C. came out of prison about a month ago. A colleague and I picked him up from the gate. Everything went smoothly: he was excited to be out and happy to see us. Because he had completed his sentence probation were not involved; that is quite unusual, but it simplified things.
He had made the decision to move away from his area and come to a city on the other side of the country where he knew no one except me, slightly, from our correspondence and a couple of chaplaincy visits. That was a brave decision; a decision that speaks of a desire to set a new course in life.
This young man has served the better part of the last decade behind bars. Time when he might have been learning a trade; building a family; making an investment in something worthwhile. He is the same age as my son.
For a few, prison is no particular hardship. They accept it as a risk; an occupational hazard. There are even a few who deliberately get themselves sent down because they see a lucrative opportunity to run a racket in contraband — or some darker motive.
But C. isn’t like that. For him, prison was more or less hell.
We first met him about nine months ago on the back of interviewing someone else. The chaplain asked as if we could have a word with him. He had just been transferred into that prison having been badly beaten up. He had broken ribs, a fractured skull and a subdural bleed that could have killed him and has left him with memory problems. He was a mess.
From that point, we have supported him as best we could from a distance — mainly through correspondence.
But, a month on from release, C. is struggling every day with his freedom.
He struggles with separation from his family, even though he hasn’t seen them for years, and he knows that if he went back, he would return to prison before long.
He struggles with not taking drugs — even though he hates drugs and has been clean for several months.
He struggles with our ‘house rules’, though these are not onerous, and he understands perfectly why they are in place.
He struggles, at times, taking direction from the support staff. Sometimes he responds aggressively.
In fact, C. is struggling with his identity. He doesn’t really know who he is, and I think it will take some time for him to work it out. We call it a prison head, where someone still thinks like a prisoner. They are in survival mode, looking out for dodges and ways to win small victories; they have a deep and automatic distrust of anyone who appears to be in authority and ‘compliance’ looks a lot like passive aggression.
C. will receive professional counselling and lots of practical help and encouragement from people who really do ‘get it’ — most of our support staff are only a few months ahead of him in their journey — but even so, the next few weeks are going to be critical.
If C. were not in a project like Walk, he would be back in prison by now.
Our current government has said that it wants to put more people in prison for longer; the Home Secretary said ‘I want [criminals] to literally feel terror at the thought of committing offences.’
This populist stuff isn’t helpful in the least.
What will make the public safer is if men like C., who have committed violent offences, are supported effectively to move on from the traps their past is setting for them, to live ‘good’ and productive lives.
It’s what they want. It’s what everybody wants.
Will C. make it?
I really hope so. He wants to. I’d like to say that he’s ‘highly motivated’, because that’s the kind of thing I should be saying here. But, truthfully, I don’t think he’s there yet. If he can stick with it for another month or two and his head doesn’t fall off, maybe it will come. These are still early days.
Check out my book, Working with Released Prisoners, published by Instant Apostle and available wherever books are sold.
Also, check out my channel on YouTube