Therapy in Prison

Held up

Recently I worked with a client in a prison who appeared caught up in the story of how he has been continually mistreated by the Prisons he has resided in.

Expecting

When I re-framed a specific experience, his experience, he growled in acknowledgement of how he had been moving through his sentence. Not progressing. Stuck. Little involvement with probation or a sentence plan. He was tense and expectant of more bad shit to be passed to him.

A Why

It came after a long tirade of him counting up all the negative experiences that he has had. And why shouldn’t he? Life had dealt an undesirable hand. The idea of abandonment and not being heard were high on his watch list. “That shit is never going to happen to me again” he had said.

Sunshine

But they had. Even more shit had happened and he had reacted and then, he was left still holding a sad and ugly can of discontent. It stank! When he recognised the ailment he had been carrying it looked like the clouds covering his psyche broke and a beautiful smile graced his face. The joys of therapy are these moments. They happen when a person is willing to hear themselves put down the mask and step beyond. Out from under the cloud. The gloom had hidden him and his needs. The cloud had also given protection. Why would anyone want to leave?

Perspective

For this client the experience was seeing how tired he was from carrying the sloshing pail of woe and anger and resentment and pain. When he was able to put it down and walk a distance from it, he could see that in actuality he had been holding himself back. That the pain was all his and that the prison, probation or other professionals could not take it from him. All that a professional could do was help him recognise that by putting it down he could see himself anew.

Links

For a few moments it felt like an onslaught that I was being invited to witness and be party to. My careful reframe offered him chance to pause and acknowledge how dreadful those moments had been and where he could drop the bucket off. Ah now this is therapy.

Waves

The work is about creating chance for clients to look thrice and weigh up choices: carry around the ugly for another week, month, year or choose to drop bad for good and pick up something worthwhile, wholesome, worthy, healthy and ride on a crest for as long as it is possible. Picking up belief and self-esteem and confidence and humility and self-worth along the way.

Press Play

I will not be in this man’s life when he returns to his community. I get a sense however, that a shift of seismic proportions occurred and am happy to have been a part.

Choices

Making a decision to stay in a place of discomfort because it is familiar is common. We believe that choosing something unfamiliar but probably better is a simple choice to make and it lies squarely in the unknown.

4 Levels

Known Knowns – Water is Wet
Known Unknowns – That’s hot, how hot? That’s cold how cold…?
Unknown Knowns – Not knowing what is vaguely known Cantonese, Sub Saharan Africa, Quantum Mechanics, Effective Altruism
Unknown Unknowns – Total unawareness

Where would you place the greatest field of learning and of fear?
The Unknown Brain TED Talks

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2 Years in the making

Rise to…

A few years ago I met a friend in a Cafe/Bakery I had long held as a pinnacle of urban regeneration and baking prowess.

I had just left the University of East London (UEL) re-introducing two old friends that both had extensive experience working in the field of criminal justice. We had spent time discussing workshops for Forensic Psychology students that we would be delivering over the years course.

Ascent
Rise by Solange Knowles is a great intro track for a complex album and it played as my friend and I entered. You may have come across Don’t Touch My Hair that features on the album. The E5 bakery is a teaching cafe and sells amongst other things sourdough bread possibly the best in London. The coffee is very good too!

Connex
Meeting my friend at the bakery was a culmination of a long held friendship and a cause for Celebration. I had that rare moment of synchronicity meeting serendipity. A choice had been made by my friend that felt important and life affirming. The moment when one realises one’s power. Where flight seems possible. The internal porch light gets flicked to on. The re-awakening of Neo in the Matrix’s final scenes. The culmination of intention meeting luck.

An Overview on…

Possibility
A walk and talk client and I had discussed the merits of both Lemonade and A Seat At The Table. As both albums were so dynamically different and yet stretching the listeners appreciation of musical activism in similar ways. We both felt that Cranes in the Sky was worth the whole album of Lemonade. It appeared that Solange had poured her entirety into that one song. Whereas Lemonade felt like the many iterations of a number of heartfelt concepts.

