Thursday, 23 November 2017

The Mind is a Dangerous Place

An Audio File of this  Blog can be found here

The Mind is a Dangerous Place.

Firstly, thank you all for your interest in my writing this blog. It will not be easy, and I ask that you forgive me for the typographical errors that will surely follow. Those of you that know me will understand. Those that do not, I don’t intend to go into the “whys”, “how’s”, “whatever’s” and “how’s your fathers”; save to say that I write from the heart and with passion. Sometimes my mind moves faster than the moving of my hands. I will record this in case what I say does not come out with the intention that it will be written.

Over the last two years, I have ranted, pleaded and bled for better care for those in custody. I am an emotional Scot and I say what I think. I get angry because I do not know any other way to show my emotion. I have lived with those in custody and have seen the deterioration of mental health of those in our jails. I use humour to try and get my point across. I post quotations on twitter that serve to make you smile but to hopefully think. I write my rants and put them out there not for glory but for you to think, to ponder. You; who have no direct experience of jail. You, who work in the Criminal Justice system, whether you be defenders or prosecutors of those indicted. Whether you judge the guilt or innocence of them or care for them whilst they be incarcerated. I write also for those that work with prisoners once they leave prison. I write for those who campaign to change the system, to rebel against the dreadful thing that is our prison system. I write for my fellow prisoners whether they be in the community or still be incarcerated.  But most of all, my dear reader, I write for myself. It’s how I express myself best. When I need to vent. When my mind does that moving faster than the moving of my lips thing, I write. I punch at the keys on my keyboard and I feel my passion flow from my finger-tips. Explaining things that I find, oh so very, difficult to speak these days.

Something happened to me last weekend and it had me thinking if my thoughts were “normal.” So, I asked you if you would be interested in delving into the mind of an ex-prisoner. You were thunderous in your reply. I promise to be open and frank. What I say may not be fluid, it will move from topic to topic but it will be honest. I hope that it gives you an insight into how I think. This is personal, I cannot speak for my fellow prisoners and I would not be so egotistical to tell you how someone else feels. I cannot tell you that what I feel anyone else does, but perhaps you can take some generic advice from what I say.

After the longest introduction in history, here goes.

What goes on in the mind of an ex-prisoner?

A while ago I was sitting in a coffee shop in the outskirts of London. I was upstairs sipping my coffee and chatting. All of a sudden out of the corner of my eye I saw 4 policemen coming up the stairs. My heart skipped a beat. Then it beat faster. The roof of my mouth went dry and I started to get very hot. I was about to stand up and say, “If you are looking for me, then here I am.” No, I had not done anything wrong, I had committed no crime and there would be no earthly reason why the police would be looking for me. But I was convinced they were there for me. They were not; they ordered their coffees, paid for them and left.

Just last weekend, I went to use my cash card, it was refused. Those muggles amongst you would automatically have thought, has someone cloned my card or something just as normal. Me? I thought “Have they closed my account because I am ex prisoner?” “Have the authorities written to the bank telling them of my past?” Answer: my card had indeed been cloned and the bank stopped it to HELP me!

These are just two examples of what goes on in my mind. I could regale you with a hundred more. The missed call when someone doesn’t leave a message or even worse the number comes up “un-known.”

I presently work in the criminal justice system, I work in prisons. I spend my time going back into the places that I so desperately wanted to get out of. I enjoy it, I feel at ease when talking to the prisoners. I am at my less guarded. I may wear a suit but as soon as I tell them about my past, the barriers come down and I am welcomed with open arms. These people don’t care about my past, they accept me for who I am. They understand that I spend my time trying to make things slightly better for them and their fellow prisoners. I feel “at home” when in a prison, is that wrong? But here’s the thing. I rely on people working WITH me. I can’t do everything that I want to without their help. I doubt you can imagine what goes through my head when they don’t get back to me. They don’t answer an email, they don’t return a call or such like.

