It’s taken me and age and then some to get back into the prison.
What’s that line again?
‘You think it’s hard to break out of prison? You want to try breaking in…’
And that’s after being vetted, cleared by security and having worked there often enough that at least some folks recognise the orange shirt if not the cherubic features and chirpy greeting that goes with it.
I could write a book (and probably will).
Finally last month I manage it – heading onto the unit housing the older men where I spent much of the autumn and first half of winter. I’d had no news which could mean nothing and something, but as I’d left in place people and process I was w
ell, optimistic that at least Something would have stuck. Because it doesn’t matter how many folks rave about it at the time or what measurable improvements are witnessed the acid test on any intervention is always beyond the finish line: When teacher exits the class – what does the class do then?
What indeed – I was about to find out.
On the walk in I did my first fishing with my escorting staff member which had me arriving with more questions than answers – and I got the headlines soon enough in big-bold. Of the 5 key people I’d had in place to continue the work beyond me the fates of 4 were stark:
Dead: That one I couldn’t square ‘cos the man in question and the one that I recall who did extraordinary well on the program had no sign to me of death looming. How and why did he die? Did he deserve it? He was in here for a reason – so how did I feel about that?
Awfully bloody conflicted, is what…
Of the activities still happening? ‘Well, some of the men are still walking the laps Andy, and we do now have an exercise bike too…’
‘Christ – is that it? Was I that f**kin’ shit?’
Somewhat in a daze I continued to dig and did the rounds doing the meet-greet thing with everyone and ramping it up for those I recognised from my program. Faces lit up for me on recognition which I did my best to reciprocate but it wasn’t what I was feeling. Almost without exception everyone I’d worked with looked WORSE: Older, smaller, frailer and when they talked they did so with resignation and seemingly without hope.
The staff – bless’ em – even manged to get me across to another part of the prison where one of the strongest advocates of the program was now placed. The contrast to the man I remember could not have been starker and I felt awful that I could not say-do more in the two rushed minutes I had with him in the doorway to his cell on a busy noisy wing.
And I get to walk away in the end…
Important to re-make the human contact but the stuff that came with it? Not so uplifting.
A visceral reminder of what I knew already but had not witnessed to this extent:
Without monumental personal effort and extraordinary people consistently visible on the frontline prison life will always slide back to the line of least resistance and a low bar – and that slide is particularly fast and steep for older men who are quick to age, slow to heal and find it hard to breathe and difficult to move.
What I really that f**kin’ shit?
Considered more dispassionately over the next few days and in discussion with others who know this work a more considered answer is ‘Not really.’
Though of course it depends on what we’re measuring – and using as comparison.
I now know what’s possible.
So do they.
And I now really appreciate how much the odds are stacked against them in this environment.
Just gotta change the odds next time then…
For the sake of transparency this is what you need to know about me:
This is what you should know about what I think about crime-punishment:
Timeline RFYL CIC
2012 First invitation to a Category C prison. Project pulled pre-start
2013 First short pilot delivered (unpaid) at a Cat D prison
2014-16 More testing – more pilots – still no ££
2016 RFYL Conception. Doors open–doors close-funding bids/rejected
2017 RFYL Community Interest Company formed. Doors open-close/bids
2018 Doors open–close/bids etc: Getting boring now. Still no ££
2019 March: Second Proof Of Concept pilot delivered HMP Stafford (unpaid)
2019 June: First corporate sponsorship from Kebbell Homes
2019 Dec: First paid work secured HMP Wymott, Theraputic Community
2020 March: Covid19 pandemic hits - work stops as prisons enter lockdown
2020 June: Start online coaching supporting prison governors as prisons stay shut
2021 January: First funding awarded for Covid19 response work HMP/YOI Brinsford
2021 March: Three programs delivered in semi-lockdown HMP/YOI Brinsford
2021 Sept: Second corporate sponsor PwC Foundation supports the governor work
2021 Dec: Prisons revert to almost full lockdown as Omicron variant hits
2022 Feb: Start working online with deputy governors and governor PAs
2022 March: Secure NHS funding to re-start in-prison work
2022 Oct: In-prison work finally re-starts HMP Wymott Older Men