“There were times in my life, when I was going insane, trying to get through, the pain…” Lyrics from “Amazing” by Aerosmith. My pain was not only what I’d done to myself but to those close to me and the potential victims caused by the drug trade. I was caught and in an ironic way it saved me from my own addiction. My legal advice was that I should not mention my own addiction during my trial. I’d only get a couple of years now under new sentencing guidelines. I’ve never complained once about my 12yr sentence for attempting to import 1.1kg of cocaine into the UK.
My pain, after a weak suicide attempt, was alleviated by another prisoner who became my friend and mentor. Met a few like minded people on my journey through the prison system and I eventually ended up being a mentor, classroom assistant, teacher of ESOL, student, Listener, chief writer of complaints to the Prisoner Ombudsman and proverbial pain in the ass for ‘The Management’.
This recent decision by NOMS to bar Trevor Hercules from prison http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jul/28/trevor-hercules-ex-prisoner-help-young-offenders-prison-ban?CMP=share_btn_tw supports what I’ve been saying about prisons from day one “Do not use logic when dealing with prison. Leave it at the gate because when you enter prison. Logic goes out the window.”
Inside Times 2013 December Issue Star letter of the month by Mick Horn http://insidetime.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/December-20121.pdf illuminates the growing trend for peer support and a fantastic programme whereby mentors worked with probation. The letter is self explanatory. In the following issue Peter G adds his grist to the mill – https://hmprisons.wordpress.com/page/2/
Isn’t it strange that Mick, Pete and myself all served time on the same landing at HMP Rye Hill in 2008. Mick got me on to the prison magazine where I started a journalism course which led to me being sacked from the magazine. On a very lazy Sunday I wandered into Peter’s cell only to find him partially hidden behind a pile of books. His bed and table were strewn with sheets of A4 paper and piles of hand written documents (OU essays). Today I am alive and have a BA in Criminology and Psychological studies and a MSSc in Criminology. If it was not for these two men… well I think you get the drift.
At the 2014 European Group for the Study of Deviance & Social Control Conference I was fortunate enough to be on the panel of British Convict Criminology and shared the stage via video link with Thomas Mathieson. In the audience was my Professor, Supervisor, Mentor and friend Phil Scraton a very proud moment for yours truly (my other Mentor couldn’t be there but I’ll see him soon). We listened to Dr Andy Aresti of Westminster University explain how after over ten years after his release, many years as a Dr, Lecturer, Teacher, Charity Worker and Mentor he was still deemed unfit/risk to go back in to prison to do research. I always used to wonder why I wasn’t allowed to hand out written work on a visit (read by staff). What do they have to hide. Sorry I digress.
More recently Frances Crook was denied entry to prison. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/23/ban-prisons-silence-truth-ministry-of-justice
I’ve documented this before in my blogs I met Frances Crook in Brixton in 2007 and was introduced to Pauline Campbell. Pauline is now dead, committed suicide at her daughters grave. Pauline’s daughter Sarah killed herself in prison – http://www.theguardian.com/society/2008/may/16/prisonsandprobation1
Pauline used to write to me and send me books at the same time I met Mick and Pete in Rye Hill. At the event in Brixton I also spoke to Lord Carlisle who was rather astonished when I told him how easy it was to get drugs in prison.
I’ll not mention too many names here as it would be a very long list. In fact it might be better if i don’t mention any. I’m getting a flash of paranoia here! At the BSC Conference in Liverpool my dear friend (who shall remain nameless in case of reprisals. We all know how petty these things can be) shared the experience of attaining NOMS approval. Many of the bright eyed future generation of PhD students were open mouthed, aghast even (sorry for the Snagglepuss impersonation) at the hurdles they might face. This is the future of our academia in the world of psychology, criminal justice, law, policing, criminology et al we’re talking about here. Not just a couple of kids doing a school project. To be fair some researchers are getting in but they normally have a good relationship with the powers that be.
These are only a few examples of the logical decisions made to protect us as a society. Fear is the key and risk encompasses all. When are we going to realise that prisons are part of a community, part of society and here in Northern Ireland with a population of 1.8 Million people, nearly everyone knows someone who has been in, works in or works with someone who has been to jail. The decision to exclude men like Trevor Hercules and Andy Aresti from prisons only exposes it for the sham that it is. We can rant and rave all we want – nothing will improve. Until…
When I used to walk on the wing with my books and bag under my arm the new cannon fodder used to glare at me. They used to think I was an officer, probation or teacher. I never really got it until one of my mates came up and told me this. I was taken aback and told the regulars on the wing to spread the word to all the new guys that I was a prisoner just like them. What happened over the next few weeks and months was a steady stream of guys quietly approach me and ask about education courses. This also involved listening to a plethora of social, personal and mental problems so endemic of our criminal justice system. I now work with Helping Hands in Belfast – http://www.helpinghandsbelfast.org/
When are we going to get our asses in gear and realise that we elect a government who work for us, they employ civil servants who work for us, prisons belong to us and our communities welcome people like Trevor, Andy and many many more because they recognise we’ve been there done that and can make a difference. We, as people who have been to prison changed our lives and change others. Most of us work for free by the way. Does that need to change. A very senior prison official once told me “if we had a jail full of Michael Irwins we’d all be out of work. ” Where’s the logic in that?
So, my questions here are – who is my mentor? Who was the one person who helped me? Who made it all happen? Where would I be now without all of them? Where would others be without me?
I’ve written a short ‘factional’ story related to mentoring if you are interested. I’m looking for a publisher for my main book. I recorded my six years. This is just a taste of things to come