When the phone call doesn’t come or the email doesn’t arrive, my worry goes into over drive. Is it something I have done wrong? Have they decided not to deal with me because of my past? I expect the phone call to come and say, “Listen Tartan Con, we just can’t work with you”. Worst, perhaps they just won’t bother calling me back.

They don’t think anything of their actions and nor should they. After all they don’t always remember that they are dealing with someone who has lived with the fear of the unknown when being “behind a door.” It’s “The Tartan Con” they say, “I will get back to him later.” I should be able to handle it, I am a grown man of some (albeit limited) intelligence.

But here’s the thing. I can’t. I live with paranoia.

I didn’t have this before. It’s something that has followed me since my days in prison. The sound of keys jangling at the door. The sound of many pairs of feet walking down the landing and stopping outside my cell. It’s the search carried out for no other reason than my cell number came up. It’s the not being unlocked on time or hearing your name coming over the speaker to be called to the wing office. It’s the presuming the worst will happen.

Carry those thoughts on for 4 years and paranoia soon becomes the default emotion to which to turn.

In prison, one is forced to hide one’s own true emotions. We don’t show our feelings lest it be seen to be a sign of weakness. The smallest of jibes from a staff member will cut through us like a hot knife through butter. We build them up over a lengthened period of time. Sometimes they explode and we get the incidents we see all too frequently.

I left prison, a worried soul. I was told all too frequently “you’ll be alright, Tartan Con. Prison was an inconvenience for you, we couldn’t teach you anything. Good luck” You were wrong!  You taught me how to be scared of my shadow. You taught me how to suffer in silence. You taught me how not to show my true feelings to anyone. You left me with a feeling of lack of self-worth that has me questioning my very existence on a daily basis.  You selfish bastards. I shall never forgive you.

I left prison like a deer stuck in the headlights. I came home after so many years and felt like a stranger in my own house. I asked and still do if I could make a cup of tea. I ask, “where does this go?” (I still do this). I apologise for everything as everything must be my fault. After all it was when I was in prison.

I am impatient. I want answers now and I panic if they don’t come.

To all solicitors that are reading this; do me a favour.; if you say to your client that you will write to them or visit them. DO IT! I know you think that after your client is sent down that you end your work. You don’t. Your client is just about to start their journey [I hate that word, don’t you?]. Prison is a terribly lonely place to be and sometimes you are the only contact they have with the outside world. Do not forget them. Even if it is 5 minutes out of your day to send a letter or email. You have no idea how devastated your client will be if you just forget them.

I am far more resigned now than I have ever been. I just presume that nothing good can ever happen. I live in sadness.

I am not a person that has ever had someone that I can call a true friend. I prefer my own company to that of others. It was just my make-up and prison isn’t to blame for that. But it is to blame for the state of my mind now. I live to please others and not myself as that is how one gets through one’s sentence. Make sure the staff are happy and like you and your life will be easier. Tell them what they want to hear not what’s in your heart; that’s the way.  I am a product of a system that destroys you when you are at the weakest point of your life, but it doesn’t rebuild you. In prison, we all wanted that “positive entry “on the prison record. I still crave that recognition. It isn’t because I need the glory, it is just that when it all goes wrong in life, I will have something with which to prove my worth.  Someone, recently was telling me about a person who was released on a life licence. They said, “he’s damaged”. What an aberration of a statement to make! But then I thought, aren’t we all damaged?

The smallest thing you say to me can trigger me off onto a spiral that only goes downward. A person with whom I have a decent working relationship said to me recently, that they were speaking to a leading criminologist about me. Now put aside the thoughts I had about someone talking about me; this criminologist asked what I was jailed for. When told; he replied, “Oh we don’t treat them as real criminals.” I laughed but was hurt. Not because this oxygen thief decided to decry me but rather they discarded me as someone not worthy of their attention.

I have a condition that has a side effect of depression. I can sit on my own and just feel the wave of desolation come over me like a cloud of despair. I try to manage it but the simplest thing will set me off. The tears will flow like Niagara Falls on a damp day. Add that onto the paranoid feelings, the feeling of utter uselessness and you get the idea.

