Deliciously Displayed Information – Podcasts

Growing up the radio was a constant source of information and music Radio 4, Radio 2 and Capital Radio were usually the go to favourites of the household. Moving to Peterborough in the mid 80’s that changed to Hereward Radio. What follows is a brief overview of the podcasts that have brought music, information, entertainment, humour, ideas, and education to my hungry ears. Podcasts are like audio jewels presenting content in digestible chunks like mini books.

My aim with this blog entry is to entice you, the reader, to try a few of them if you haven’t  already. If you like what you hear, drop me a line and the podcasts know your thoughts. This can be done either at their website main pages or at their itunes/soundcloud pages. A brief summary of how I came across each show and what the podcasts are about follows. I did not know what a podcast was when given an iPod Touch for a Christmas present in 2006. I began investigating what they were and how I could get my ears onto some of them. iTunes was a great source for listing what the world was listening to.

Those that I listened to initially seeking humour, satire and information included Answer Me This, Russell Brand, Dave Gorman, and then

This American Life thisamlife

The first show I listened to back in 2006 captivated me for a number of reasons. The stories that were told were human, raw, spellbinding and real. The content seemed refreshing and asked questions of the listener and of the protagonist(s) that the parts of the story discussed. Ira Glass introduces many of the shows which have headings like: The Perils of Intimacy, Getting away with it, and Infidelity and many many, more. Ira has an inquisitive yet authoritarian style of delivery when crafting each show. It’s like he has a secret box which he is inviting you the listener to peer inside. The fact that he has the box I have never questioned, nor the fact that it’s wonders he is happy to share…

The Moth Podcast the-moth

Was the 2nd Podcast show that I downloaded and got into. After one show finished I began rabidly searching for the next! The shows are captivating and have the ability to stay with you for a while. The premise of stories told without notes at first was simply an unbelieveable concept, but as I have continued to listen I have not heard papers rustle or been aware of teleprompters and so am accepting of the tag line.

As a former performance poet, it is possible to hold a group of people in sway for up to 10 minutes if the delivery offers the audience a fullness that cannot be experienced elsewhere.

My favourite story is a tale of attending a Baseball game: Look out for ‘Where’s Murphy’ There is something rich endearing and poignant in this and many of the stories I have heard over the past 10 years. There are moments whilst riding various forms of public transport I have laughed out loud or fought back tears and even let them fall when feeling ‘devil may care’. Sometimes the feelings the stories evoke are too much to hold.

Black Girls Talking

I have had the pleasure of listening to Alesia, Ramou, Fatima and Aurelia for a few years now. My search for black podcasts back in 2012 was frustrated in that I could not find many. Stumbling across Black Girls Talking podcast was a fortunate happening. I had tried to get into the black guy who tips but found the content and delivery laborsome. I enjoy the women’s conversational sharing of views on; culture, beauty, ethics, race, feminism and a Black American Women’s perspective about the world.bgt-banner

Their delivery is quick witted, intelligent, funny, and enjoyable. I grew up with 3 sisters and can understand other perspectives that are dissimilar from my own. The beauty information BGT discuss, I find useful, not for self application but to be aware of concerns from a Black woman’s point of view. As a result of the BGT podcasts I was intrigued to watch Magic Mike. Which I enjoyed and I did not think I would. BGT discussed the 2nd Magic Mike film but I wanted to see what they were comparing the newer version against. BGT nailed the psychological elements of the 1st MM film and so when I eventually watch the 2nd film I will watch in anticipation of what BGT highlighted.

Blanguage blanguage

I was introduced to this show as a result of BGT. Who ran an additional show on other shows in the podcast universe that might be of interest to listeners of BGT. Both Iman Xashi and Daniel Arthur offer listeners many things to think about from a Black British perspective. I enjoy both presenter’s energy, shared perspectives on topics relevant to the black diaspora and that they do not always agree. Which is a point of interest in hearing 2 presenters voluminously discuss their points.

Melanin Millennials melanin-mille-podcast-image

I was invited to listen to Melanin Millennials by a friend who was to be interviewed by the duo in March 2016. Satia and Imrie discuss a number of topics from a Black Female Londoners perspective each week in a humorous and insightful manner. The Millennial concept is an interesting one for the show. Arriving in the 21st century has presented a number of different understandings about the world in which we inhabit. The Internet has grown to be a phenomena unprecedented in terms of it’s reach and how it shapes the world. Aspects of intersectionality are discussed which for me offers another perspective. The show is topical fast paced, pulls no punches and offers listeners an insight to two unique perspectives about the multifaceted complex and wondrous world in which we live.

Invisibilia

Another NPR show lead me to discover Invisibilia, was Hidden Brain. There have been 2 Seasons of excellent story coverage, investigative reportage and quirks of human nature have hooked me to this podcast. Lulu Miller, Hanna Rosin and Alix Spiegel have entertained and provided an informative format to see behind the Wizard of Oz curtain and ponder on the inner workings of our minds and the world around us. The Personality Myth, The Secret Emotional Life of Clothes, Frame of Reference are great shows. The Flip The Script episode has remained a stand out show. The presenters have gone to great lengths to review stories that are immediately interesting and the idea behind flipping the script was that non complimentary behaviour can save lives. I look forward to the 3rd Season.

Code Switchcode-switch

Gene Denby, Shereen Marisol Maraji, Kat Chow, Adrian Florido, Karen Grigsby Bates discuss and share views on race and culture experienced in the US. Code Switch for me was found as another introduction by Hidden Brain. I have understood Code Switch as rapidly changing between various forms of speech modulation in various social interactions as a necessary function of being a person living in an ever changing world. Code Switch go much much farther to explore the intersectionality of race. From President Obama to the murder of Alton Sterling and A Letter From Young Asian-Americans To Their Families About Black Lives Matter. This episode is very touching and catapults the idea about the relevance of socially constructed boundaries and how useful and useless they are. The Podcast does not hide from difficult material, does not portend to answer the multifarious questions that exist about race in America. I enjoy the multifaceted experiences of the presenters, their nuanced understandings of being ‘othered’ in America and what they foresee happening in the era of Donald Trump’s presidency and the impact he is already having at all levels of American lives and the rest of World.

Serialserial

Serial was introduced to me by D who now has a podcast that I avidly listen to Broad Waters.

Season 1 of Serial is about the story of a 17 year old boy who is convicted of killing his girlfriend. The point of interest is Adnan Syed currently sits in jail and may or may not have taken her life. The 12 episodes cover in detail, aspects of the case of Adnan Syed and whether he may be the wrong person sentenced for Lee’s murder. The telling of this story is rich, complex and captivating. If there were time I would go back and listen to the show again.

Season 2 is an emotional piece covering a DUSTWUN of a soldier leaving his post, being captured by the Taliban, held hostage for a number of years, the political football his case becomes, his escape and eventual return to the US, and the public scorn he faced as an infamous returnee. Season 2 is a phenomenal story that uncovers a number of important elements about the US military’s efforts to find Bowe Berghdal, errors in judgement that may or may not have lead to fatalities of colleagues of Bowe’s, and some small successes. There was little coverage in the UK on this case but Serial are able to clarify and raise the importance of the story.