Chance
My friend had recently decided to change her role and leave the company she was with to join a charity working with service users in Probation. The decision she made was all hers however I felt responsible and to be a person of influence, perhaps I stepped from the role of friend to coach-mentor-consultant. The question is when to offer insights about choice and when not to. The point here is to note that knowledge can be influential. Think algorithms and shopping/buying on the internet. Google and Facebook only know of what you have looked at and as a result know some of your interests not who you are. Do not fall foul of their attempts to have you buy just because you once saw it. 

Games within games
By answering a number of my friends questions I was providing personal insight to a number of their considerations. I attempted to be objective. I am not sure I achieved true objectivity, some subjectivity seeped in. Passion runs through me on subjects I have experience with. For people that I know and love – get an uncensored cut. 

Work/Play
Ask any that I have worked with as a supervisor, basketball player, mentor, friend, service user, client, probation officer or FMHP. The soap box still calls me…

E5 Bakehouse mouth wateringly good produce

Carefree
Junie is a sweet throwback song that immediately brings to mind upbeat sunny hot summers, hanging out and younger fresher days. It speaks of freedom and roller skates and ice cream and hot sun, and full trees, riding bikes, barbecues, car stereo’s blasting and block/house parties. 

Embrace
Listening to Junie in the E5 Bakery talking to my friend about the choice she was making felt like a welcome return to a warm home after a cold night’s long walk.

Leader

Educationally Missing.

Disappearing

There are a number of stories that capture the experience of unmet potential, stories of people falling and staying down long before they had chance to fly.

Having supported teenagers in schools and working in rehabilitative settings for service users. The experiences of: loss, betrayal, resentment, let down, anger, low mood, dis-regulation of the maturation process and abdication of responsibility appear to have an accumulative effect to understanding being made about life paths. An unknown internal point is not reached or appreciated and a resulting cacophony then is the result.

Heightened Stress

As Dr. Lori Desautels and Michael McKnight have illustrated in their 1st book Unwritten the Story of a Living System. A person, especially a child does not grow well and develop within an environment of high stress and high anxiety.

The result is a reduced sense of self-esteem, reduced mental capacity to uptake new information, lowered tolerance to *stressors, heightened response to survival habits of Freeze-Flight-Fight-Friend actions, hostile engagements with others, use of explosive language and behaviour to process and deal with challenge and of pupils forming uneasy volatile alliances with pseudo friends and ‘family’.

‘I’ll hang around with you, if you and your group protect and don’t victimise or bully me. And if you do I am in the In Group so that’s okay.’ How long before the quasi friendship turns into manipulation? Where anti-social activities are the order? Where thrill seeking is obtained through risky behaviours. Where aggression and rule breaking appear normal?

Would the (apparently unbreakable) association/link/connection with the group take an evening? A weekend? A Month? A Term?

Regression

The worrying aspect I find with working at a stage of a person’s negative spiral (prison in my case) is the sense of hope being lost. Of individuals giving up on themselves, their families, on rehabilitating and returning from prison and by-passing society as a whole.

Primary desistance may have been achieved. Secondary desistance may still be a process that is being worked with by a prisoner or service user. Tertiary desistance is where a moral and societal shift occurs in the service user and the individual recognises themselves as part of, not a part from, society – their community. Counselling I find can be useful with a person’s 3rd stopping point.

Tip Point

I witness what the result of stripping social services are for vulnerable people and communities. Crime increase, homelessness, experiences of people in mental distress visible and not able to be cared for by hospitals or carers. What frustrates me is that the experience my son is having with his school and peers could be impacted on positively.

The pain filled progression of pupils, a percentage of whom that are permanently excluded from school (that had the potential to be a pro-social engagement), are victims to, or perpetrators of street violence, join illegal import and export dis-organisations (anti social engagement) to eventually becoming labelled and branded socially unsuitable, un-fit for ‘non offending populations’.

Being removed from mainstream education where students either attend alternative provision for less time than mainline school I feel is a damning move for students, school and society overall. Pupils earn less time being supervised by adults that can provide adequate pro social modelling. Feeding the productionline.

