This story first appeared in my current newsletter but it got such a response that I’ve reproduced it here along with an addition.
The addition is part of a letter I recently received from one of my program graduates at HMP Wymott
I’d written to all 35 men during lockdown – well, it was the only way to reach ‘em and while my own adjustments to Covid19 restrictions were all firmly in the ‘First World Problem’ category I knew damn well that someone had just slammed the proverbial lid on their already restricted existence – and the human cost of that is only now starting to emerge
So I’d written and Matt (not his real name) had written back with an insight into the inside.
But first, here’s the story that made waves from the newsletter:
Success & Straight Lines
I usually do my best to make these pieces uplifting but I can’t say that for this one. But I wanted to write it- so here it is:
I’d been trying to get hold of Simon (not his real name) for the last 3 months. We met at HMP Wymott where he was in the final stages of a sentence for a drugs related offence. He graduated my second program in January and came back and mentored on my third program a month later.
A few weeks after that he was due to be released.
We were delighted for him – he’d thrown himself into the experience and had dragged others with him: A bloody beacon, he was.
I resolved to stay in touch and to try and find a way to involve him in future work – hell, who wouldn’t want someone from the inside turned advocate on the outside? – and I wrote him a letter on graduation to that effect.
It blew him away.
We stayed in contact: I’d got an invite to speak at a leadership conference for BAE Systems for which I’d picked the theme ‘Collaboration’. My prison work was to be a case study example in which prison officers and men serving sentences had participated together to experience and achieve something greater than the individual people.
Simon was to be the star turn - we’d got permission from his probation worker and I’d figured out how to get him there. Understandably he was having kittens at the prospect of standing up before 100+ senior folks from all over the world (!) – but I was certain he’d be there and it would be a unique insight for our hosts as well.
Then Covid19 hit and two days before conference date it was pulled.
I stayed in contact: He had a job offer – huge breakthrough - but couldn’t start till the pandemic restrictions eased.
I kept the contact: Still on hold – still living with his parents but sounding pretty upbeat down the phone.
I finally tracked down his probation worker and heard the news: Simon had been convicted of another drugs-related offence and because it was a repeat he’d been handed a more severe sentence of 5 years.
My heart sank.
Meaningful success rarely happens in a straight line.
Hardly ever on our first choice timescale.
As is never something that someone else can do for us.
Meaningful success takes us round the houses and into dead ends.
It takes way longer and demands way more time, energy and effort than we might think.
And it’s something that we have to want and figure for ourselves.
When there are drugs involved then you can kiss goodbye to rational decision-making – and if you want to open your eyes to how the dice is loaded read anything by Gabor Mate
Whatever did happen to put Simon back inside there are two certainties:
1.It’s. Never. That. Simple.
2.Re-offending is more normal than not – the stats had Simon heading back even as he was taking his first steps out.
And me? Well, I’ve got to try find him and then the letter writing will start. After that? We’ll see…
Insight Into The Inside: Extract from Matt’s Letter
‘As for me I’m doing really well. I’m still on -Wing which is now for those with health conditions but I consider my self lucky because I’m one of the cleaners. I work in the laundry and on the servery so I’m out most of the day which is a massive help as it keeps me busy and I’m helping all the other lads where I’m able. It also helps me feel good to help where I can. Yes I have bad days but I keep going. Life is not meant to be a fairy tale – there are curve balls in the way but it’s how we deal with it that matters -and like you say, it’s what we can control not what we cannot.
There are 7 other cleaners on here all good lads. You would not recognise the place as we have put loads of time and effort into it. We have polished all the floors and painted the full Wing. We have a beautiful garden out front and we are growing fresh vegetables which is good because I’m still eating healthy food and don’t eat sweet things too much either.
The staff here have been amazing in these times but they should not have to risk themselves in this current situation – they did not sign up for that but it’s one of the things out of our control.
PS I still wear my T shirt very proudly’ 🙂
Timeline RFYL CIC
So you think it’s hard breaking out of prison? You want to try breaking in.
This is what it takes for a new social enterprise with One Big Idea to get going in our Justice sector – as lived by Andy Mouncey of Run For Your Life CIC www.runforyourlife.org.uk
Timeline To Date
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 (sad face)
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 business sponsorship (v surprised smiley face) from Kebbell Homes
2019 Dec: First paid work secured HMP Wymott, Lancs.
2020 March: Covid19 pandemic hits - work stops as prisons enter lockdown
2020 June: Start an online service supporting prison governors as prisons stay shut
Funding Bids Written & Rejected: 35
Times I’ve Honestly Thought About Quitting: 4
Times My Wife Has Given Me Permission To Quit: 2
Times My Wife Has Really Meant It: 1