“My dad was feeling the same pain thirty-five years ago as these boys feel today”

I understood my personal motivation for creating the concept of Hidden Voices but when I asked Natalie what her motivation was for doing her work her response, as above, quite literally stopped me in my tracks and I instantly knew the first collaboration on Hidden Voices had to be with Sisco Recovery.

It would have been easier and perhaps less risky to create a project with “a bigger name” but in reality what purpose would that have served other than gaining a little justice business / showbusiness type kudos. The big boys have sufficient resource to make their message sing, their lyrics are well-rehearsed but here on the ground was a small organisation – like my own in size and stature – who, in my eyes, quite simply deserved greater awareness and assistance. It has been a personal source of joy to help create their lyrics and let the world hear them sing.

That we have seen The Boys from the Bar-L officially trending on LinkedIn and the first chapter shared to over 250k tweeple on Twitter on day one alone speaks to the authenticity of the message  and we thank everyone who has engaged.

Over the past months I have had the privilege of watching Sisco at work in two different prisons and the most striking thing about what I witnessed was the relationships between the men and those that led the recovery cafes. A relationship which has been leaping energetically and at times emotionally off the screen in every account we have shared these past three weeks. In simple terms, my reasoned belief is that, Natalie Logan and Sisco are one of the keys to change in those specific settings.

That the answer to the original question around motivation threw into a stark light the fact that not enough has really changed in such a long time was almost a side issue, the relentless quest to affect positive change right became the real highlight.

Relationships and true human connection can clearly guide us to solutions we otherwise thought impossible. This collaboration between First Time Inside via Hidden Voices and Sisco Recovery has been one born out of a secure trust with zero competitive spirit and you could argue that is why it has been so well received and widely read.

When I first sat as an invited guest, in the big circle at the recovery café and told the boys my story, told them how I would like to share theirs and promised them that people would hear them there were a mixture of responses. They ranged from mistrust to fear, from excitement to simply why. The fear I must explain was borne out of a fear of being let down.

One of the men – who was clearly a leader in the group – a leadership created by the mask he was choosing to wear in that setting asked if he could speak to me during the tea break. I agreed and over a cup of tea he explained that if they were going to share I had to promise not to let them down, I had to promise that I wasn’t there for a day visit not to be seen again – he was displaying for me in a one to one conversation a vulnerability that was deeply hidden beneath his prison mask. Recognising that self-exposure I instantly felt a great sense of responsibility to not only respect their output but to deliver it in a manner which resonated with a wider audience.

Today I am proud to say to him that between us we did it mate, I look forward to telling you more about it in person when this awful pandemic is over. Your courage and the courage of the boys to share your stories has not only been seen but unanimously welcomed by all from Justice Minister to regular mister and all in between. You have the power to effect your own change.

Today we start the final chapter of this little initiative with a poem from a man nicknamed Sisco, written in 1985, the father of the founder of the charity we are working with today and whose poem speaks for itself. Please enjoy the final chapter of The Boys from the Bar-L…

 

SISCO

A judge sits high on his favourite chair,

handing out so much despair.

Judging people he hardly knows,

in total confusion a good life he throws.

1 mistake and your doomed for life,

leaving your children, leaving your wife.

Never a chance for justice to see,

the person I am, the good man in me.

My freedom is gone for 22 years.

Hiding in darkness, hiding in fears .

I beg for the light to come set me free,

come find the man, the good man in me.

(Rest well Sisco, knowing your daughter is shining a light for those in your wake)

 

 

And now another short account from one of the men themselves…

Hey pen pal how are you? Hope you and your family are all safe and sane LOL. Going to implode or explode soon, stuff on the outside really weighing me down I will fill you in but going to give this “Hidden Voices” a go for you so here goes. I am currently a prisoner serving 9 and a ½ years I am serving the beginning of my time in HMP Barlinnie and it is two months into isolation. The global severity of this virus (covid19) has yet to pierce the surreal sub-culture of HMP Barlinnie. In general the safety measures are not acknowledged by prisoners and for an already overstretched staff the measures have been a logistical nightmare. On a personal level it’s been difficult to maintain my positive attitude. There was no education contingency for me to continue my study and with lockdown imposed the services like, AA, CA, NA and the Recovery Café which was vital in my tentative steps towards dealing with my addictions all stopped. I’m feeling it hard to remain positive. My routine has evaporated but the biggest hardship is not seeing my sisters and my Grandad. They visit nearly every week and not being able to see them has been the toughest thing I’ve ever been through. Let me know if this needs a redraft or its ok. Take care.

And we thought we’d finish the final part of individual accounts from The Boys from Bar-L with one man’s more detailed account of life.

Hello Natalie,

Just me. Thought I’d better make a start and finish to this letter, along with “Who am I”? before another days gone bye – Bad habit tomorrows always a better idea at the time but then , I’ve more time to think and put it off again – then we’re into weeks.

First I’d like to say something regarding where I find myself today, my recent report and conversation I had with you the other week – when I mentioned Doctor/Mental Health as somehow it all ties in – well in my fucked up head it does.!

Believe it or not, I’ve never been much of a talker. Ever since my youth, I’ve been painfully shy and for survival reasons it was always easier to keep my mouth shut because it just got me into trouble. Its kind of true what the psycholohist said “I like to see myself in a good light”. But what do I mean kind of true – well it’s not that I like to see myself in a good light; I’ve always found it hard to open up especially where authority has been concerned from social worker, phsycholgists, screws and even the kid on counsellors. Always kidded on everything was alright because I can’t see past the punishment issue. As my experience has just been punishment but is that only because I’ve kept my mouth shut and made out I was alright?

