One step closer to living my dream. However, this dream, is not without taking a few steps backward. The past two weeks have been filled with hope, optimism, belief and digging deep. All three of my submitted PhD proposals were rejected. Well, when I say ‘proposals were rejected’, gathering from the feedback from two of the Uni’s, the problem was with me at interview. Not me per se, but with my inability to tie up a question with what I had written in the proposal. Two of the Uni’s replied and one even phoned me and I’m grateful as ‘next time’ I’ll know where my weakness lies. At least they had the courtesy to interview me and reply the other, most exceptional (just made the top fifty voted by students), did neither. I’m not griping at all – my proposal was and is fantastic by all accounts but I do wonder about the high levels of competition. I wonder “do the successful competition who work in the area of prisons have what I have in my phenomenological napper?” I do love it when I’m asked about my experience and watch them frantically writing in notepads. Maybe one day I’ll get there but for now I’m withdrawing. I’m still Michael Irwin BA, MSSc!!!!
It’s not the end of the world. I’ve been to the end of the world and this doesn’t come close. Was shell-shocked/devastated for one whole day last week. The next morning I woke early, did yoga, my daily breathing session and two thirty minute meditations. All my fear and worry disappeared. Just like magic. This was followed by a trip to my old High School were a delivered a talk/discussion about Prison, Crime and Punishment, Criminology and Psychology to thirty odd fourteen – fifteen year old pupils. I can’t believe afore mentioned subjects are not on the curriculum in High Schools. Only Grammar. I wonder “is this where marginalisation of classes start?” As we discussed mentoring in prison and helping others. I mentioned the fact that the first thing I ask people, who are after a wee bit of help, is to write a letter to their fifteen year old self.
There I was, minding my own business, nattering away when I realised I was in my old Technical Drawing classroom. What followed was a moment of indescribable emotion. There I was – looking back at myself. A moment of personal realisation, triumph, self… I think everyone in the room held their breath as I held mine. “Wow” I said. My smile lit up the room. Got a lovely email from the teacher on my train to Belfast. One of the most rewarding experiences was finding out that the pupils were fascinated by the stigma attached to a criminal conviction and how it destroys life. My goal in life is reduce stigma of all kinds and create awareness surrounding criminal justice processes Apparently the pupils loved it and I’m a pretty cool guy. MOJO, well and truly restored.
MOJO meets my two mates from Helping Hands in a pub courtesy of one of the guys. I had to borrow the money for the train ticket from the Dad. He was brilliant too as when I left his house he said “Don’t panic son. You’ll be fine.” Helping Hands is a Non Profit Organisation consisting of people who have been to prison with a view to assisting those on the wrong side of criminal justice and with a core belief that “The voices of ex-prisoners are important, must be taken into account, and that they have a valuable contribution to make to society.”
Helping Hands has been up and running since approximately 2007, originally consisting of two men who had served life sentences. Unfortunatley, only one of the co – founders remains. Today, we as a collective are on a mission to revamp Helping Hands Belfast (HHB).
Website – http://www.helpinghandsbelfast.org
Our website was designed by a person who has been to prison using skills he developed in prison (and not just web design – communication skills are vital). Our board is made up of people who have worked in prison, financial institutions and academics.
Here are a few pics of participants from last years event in Belfast “A civic conversation: Critically discussing experiences of Northern Ireland’s criminal justice system.” Organised by myself and Dr Ruari-Santiago McBride. Particiapnts – Mr Pete White (Postive Prisons Positive Futures – Scotland), Dean and Professor Shadd Maruna (Reutgers New Jersey), Professor Jeffrey Ian Ross and Professor Mike Lenza (Convict Criminology), Dr Andy Aresti, Dr Sacha Darke, Dr Rod Earle, PhD Candidate Bill Davies (British Convict Criminology)
A follow up report of the event will be finished soon. Hopefully in time for the Open Day.
I personally have been in contact with other similar organisations across the UK and Ireland, before and after my release and will be doing everything within my power to help HHB become and I quote “A force to be reckoned with” within the processes of criminal justice in Northern Ireland. At present the Steering Committee consists of one of the co-founders, myself and one possibly two other people who have been to prison. My personal dream is that one day Helping Hands Belfast will be 100% run by people who have been to prison. We will be having an Open Day in the near future and I urge you to come and meet the gang and support us in our efforts to reduce Crime and Reoffending in Northern Ireland.
So, for the foreseeable future I will be ranting and raving about other things. However, a recent declaration by one of our MLA’s has allowed me to reconsider where I stand on politics. The person happened to mention in a public meeting that he was of the view that children who were brought up by gay couples were more likely to be damaged in some way, his party are somewhat abhorred by gay cake and another of the same ilk uses his time at the assembly to introduce the banning of Ouija Boards. I seriously believe this country has gone nuts.
Each and every one of the big UK party manifesto’s skirts around the issue of prisons and this is where they fail. And fail badly at that. I mentioned politics and prisons to the pupils and they blew me away. There was one young person who is on a Youth Council and I was fascinated by his intelligence and calm determination. I always believed that this country would change via it’s children and I would not see it in my lifetime because of the dinosaurs we have in power. Maybe just maybe I’ll get to see this young person fulfil there dreams. I hope I can do my bit to help.
My library will be completed soon and I look forward to fulfilling my dream. Dreams, people, time, place, circumstance all change but the one thing that remains is the self. It too is constantly growing, shrinking, developing, expanding so when someone says “this is who I am.” They don’t really know the meaning of am. At last year’s The European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control Conference my name was on the same panel as Thomas Mathieson (Norway) who joined us via Skype from his Library. In the audience my Masters supervisor Phil Scraton (Liverpool) was looking down at me with a smile on his face. As I spoke to and with Thomas I thought to myself “that’s exactly what I want to be doing when I’m eighty five.” I’ve never been as proud of my ‘self’ than at that particular moment. Or, ” maybe I had?” Time moves on as do the proud moments. So, this is why rejection and setbacks are easy to accept. At the end of the day there is only self and when one is content with a self that has already surpassed all previous selves one looks forward to writing “The Library Part 2” and look back at his forty eight year old self. I wonder what he’ll tell him?