The Infinite Monkey Cage timc

Stumbling across this podcast was a revelation 6 years ago and has continued to amaze me. Robin Ince and Professor Brian Cox masterfully interweave quantum theory and physics with humour in comparison to just about everything else on the planet. I look forward to each show like I used to look forward to the Christmas Lectures on Channel 4 as a year end learning experience.

The Infinite Monkey Cage invites 2-3 guests from within a particular scientific field and a comedian to discuss the topic at hand. The comedy arises from the ludicrousness of scientific thought in that it too can be imaginative. Robin Ince also parodies Brian Cox which is often humorous and offers the listener an opportunity to reflect on the often complex information. An article I hope they discuss in the future is http://www.theearthchild.co.za/quantum-theory-consciousnessmoves-to-another-universe-after-death/

The TED Radio Hourted-radio-hour

Technology Entertainment Design is what TED stands for. The podcast is a treasure trove of ideas, impassioned story-telling and innovative ways of overcoming adversity. Every episode centres on a theme, and the presenter Guy Raz interviews each TED talker. In each interview Guy is able to dig deeper into each story and offer the listener to gain a fuller understanding behind each talk. As a Counsellor I enjoyed hearing The Act of Listening which explored what happens to the person who listens to the other. Other episodes that caught my imagination have been The Power of Design, Nudge, What Makes Us -Us, Shifting Time, Why We Lie and Extra Sensory. If I were to be honest, all shows present something unique and interesting from a wide range of human experiences.

Philosophy Bitesphilo-bites

Thinking is a past time that many people are engaged with daily. Finding a podcast that delved into philosophers from all over the world was a fascinating find as it brought ideas that I had barely thought about or vaguely heard. What is a Woman, Stocism and African Philosophers were spellbinding editions to the long list of interviews with philosophical teachers. The enjoyment gained from listening to new ideas is the feel of the mind being stretched into a nuanced awareness that impacts the way I interact with the world. After hearing different, interesting and astounding information my thoughts are nudged in new directions. This is what learning could be about – being okay with not knowing everything and humbling oneself before insightful ideas.

Piano Jazz Shortspiano-jazz

Mariane McPartland was a famous Jazz Pianist. She is joined by guests from around the Jazz world to play popular favourites and little known pieces. The show is a teaser for a longer show and the show both disappoints and thrills due to it’s 15-20 minute length. Sarah Vaughan, Nora Jones, Grover Washington Jnr and Patti Wickes all share interesting annecdotes and music with Mariane. I have enjoyed the interviews and the music played albeit for the short time the show is on for.

Satellite Coaching Loungesatellite-ife-coaching

Is dissimilar to other podcasts that interview and discuss with clients matters of import. Rebecca Gordon is able to dive in to the heart of the person being interviewed to access deep reflective personal stories that affected them, created change for themselves and others and as a listener invites an opportunity to look inward and identify what could be worked on next. Look out for interviews with Dr Shani, Joy Langley and Andrew McDonald all who share their vision, experience in the particular field of work and offer insightful reflection for the listener to begin reviewing where change could be applied to their lives. Listen with a journal so notes can be taken and applied, or discussion points raised with others.

Hidden Braininvisible-brain

Shankar Vedantam hosts a show about the inner workings of human psychology. What drew me to the show was Shankar’s youthful enthusiasm for the subject being discussed. Another feature I really enjoy about Hidden Brain is Shankar and Daniel Pink hosting stopwatch science. Which uncovers in four minutes a gigantic amount of information in a fun and engaging way. There are many things that could be learned as a result of listening to the show one example of which looked at the scientific process which could be viewed as flawed. In that no two scientific experiments produce a similar result under test conditions in different times or different places. Another episode looked at musical Savant syndrome and how Derek Amato became musically gifted after an accident. Invisible Brain presents useful information in a way that invites gentle questioning of the world in which we inhabit.

Microphone Checkmic-check

Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kellie host a music show in relation to the development and nuance of the art form that is Hip Hop. Ali is a member of a Tribe Called Quest and Frannie is a Hip Hop journalist. The two blend knowledge about the subject, enthusiasm and great interviews offering insightful reflections for listeners. I began listening to the show as a result of Hidden Brain’s Shankar Vidantum mentioning Microphone Check as a worthwhile show to check out. Look out for Saul Williams discussing David Bowie and Martyr Loser King. A concept that has inspired Art, Music and a Book. With the respect built as a result of listening to one show I trusted Shankar’s advice and downloaded Microphone Check and have enjoyed every episode ever since.

The Science of Successscience-of-success

Matt Bodnar has crafted a worthy list of great podcasts filled with content that has the ability to entertain and make significant impact to a listeners way of being. From the intro tune through to Matt’s opener about the show and the ideas he will be presenting the learning opportunity is made apparent. The enthusiasm with which Matt shares information and the fact that he is well versed in what he has gleaned from thinkers, orators and current entrepreneurs opens a window to accessing something useful with every podcast. 3 stand out shows for me were with Rory Vaden, Vishen Likihani and Mark Manson. All discussing shifts in thinking that lead to big results for an individual.

Broad Watersbroad-waters

I had an idea a few years ago about listening to a show with 3-4 black men from the UK discussing topics that mattered to them. Finally the show exists! The 3 men, Q, D, and Ruze immerse themselves with difficult, challenging and thought provoking ideas. Look out for United States of Trump which discusses in a humorous and inspiring way US UK and European politics and how the shape of the political landscape will create change for many of the world’s citizens. Broad Waters termed after the North London Housing estate in Tottenham is a delight to listen to as the men are willing to engage with complex material and argue a point to near exhaustion in an intelligent and engaging way. If the 3 men were to have a live event I would book a front row seat.

Fighting Talkfighting-talk

Has been a long standing show that I have listened to. I began listening 5 years ago for the humour and folly of the contestants and presenters. Fighting talk is a show about sport that has 4 enthusiasts answering questions that the host presents to them. They are scored for their answers given which accumulates to the grand finale. Two of the highest awarded contestants get to fight it out by presenting an argument that the host dreams up at the end of the show. The question is called defend the indefensible and the answers by contestants have to be completed in 20 seconds. I can only imagine how uncomfortable the person being asked to speak on a topic that is against their principles may feel, and be on record for sharing! It would be like asking an esteemed psychoanalyst to refute the importance of Freud or Jung’s ideas. Colin Murray is by far the best person for the job, as he is a phenomenally impassioned sports commentator and guests appear to work well with his quick delivery and caustic remarks. If sport from a UK perspective interests you alongside comedy then Fighting Talk could be a good choice for entertainment on the commute to work.

The Black and Asian Therapist Network Podcast baatn

I would be remiss to not mention BAATN’s podcast which ran for a few years and that I sorely hope returns. As a member of BAATN, I was intrigued to find out about more of the training that BAATN has been involved with over the past few years. Eugene Ellis has an open and smooth way to introduce and discuss topics such as A Critique of the Diversity Movement, Attachment Theory and Working with Black Families, Transcending Intergenerational Trauma and Creating Partnerships with Training Organisations: Let’s Talk about Race. There is a curiosity to the podcasts and a willingness to share the journey thus far and how much farther there is still to travel. I look forward to the show’s return.

