The 3rd and last idea I had that arrived in quick succession, related to the 2 previous pieces Reaching and Illiterate Paradox. My understanding is all examine the need for connection. I keep returning to the concept and experience of love. The complex and often misunderstood feeling generally has the power to cause amazing effects for all, The Biggest Little Farm a useful example, as is Growing Up Wild on Netflix.
The third in this Blog series, involves a community of people I have time for. I wonder about those who break societies laws. Who are considered then ‘offenders’ and how pathways could be managed from an emotionally literate and an emotionally intelligent perspective.
The thought I had was – if prison was infused with the power of healing damaged stories – to life affirming scripts amongst and with community, what would be the effect on an individual and society? I have an 11 year interest with the men and women who are sentenced in the UK. Persons in prison spend considerable amounts of time in cells, under constant watch, lacking privacy, adequate nutritional food, health and care. I also am mindful of what emotional support could be accessed before going to prison?
I have written about some of my work in prison and the humanity I witnessed by the women and men I had the chance of working with. Thank you Anne Willoughby for introducing me to the Pathways worker that provided me with an understanding of the 20-60-20 rule. HMP Rochester in Feb 2016. The Pathways worker offered the below of persons in prisons mindsets in relation to desistance:
20% never going to change
60% on the fence of change
20% changed and never coming back
I have Jenna Soame formerly of Pathways HMP Wandsworth, to thank for furthering the idea of desistance. Jenna explained there are a number of factors that support people making pro social choices. The web a person in prison chooses to take steps to remove themselves from, is complicated and can take a long time. Desistance is a journey that Pathways assists those who are supported, to engage with the process of desistance in stages. Stopping activities that are law breaking happens amongst a number of other choices that persons in prison can choose to experience that can include: Re-engaging with family, finding a role that offers personal and or group meaning, removing practices and habits that continue unhealthy experiences, addressing psychological scars from earlier adverse experiences (ACEs), attending to gaps in learning and education, engaging in paired or group activity and beginning to repair individual identity and a representation of self amongst community.
My consideration links to emotional literacy in that as a society, little to no attention is paid to this unseen aspect of what makes us human. How many emotions and feelings could you write on the back of a postcard? 10, 20? There are as many as 27 and possibly more yet to be classified human emotions. The point for me having worked with people involved with criminal systems of incarceration, law and probation are that a complex set of emotions are often involved when someone breaks the law, either singularly or repeatedly. We (the general public) are lead to believe by the media that law breakers are often mindless when the act is committed, or vengeful when committing the act. The actor is presented as devoid of any feeling. For most of the men and women that I have supported in prison and on probation, a Molotov cocktail of emotions were scattered amongst the moment as well as precluding the event and almost always after.
The person who stands trial is often changed by the act and the process of them being brought to trial. If in fact trial happens. I am holding in mind a few clients I supported in Kent who had a host of challenges that complicated their ‘criminal’ act. Emotions, plural, were woven into those who were sentenced which included: Shame, repressed pain, depression, anxiety, abandonment, bereavement, denial, loss, fear, rejection, suppressed anger, feelings of unworthiness, low social standing and appreciation of cultural ethics and responsibilities. The event often happened in relation to a combination of factors that an individual was battling.
A client I supported in 2020 had a history of repeated adverse childhood experiences (A.C.E.). Their story is similar to the example in the super Soul Sunday Podcast at the bottom of this page.
Father left family before 10th Birthday.
Accompanied their mother who moved back home to live with parent.
Bullying begins in Yr5 by former friends. Name calling. Ostracization.
Bullying continues at secondary school Yr7. Ostracization. Fights. Personal belongings stolen.
School refuser Yr8 – Yr 11.
Parents and other care givers home school from 2nd term of Yr8.
Challenge by parents to school about insufficient support of their child.
Began using nicotine and alcohol aged 13.
Romantic engagement with an older person Yr 9 and Yr 10.
Parents attempt to reschool Yr 9.
Unsatisfactory school learning experience no secondary school qualifications.
Ineffective efforts made to challenge school and council about child’s treatment.
Reclusive and socially ostracised by peers 13 – 16.