Committed Action

The need then as mentioned in Ignored Song would be for individuals from a range of backgrounds and experiences to provide support to a range of school experiences across the country to ameliorate the perspective some young people have about the world in which they live. And to change how schools and teachers view and support disorganised pupils.

The world does not have to be a dangerous and risky place where disagreements could cost several young people their lives. The aim would be to not minimise their understanding or patronise, but would be to offer challenge and support growth. To see beyond the barriers and horizons they may have erected to protect themselves.

Incision

In 2017 I approached a number of alternative school provisions with an initiative to run morning workshops to groups of students. The theme delivering thinking skills with the topic of psychology as the main driver.

My interest in psychology firmly rooted because of the counselling course. Witnessing that our world is governed by psychology increases my fascination. Psychology is a growth from Philosophy and I am in absolute awe of the impact thought has on us as humans. Continuing discoveries in neuroscience perpetually astound me.

Discussing psychological ideas with students at alternative school provisions in London I felt had the potential to be transformative. When a person begins to come upon a new realisation it is like a gift that was buried. Once unearthed the gleam of treasure that crosses a person’s face is priceless for me – every time.

B-Boy 

Prisoners

Working at a prison with service users in Kent, the look after they realise a hard earned truth feels the same. The service user often points and subtly rears back; like a soft push has just happened. Then a small smile is offered and the subtle shaking of their head. Astonishment!

The chance to experience and practice on the world the new found thing for service users in prison is sometimes delayed by the length of their sentences. Trial runs of new thought and behaviour can be made prior to release in prison with some degree of success. They may alter thinking traps and patterns or their behaviour may flip to be outgoing and light. Interactions with a peer, or group of others could do likewise and change to the positive with new thoughts.

My want was to work with school attendees before they entered the criminal justice system and had negatively altered their lives or the life of others dramatically, irreversibly. Reducing the impact and societies unconscious load that it projects onto those that it classes as criminal. No. We should not wait until our son’s and daughters are detained within secure environments before we develop packages of support. The change I believe has to start now!

The invitation/demand especially in light of Britain teetering on the edge of Exiting the European Union is:

We all must want better now for all.

We have to face up to the challenge.

We must all be willing to work to achieve a brighter tomorrow.

To be the last person standing is not what my son or young people seek. An unblocked, unfettered, untainted future is…

Michael McKnight writes

The Path to Connecting with- Kids “at-risk”. ( Brendtro and Seita )

1. Recast all problems as learning opportunities. 
2. Provide opportunities for fail-safe relationships.
3. Increase dosages of nurturance.
4. Don’t crowd.
5. Find their passion.
6. Decode the meaning of behavior.
7. Be “authoritative”. 
8. Model respect to disrespectful youth. 
9. Enlist troubled youth as team members. 
10. Preemptive connecting.
11. Give seeds time to grow. 
12. Keep positive expectations alive. 

#resilience

Resources

TED Talk Radio Hour School

Code Switch Raising Kings

Goodbyes…

A few weeks ago I had a conversation about an interesting part of ending a meeting or a conversation – the good bye.

Good Bye Umbrella

Wind Caught Umbrella Away

I asked my colleague, “How do you find saying good bye to another professional?” I asked.

She replied: “I never really thought about it.”
I said: “Well…. I… have and I find myself saying bu’bye to just about everyone, even to people that are from call centres. What am I doing?” I said
“Well”… she paused, “it is a nice way to bring a conversation to an end. With my friends I sort of say BYEEEeee” She said
“So you sort of sing it?” I asked
“Yeah something like that…” she said, “…And then with one of the counsellors I worked with before, she would  say Bye Bye Bye Bye Bye as they were putting down the phone almost apologetically ending the conversation.”

Intention

Here I laughed uproariously, I couldn’t control it. The laughter was delicious and surprising and welcome. My laughter was in part due of recognition of how a counsellor may behave trying hard to maintain compassionate boundaries and also ending a call with a client. My colleague’s re-enactment was also a great characterisation of a person tentatively putting down the phone receiver cautiously. I could almost see the care and non malificence of the counsellor’s intent.