So be cognisant of what and how you talk to someone who has served a jail sentence. What you may think is jocular can have the adverse effect. Don’t joke with me about my prison sentence, it wasn’t funny. Don’t joke about the circumstances that drove me to be there, I have tried to overcome those. Do understand that I am not the person that you have heard about. That is the old Tartan Con and I have nothing in common with him anymore. Do give me the benefit of the doubt. Do treat me as an equal. I may talk about the fact that I am an ex-prisoner, it doesn’t mean that you get to. I am a work in progress.

To those Governors, Prison Officers, front line staff that work in prisons; please I beg of you, take what I say seriously. Be careful what you say to ex-prisoners. We are indeed a damaged bunch. We will read into everything you say. We will presume that there is an underlying current in everything you talk to us about. We will presume that you are waiting for us to “revert to type.” I know that you wish us well, I know that you care, I know that you “try” not to judge us on our past. But every now and then you will say “you know he is an ex-prisoner” and there you go. You have just done the very thing that you told us you would never do. I have found that so many of you are caring individuals, people who want to make a change but I also find that a lot of you “revert to type” when talking about a group of prisoners. You may like the individual but you still have your ingrained ideas about us. I have witnessed your “reversion” first hand and it upsets me. It doesn’t make me angry, just disappointed in you. You are better than that.

Look I don’t want or need your pity, none of the former prisoners that I know do. What we want, what we need you to understand is what the system has done to us. It has damaged us, but not beyond repair. We ask that you treat us exactly the same as you would any other individual. Just take into consideration, what your actions will have on us before you undertake them. There is a phrase that every action has a positive and negative reaction. Think of what that negative reaction would be, before acting.

It’s difficult, isn’t it? I am asking you to tread carefully in one breath and then the next, I am asking you to treat us as you would any other. But hey that’s life, isn’t it? No-one said it was going to be easy.

Of course, this is just my opinion, I could be wrong.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Hippos all

The Audio File of this blog is  Here

Are We all Hippopotami?

It’s been a while since I have written /ranted/ blogged / pontificated. Did you miss me?

This is the first of two blogs. In this first hotch potch of writings, I promise to be gentle with you. A sort of easing back into the machinations of my mind, if you will. The second (out later this week) will let forth like the storms of Thor in a full-blown rant.

Look there are no right or wrong answers, here, it is to be food for thought. Digested and discussed over a cheeky little Martini or an Irn Bru  (a far better option, if you want my opinion).

So, onto the topic of this post.

I am new to the world of the soap opera, and purely for research you understand, I have watched an interesting program over the last few weeks called EastEnders. Anyone heard of it? It’s ok, if you want to admit it, no-one’s listening (or probably reading for that matter). The entire premise of this show seems to be that the world is a rotten place and everyone is up to something “dodgy” and if we don’t end up in jail then we end up dead, alone, unemployed, the parent of a child who is a murderer or some equally disastrous fate. What we won’t end up is happy.

Then we switch channels and see something called HolyOaks. Same thing, different accent. Then there is that wonder of Coronation Street; same thing “differenter” accent. Emmerdale; same thing more sheep! Oh, whatever happened to Benny in Crossroads?

So why this trip down the Points of View memory lane?

It leads me into telling you about the sitting back and watching I have been doing on Social Media recently. I haven’t posted much of interest latterly and for that I don’t apologise. It was really a self-imposed exile more than anything else.

I have looked at the postings of most across the criminal justice system and my particular area of in-expertise – that of prisons.

What I have noticed is the outright condemnation of the state of our prisons by those who deem themselves to be authoritarians on the subject. Quite rightly so, I say, the prisons are an absolute mess and the way the country treats my former cell mates is degrading and inhumane.

I have watched everyone decry the state of justice in our country, complain that nothing is getting done and things are only getting worse. To a certain extent that’s indeed the regrettable case.

