Today’s blog is almost entirely taken up with a diary excerpt which focusses on one persons reflection on their own personal experience of meeting with a Criminal Justice Social Worker.

It’s clear that the event was a stressful experience in the persons life and the tale is told to his diary from the discomfort of a prison cell.

This excerpt has not been included in the blog with any motivation to criticise an individual, specific office or even an organisation but is shared to present an opportunity to reflect on how we go about our jobs asking could we do better, especially when we are afforded the responsibility to deal with people when they are at their most vulnerable? Indeed it was clearly written with no plan to share at the time of writing as will become clear when you read on, the feeling now is that it whilst the entry may appear negative it may well prove to be a positive thing to share.

In truth the creation of First Time Inside coupled with the concept of Prehabilitation was partially inspired by this event proving, in my mind, that positives can be found in even the most negative circumstances.

The past week was an extremely encouraging one for First Time Inside and the week ahead is shaping up to be a similar experience with a number of exciting meetings already scheduled.

As always, thank you for reading the blog and please do feel free to share or comment through the usual channels on Twitter @firsttimeinside or even through the website here.

Today’s diary excerpt;

“For a few months I’ve been writing about feelings and events in here but for now I’m adding a new feature to my scribbles, I’ve decided to reflect on the individual elements of my experience of the justice system in this diary because it’s highly unlikely anyone will ever see it, unless the guards have a little peek when they are conducting cell searches of course, and I’m hoping that writing it down will be in some ways cathartic for me. I do not want to leave this place with any lingering angst or feelings of resentment and I’ve decided that sharing my specific experience with the diary will need to be my self-created counselling service.

In my mind I’m thinking that if I am going to return to my family and the world in general with an expectation to care for them and be productive I need to find a way to heal my mind whilst I’m here. All sounds a bit melodramatic to me just writing it down but I’m thinking without self care I may be hopeless with other things. So that’s a target for me and this diary, together we’ll get our head around events and make a plan for the future. Now I’m laughing, I’m actually including this diary in the “we”, looking on the brightside he’s (now I’m being gender specific about these ramblings that’s probably not right either and maybe it would be better if it was a she? Nah, let’s be two men together exploring our feelings because that’s the west of scotland way after all lol) not going to talk back and if he does I’ll know it’s time to request some medication. Maybe I should give him a name at this stage?

Why just look on the brightside let’s christen him Mr Brightside and it’s great to know there’s already a song in his honour albeit by an unfortunately named band given the current environment, great song though.

Focussing on one event at a time will hopefully allow me to set each element aside moving forward leave each experience in a little locked box only to be revisited whenever needs be but maybe by writing it down, I’ll free myself of confusion and frustration. Now I’m chuntering on about a lot of nonsense and realise I’m just putting off the inevitable so I reckon it’s time to pick an element and deal with it so here goes nothing.

For some reason I’d like to start with my experience with a Criminal Justice Social Worker (CJSW). From start to finish that was a disappointing experience and one which I feel, I may be, justifiably angry about and certainly frustrated by.

When the sheriff told me that I would have to attend a meeting with a CJSW prior to returning to court for sentencing I didn’t know what to expect at all. I didn’t know if this would be a fact-finding mission, a meeting to establish my character or frankly just a box to be ticked along the way. What was made crystal clear, at that point, was that this meeting was very important to the court and that it would possibly contribute to any sentencing outcome. I didn’t know what form the meeting would take but I now knew it was potentially vitally important.

Leaving the court room I was instructed to find the CJSW office within the building to make the appointment which I duly did. The ladies there were lovely and duly gave me a time to attend my meeting at offices in the town centre. They also reiterated the importance of this meeting and stressed that under no circumstances should I miss the appointment as it would reflect badly on me when I returned to court nor should I be late as that would also reflect badly on me with the CJSW tasked with writing my report.

The seriousness or importance of the meeting was then amplified by my solicitor who said he’d want to meet with me prior to the meeting with CJSW to explain what I was facing and how to approach it. If going to court was terrifying this appointment with a CJSW was now looming dark and large with a dense cloud of anxiety hovering over me .

How could someone I had never met accurately right a report about me, my life, my family circumstance, my wrongdoing, analyse and accurately form opinion on my state of mind when making my mistake in the space of an hour long appointment. It just didn’t seem plausible but I had to believe this professional would prove me wrong. It was clearly mandatory to attend and the craving for a positive report to the sheriff became all encompassing because that could hold a little sway perhaps in terms of severity of any sentence.

My solicitors advice boiled down to one thing really. I should make sure the CJSW knew that I was taking ownership of and responsibility for my wrongdoing, in the same way I had previously when talking to him when employing his services. He also told me to make sure that I was on time for that meeting which was kind of ironic because he hadn’t been on time for any of our meetings to this point but I digress, one rule for one etc.

The CJSW meeting was set for two weeks after that court appearance and I duly turned up ten minutes prior to the allotted time to make that first good impression. I remember sitting in the public waiting area that morning feeling physically sick with nerves, taking in my surroundings and the people there. Strangely, I remember a conversation which took place in front of the handful of people in that waiting area between a housing officer and a tenant about home improvements, quite bizarre to me that I should recall that so clearly. I remember watching the tenant speak and act in a deferential way when putting forward their opinions on work carried out but again I’m wandering off topic.

I was sitting watching the minutes tick down to my appointment time and recall trying to regulate my breathing as I sat in fear of what was coming. Perhaps irrational now I understand but in some ways on reflection understandable if that makes any sense. My strategy was set in stone, I was going to be polite, honest and open about everything – after that I could only hope for the best. As I sat there watching the clock the feelings of failure were smothering me and I just wanted to get this meeting over and done with.