Moral Maze moral-maze

D from Broad Waters introduced me to Moral Maze. The podcast introduces to the debaters on the show a challenging idea such as A World Without Down Syndrome or Moral Imagination and Migration and interviews panellists that discuss their ideas with the debaters who then ask questions in relation to the moral position of the idea and how this then affects the individual, and the world. The first few episodes took some getting used to. The format, arguments and caustic questioning jarred my sensibilities. I got used to the rapid display of information in 4 episodes. The argument often gets heated and lost in intellectualisms. However what can be found as a result of the multiple presentation of ideas are thoughtful flexible understandings of competing associations with what is morally right or wrong. A stand out episode was Legalising Drugs which was a thoroughly engaged piece of reportage as the guests debated from all sides of the argument. Johann Hari was a phenomenally astute respectful and very listenable guest on the Legalising Drugs episode.

Alternative Introduction

In the last 10 years the industry of Podcasting has grown. I have gained a wealth of knowledge as a result and most of the information I can access share, think on and internally make use of. For me it’s about the refraction of the depth of the information gained, which is ever changing. The aim would be to develop the information from the podcasts into units of use for self and others. Listen to and Watch this space…

Small – Big Life Matters

A little life ba-little-lifey Hanya Yanagihara

Revisiting my brief overview of ‘A Little Life’ the 2015’s Man Booker Prize nominee a year later was a passing idea. What could be gained from this experience was noting if my opinion had changed about the book a year later.

A Challenge

I was introduced to this book by my sister CF. She stated in a resigned fashion that this book was a depiction of a persons struggle. No matter what they could good experiences were presented to them they could not heal from the pain of their past.

As a practicing counsellor with over 7 years of experience I was intrigued and appalled by the idea of a wound so great that no recovery could be experienced. Naively I approached the book like an investigator seeking to uncover what experiences a fictional character could not heal from.

Within 80 pages Ms Yanagihara (author) had me so involved within a complex story of loss, betrayal and pain that to stop reading was the furthest thought from my mind. As I turned the pages and further engrossed myself with this Little Life, I began to recognise why my sister had stated in as clear a way as possible why she proclaimed that there are scars that some individuals never recover.

Symbolism

The central character is called Jude. Jude has a number of difficulties that he is able to successfully negotiate his life with including low self esteem, self harm and a mysterious physical disability. There is a scene that springs to mind as a metaphor for the book. After a significant self-disclosure to a close friend, Jude is thrown from a roof to a window ledge in a scheme to rescue his friends. The rescue involves him undoing a lock that he alone knows how to remove.

event-horizonEvent Horizon

If a reader makes it to the impromptu rescue part of the book, unfortunately they have been pulled over the edge into the event horizon. There is little chance of escape until the book ends and even then a reader will be further embroiled with ‘But if’ scenarios and disappointed views about the characters lives in the book for months after completing A Little Life.

Support Group for a Book?

I have spoken with others and read tweets about how readers have experienced the story #aLilLife with calls for support groups and warm blankets to help the reader survive the tumult of impassionesupport-groupd story telling. A
ll talk about the effect the book has on the reader are accurate. The twists and turns of the story, the feelings the book and writing evoke and how, as a reader, they wish they could have friends and family that Jude has.

I read the book morning noon and night. At one point stating on twitter ‘It is the first thing I reach for when I awake and the last thing I touch before I fall asleep.’ At times I stay up for an hour or 2 past the witching hour to complete a paragraph or a chapter. A Little Life is a tour de force.

Willingness to let go

The aspect of the book that stays with me, is the roof incident and the reminder his social worker offers him; ‘You have to let others in and talk about this thing, or it will get the better of you.’ I am mindful that this coupled with the scene of him rescuing his friendsjesse-w
and undoing a lock that only he knows how to unpick are 2 moments of evidence. Jude has the tools for his own rescue if he were willing and able to open the locks. Anna provided Jude with a choice, as all good therapists are able to offer their clients.

Self-Agency

The experience of ‘Life’ can be taken for granted. A character like Jude’s helps to explore a reckoning with humanity and all that the human experience can present: Mystery, Adversity, Humour, Friendship, Challenge.

As a therapist, Jude’s story provided me with a reminder of what professional boundaries are – To walk beside a person being supported and remaining both caring and mindful of the individual’s journey towards self-discovery – hoping that they get there.

Jude’s story is tragic, many of the people I work with have disastrous life experiences too. I hold on to the idea that a character like Jude’s in ‘A Little Life’ and service users I support can take steps to change their life path if they can find value in being…

For Jude the chance to take a leap of faith appeared too great, however in my experience it is often as thin as a sheet of paper.

Ignored Song

apathy-moses

First They Came …

In Germany, first they came for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist; And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist; And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew; And then . . . they came for me . . . Martin Neimoller

Why Prisons

I was asked at a family barbecue why I pushed so hard and worked for the men and women who found themselves involved with the criminal justice system in England. My answer was simply that they could quite easily have been me.

I was introduced to the quote above by a friend, GK, who currently works in a prison. My friend is a conscientious committed counselling psychologist. They introduced the quote a few years ago. ‘They came…’ was a poignant reference to the work we were engaged with as counsellors at this London Prison. The men we supported with members from the mental health team could not be forgotten.

Recognition

There were moments in my life where had things continued; joining a gang, engaging in destroying public property, fighting other boys on the estate, I could have found myself involved with the criminal justice system and possibly have spent time in prison. I spent 10 years living on a well known housing estate in North London and wrote about aspects of it in my MSc research paper called ‘A Son’s Journey’.

‘The block of flats I lived in consisted of a series of box-like structures in close proximity to one another. This layout created a feeling of overcrowding and compartmentalisation and it was these features that I found repeated in the prison which is meticulously divided into cells, landings, communal areas, canteens, house blocks and corridors.

The lack of open space and privacy felt all too familiar. My block was an open tiered construct. It had covered corridors that one had to travel along to reach the domestic spaces in the building. On the ground floor of the building, there were shops and businesses which created an insular feeling, there was little need to travel off the estate as your immediate needs could be met in this ‘city’ within the city of London. In this regard, the estate also resembled prison, in that it felt like a separate entity, quite apart from the rest of society. ‘

A Son’s Journey May 2012

An Almost Experience

In some way my working experience of prison, working with service uprisons-obsoletesers, probation, police and the criminal justice system offers a chance for me to balance the disparity I find myself involved with. I recognise that I am an outsider but with a quasi-experience of being an insider. One of the reasons that the quote has continued to live and breathe in me could be acknowledging the truth of the quote. ‘And then.. they came for me.’ The quote references the indifference or the apathy of the person who has written. There is almost the suggestion that there would be no-one left to stand up for them.

In training to become a counsellor/psychotherapist I had not thought that I would ever begin to work with a group of people that were so low on society’s pecking order as those who had been sentenced to serve time or several terms in prison. Working in prison was the furthest thing from my mind when I began training as a counsellor in 2006.

Plight of the young

Between 2009-2010 my counselling experience was going well at a Drs Surgery in South East London where I had held a placement for just over a year. I had thoughts of opening a private practice and working with the general public with one particular area of specialty: Young People from backgrounds similar to mine. Inner City, low socio-economic incomes, poor educational attainment. The idea was to complete the MSc course and then gain a few years experience working in the field and then begin a small private counselling practice for myself.

