This one was first written early 2017 in which I attempt to put my spin on one of the central dilemmas of successful rehabilitation.
The Trouble With Transition
In 2016 Martin McGuinness died. Most recently known for his role as Deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland, he was also infamous as IRA Chief Of Staff and as one of their senior commanders during The Troubles. His passing presented an apparent reporting dilemma for many in the media: On the one hand questions remain over the precise nature his IRA activities – and specifically how much blood was on his hands. On the other, he was one of the architects of The Good Friday Agreement and without him, many commentators have argued, Gerry Adams alone could not have brought the republicans to the negotiating table.
But what do you focus on?
What’s the mark of the man?
What is his legacy?
In the last 18 months I’ve met more people who have turned their life around on the outside after spending time incarcerated on the inside than in the whole of my first 50 years. Here are three: LJ Flanders who was inspired to create a fitness regime for the smallest of spaces and is now back working with inmates. Erwin James who got himself an education and is now a journalist with The Guardian, and John Macavoy who in a parallel world should have been talent-spotted by British Triathlon, but instead discovered a talent for ultra endurance by breaking world records on an indoor rowing machine. A few short years after his release he is now knocking on the door of a pro triathlete license and helping turn young lives around.
These men broke the rules, paid the price and chose a new path – and made the transition stick despite people like me.
Because here’s the thing: I was quite casually using labels like ‘ex-offender,’ ‘former prisoner’ or ‘convicted murderer’ to tell the tale of these encounters while knowing full well the preconceptions that those tags carry for most of us in mainstream society.
‘Cos we make assumptions and we carry baggage.
How confident would you be if one of the many hurdles along the way is to tick the box on the job application form to declare a criminal history? http://www.unlock.org.uk/projects/employment-discrimination/ban-the-box/
It took me much longer than it should have to remember to separate the person from the behaviour: These were men who had been to prison – who they were was much more than just that, and their turnaround – their transition - was proof.
Not all can be saved or will choose to save themselves. There will be those for which the solution is actually to lock the door and throw away the key, and there will be those that for some, nothing can be done or said that will eclipse the deed.
That still leaves and awful lot that can and will do their best to try. And perhaps – as ever – it is the small things that we can all do that can have the biggest impact.
Check our assumptions.
Separate the behaviour from the person.
Limit our labels to those tags that best serve to strengthen our society for the benefit of us all.