Disordered attendance at college able to successfully graduate after 3 years retaking 3 G.C.S.E’s.
Studied English literature at a local university.
Connection with fellow students tentative.
Associative friendships increase risk taking and police involvement with family.
Serious offence leads to conviction and 1st prison sentence.
At prison the client brought many of their teen experiences in to treatment. They found therapy a challenge to encounter, as had little experience being supported by others outside of their family. trust was a considerable issue. Being in prison was also a huge attitudinal adjustment for them. Always with others. Unable to find quiet or acceptance or solace. Accessing therapy was their first experience of having time to think through their actions and feel the emotions in relation to the crime and sentencing. The client chose to examine elements of their past and the rejection and alienation faced whilst growing up. The client’s father leaving the family home was at the epicentre of their self image becoming destabilised. We worked on self acceptance and the hurt of being negatively confronted by a core group of peers. We also looked at failings of support in school and partially from home. A start was made to replace the clients unraveled sense of self. With 6 appointments the client was beginning to locate their sense of self acceptance and compassion for their earlier choices.
Between the Bars
I realise that the part of being an artist that paints upon the canvas of life, is recognising myself as a dreamer. Influences arrive from the wild and off beaten track of chance encounters, client conversations, podcasts, books, TV, Film, Radio and music.
The human will to change, develop, grow can be altered by a simple and daring act of connection. Prisons, probation, police with an altered perspective on the individuals that break the law, could be in the position to change lives positively. Time and energy could be given to men and women entering/leaving prison to develop and enhance acquired skills for pro-social means. The relationship being a dynamic that increases forensic communities chances of employability. Like deep sea diving or climbing a mountain.
We, citizens, take for granted that there is an experience of life amongst society and encountering society, family, work that can take getting used to. It takes time. Those coming out of Lockdown 3.0 may recognise that it feels bizarre not to be living under curfew or state sanction to restrict the number of people one socialises with. There are tools and equipment that returnees are not accustomed to, to be able to manage life on the out. For some, the advent of social media, having a digital footprint, use of a mobile phone that take pictures, videos and can connect to the internet may seem like science fiction gone mad! One aspect that can be hard to move beyond for former incarcerated people is the sense of shame. This could be something remarkably shifted by group engagement/therapy/work/religious practice/reducing the idea of playing catch up. Emotional literacy and emotional intelligence could be pivotal for pro social choices to be continually made. The idea of a big picture world frame, to manage self within, that some members of society are scant equipped with from an early age.
The Ear Hustle podcast (below) with Frena bakery offered me a wonderful perspective gaining invitation. If a workspace is willing to look at the big picture of an employee. Asking them to step into a large role. With support, guidance, nurturing and trust any person could achieve greatly. The owners of Frena Bakery appear to be touched with faith in the human spirit of moving beyond adversity to succeed. The owners appear like good parents. Kind, warm, firm and stewards for those who on leaving San Quentin correctional facility want to work and give something life affirming to the community. I am confident that the role is challenging, that there are mistakes and temptations. What the podcast emphasises is the willingness of the owners to take a risk and believe.
Half-way to restoration.
There are loose concepts about vulnerability that are beginning to formulate for me. In an earlier blog I referenced shame and what can happen when healing is engaged within community. One of the paths to healing old scars and gaping open psychological wounds lies in books like ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ and ‘It’s Not Always Depression’. Both books invite the reader to harness our inbuilt drive for change. The main way of healing for persons involved with the criminal system is to have a team of people who are invested in tertiary level desistance. The invitation is for us all to be in full communion with vulnerability. A scary and unwelcome concept. The reason for the idea – by opening, accepting, and folding in what has been expelled by society we can figure out how we helped create some of what we experience. It’s like creating a rich/complex sourdough. By incorporating the parts considered waste a fuller flavoured bread is achieved.
Falling/failing is part of the story, as is allowing others to support us getting back up and moving forward.
Cover photo by Klemens Köpfle on Unsplash Spiral
Photo by Dave Goudreau on Unsplash Woman
Photo by Matthew Spiteri on Unsplash Black and White group
Photo by Derick McKinney on Unsplash Never stop