Gotcha

A list of other placements were made available to students at Greenwich University in the Spring term of 2010. I nogotchaticed a prison placement. Initially my thoughts were that I would not make a good prison counsellor (self-doubt), or that I wouldn’t get many clients that would want to work with me, and I wasn’t going to apply (denial). I discussed my prejudices and fears with my life partner. The effect of which increased my curiosity about engaging with a forensic population. Making the application was straightforward then came a few months of waiting. I sent a follow up email to the lead counsellor of the prison, AW, who enquired about the initial email.

An invitation followed and I met with AW and 4 other interested volunteers in July 2010. After the initial meeting an opportunity was granted to walk the prison grounds. The size, scale, height of the perimeter wall, and security measures of the prison did little to lower my excitement and fear of walking into the complex. We were shown to various house blocks, the education department, the hub at health care, workshops and the counselling office HQ. My initial assumptions of seeing Hannibal Lector character, chains slinking along the ground in a menacing way did not happen. The group of 4 would be volunteers were introduced to a regular working prison with prisoners moving within it as regularly as people traverse through life whilst in the community. I witnessed nothing strange and little alarmed me.

I had walked into and out of a prison and had actually ‘liked’ the experience. It wasn’t as bad or as frightening as I had imagined. It was in fact much like the housing estate that I had grown up on. A similar modular, organised block form building that reordered space. I understood the function and physical presence of the prison. For me this recognition was my in.

I came away from the experience wanting to give time to the people who were imprisoned there. I also wanted to acknowledge a gnawing suspicion that my imagined incarceration could only be released once I had served my time, completed good pieces of work with the men there and learned some valuable life lessons. I believe one of the most important lessons was about freedom. If a person is unable to perceive that they are free. Also is equipped with the tools to make a positive impact in their life and the life of others. Being released to the community could be an uncomfortable challenge that a person can feel ill equipped to manage. It is possible they might return to prison a number of times until…

Divingdeepsea-diver-suit

The main learning I took from the 1st prison encounter was, men who ‘came away’ were not too dissimilar to people I had supported in the community. The main difference was the setting. If I could get past the idea of working in a prison and what that may mean then I could literally work anywhere. I started working at this London prison in October 2010. It took roughly 4 weeks before I could walk in through the front gate of the prison and not have my heart beat double time.

I managed to develop a number of self-checks to ease myself into another way of being whilst in the prison. My 1st mental trick I adopted, was to imagine myself entering a compression chamber and on leaving the prison entering a decompression chamber. Both stages allowed me the chance to get ready for the environment I was moving into. The idea enabled me to contextualise myself to the new spaces I was about to come into contact with. Like a deep sea diver I was able to situate myself both in and out of the prison.

The deep sea diver idea was also like having a suit of armour to manage the pressures, pushes and pulls of prison life. Mentally removing the suit on leaving I found that I was no longer carrying stuff I had no right to carry beyond the prison gate: stories I had encountered, past histories of discomfort and pain, uncertainty about the future, disillusionment about being away.

I learned that each space within the prison had it’s own vibe. Each house block, education department, workshop, gym facility, training room and areas within health care held it’s own unique energy and texture. The energy of each facility of the prison then had an effect on all that came to use these different spaces. For example when in the education department I found myself to be quiet and tentative in excusing a service user from a lesson. In workshop I found myself to be assertive and loud when asking a service user to access a therapeutic encounter. The aim was to engage the person I was to work with in a way that showed that the service had not forgotten them. It was like the counselling service helped people to recognise that they were not ‘disappeared’ or ‘forgotten’ as perhaps they might have fears that their family, friends and society as a whole had.balacne

‘First they came …’ Reminds me of the interconnectedness of humanity and that if we are to make successful cohesive advancements in our respective communities for the betterment of all, then all should be remembered and involved in reconstruction even those who have the ‘ignored song’.

The Artist

jm-basquait

Jean Michel Basquait

An early memory from primary school, was of drawing frequently. I loved drawing, painting, sculpting and running sprint races. I had dreams of becoming an artist. I knew nothing of art or of the art world then.

Risk

I remember sharing with my mum in year 3 that I wanted to become an artist and she in her infinite wisdom, said something along the lines of “Artists don’t make that much money.” Re-remembering this experience I’ve come to realise a few truths,

  1. The aim of life, in my mum’s world, was to make money. I would add she was not materialistic, more a pragmatist.
  2. Becoming an artist was a dreamer’s activity (guilty as charged – I was a dreamer, what child isn’t?), and as a result could not be for me. Our world (mine, my mothers, my sisters) was made up of hard realities.

To give context – the time I had my epiphany in year 3, was in the late 70s and money was scarce. We lived on a council estate in North London and didn’t have much. We lived on the top floor of a block of flats. Often the lifts did not work as a result of vandalism, and the council not repairing them. Aged 7 I had thoughts that I could engage in an artistic career. Earning a good living was not an issue I had previously thought much about. In my mother’s view of the world money was a constant concern.

Everywhere we could see was a panorama of concrete. Mum worked as a nurse. Dad was between two worlds. London and Ghana. He worked as a civil servant, and a representative of a Ghanaian political party. He was often away in Ghana for long periods of time. Life from my mum’s perspective was a disillusioned experience, difficult and practical. There was little space or time for the aesthetics of art and appreciations of creativity.

tangmereThe conversation about becoming an artist had a profound effect on my idea of what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was to have further conversations with my mum about what I could do with drawing as a profession. We came across Architecture as a possible profession that utilized my creativity but could offer me a long and productive career. I imagined what life as an Architect would be like; Drawing buildings and spaces in a range of techniques, using different perspectives to show my vision. I knew little of the technicalities of what being an architect was, but knew that drawing was a part of what an architect did. I wanted to do that. Draw!

Fast forward to September 2016

There have been a number of experiences I’ve had over the past couple of months that have helped me to begin crystallising my identity as a counsellor. One of those experiences was watching a show called the Chef’s Table. The first episode in this series on Netflix observed a man by the name of Massimo Batturo a famous chef in Italy. I was able to witness a remarkable journey. Massimo’s transformation is so different in places to my own story. The multiple successes and failures so rich and complex that in parts his story resembles my own. So much so that I could see myself on his vibrantly filled exuberant passage . A light that I was unaware of, switched back to on for me. This illumination was a warm pleasant and welcome surprise.

Waiting for me

As I have travelled along this path of becoming a counsellor/psychotherapist I have looked for moments that could take me home, to a warm embrace from my life partner, to a large bowl of pepper soup by my elder sister, to a big A-ha moment where I recognise like in moments of de ja vu that I have been here before, or that I remember a particular profound and beautiful experience: such as witnessing a colleague break into a smile after tasting a slice of one of my home baked loaves of bread. Moments like these are not lost on me.

chefs-table

With Massimo I recognise the inner child and the sense of wonder at the world and all that there is in life to uncover. I feel the same way about working as a counsellor/Forensic Mental Health Practitioner for Together for Mental Wellbeing and as a visiting lecturer at Greenwich University as an experiential group facilitator. The feeling of discovery in each of these moments I will describe as like that of a prospector or an alchemist finding gold. The gold I am looking to uncover with a client or a group is their light switching to on – when they say “I can see it now!”

For Massimo hiding beneath his grandmother’s table as a boy away from his brothers teasing. Watching her cook and learning from her, started for him a journey of innovation within the field of cookery and chef mastery that honed his craft like few others before him: his gold. Chef’s table observed his travels and uncovered his passions, the struggles and how things began to coalesce in his life once he returned to Modena. Happy accidents like dropping a lemon tart started in him a journey of exploration-to find the thing! (My words not his). The ultimate, the zenith in his mastery of cooking experience.