Ten minutes after the allotted appointment time I went to the window and asked if the person I was due to see knew I had arrived. I was paranoid that the receptionist may have forgot to tell them I was waiting. Anyway, it was confirmed they knew and I returned to watching the clock. As time drifted past I struggled to distract myself and I wondered if this was a tactic of sorts to unsettle me or to give someone else a psychological advantage at the outset of a meeting. Or was it just the way I could expect to treated now by the justice system, I guess I’d find out soon enough I thought. Over half an hour an hour after the scheduled time the CJSW appeared and led me to an interview room. No apology was made for keeping me waiting and no explanation offered. I got the feeling it would be in my best interests not to ask.

They proceeded to outline the purpose of the meeting again with great emphasis being placed on the importance of this report, this report it was explained was crucial to the court and the sheriff. I understood this by now. I remember listening and battling to keep the contents of my stomach in place at this point.

I can’t comment on the motivations, practices or processes employed at this stage other than to say that I felt, after being in the room for two minutes, like a criminal. I was made to feel or maybe better explained I was being treated like I was the inferior person in the room both characteristically and intellectually.

The meeting I guess proceeded along a preset pathway and it was for me an emotional rollercoaster. I was sitting taking ownership of my mistake, I was openly discussing the most private details of my life (which is completely against my natural character) and was starting to recognise that I was being appraised in a rather cold fashion. The realisation almost made me jump. I was asked in a variety of ways the same question, did I accept responsibility for my mistake and was I sorry for it. My remorse is and was so overwhelming. It felt like a psychological game of cat and mouse with someone trying to prove you a liar when you were baring your soul to them. I understand this person had a job to do and maybe somewhere someone more intelligent than I had devised this method of interrogation to illicit a set of responses which allows boxes on a report to be ticked, I don’t know I just know how it made me feel.

And then came another hammer blow, the CJSW explained that we didn’t have enough time to finish the report because they had another appointment scheduled, which they obviously wanted to be on time for, and I’d have to return for a second appointment the following week. Despite my frustration and anxiety I instantly agreed to return but once again prior to the time being arranged I was lectured about the importance to the court of this report and that if I failed to show next week it would go against me in a serious way. By this time I must admit I was forming an opinion of the person across the table from me.

I was then asked again if I could return and said yes but then – in the spirit of full disclosure Mr Brightside – I told a lie, I guess on reflection it was my little experiment to see if my instincts were right or wrong about this person and/or the process. I said I could return any day the following week but also pointed out that if possible I’d like to avoid late Tuesday morning as I had another important work meeting scheduled then but reinforced that I was available at any time throughout the remainder of the week.

The CJSW left the room and returned to tell me that my appointment for next week would be 11am on the Tuesday morning as that was the only time that was available in the diary. Coincidence? Tactic? Mind fuck? Just the norm? In reality only one person knows the truth.

The first meeting finished with another lecture on timekeeping (I know Mr Brightside I know). This person was explaining to me the importance of being on time next week as the diary was carefully constructed to accommodate everyone. Long story short I turned up ten minutes before time for the second appointment and the CJSW turned up almost exactly 40 minutes late, with nothing approaching an apology being offered. I’ll never get the chance to speak with that person again, nor would I like to, but I’d like to know why they felt it was ok to treat me that way. Was it me or was that just the way the job was done? Was it me or is it just that people in the position of going to court are deemed less worthy of common decency? 

The second meeting mirrored the first, only with a clear acceleration of questions as time was obviously short. I had lost all faith in the process by this time, felt ill at how low I had fallen and just knew that nothing positive would come from the experience. The meeting ended with my being told the report would be with the court the night before my court appearance and in all likelihood my lawyer would see it on the morning of that court appearance. For a document so “vitally important” it was completed in such a haphazard way and in a rush that I felt it really wasn’t afforded the respect it deserved by the interviewer. It left me rightly or wrongly forming an opinion that boxes were being ticked in a process which whilst clearly lacking compassion was loaded with preconceived notions and attitudes.  

I did explain all of the above to my lawyer who said it would be pointless to complain as it could be perceived as a negative against me.

As it turned out my lawyer categorised the report as being fair which is fine but the treatment of someone caught in the system was far from fair. Part of me would like an answer from the person or the system on why the process was carried out that way and part of me thinks to hell with them just get on with life.

Just writing this down is utterly exhausting and brings back tough memories but reaffirms to me a belief that I have always tried to live by that we should treat others as we would have them treat ourselves.
Does any of this really matter? If the system doesn’t care what chance have we got? Well Mr Brightside thanks for listening, am I really losing my marbles talking to your A4 persona? Whatever the truth time will tell if it makes a difference.

The things we do to pass the time…at the risk of sounding pompous or just crazy I’ve decided to write the following and refer to it as often as necessary should the frustration return…

CJSW I forgive you for treating me so poorly, I hope you do better for others in the future, I’m confident I’ll never be in that position again. Just one last thought for you CJSW, try to consider that there but for the grace of god go you and/or one of your loved ones. Maybe that’ll help. I’m not going to write about this again and I’m not going to grant you the power to dismantle my mental wellbeing in the same way again.

Mr Brightside let’s put the radio on and change the subject…” 

If by some quirk of fate the CJSW individual involved in the story above reads this blog and recognises themselves in the diary excerpt all we ask is that you take a moment to reflect on what you may do differently in the future.

Thanks for taking the time to read our blog, have a great week @firsttimeinside out…

 

Comments (2)

  1. Anne Pinkman

    Reply

    Very powerful account that all criminal justice social workers and students should read

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