Before wandering down the Prehabilitation highway I wanted to take a moment to say how inspiring it is to see organisations, blessed with great resource, such as The Wise Group and Apex Scotland this week challenge the idea that justice should return to it’s previous normal after the covid restrictions leave us.
Reading articles from two different CEO’s yesterday it was extremely heartening to read about a desire to see technology and online programmes contribute to improving as well as supporting the classic rehabilitation & recovery work as well as clear challenges to seize the opportunity to do everything better. Chapeau to the gentlemen involved.
Why the focus on moving forward as opposed to looking in the rear view mirror?
In people’s haste to see the end of lockdown there seems to be an accompanied rose tinted glazing aspect to looking in that particular rear view mirror which offers the viewer a vista of a flawless scene of tranquillity and equity when the reality is quite different.
That’s not something we should choose to forget in our rush to the beer garden or shopping mall. There are some for whom the end of lockdown will have a massively anxious impact as Covid has exacerbated the inequities of before and everything we do as service providers, human beings, citizens of the world should be centred on addressing that fact. For some adults they are about to experience all over again their first day at school only this time as grown ups. It’s not wrong to feel good personally as your environmental circumstances improve but it’s unconscionable to think we can return to a normal which accommodates looking the other way ignoring the struggles of others.
So let’s look back only to learn the lessons that our previous normal taught us and be bold enough to be kind in all of our future plans.
When you exist on the periphery of a sector or industry you hope and trust that a lot of work and strategizing will be taking place of which you are unaware, seeing it explicitly mentioned by industry leaders creates aspiration for everyone striving to make a wee contribution to positive change.
I refer to Hidden Voices as a base camp for hope and aspiration, it is however these larger organisations who are tasked with true responsibility – through the blessing of such extensive resource – with harnessing those emotions and guiding people to their own personal peaks. Peaks which can only truly be reached if there is an honesty and transparency of collaboration, again a factor positively referred to in the pieces already referred to. Perhaps moving forward there will be a broader collective of partners for those bigger organisations.
I remember like it was yesterday writing the word Prehabilitation on an in-cell white board. I say white board but before the ‘prison is a holiday camp brigade wade in demanding removal of in-cell promethean smart boards’ it was actually the remains or rear end of a fire exit sign which had been ever so carelessly removed by a previous resident of lucky suite 13 leaving a film of thin plastic attached to a rather unattractively but imaginatively stained wall.
The pencil I had been gifted by a wonderful art tutor – which I used to write on the white board – was on reflection the triggering single item which inspired the idea of the Hidden Voices project. Who knew that such a small object which would come to represent not only a life raft in a sea of despair but also a source of personal inspiration and innovation that could be shared with others. As well as other organisations who have started similar initiatives including Strathclyde University.
With a little good fortune I hope to bring an exciting development in terms of future news on Hidden Voices in the next few weeks in terms of new contributors, projects and structure. After spending a year immersed in lockdown with authors from the prison estate shattering perceptions and roaring to be heard there may be some added flexibility as restrictions ease to create new look initiatives. That said I look back on the past year with a great deal of pride, working largely voluntarily, having raised awareness and funds for charities, having brought the Hidden Voices into the public realm and of course establishing some wonderful friendships and connections along the way. Perhaps those around the justice arena yet to engage with the project will connect over time.
Prehabilitation was a word I was familiar with in relation to medical environments but at that stage, alone and in utter despair, it was the only thing that helped make sense of a journey that both mesmerised and traumatised. A therapeutic term – one which speaks to kindness, compassion and innovation – that offered to me a lens through which I could view initially a single justice journey but one which in time would come to encapsulate a route to identifying possible compassionate pathways to factors contributing to solutions rather than somewhat ambitiously suggest full solutions themselves.
Viewing a simple conversation through a lens of Prehabilitation can highlight areas which offer room for human improvement and which if tackled can add emotional, professional and dare I say even greater commercial value to an organisation. Take this brief conversation excerpt between a client and their legal team as an example…
Client (facing the possibility of prison for the first time) : Should everything go against us in court what should I know, what advice can you give me about going to prison?
Legal team : Keep your head down and your nose clean.
I’m not sure any reasonable minded person with genuine empathy and compassion would see that as an adequate response. It’s certainly not representative of what I believe a trauma informed, aware or responsive reply should look like. However attach a prehabilitative lens, one which focusses on strengthening individuals and communities for forthcoming challenges and you can quickly see a pathway to changing that apathetic delivery of advice. You will be able to create examples of your own where such a lens could offer adjustment at worst or transformation of offering at best.
In terms of trauma informed legal representation the future is illuminated somewhat by the sight of a small group of lawyers proactively engaging with the legal eagles of the future in universities across Scotland. At this time I have no link to a website but you can catch up with the progress of the trauma aware lawyers by following Melissa Rutherford on Twitter @Princess_Missy_
I’ve found the word Prehabilitation itself, broadly speaking, sparks one of two reactions when mentioned in justice circles. Either a dismissal of sorts from those who have what they view as adequate existing terminology or jargon in place or a more positive embrace from those who seem to welcome the possibility that perhaps in engaging with the smallest shard of light they may add to their growing portfolio of change tools, all of which are needed, in a complex fast paced world.
Talking to the former or those who I’ve come to refer to as ‘the translators’ I find myself caught in a word maze. I am not and never will proclaim to be a justice expert, nor am I a linguistic champion but I have sufficient grasp of language to know that what I say I mean. This particular environment is blessed with an abundance of translators whose instinctive, at times lightning shut down, response to hearing you speak is to reply with something like ‘ah that’s such and such you are talking about’. No it’s really not – listen to learn, not to respond I hear you say – but I digress.
