of staff after he simply exploded in what can only be described as a legal high induced rant. He had become a danger to himself and those around him in the sense that his mind was so obviously broken to some extent.

A member of staff commented that stress had caused his breakdown but it was clear to anyone blessed with eyesight of any kind that it was much more than that. Stress goes with the turf in here and it plays a destructive tune on your soul every day but when you get so desperate that you decide to self-medicate daily with legal highs you are simply masking an issue until it erupts in a different way.

Watching this decline has been depressing and seeing the aggressive ending to it was tough to watch. Knowing that the degeneration could have been halted through intervention but was ignored as just another headcase behaving oddly or just plain ignored is sickening to consider as a human being but all part of the culture in this place where humanity and compassion can be as rare as rocking horse shit at times.

The electricity generated on a wing by such an event is almost palpable with some getting a real buzz out of the excitement such an episode brings and others, like myself, left feeling flat and fatigued. It is actually exhausting just writing about it because the circumstances are repeated in your head as you touch pen to paper.

The day didn’t improve when I turned up for my work detail only to find that I was being partnered for the day by a bigot and a racist. This guy doesn’t even try to hide it, it wouldn’t occur to him that he should and I actually had to tell him to shut up because I just couldn’t listen to his crap anymore. In that instant I was exposed to a potential confrontation, which he thankfully walked away from, and now realise the impact this place can have on even the most sane mind. Allowing him to get under my skin with his bile could have led to something else and my HDC application would be revoked in a heartbeat. How would I explain that to my family?

Speaking of whom I phoned them after dinner earlier and after our daily chat requested an early lock up from a member of staff. If my calculations are correct it means I’ll be alone and self healing through writing etc for a period of almost 16 hours. Can’t think of any time in the real world I’d welcome that lonely existence.

Maybe I should talk to someone about that but I suspect it’s just normal to want to be separated from such a toxic environment at times. I’ve never been one to share my inner feelings easily and in here it certainly is not going to change. Writing to friends and family will be my therapy of choice for the time being.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring. Seriously thinking of feigning illness to get a few days in isolation. For now it’s a documentary on TV about the Third Reich, one form of insanity for another I hear myself think.


Thanks again to all who take time to read, share and comment on our Blog directly or through social media we appreciate every interaction.

See you on the other side of our summer break Gerry @ firsttimeinside out.

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