Family

My laugh of recognition was also about how I end my calls this way with my sisters especially my eldest sister.
One of my nieces asked: “Why can’t you just say I love you and get it over with?”
I gave a long explanation about the long good bye as meaning the same thing! My niece 14 at the time didn’t quite buy it. I don’t believe I really did either.

Formal

The goodbye or the bu’bye conversation with my colleague continued as I was looking for comparison with how others manage their goodbyes and when and where a bu’bye is an appropriate way of ending an engagement with another.

Warm

Perhaps a goodbye has become formalised as a permanent ending – hard with finality. Where as bu’bye is warm and has a similar meaning but is vague and familiar. I have in mind the bu’byes I said to my sons when they were much younger. However singing a good bye as my colleague does with her friends, I understand as another form of familiar parlance and recognition of the significance for people close to oneself.

Endings

Final Goodbyes

Goodbye Walking Away

In a few weeks I have an uncomfortable good bye ahead of me. My time at Together for Mental Wellbeing has run it’s course and I am to move on to pastures new. The experience I have gained at the charity has been amazing, transformative and unforgettable. The discomfort arises as I bare witness to the friends I have made, moments of inspiration had, insights shared, support offered and ideas for development discussed, are to be no more.

As a lay philosopher the opportunity to discuss ideas with others about the advancement of the criminal justice service in London and find ways to better support those in the community and those in custodial settings I will greatly miss.

As a group I have not come across another set of people that are as committed, compassionate, resourceful, flexible in thinking, and willing to work the unforgiving hours until the job is complete. It has been a growth making experience working alongside: Counselling Psychologists, Community Links Workers, Counsellors, Forensic Psychologists, the Data Team, IT department, HR team, Admin team, Managers from around the world all contributing to an organisation that has a belief based in recovery and safe return/re-entry to the community

Saying goodbye to all of the above is saying good onward journey for both of us. Borrowing a phrase from Chris the Big Issue seller at London Bridge who always offers me a phrase that makes me smile:

A truthful quote

Painful Goodbyes

‘Until we meet again’

Breaking the Cycle

Half-Truths

In a conversation with my supervisor we came across an interesting idea. We [society] punish those who have done wrong to society by sending them away to prison.

Arike asked “I just want to make sure I heard you correctly, you want to punish people who have already had a difficult past?”

“Er, yeah, well that’s what society wants for people who have wronged them. They have to repay us by spending time away from us, to then return rehabilitated” I said.

Arike chuckled… My folly although well put, had been illegitimately conceived. I had stumbled into another half-truth of society’s thoughts about the criminal justice service and about what, We the greater want from those who have committed crime against Us. We want them to pay back for the harm they have done to us. Rehabilitate, be re-educated and return healed from the hell that they were sent to…

Is the above a fair request?

Musical Identity

By stating to Arike that I have been the victim of a number of crimes was an attempt to show understanding. Being beaten up on my housing estate at the age of 9 by a school bully, and having my mother’s purse stolen by a friend were painful shocks to the system. We living near the bread line stolen from by a trusted friend…

Living in Wandsworth between 1997 – 2002, my car being broken into a number of times was possibly a greater loss. My car stereo and CDs – stolen, taken, had, made off with, disappeared…

Music was then, and is now, an important part of my identity. I loved making mix tapes and then playing a selection of these carefully chosen tracks as I drove to work.

1st Car

An Escape Golf Mark 2

Loss

My assailant, had taken something I held dear. I felt rageful for my hurt and violated sense of space. I also wanted my stuff back. I shared this with Arike who chuckled some more. In the time after my stereos disappearance, I was able to get to a place of compassion.

The idea I was able to fashion was that the thief possibly needed my stuff more than I. Perhaps they were not in a frame of mind I could ever fathom or figure out. They found my car out of place in this well to do part of Wandsworth, broke in easily and took what they needed. I was lucky they didn’t steal the car, further complicating my commute to work. My red 1988 Volkswagen golf. It pained me to get into it and drive with no sound other than the engine – hollow and vacant.