It’s the risk issue they always use against us because of our crimes – we are never made to forget it, even though our crime could be part of our problem! It’s double punishment or more; We’re punishing ourselves over it and the system not letting us forget it in the name of risk even though mine happened so long ago when I was just a kid.

Now I want to scream – I AM HURTING – My whole body is sore from head to toe including my brain. But I don’t know how to get it across without getting put on a bus to the funny farm. As that sounds pure out there and weird to describe but how do I get the proper HELP – Catch 22!! I am riddled with F.E.A.R.

I’ve went from one extreme (painfully shy) to the other – I feel as if I’ve no filter whatsoever! Right now, I feel TRAPPED – damned if I do and damned if I don’t. But really need to watch I ain’t digging a bigger hole for myself. It keeps preventing me making progress.

Today, we are further down the road with Rehab than we were at the start of the year. With rehab even though some reports aren’t favourable – well that’s how I read it; you may read or see it different. My lawyer wants me to keeping moving forward. I’m in two minds about what’s best, it’s all about risk.

Don’t know if I’ve managed to explain myself properly today but hopefully you’ll have more insight. On WHO AM I I don’t know if it’s done right but there’s a baseline.

Hope everything is good with you and the family. Remember and reach out to those you have when needed! I’m grateful to you for everything you have done for the boys within the recovery café. God bless, take care, stay safe.

Here is my vision board for you as well…

WHO AM I NOW?
LOST! In the sea struggling to stay afloat but now I feel I’ve got a lifejacket compared to the last two years.

WHO DO I WANT TO BECOME?
Healthy, easy going, happy and content with kindness in my heart – I want to know and find me (Who am I truly!!!)

WHAT AM I DOING NOW?
Existing! Struggling with physical (mental) discomfort – trying to manage it and working on getting better? By doing bits of self-discovery, positive affirmations, reading, yoga and meditation (okay okay mostly every second day!)

WHAT DO I WANT TO DO IN THE FUTURE?
To live and be free!!! Be able to go anywhere I want – walk in nature, woods etc and go for a swim outside or even the swimming baths – a holiday abroad?

WHAT MY ASPIRATIONS ARE?

To give something back for the pain I’ve caused others. A job, where it’s putting someone else first (Helping someone / Community ) counsellor or something along those lines – hopefully eventually even settle down with a family.

WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO ACHIEVE THEM?

I will need recovery first and working it every day. Ah’ll have my own experience but will need a bit of paper – either through college or on a social science, phsychology (somewhere along the lines) Hoping to continue Comms 6 here so I’ve a bridge to either open learning or college here or outside.

BEST QUALITY AND WHY?

I have an ear, I can listen and keep a secret (someone elses – need to unload my own)

QUALITY I’D LIKE TO WORK ON AND WHY?
My verbal and non verbal communications So I can express myself in a healthy way instead of getting flustered and digging a hole.

SCENARIO, WHEN I MADE THE WRONG CHOICE AND AN EXAMPLE OF SOMETHING I COULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?
Last week I approached an officer in the hall, I said a bit too much (dug a hole!!!) I never had to speak to them in the first place I could just have waited for the information I wanted to come to me but I was just too impatient.
“Everything is possible for him who believes” Mark 9:23

As a final entry in this journey into HMP Barlinnie it’s only fitting to end with one last poem

 

Judging

People have opinions, And have their views

So think its ok, To say what they choose

With no regard to how people feel

As if they are objects and not even real

Words they use, And things they say

Would you accept, To be judged this way

Just imagine, What that person goes through

When people say “Oi, Are you one of them too”

They’ll feel remorse, Guilt and Shame

It’s someones life, And not a game

So next time you judge, With thoughts in your head

Be very careful, With your next words to be said

Stop for a minute, And take your time

And be considerate, It’s not a crime

Let’s stand together, Each and everyday

And let’s not judge, And say what we say.

I would like to thank the men from HMP Barlinnie for their courage and sharing, I’d like to thank both they and Sisco for their trust in First Time Inside & Hidden Voices. Trusting FTI to deliver their message to the outside world/wider audience in a positive and impactful way. I’d also like to thank the Scottish Prison Service for not getting in the way of this output however tempting that may have been at the outset and hope that they agree that all three chapters of The Boys from the Bar-L were delivered in a manner which whilst shining a light on the tough environment of prison also paid respect to the environment and those who are tasked with the care of those who find themselves incarcerated at this tough moment in time.

I would also like to thank Natalie for inviting me on to the multitalented board of Sisco Recovery. I am looking forward to my first board meeting with great optimism.

Finally I’d like to thank, once again, Gary McAteer at Beltrami & Company law firm in Glasgow who made the project and the time spent viable through his sponsorship of this small initiative.

On behalf of First Time Inside, Hidden Voices and Sisco Recovery, as well as the men of HMP Barlinnie thank you for your attention.

Should you and/or your organisation wish to discuss utilising the Hidden Voices platform to share your work or world and/or create a collaborative project around it please contact us HERE 

The Boys from the Bar-L. The End. @firsttimeinside out.

 

 

 

 

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