Enter art

Massimo and Lara Gilmore visited art galleries in New York at which Massimo was indifferent to. He made me laugh as he described the pigeon piece which in one moment an installation changed Massimo’s idea of himself, arts and his life’s work.

Completing my G.C.S.E.s and leaving secondary school I went to an art college in Wisbech. I attended with the view of completing a spatial design BTEC course. My view of becoming an artist had changed to that of becoming an Interior Designer. My wish to become an architect changed as a result of a conversation with my secondary school’s careers advice service. The conversation observed my lack of mathematical skill that would be necessary for becoming an architect. The careers person also observed that I was good with my hands (even though they had not seen me in Design Technology). Becoming a carpenter would be an equally rewarding career. This conversation disillusioned me further and invited me to think in terms of achievable goals. My final shift of career paths was to become an interior designer.

This from a boy who grew up on a ziggurat in North London. Attending art college was fantastic. It brought me into contact with new ideas, a wider group of artistic people, art history, photography, set design and a new appreciation to design in my life.

I knew little of the arts before I attended Isle college. I was invited to think about composition, texture, light, colour, depiction, balance, true representation, balance, organisation and frame. I developed an affinity for landscapes and fell head over heels for J.M.W. Turner’s work my favourite piece being the fighting Temeraire.the-fighting-temeraire

I believe my trajectory on this psycho-therapeutic path has been pointing me to a distant experience: Art. Massimo helped me arrive at this realisation. I had wondered when and if this moment would ever arrive.

What next?

I feel that the next part of my journey is already unfolding in unpredictable and thought provoking ways: Walk and Talk Therapy, Baking Therapy, Basketball Therapy. Often the work of a counsellor/psychotherapist bursts with so much life, complexity, colour and difficult experiences clients share. The effect of which can be fractious jarring and uncomfortable. The work can also be heart-warming, hilarious and humbling.

By viewing my work with clients as a canvas that is an ever changing palette of colour and texture I feel that I am closing the gap between where I am within the profession of psychoanalytic thought and my original goal of becoming an artist. The work then is a compositional piece that lives, breathes and carries itself forward in new and exciting ways long after we have stopped working together, with it’s many layers and qualities continuing to develop, separate, coalesce and define the self. I am attracted to the living art of working in a way that explores the unimaginable, bravely and without compromise.

The prospect of living and working as an integrative therapist holding an idea of myself as an artist could be seen as a threat to what came before, however I am witnessing a sense of discovery to approaching my work as a collaborator to a human canvas that is ever changing.

When asked who I am, my answer…

 

…I am an artist,

 

…I became what I was meant to be…

 

…eventually..

 

…Poetry.

Dismantling Forensic Barriers:

Dockside Freedom

Grayson Perry Koestler Awards

Background

One of the challenges of being a professional working in the mental illness/mental health sector is managing experiences of when things don’t go to plan with clients.At other times looking for support from other professionals and being disappointed by their lack luster responses.

My being a black male counsellor/psychotherapist/mental health practitioner in a largely white eurocentric profession has been mostly a rewarding and at times a challenging experience. The following piece of writing looks to examine the difficulties of preconceived notions of mental health professionals. With an aim to observe whom is ‘qualified’ to ascertain what, if any, treatment could be given to whom, and what reasons there may be for suggestions offered.

New Role – Collaboration

I am currently (Aug 2016) working in the London borough of Southwark as a member of the IOM team (Integrated Offender Management) as a Forensic Mental Health Practitioner for Together. The IOM team comprise of Offender Managers (OMs) from Probation, Housing Officers from St Mungo’s, Lifeline practitioners (Drugs and Alcohol advice and support) and the Police. The idea is to form a collaborative approach for the service user being supported. My role looks to establish robust links with mental health services in Southwark and work closely with service users providing access to mental health services.

My new role is a slight departure for me. Previously I supported 5-6 Probation Offices from April 2015 – July 2016. The former NPS role (National Probation Service) involved me being in a different probation office from Monday – Friday. I covered NPS offices between a number of London boroughs including Greenwich, Merton and Bromley.

The Carousel

Working as a counsellor in a prison from October 2010 – December 2014, I applied a carousel way of working in that I went to where clients were to support their requests for psychological therapies. I visited ‘Houseblocks’ (where clients ‘lived’), Education departments, Work Shop and the Kitchens to engage clients with psycho therapeutic work. Practicing working in this way was challenging. Clients that had been previously assessed as wanting to access psychological support could when met in workshop or in Education flatly refuse to engage. Others did not seem to mind the environment they were in to engage with the work.

Support to colleagues

Back to my new role in Southwark. A colleague, at the Southwark office, had asked my opinion on a former gang member whose case they were working on. Mr Waters (Not the Clients name) had been a victim of a bladed attack. I suggested that he may have possible PTSD symptoms or complex levels of trauma. My suggestion also included that he may need a highly specialised form of psychologically informed treatment to support him.

The Assault and consequences

Mr Waters had experienced the attack when he was in his 20’s and had almost died from his wounds. The assault had come from known assailants. Difficulties for him arise when he drinks. From my colleagues account it is like he reverts back to the person he was in his 20s – seeking revenge for his pain, shame and anger at suffering the surprise attack.

My suggestions involved either EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing) or trauma focused/ trauma informed CBT to assist Mr Waters re-conceptualising his life. A.S. the colleague who had made the enquiry, found the information we had discussed useful. The court report would offer comprehensive recommendations to address his alcohol intake and desist from drug use and to engage in psychological support to address his underlying issues.

My next step was to locate services in the home borough that Mr Waters could be returning to, and where I thought he could access support from. I contacted a fellow FMHP who knew of services in Mr Waters home borough, with an aim to gather a few numbers to make enquiries of mental health services.

Ms Tiller – a barrier?

I was able to contact 2 psychological services, IAPT and a collective of counsellors and psychologists practicing from one location. Of the 2 services I was able to engage with one service which was an IAPT service (Increased Access to Psychological Therapies) of the borough in question. After explaining to the 1st person who answered the phone what I was calling for I was transferred to a senior psychotherapist.

I shared that I was calling as a Forensic Mental Health Practitioner working in the London Borough of Southwark. ‘The reason for my call was to inquire if the borough in question had a psychological service that could treat a person with complex trauma with either trauma focused CBT or EMDR?’

Ms Tiller (Not the Psychotherapists name) asked how I knew that this person would require either CBT or EMDR? I explained a little more about Mr Waters case and some of Mr Waters presenting issues. Their response was simply that clients with extensive drug dependency issues and alcohol addictions as well as long criminal histories would not be suitable for their service. On all three counts Mr Waters was untreatable by this particular IAPT service, is what I heard.

Where to go for support?

I began to get heated as her refusal seemed unfair and I explored that if the IAPT service could not support a service user of probation and possibly soon to be released Mr Waters then the system did not appear supportive to Mr Waters or to people like him or to the communities that he could live amongst. I also explained that Mr Waters had stopped using both alcohol and drugs and had maintained a non-dependent relationship for over 2 years. Ms Tiller said that Mr Waters would not be suitable and that I would need to find another service. The IAPT service I called do not offer EMDR or trauma focused CBT in any event. Either the Portman Clinic or the Tavistock might be able to offer some support Ms Tiller eventually offered.