Why

I imagined a male. Possibly either a drug or alcohol misuser who exchanged my low tech, low cost, car radio for their next escape. The usual phrase of ‘Why Me?’ formed and was popped by a realisation that if a £20 car stereo sale could bring momentary happiness, then my loss could result in momentary happiness for them… perhaps then…

Hurt First

An outcome of the discussion had with Arike was that the thinking around prison and punishment of crime may be archaic, ill fitting, not suited for our modern times, out dated and out grown. If not prison, then what? Community sentences? Returning to the idea of punishment Arike posed a final question:

“Society wants to punish those who already have been hurt?”

From this point a realisation hit home. The want for punishment remains for a society hurt by those who have taken something from us. I get that. What I started to visualise was those who commit crime also have had things taken from them, freedom, childhoods, education, self-agency, identity, family, access to funds, homes, safety… As a group of people, they were hurt first.

Faces at the bottom

We as a society rejected and affixed labels (Mad, Bad, Sad) and then sent them away. Is there much wonder then that as a group of people rehabilitation does not come easy?

Breaking the Cycle - Big Society

All for All. Big Society

Can you imagine what it could be like to return to a place where you are not wanted, feel impoverished, unable to contribute, the so called friends you thought you had were just as dysfunctional as the people you grew up with, or certain members of your family, spending time between probation, job centre, approved accommodation, attending change grow live CGL, trying to give up a habit as a coping mechanism that halts feelings of denial and hurt, returning to familiar patterns of crime, to feed a habit and return to a gaol system that further impresses that you are not a member of anywhere but it’s grey confines. What then?

For me there are many layers to unpack for ‘Those Who Were Hurt First’ that would need to be addressed by all.

The unpacking begins…

Yoga, herbs and sunshine: New Zealand opens ‘humane’ jail for most violent inmates

Johan Hari T.E.D. Talk Addiction as a Health Matter not a Criminal Justice Matter.

I thank Paul Delaney for hi-lighting this article. Drug addiction

King Heroin – James Brown

Ladies and gentlemen
Fellow Americans
Lady Americans
This is James Brown
I wanna talk to you about one of our
Most deadly, killers in the country today
I had a dream the other night, and I
Was sittin’ in my living room
Dozed off to sleep
So I start to dreamin’
I dreamed I walked in a place and
I saw a real strange, weird object
Standin’ up talkin’ to the people
And I found out it was heroin
That deadly drug that go in your veins
He says
I came to this country without a passport
Ever since then I’ve been hunted and sought
My little white grains are nothin’ but waste
Soft and deadly and bitter to taste
I’m a world of power and all know it’s true
Use me once and you’ll know it, too
I can make a mere schoolboy forget his books
I can make a world-famous beauty neglect her looks
I can make a good man forsake his wife
Send a greedy man to prison for the rest of his life
I can make a man forsake his country and flag
Make a girl sell her body for a five-dollar bag
Some think my adventure’s a joy and a thrill
But I’ll put a gun in your hand and make you kill ’em
In cellophane bags, I’ve found my way
To heads of state and children at play
I’m financed in China, ran in Japan
I’m respected in Turkey and I’m legal in Siam
I take my addicts and make ’em steal, borrow, beg
Then they search for a vein in their arm or their leg
So, be you Italian, Jewish, Black or Mex
I can make the most virilent of men forget their sex
So now, no, my man, you must, you know, do your best
To keep up your habit until your arrest
Now the police have taken you from under my wing
Do you think they dare defy me, I who am king
Now, you must lie in that county jail
Where I can’t get to you by visit or mail
So squirm, with discomfort, wiggle and cough (coughs)
Six days of madness, (Hah) and you might throw me off
Curse me in name, defy me in speech
But you’d pick me up right now if I were in your reach
All through your sentence you’ve become resolved to your fate
Fear not young man and woman, I’ll be waitin’ at the gate
And don’t be afraid, don’t run, I’m not chased
Sure my name is Heroin, you’ll be back for a taste
Behold, you’re hooked, your foot is in the stirrup
And make, haste, mount the steed and ride him well
For the white horse of heroin will ride you to Hell, to Hell
Will ride you to Hell until you are dead
Dead, brother, dead
This is a revolution of the mind
Get your mind together
And get away from drugs
That’s the man
Back, back
Songwriters: Charles Bobbitt / Charles Fred Bobbitt / Dave Matthews / James Brown / Manny Rosen
King Heroin lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Another Awakening