I see the idea of Prehabilitation in a justice context as one such small shard of light, an opportunity to put people first, second and third. To place wellbeing and compassion at the heart of services. To create a platform for like minded organisations to collaborate in a spirit of honesty, kindness and ambition.
I find similar linguistic and social challenges with the term Lived Experience and the wider attitudes I see to both the term and those labelled with the same.
Having written previously about my own negative opinion of the label lived experience I find time has not yet created a space for sufficient positivity around the term itself for me. I remain vehemently opposed to a label that seems to have been created as a one size fits all to anyone with specific ‘not the norm’ experiences in life for example incarceration, addiction or care – or even a mix of all three. There are obviously quite a few others to consider too.
The suggestion from academia and professionals beyond that ‘everyone has lived experience’ also feels instinctively uncomfortable. Why build a labelled platform at all if your goal is simply to undermine its foundations? That speaks to a political sidestep or simply lack of commitment or even acceptance. A little bit like we are all equal but some are more equal than others. I would contend that we all have our own unique set of life experiences which carry our name, the only label we should really need?
Over coffee, remember that previously taken for granted phenomenon in the pre-Covid halcyon days of real human interaction, when discussing the impact and trauma associated with incarceration, a figure of some standing in this arena told me that they didn’t need to go to the South Pole to know it was cold.
The clear inference being that there was sufficient intelligence around to create, develop and operate a system that impacts on every sense we were gifted as a human being without permitting the impacted vault of sensory gold to cross the threshold of genuine, truly meaningful, participation. How has that worked out really?
We don’t need an economist to evaluate the cost of opportunity lost there if a majority of influencers remained aligned to that doctrine.
Having said that there is a growing sense of optimism that the world is moving on – slowly -, not only in lockdown terms, but also in relation to inclusion where a rising, although perhaps too often a predictable and carefully selected, cohort of so called lived experience professionals are concerned. More need to be involved at every stage of service creation and delivery. Not because they are entitled or to make up a quota but because they make a contribution others simply cannot.
There are some leading the way with spectacular innovation and a veritable smorgasbord of compassion and kindness all of which combine to aid transformation for their client groups/service users or whatever is their chosen friendly terminology. Organisations such as The Resilience Learning Partnership and Recovery Enterprises Scotland spring immediately to mind when challenged to name two who are making a great difference on the ground whilst also letting their voices be heard elsewhere. It’s not surprising that organisations created by, led by and staffed by professionals with relevant experience are making such an impact.
That said it is also fantastic to see organisations like The Scottish Violence Reduction Unit who have been a great source of encouragement and insight to all Hidden Voices and First Time Inside try to do lead the way on the engagement of lived experience professionals too on a variety of great projects.
It may be worth tempering that wider positivity, just a little, by saying care needs to be taken not to grant, overtly at the very least, one form of this ‘lived experience’ the appearance of having more value than others.
There can’t, moving forward be them and us, just us. That requires a lot of chips being removed from a lot of shoulders and donated to file 13.
We quite simply cannot have all our egos in one basket.
Post Covid it can’t be about building back it must be about platforming aspiration and moving forward. That requires a genuine collective with kindness and humanity it’s raison d’etre, a community of active listeners and a collaboration of kind achievers. The ingredients are there I just hope those blessed with power and influence are humble enough to find the right recipe.
From a personal perspective, I like so many others, stand ready should a call come asking for people to lean in. My own personal experience would suggest that this call is unlikely but that does not diminish the desire having experienced the system to continue probing on the periphery helping others such as todays poet who recently said, “For the first time in a long time I can envisage a life without prison,…”
To close todays blog it is my great pleasure to share a gift I received from one of our fabulous Hidden Voices the soon to be legendary P Sue Denim. A poem accompanied by the following note…
“Thank you for helping me unlock my gift, I can’t put my pen down. The minute I put it down something enters my skull and I’m so scared it won’t come back so I have to write until it is out and no sooner is that down and something else comes. Gerry you gave me a gift, so this poem is a gift for you, thank you.”
Exit your Malina
(Malinas were hiding places that Jews would use during World War 2 to hide from the Gestapo and to avoid being sent to concentration camps)
I’ve met so many people in my life, I can’t remember all their faces
All I know is they leave their bones when they die, but their soul leaves no traces
No record of the quest they took, through psychological and physical mazes
Or direction to where they took stock, you know those special hidden places
That all of us need sooner or later, regardless of class, gender, age or our races
To protect our self eventually, everyone needs time in those secret spaces
In a world with perfect teeth, gleaming white and guided to perfection with braces
We hide away from responsibility, while reality pursues and chases
Working til the day you die and from the moment you could tie your laces
You can only hope you leave your mark, by good intention and your graces
Emotional bankruptcy is in pursuit daily and you evade it by the meagrest of paces
You only need to look at my life and I judge others on that basis
If I can’t get my life together, how can our children compete in those rat races
When the game is rigged from corporate to civil right down to criminal cases
To take away our money and liberty from child right through to adult fazes
Where we’re told our view is not valid, or any point that a human being raises
No wonder we struggle to deal with life due to trauma at those vital or vulnerable ages
When our parents minds were on the price of food and cuts placed on their wages
And now they lock the mentally ill in wards and vulnerable young men in cages
Somehow the penny needs to drop so we’re visible through the thick and smokey hazes
Stand up and dust ourselves off and put plasters on our cuts and grazes
It’s time to educate ourselves that’s how we play our Aces.
P Sue Denim
Thank you for taking the time to read todays blog, the wonderful poem attached and as always feel free to comment here or on social media if anything sparked a thought or action for you.
Have a safe and relaxing weekend when it arrives folks.