Level 3 or 4 support

What Ms Tiller did not fully explain was that due to Mr Waters complex set of circumstances he was too complicated a client for that IAPT service. What Mr Waters would need was a higher level of support tailored to the range of interlinking set of difficulties he has.

Life Choices

The experience of almost losing his life by those he had trusted may have come as a considerable shock. To cope with this realisation it is possible that drinking alcohol and taking class A drugs may have helped to stabilize and suppress unwanted images, fear reactions of other experiences of shock and let down. Leaving familiar surroundings and starting a new life in another city (London) may have brought a sense of relief and a sense of fear which may have continued the drinking and drug habit. 15 – 20 years later with a number of prison sentences for ABH, GBH common assault and with failing health Mr Waters may have come to a realisation that living as he is (surviving) could not be continue. It may have been at this point and facing another term incarcerated that may have shaken him into realisation that something was not working anymore.

Behind Bars

Alessandro Cedroni ‘Behind Bars’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Key Facts from the experience with Ms Tiller and IAPT.

  1. IAPT services in this particular London Borough appear unwilling to support forensic clients.
  2. IAPT in this London Borough either do not have the resources ot are unwilling to offer complex clients CBT
  3. IAPT in this London Borough have staff that are unconsciously prejudiced or scared or both to offer forensic populations potentially life-saving support.
  4. The Portman or Tavistock may be able to offer support to Mr Waters and clients like him with the support they could find potentially life altering.
  5. Had Ms Tiller had the patience to listen she may have heard that I was looking to locate a service that Mr Waters could attend to access the specialist support he needed.
  6. As a qualified counsellor perhaps using the term practitioner in situations where I am speaking with a peer, psychotherapists like Ms Tiller may be able to step aside of their pre-judgements and actually hear what clients and other professionals are sharing with them.

Dismissed Ideas

As a Black male counsellor/psychotherapist I am able to view both myself and others in relation to the work. I am offered ample chance to be reflective of numerous interactions and review that being black was not a feature in Ms Tillers dismissal of my suggestions. It is also possible that her dismissal came from believing that I was a practitioner and had no appropriate experience to even guess that Mr Waters could be suffering from PTSD symptoms.

Mr Water’s presentation in the last 15-20 years which possibly were exacerbated through self-medication with alcohol and drug taking. Also involving himself in high risk activities (Gangs) possibly added to his set of difficulties. Mr Waters becoming violent at the slightest provocation could make him present as highly difficult to engage with in a statutory setting. I wonder where else could Mr Waters access state sponsored mental health support?

An Act of Patience

My argument to Ms Tiller is that with a small amount of patience in handling a request for information, could have assisted her in arriving at conclusions that were made in haste not reflective and were restrictive in their proposals. Ms Tiller also did not appear to offer a collaborative approach to arrive at a possible solution with me, a peer.

What frustrated me most was Ms Tiller’s near panicked, confused, rejection of a possible referral to the service she supports. There appears to be an apparent need for IAPT services to also be informed of who could benefit from NHS IAPT guidelines of stepped care support. Where possible clients that are beyond step 3 be offered alternative support from specialist services like SLaM, St Georges Trauma Therapy Centre and The Bracton Centre

IAPT Inclusion?

If all IAPT services are either A, unwilling or B, unable due to lack of resources to support forensic clients, a misrepresented section of the community that could access psychological support will unfortunately miss an opportunity to begin reviewing change in their lives and have the potential to work on rehabilitation within their communities.

When a service user becomes motivated in prison to begin working on some of their concerns and start a piece of psychological work is a significant step towards change. Aspects of their lives i.e. root causes of various problematic behaviours and presentations could then be understood for further psychological input once released. The grounding of prison based psychological support could then be continued in the community to assist with the service users re-integration, readjustment and realignment of the individual to their community and the community to them.

Training for Staff

I feel that there is an urgent need to educate the forensic system also. The aim here would be to better support service users in forensic institutions like Police Stations, Prisons, Courts and prisoner Transport vehicles. Once service users leave prisons, in community support could be better facilitated   to accept and to treat willing clients. Currently the system falls down as illustrated by the example of Ms Tiller.

The current system of support once a service user leaves a prison, is for them to access Probation services either NPS (National Probation Service) or CRC (Community Rehabiltation Company) depending on the severity of the offence committed and type of supervision the service user can access. Probation officers are highly skilled and trained to offer support to their service users. An additional consideration and training could be offered to address mental illness with the aim of equipping offender managers and probation officers with some psychological tools to assuage the rehabilitation process.

Services like Together, DePaul Charity and RAPt offer an important step in providing forensic populations with support. Accessing a stepped care system that the NHS adopts for clients who request mental health support is a programme that is currently being developed by Together in London. The aim of a Forensic Mental Health Practitioner working in Courts, Police Stations, Liaison and Diversion (L+D), NPS, IOM, SAVU (Southwark Anti Violence Unit), and GTO (Gripping The Offender) is to provide robust brief therapeutic support to service users and where possible to refer them on to services like IAPT or acute/specialist services for additional support.

Birds in Flight HMP Long Lartin

Birds in Flight HMP Long Lartin Koestler Award

After my experience with Ms Tiller I am confirmed in my view that entering and leaving prison could have more joined up thinking in providing service users with ongoing psychological support if requested. The aim would be to invite services like the one Ms Tiller supports to form a safety net with agencies that support service users for all future clients.

 

Taking Control of MS

Dick Gregory

Last Month (May 2016) I received an excited WhatsApp message from a friend who lives and Works in Malaysia TK.

The message was about an article discussing a revolutionary concept of reducing calorie intake to stop the progress of Multiple Sclerosis in mice. A day later I received another message from my sister EH with the same link to the article.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/05/28/multiple-sclerosis-could-be-reversed-with-calorie-restricted-die/

A Challenge

I read the article which highlighted that mice that had a similar auto immune illness to Multiple Sclerosis were placed on calorie controlled diets and after a number of months showed improvements with their immune systems. In my estimations a challenge had been offered and I willingly accepted: Could I reduce the amount of calories consumed through my week?

The article suggested that the control group of mice that had their meals reduced showed marked improvement. From the article:

‘Results showed that the fasting-mimicking diet reduced disease symptoms in all the mice and cured 20 per cent completely.’

‘They also saw a reduction in the inflammation-causing cytokines – proteins that order other cells to repair sites of trauma, infection or other pain.’

‘And they found that white blood “T cells,” responsible for immunity were boosted.’ Sarah Knapton

2 worthy choices

Since June 2011 I have lived with the knowledge that I have a disease that could get worse limiting my movement and overall ability to perform regular tasks. On receiving the diagnosis I decided two things.

  1. Regardless of the diagnosis I was going to live as well as I could
  1. If I found a way to slow or stop MS from worsening I would in the least do whatever was necessary to limit the effect of the relapsing remitting strain of Multiple Sclerosis I have.

Can MS be Managed With Diet?

I was introduced to a book titled Managing Multiple Sclerosis Naturally in December 2011. The idea that foods could be involved with managing my autoimmune response was a new and challenging one. The aim would be to assist the T cells that attacked my nerve cells and myelin membrane around my nerves to recognise the difference between foreign bodies and my cells.

