This piece was going to be called ‘Sucking Vacuum’ – ‘cos that’s what it’s been like:
The last few months were summed up in the first few minutes of a recent prison visit.
Here’s the thing about visiting a prison: You can’t just rock up – you make an arrangement which means you are expected. You provide information – often more than once. And if it’s also not your first time you also know what to expect:
Do bring a photo ID.
Do expect to shout through the security screen.
Don’t bring any electronics – or anything else on The Big List Of Dont’s
Do bring a supply of patience.
Do set your Customer Relationship Manager/Front Of House expectations on low.
Now I’ve been kept waiting in prison reception on many occasions for the simple reason that in prison Shit Happens. What that means is any arrangements you make are subject to Shit Not Happening because when Shit Does Happen the ripple effect is usually quite large which means more people are affected which means one of them is likely to be the person you are here to see.
This time Shit Does Indeed Happen and 45 minutes after my allotted time I’m finally met. In that time my two attempts to get information from the Gatehouse team – whose numbers swell to 5-6 of people who appear to be standing round chatting and looking anywhere but the growing crowd of us in reception – are met with bemused indifference that translates to ‘Welcome to our world Mr Community – this is just how we roll...’
So there’s me holding my…while inhaling Information Vacuum with an extra ‘u’ thinking this just about sums up my last few months.
And Justice wonders why prisons struggle to engage with people from their local communities (sigh).
So that’s the stuff I was going to write about – along with the rejected bids, busted deadlines, blown commitments and the general system paralysis that comes with Parliament suspended, political musical chairs, elections and (frightening) partisan policy announcements that have been rubbished countless times by evidence but play beautifully to the zealots in the galleries.
It’s just that writing about shit makes me feel shit – ‘one of the reasons I’m not into counseling – so I’ve held off despite periodic prompts from Authentic Living My Brand Bloke to ‘Write it as it is, man!’
There’s such a thing as ‘over-sharing’ in my book…
Of course there have been moments of light that have warmed my soul and kept me sane and I would have shared – really I would – except I’ve struggled to keep the spark alight against the general trend of pushing water uphill. But even I was getting uncomfortable about the absence of updates so I was girding my loins for a post and then…
There’s nothing like your wife in tears to get your attention.
It started as a perfectly normal Monday morning: Early morning routine, breakfast, boys dispatched to school… and then it wasn’t.
Turns out a perfect storm of sorts had been brewing for Charlotte:
She’d been reading some stuff about children in unregulated care homes that had really rocked her.
We have close friends who are really struggling with their kids.
I’d just come back from presenting my nattily titled workshop ‘Coping With Crap’ to 120 young people at the Teenage Cancer Trust residential weekend ‘Find Your Sense Of Tumour’ – see what they did there?! - and that was a privilege and a pleasure.
She has watched husband’s gradual slide from post successful HMP Stafford pilot in March to battered and bruised from nearly 8 months of successive doors slammed in face.
And while we’ve checked in periodically with each other and I’m way better at processing it than I was, she knows that this period has been the most challenging for me: I’ve done what the skeptics asked for – proved my concept – and still seemingly, no-one wants it.
Mrs Mouncey it seems, had reached the ‘Well f**k ‘em then – I want my husband back’ stage.
I just sat there in almost shock as the tears and permission came:
There are kids in trouble who have been thrown on the scrapheap and that’s just wrong on so many levels.
Your stuff works – you’ve just proved it again this weekend.
We have people on our doorstep who’d welcome what you can give.
Maybe the prisons just aren’t ready – or they really don’t want it.
Forget the grant applications – nobody’s giving and it’s doing your head in.
You want to be out there making a difference – ‘cos you can and you do – not bent over a keyboard…
You don’t have to stop but maybe it’s time to change – to go where you’re wanted.
And if you want to do that then it’s OK by me.
In fact it’s more than OK – I think you should.
There was considerably more to it than that but you get the gist and that’s all you’re getting – ’cos the full version is between Mrs Mouncey and me.
I gave myself two days to process it but clearly word had got out via weird and wonderful forces because before that deadline expired I got this email from HMP Wymott, Lancashire with whom I’d been in on-off discussions for the last 18 months:
Andy, happy to fund ££ for 3 of your short programs Nov-Jan as we discussed. Can you link with __ to finalize delivery plans?
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