Happy New year to you.
The first text message of the year at 12.04 PM was from my dear friend Shadd wishing me all the best for the coming year. A smile now glued to my face I recalled the first time we met in the Prisoner Development Unit (PDU) at HMP Magilligan early 2011. At the time I told him I need letters after my name if I’m going to make any difference to this whole Criminal Justice business. He agreed and offered to help me in any way he could. Graduated twice last year and now have a few letters BA, MSSc after the name and allowing one to feel rather pleased with one’s ‘self.’ However,…
Came down with this heavy duty virus/cold/flu at the end of November and managed to muddle my way through the end of the year in a bit of haze, spattered with a couple of forced nights on the tiles. Drinking didn’t help much but for me it was lovely to be around people, laughing and taking the mick, that sort of thing. At one particular time I noticed I had only spoken to one person in seven days – my Father. This got me thinking about social media, Facebook, Twitter, Blogging et al. and to my horror I realised that there is nothing social about it. It’s a fantastic way to be lazy but for me it’s been a godsend as I can sit and smile at the antics of old friends and hook up with one’s I thought I’d never speak to again. I love doing this blog and I love venting but at what cost?
When inside my venting was achieved via my complaints and legal challenge against the Northern Ireland Prison Service, my academic essays and my creative writing and poems. Oh, and not to forget my book – nearly there on finishing it! Over the holiday’s I realised I hadn’t written a poem in ages nor where my previous essays up to my normal standard. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s this blog that’s allowing me to vent where instead I should be putting my efforts into my academic writing. Instead of writing a blog in response to a twitter statement I should be challenging and channelling my knowledge and experience into a Journal article or future PhD work. So, is this the death of my blog?
Also made myself a promise not to look at or write to or read anything about criminology over the two weeks of flu ridden bliss. As I stared aimlessly into the fire on numerous occasions it occurred to me that I needed to make up my mind as to what I was going to do with these letters what I got. I Googled careers in criminology and thought no, stop, don’t follow that route, what does your heart tell you? I ungoogled and sat staring at the fire again. The outcome?
As I’m allowed to sign on again after leaving full time education where you get no funding at Master’s level I realised that I could survive by just getting by. After all a lot of the people in my community do just that. Then I remembered reading about social death (must look it up again) whereby a prison sentence is a permanent social exclusion until the day the individual dies. This is where awareness, understanding or lack of it leads to people who have been to prison being permanently marginalised, forced to live on benefits and then, more often than not, become a further burden on health services as depression, despondency and dependence envelopes what hope they once had.
I’ve felt this myself, just before I got the bug I found myself trawling through cleaning jobs and other menial work with minimum wage and no strings attached. I’m never above doing this and might have to resort to it over the coming months. What the hell am I doing? I’ve got letters after my name for God’s sake! Then my own doubt creeps in as I realise the enormity of trying to get a job, any job, with the dreaded box on the application form that asks about criminal conviction. At recent Jobcentre interview the bright eyed young girl told me of all that was available to me and how lucky I was to have these qualifications. When I brought her down to earth by stating that all the letters under the sun won’t stop my application being placed at the bottom of the pile because of ‘that box.’ She reluctantly agreed, bless her. I saw her eyes go down and shoulders slump and tried my best to be positive when leaving. I’m not sure I succeeded.
You see folks, its dead simple. Prison is the punishment for a crime (any crime) in the eyes of the law. The law is what our society signs up to as a social entity. Today, in 2015, people do not go to prison to be punished and ‘in law’ they are not allowed to be harmed in any way mentally or physically. The purpose of a prison sentence and the idea behind public protection is that ‘loss of liberty’ should be enough to allow the person to reflect on their wrongdoing and at the same time they are to be provided with the tools to live as a functioning member of that same society who judged them by a jury of their peers. Instead, what we have is a big fat cash cow called ‘prison’ that is fought over by politicians and fuelled by media. On a tweet I viewed last night a person said “There are no votes in prison.” What planet do they live on? I’ve mentioned this in previous blogs so I won’t dwell. Give me one politician who supports one issue that helps a mentally challenged prisoner turn their life around or squashes a harmful prison policy and we’ll see how many extra votes they get. Every single person in Northern Ireland is either once or twice removed from someone who has been to prison or works in it.
At the start of November I was asked to do a talk at Queens. I nearly died when I walked into the lecture theatre. It was packed with third year students (80 in total) studying Probation and Social Work. My blog site was put up on the screen and I took questions for an hour. No death by Power Point. One of the questions involved hope and the future. During my response politics was mentioned and as I looked across the front row a beautiful young woman stared right at me and said “I’d vote for you.” When I measured this to the response and the feverish writing and intelligence of the questions being asked I thought to myself “This is it mate. This is what you should be doing.” The buzz, for me, was amazing.
So, I don’t think I’ll sign up for social death just yet. Instead, I’ll spend the next couple of weeks writing up a PhD proposal about… and send it off to a few Universities. My heart was in that lecture theatre that day as it was when I spoke to Shadd in 2011. Nothing has changed yet everything has changed.
On a completely separate note can someone please get in touch with Steven Gerrard of Liverpool and help my dear friend Jane’s sister Hayley in her time of need.