The Paleo diet and other MS diets were tested. The longest time I stayed with these diets were for 6 months. I stopped the diets for a few reasons.

1  I felt terrible,

2  I witnessed no upside to the strict diet of no bread, no cheese, little – no red meats, no legumes or modern pulses, certain fruits were also off the menu and I lost a considerable amount of weight.

3  As a slim person, the thought of losing more weight and being called Skeletor by one of my sisters CF, was enough to halt this experiment.

Experimentation With Diet – Cut

I had tried and failed to heal myself with diet. December 2012 – May 2013 was a useful length of time to try something new out. What I found funny was how fastidious a new diet enabled me to become. I often had friends ask if I could or would eat this or that food. In all honesty I had become a pain. Which was a problem for me. Being obtuse and by being awkward about what I was and  was not eating I saw as not a good cause for friend’s and family’s discomfort. This dieting nonsense was not what I had signed up for. I brought the experiment to an end and ate what I wanted to, the disease progressed as it would have done had I not interrupted with the annoying diet.

Multiple Annoyances

My experience of the illness is mainly challenged by fatigue, brain fog, spasms in my legs and back, weaknesses in my hands and forearms, dizziness on standing and changing my heads direction when walking, stairs have become my nemesis. Tripping stumbling and falling have become a pre-occupation and a daily experience.

TV – Dashed Hopes

Earlier this year a TV show highlighted that if an MS sufferers immune system was rebooted there was a large chance their symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis could be halted or even reversed. The treatment costed the NHS between £25-£30,000 and is currently on an experimental basis for those that screen in to the study. If I had been asked, I would have jumped at the chance to be involved with the experimental procedure to live with a reduced or no continuing symptoms of the disease.

Another Way???

However, the reduced calorie diet was immediately accessible and I thought I could at least give it a try. On Monday’s Wednesday’s and Friday’s I do not eat until 12:00 pm. Effectively not breaking my fast for between 14-18 hours 3 days a week. Just like those mice! A few years ago I read ‘Callus on My Soul’ by Dick Gregory. (Picture Insert, above) The book, a Christmas Present – from Ananta (cousin), observed Dick Gregory’s life. The book inspired me to think differently about food consumption, protest and activism. Mr Gregory wrote about engaging in hunger strikes for various humanitarian causes. The book was like a wake up call for me. I was fortunate enough to see Mr Gregory speak at a community centre in Harlem in 2000. As a comedian he had the room in uproarious laughter.

I chose to engage on my first fast during the time of Ramadan in the winter of 2001. I successfully observed the 28/29 days of Ramadan and gained a new level of respect for those who are able to successfully give up various comforts for a higher ideal for a specific period of time. For the next 3 years I observed Ramadan and did not eat or drink during the fasting period. I gained strength from the knowledge that others all over the globe were also fasting.

What If?

I am to observe a 6 month fast to relieve the experience of Multiple Sclerosis. If it works and reduces the inflammation, brain fog, tripping and falling, spasms, and dizziness then the effort will be a worthy venture. If the experiment causes nothing more than a slightly better way of appreciating food and overall health then that will be an outcome I also can acknowledge as being a beneficial one.

As I enter my 6th week of the experiment I have noticed a few things that are not like the Paleo diet. I haven’t lost as much weight, I am continuing to eat what I want,  chocolate, bread, red meats, cheese, nuts, fruits, and everything that I would have eaten pre 2011 are joyfully consumed.

Noticing my energy levels remain high, especially during the fasting periods, and do not have me look for a pillow a quiet and dark place to catch a nap in – have been wonderful. The brain fog that had besieged me since before the diagnosis in 2011 has dissipated. It feels like I can think, and create at a high functional level. Before, it felt like I had to pull my thoughts through thick treacle to get any degree of coherence together and then be spoken.

I have noticed that I am tripping and falling less. The dizziness/vertigo and occasional spasming remains but I feel more hopeful about the illness and how I am tackling Multiple Sclerosis. My aim is to again complete 6 months of a calorie controlled diet and note the effects on my experience of Multiple Sclerosis during this period and into the New Year.

Whatever the outcome, I recognise that change is a sought after part of the experience, and I look forward to whatever that may be…

Oscar Grant III – Mission Iam – Viktor Frankl

FRUITVALE

MICHAEL B. JORDAN stars in FRUITVALE

Recently I watched Fruitvale Station the movie (June 24th 2016). A few of my friends GD and TK mentioned the story a few years ago, and how it invited them to feel, sad, angry, disappointed and frustrated. I had held back on watching the movie because I was not looking forward to experiencing some of the identified feelings myself.

In short, I was surprised that I was swept away by how I felt in relation to how Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of a young man who was attempting to turn his life around and how his efforts were ultimately halted. I came across Michael B Jordan in the film: Chronicle and was spell bound by his relaxed affable nature in the movie. The next notable appearance of Jordan for me was in season four of Friday Night Lights. I am to write a piece on the effect that Friday Night Lights had on me. B. Jordan’s acting was notable as Vince the quarter-back. His human struggle were immediately identifiable and I applauded his successes and bemoaned his disappointments and failures.

I had not realised that he also was a character in The Wire called Wallace. There is much I had forgotten about the Wire apart from Season 4. The story of the group of young men whose lives all went in various surprising directions. The Wire was the ultimate experience of creating a TV script that leapt out from the screen and stole hearts. Season four of the Wire was the first time I came across the term Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Which could be a pre experience of personality disorder in teens. Treme was the next TV show that held me in it’s rhythmical and complex sway. FNL has been the latest story to fully captivate me. The story telling and character portrayal are movie calibre in quality, complexity and delivery.

Oscar – Mission

Getting back to Fruitvale and what touched me about the story, was me recognising the similarity of Oscar Grant’s story and a young man I worked with in a London Prison. Mission Iam (Not the man’s real name) was a 25 year old black male who grew up in London but was from another city in England.

Mission Iam

Mission was a footballer and enjoyed playing football. At the age of 12/13 he was scouted by a large London football club and placed on their player pathway to access good coaching, regular football games, nutrition advice, support with homework and possible pathways to playing with a premiership team.

I met Mission in my 2nd year at the London Prison I volunteered at 2011-2012. At the assessment meeting Mission stated that he did not want any psychological help and that he was fine as things were. He had recently been in a fight with another male who had since been moved to another house-block. He was shaken, and visibly stirred by the event. Mission appeared to be trying to adjust to life in the prison, and also to the fact he had been in a physical altercation with another and that his life at our point of meeting appeared bleak. I agreed to not ‘therapize’ Mission and check in on him within a week.

Pausing to reset

The decision to pause support and give chance for Mission to re-evaluate if the support was needed was useful. When I returned and checked in with Mission he appeared a little more settled and ready to begin in some therapeutic endeavour. He expressed that he was feeling stressed and that talking with someone about it, he may find useful. It is possible that being non-committal offers possible clients engaging in therapy, an out if the therapy does not resolve the identified concerns. They then can say that therapy didn’t work and will not allow themselves to be too disappointed with the end result. We agreed to meet for 6 weeks with the possibility of review and extension if necessary of more sessions.