Bridge into Wooded Vale

Here to there

Working in the criminal justice field for over 7 years I thought I had a good level of knowledge about supporting service users. Attending a round table discussion in January at Cookham Wood young offenders institute in Rochester changed my idea significantly. The Managing Director of Resolve Consultants invited attendees to ‘stay with the looseness’ and attempt to find solutions to end youth violence. The resilience, purpose, energy and passion of Mr Roberts is an awakening, that has inspired 2 poems that follow Pt 1…

The Other Half of Me 

You are the
Michael Jordan
To my Pippen
The Mozart to a
Beethoven

Wildly Spanning a River

The stable meets the mutable

The visible to
My hidden
The bold brass
To a
Whispers last
Gasp

A Soleil brilliant
To a twinkling
Distant
The trumpet to
My breath, my
Air, my aria
To your song
The Dance – slick
To my silent
Rhythm and
The key to a
Lock that is
Buried
Deep and
Unwilling, unyielding to
Let loose and
Fly because
Because,
Because you
Might not be
There, where

Passing beyond

An End?

Landfall is
And so
Like the shot
Not scored
My time is
Made up of,
Of waiting.
Fastening
Debating
Enlightening?
Fighting off
Fears of
Failure
Often.

Then I
Close eyes
Breath deep and
Let in…

Fruitvale Station meets Psychology

Oscar Grant III – Marcus Isaiah – Viktor Frankl

FRUITVALE

MICHAEL B. JORDAN stars in FRUITVALE

Recently I watched Fruitvale Station the movie (June 24th 2016). A few of my friends Gromyko Dumuje and Thomas Keenan 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. Friday Night Lights (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 – Marcus

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. Marcus Isaiah (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.

Marcus Isaiah

Marcus was a footballer and enjoyed playing football (Soccer). 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 Marcus in my 2nd year at the London Prison I volunteered at 2011-2012. At the assessment meeting Marcus 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. Marcus 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’ Marcus and check in on him within a week.

Pausing to reset

The decision to pause support and give chance for Marcus to re-evaluate if the support was needed was useful. When I returned and checked in with Marcus, he appeared a little more settled and ready to begin in some therapeutic engagement. 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

Marcus 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 Marcus 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. Marcus 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 Marcus

Marcus 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. Marcus 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. Marcus was aware that the former life he had lead was over. Marcus 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, Marcus 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 Marcus 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.

Marcus 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. Marcus 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 Marcus was facing 2-6 years of life in prison. Marcus 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 Marcus believed him to be carrying a firearm and were armed themselves. After a chase through the streets of a Southwark neighbourhood, Marcus 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 Marcus’ 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.

Marcus’ Identity

In Marcus’ 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 Marcus removing people from his life, he was attempting to jettison the feeling aspect of himself. Wrapped up with what Marcus felt needed to be held away from him, was a felt sense of who he was. We could call it Marcus’ Identity: The who he really is. By denying those he cared about access to him and he to them, Marcus 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. Adding further hurt to the harm caused by his own actions – Abandonment.
  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. A selfless act of reciprocity.
  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. Permanent Exit.

Complex – simple

Those who are incarcerated attempt to split themselves into smaller more manageable versions of themselves. Marcus 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 this self diminishing plan again.

Oscar and Marcus 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 Marcus 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 Marcus 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 Marcus 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. Marcus seemed genuinely shocked and intrigued by the story of Logotherapy and Frankl’s ability to rise from a very dark moment in history. I believe that what hooked Marcus 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 Nazis.

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 Marcus 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 Marcus 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 Marcus 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 Marcus return. I can only hope he is doing well and I wish him a peaceful journey