However, (there is always a “however” isn’t there?) I wonder if we, as a nation, enjoy wallowing in someone else’s quagmire of problems? WE watch these soap operas by the millions and seem to revel in the desperation of what new fate has fallen upon the characters since we last caught up with them 24 hours previously? Did X really kill Y? Did A rip off B? I could go on but I fear I might lose the ever waning will to live that I have now after watching these programs.

Do these programs mirror real life, albeit in a rather more fluid motion than we are accustomed to?

Do we watch them for escapism? If so, what are we escaping from that makes the life of a fictional TV character seems more appealing than ours?  If they are not more appealing then the answer must be that we do indeed watch them to “enjoy” their misery.

I then follow that thought through to those involved in the “Penal Reform” movement. If (granted it is a huge “if) all was well within our prisons and everyone was being rehabilitated and everyone that wanted it had their own cell with a closed off toilet, staffing levels were up to standard, we didn’t jail people for the most idiotic length of time or reason for that matter… (wow, long list) what would these people then do?

I find a lot of people like to moan, myself included, and if there was nothing to moan about in my chosen subject; would I then move onward to find something new to decry?

When something idiotic happens in our prisons, or something catastrophic occurs, we all reach for the twitter button and shout and scream. “Oh, how stupid” we say. “When will they listen to us” we cry. “When will they change things” we wonder. Quick question… who do WE think THEY are? If WE think THEY are politicians then are We that na├»ve to believe that THEY will change a thing for the fear of losing an election?

Over the last year, I have worked in a number of establishments. I just plod away, trying to make a small difference in prisoner’s lives. I have witnessed some sheer and utter idiocy by some staff, governors and above that it would make your hair stand on end and reach immediately for the TV remote control and tune into that day’s episode of HolyEastCoronationFarm.

But I have also witnessed dedication, innovation, empathy, sheer random acts of kindness from all of those that I berate above. I have read reports of good work, solid work, work that helps change for the better those that we incarcerate. But what I don’t witness is the rejoicing of this. You may have a bad opinion of our jails and of course you are entitled to your opinion.  I have fought and continue to fight for your right for just that. But what I fail to understand is that when something good comes out in the media about the state of A prison and perhaps that prison’s dedication to try and change; it is met with a silence so quiet that I can picture a tumbleweed passing through my screen. Why?

Is it because we don’t, really want our prisons to improve because if they do then what can we gripe about? It is an interesting conundrum, isn’t it? I know that some of those that are reading this are thinking “balderdash” but I ask you to dig deep down and ask yourself the question.

We want “reform” but what is “reform?”  What I may deem to be a reformation you will not. Why? Well, because I have a personal experience that some do not? So, when I ask for the basics to be changed, you may not understand that. There was much too made of the announcement this week of prisoners being able to cast votes. Lovely idea, wonderful. Let the prisoners all vote for; oh, I don’t know, perhaps a candidate that stands for human rights. Let them cast their vote and go back to their cell where they can eat their dinner 3 feet from where they defecate. Excellent idea. 

The only time things will change overall is when the entire populous demands it. Not just a few thousand of us. Reformation is a long drawn out process that is driven by politics. Revolution, on the other hand, is not (just saying).

I moan like the rest of you, I despair with the masses, I pull my hair out so often when doors are slammed in my face that I am starting to resemble one of those bald chaps in EastEnders. But, and there is a but, I like to read about the good things that happen in prison. I care not if it is a prison in which I have worked or had that door slammed in my face. I just like to hear good things. Why don’t you?

So, as I end this little ditty, I ask:

Are we not all hippopotami that like to wallow in the bog of human disparity? Do we not need/want/like something to moan about? After all, if we have nothing moan about, isn’t life then just dandy?

Let’s do this, can we not celebrate the good things that are going on in our prisons? Just a little tweet that says “Just heard that HMPXXX is doing this.... good on them”

As always just my opinion, I could be completely wrong.

Tickety Tonk.

The Audio File of this blog is here