The lull of the street

Mission described how he had been taken into custody and of elements of his past. He talked about his footballing career. At the age of 15 being a difficult time to negotiate the draw of the street or playing football. The tension to maintain both due to relationships away from the football pitch Mission found impossible.

Invitations to chill with friends and associates, and be into what they were into, he acquiesced to. He shared during a therapy meeting that a choice to follow friends ultimately was his largest mistake. He started not attending football practice, talking back to his coaches when he did attend, and his football playing suffering as a result. The people he was around were into moving drugs and also smoking weed. Mission had also started to use and found that football was less appealing than being around friends and associates and making fast and easy money. Football appeared to be the longer route to gaining the success he felt owed to him.

Background to Mission

Mission grew up in a single parent household. He lived with his sister and a parent. The pressures of living in London and witnessing how hard his parent was working to make a hard life liveable appeared to make his decision to make money quickly more appealing than staying in school and attending to his football career. Mission had a number of negative experiences with Police which could have been viewed as a wake-up call which he was unwilling to answer. The excitement of one game appeared to have been replaced by the thrill and risk in another.

Choice

Similarly to Oscar (Fruitvale) who appeared to have come to a realisation on his own and had tried to turn the corner on his past. Mission was aware that the former life he had lead was over. Mission talked about how he would like to be when he was released. He thought about the people he had been spending time with in the last few years. Not one of these friends/associates had visited him in prison. Moving cannabis and weed and getting paid Mission now thought was not worth the risk for himself and for those he was connected to including his parent and his sister.

Self Iso’

During our 3rd meeting Mission described in a poignant and charged way that he had stopped his girlfriend from coming to see him. He was not sending out any more VOs (Visiting Orders) making it almost impossible for her to schedule a visit. His intention was to end their relationship and sit out the time he had left in prison by himself. His parent and sister were also vetoed from attending the prison.

Mission appeared to be self-isolating in order to minimise the impact of not being able to live with those he cared about. I have witnessed this act a number of times and the consequences of self isolation were short lived and did not deliver the desired effect of stopping the anxiety and reducing the sense of stress in relation to thinking about those who remain in the community.

The Charge

We discussed the reality of what he was facing and what this may mean for the people in his life. Mission was being held on suspicion of carrying a firearm with intent, possession of illegal substances with intent to supply and driving offences. If found guilty Mission was facing 2-6 years of life in prison. Mission maintained his innocence and shared the story of how he was caught by the Police. The arrest sounded painful, provoking of a fear response and highly embarrassing.

The officers who arrested Mission believed him to be carrying a firearm and were armed themselves. After a chase through the streets of a Southwark neighbourhood, Mission was dragged over a wall, pinned to the ground, his arm was brought up behind him whilst the arresting officer knelt his full weight on Mission’s shoulder. Months after the arrest, his shoulder back and arm were still causing him much pain. Studies have shown that extensive periods of pain management lower a person’s mood and can increase their likelihood of developing mental illnesses like depression.

Mission’s Identity

In Mission’s case his low mood after being arrested and hurt at the scene of the arrest, detained and entering custody, facing the possibility of years of incarceration was escalating a number of negative associations for him. By Mission removing people from his life, he was attempting to jettison the feeling aspect of himself. Wrapped up with what Mission felt needed to be held away from him, was a felt sense of who he was. We could call it Mission’s Identity: The who he really is. By denying those he cared about access to him and he to them, Mission could be seen to be arresting his emotional development. By engaging in therapy there was a chance that the attempt to move into a primal state of being could be averted.

Oscar’s frustration (Fruitvale) was witnessed three times during the movie.

  1. The prison scene: where the other prisoner expressed anger after a space infringement was unknowingly crossed. Oscar feeling violated on his turf by a known aggressor in a place he did not want to be in. His mom being present to witness him be verbally abused she also being verbally assaulted. Oscar attempted to stand up for himself in the only way he knew how. Shouting and looking to stop the words from causing further harm. Oscar tried to get at the other prisoner. This act cost him the visit. As he was physically restrained and his mom walked out on him. Further hurt to the harm caused by his own actions. Abondonment.
  2. When back in the community Oscar attends his former work place and asks his manager to give him back his job after he had been fired. This scene is coupled with Oscar showing a customer his ability to help another by giving her his grandmother’s recipe for fried fish.
  3. The fatal scene on the train ride home after the New Years celebration where the guy from the prison is also on the train. It get’s ugly quick. However no guns are pulled at this point.

Complex – simple

Those who are incarcerated attempt to split themselves into smaller more manageable versions of themselves. Mission was on his way to achieving a simpler version of himself that would be able to manage the prison system and all that it threw at him. Meeting me gave him a chance to check through things again.

Oscar and Mission shared a number of similarities. They were both brilliant young black men. Who had ideas of what living well meant to them in the contexts of their young urban lives. They both attempted to provide for themselves and their loved ones, by the means they found available at their disposal.

Both Oscar and Mission held views of themselves and of the world around them that included breaking laws and being aggressive. Their reasoning could be as a result of the experiences they had whilst growing up. Both men came from single parent homes, poverty appeared prevalent for both males. Opportunities to move beyond the circumstances of their families appeared to have been derailed either by themselves or by circumstance. On some level I could perceive that both Oscar and Mission had been beaten by an unforgiving system that was intent on further stripping both men of their dignity and self-respect. This being the case they made choices that affected their civil liberty, their lives and the lives of others.

Recognising the gap in the wall

The point of change for Mission arose as we entered the 4th meeting and he asked if there could be any meaning to his life. ‘Like what is my life about now? More of this shit? I’ve had it with prison and with being in here.’ He asked if there was another way it could have been or could be as he could not see it. I asked if he read, and then told him about Viktor Frankl the Viennese Psychiatrist, Philosopher, Psychotherapist who survived concentration camps in Nazi Germany. Mission seemed genuinely shocked and intrigued by the story of Logotherapy and Frankl’s’s ability to rise from a very dark moment in history. I believe that what hooked Mission was hearing a story as bleak as his and identifying himself with an internal revolution. I told him about what I remembered from the book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ and wondered if he would like to read it?

I doubt that I have ever been more surprised or pleased to share a book! I read the book with a general interest as to how a man who nearly died in Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia could at the end of the war return to his native Vienna in Austria and accept that people he knew may have turned him and other Jewish people over to the German authorities to perhaps die. His wife, mother father and unborn child all died at the hands of the Germans.

Logotherapy

When I read ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ in 1997 the concept of acceptance was a distant thought, compassion even more remote. On passing the book forward to Mission I was gaining ground on acceptance and compassion as a concept was also being closely followed. The book was a catalyst for me in seeking change and for providing me with answers to an age old ache ‘Who am I and what am I to do with the who I am?’ I was able to fashion meaning from another’s wisdom and insight: Viktor Frankl. In passing the book forward I was attempting to assist another reconstruct themselves with a picture of a young disenfranchised man: in a new progressive light.

I was to meet Mission for a 6th appointment a month after the 5th appointment had taken place. I called in to the houseblock’s control room to check that Mission had been invited to stay on his spur for the appointment. I was told that he had gone to court and had been released from there. I tried to hide my joy but I am sure it was witnessed by the officer at the control desk. I was happy that a young man who had made some unwise choices would get a second chance. For the remaining years I worked at the prison I did not see Mission return. I can only hope he is doing well and I wish him a peaceful journey