Squaring the circle or engaging with the unholy trinity?

Today represents a small milestone on the journey of First Time Inside because today feels, in many ways, like we have indeed squared a specific circle and a route map is clear to assist this modern geometer – entwined in justice conundrums – to successfully construct larger puzzles moving forward.

In the grand scheme of things, when considering all the challenges presented by the widespread justice continuum, this little achievement may not immediately strike you as memorable but it does speak to a slight shift in culture and the fact that First Time Inside has actively pursued and contributed to these small changes makes the baring of the soul through this blog coupled with the attention to strategy in the real world feel immeasurably worthwhile.

This journey, short to date, has been one of discovery, education and personal fulfilment.

First Time Inside was created to achieve two things.

Firstly, to create a service which afforded those facing prison for the first time the opportunity to gain an insight into the environment prior to incarceration as well as providing access to practical information including direction to other third party services where appropriate. All with the simple aim of making the transition to prison a little less traumatic.

The development of PrisonPackScotland.co.uk is the natural progression on that journey, a step which will see value added to all of those referred to in the blog diary excerpts below. From the lawyer, to the Criminal Justice Social Worker (CJSW) to the prison service as well as to a wide range of 3rd sector partners with whom we hope to create collaborative working opportunities.

It is incredibly exciting that the development page of Prison Pack Scotland already displays a range of supportive messages from a variety of easily recognised sources. All of which leads me to why this is taking place in the first instance and that reasoning is so simple

It would be unconscionable to know what the process entails, the level of toxicity within the environment and the apathy of those entrusted with the care of fellow humans and stand idly by allowing failings to be repeated time and time again.

Secondly, to create a platform for a new voice in the justice community. A voice which is genuinely passionate about offering both life and lived experience to contribute to a culture shift that must take place if we are to see prison numbers fall and communities restored to their former glories. A voice which aims to create a discussion about a greater concept of Prehabilitation.

Prehabilitation is about creating a community passionate about creating outcomes. It’s about putting people’s wellbeing front & centre with unfailing consistency. It’s a platform to connect compassionate services with like-minded ideas. A voice designed to be no more than the pre-cursor to action.

In the drive to achieve progress it is also feels important to highlight the fact that all of this is born out of a mindset of prevention and making the first contact with justice the last. Prison Pack Scotland aims to support as opposed to compete with existing services improving their visibility and potentially increasing referrals. Focussing on effectively delivering key information and services to the people who need it the most, when they need it most. Through a mindset of prehabilitation and prevention we believe that early and frequent engagement is crucial to changing destinations. We believe that introducing compassion at all stages of the justice journey can reap great human rewards.

All of which takes us back to squaring a specific circle bespoke to one persons journey through the justice system but one which is mirrored all across the country every day and one which is laid bare in the three diary excerpts below.

As I type this today the three stations of this justice journey are now engaged with First Time Inside and all in a positive way.

Moving forward I see it as crucial to create a platform that allows the legal community a simple, fast route to engagement with the services of the wider justice world and despite being told repeatedly that “lawyers will not be interested” I’ve found their willing not only to engage but to support both humbling and motivational.

As for the three specific points of one unique journey please bear this in mind when reading over the diary excerpts below. The lawyer is now a firm friend to and supporter of all things First Time Inside, the CJSW service are engaging with invitations to speak and invites to staff development days in the pipeline and as for the prison there are now a raft of collaborative opportunities – focussing on aspiration – being discussed with a mutual desire to take action against the status quo together.

Thank you for continuing to share this journey, forgive us the self indulgent pause to enjoy our little moment and feel free to comment or share the blog if you are so moved and I look forward to sharing the next steps of the journey with you as they transpire.

Diary Excerpt – Prison

Taken from blog piece – https://firsttimeinside.co.uk/2019/04/15/isolation-is-a-lottery-win/

“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 than 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

copyrite @firsttimeinside 2019

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.”

Diary Excerpt – Lawyer

Taken from blog piece – https://firsttimeinside.co.uk/2019/04/17/too-lazy-part-2-the-sales-pitch/

“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 spent time with a counsellor before going to court, maybe a dozen meetings, because I wanted to find out why I’d got myself to this place and found myself talking for an inordinate amount of time about the stress and anxiety that I felt dealing with my lawyers failure to honour simple service promises such as clear communication. The counsellor actually included that in her report to my GP but my GP removed that section of the report prior to it going to my lawyer in case it worked against me in my relationship with them when I was reliant on them to defend me. Looking back I feel that I bought a sales pitch from someone who told me what I wanted to hear to get my business and that stings. It feels like writing these thoughts down offer me some form of release and I have decided that at some time in the future I may speak to the lawyer and explain how I was made to feel by them and my circumstances. Not because it can influence anything for me anymore but more in the hope that it strikes a chord and when they are asked a question by someone else in the future they’ll pause before making a commitment, however trivial to them, as people hang on their commitments as their lives are attached to them. I feel absolutely no ill will towards them just a real sense of personal disappointment.

Anyway, I wrote another poem which is quite depressing, that’s the poem, not the fact I wrote it or bloody hell that is probably more depressing. Tomorrow I think I’ll write about Brexit, I need something else to rant about and having a conversation with myself seems the only way to achieve that. So Farage, Johnson and all you liars I’m coming for you lol… for now my depressing poem and I’m off to the gym because I have a fitness goal in mind to distract me from the craziness in here. ”

The soundtrack of sadness vibrates in my head
No escape is secure not even in bed
Nightmares of failure explode in my brain
Will there ever be happiness again

Alone in a crowd an excruciating pain
Dreams of my wife and being together again
Exiled from family struggling for breath
Could this be hell or a sample of death

Self loathing and shame tough to bear
Remorse overwhelming does anyone care
Portraying normality is exceptionally tiring
A daily grind of acting and liaring

Fragments of chat akin to finding treasure
Visits by loved ones simply beyond measure
The temptation to fold is haunting and real
Blessed with family and love I resolve not to kneel

Copyrite @firsttimeinside 2019

And on we go to the third part of what some have termed the unholy trinity.

Diary Excerpt – Criminal Justice Social Worker

Taken from blog piece – https://firsttimeinside.co.uk/2019/08/18/meeting-cjsw/

“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 you are still here and have reached this sentence, I thank you for your time, your patience and your willing to consider that perhaps there is a better way to manage the justice process in terms of the elements highlighted above.

First Time Inside exists solely to make a contribution on the journey to a mindset of Prehabilitation and the rebuilding of our communities through positive action.

Have a great day @firsttimeinside out.

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