At midnight tomorrow night – with no pomp and circumstance, no fan-fare, no appointment to be met, no paperwork to sign, not even a “see ya later” – my time as a service user, after many decades, of our criminal justice system comes to an end, as my time on licence from prison expires. One thing, a label I suppose, that I can never change, just like the addicted; drug user, gambler, drinker and so on. I will always be an ex-prisoner, the choice, of course, whether or not that defines me in most circles, is not mine. I am not proud of my past, however, nor am I ashamed. Especially as I now spend most my time campaigning for prison reform. To be ashamed of myself would make me ashamed of my peers, those former incarcerated, currently incarcerated and our returning citizens. Would it not, or are my morals misguided?
I would not have chosen ex-prisoner as a label however, were I afforded the opportunity to have sat down with a school career’s adviser. I was kicked out of the education system before the end of my third senior year. I gained my career advice elsewhere. The fact I now have ex-prisoner as a label was because of the decisions I made. Prison was my reward.
It wasn’t to be a one time only reward, nor twice, or even thrice. The reward become so regular that it became; an action, a habit, a belief, a need, a way of life! A need with so much intensity that it influenced a French psychologist, Abraham Maslow in 1943, to create a theory on it, stacking the different levels into a pyramid. I don’t know if the theory was based on me, or I the theory. Although, a rational person would know the theory came first.
Wednesday, the day my licence ends, I know will be an anti-climax. My licence has always been at my side in the very high majority of my decision-making processes. In all fairness though, in some of my circumstances, the decisions I took should have been made regardless of a licence. I learnt not to allow the licence to define me as a person, experience from expensive mistakes. Let’s be honest, yes some licences, mine included, do impose some strict conditions at the start, but once those have been survived, the rest of the licence is the majority of what society need to live by in order to stay free. Although, the punishment may differ.
I can’t lie and say my transition through my licence has been a straight forward one, not by a long shot. I was almost recalled after my 6th week out, which also corresponded with my final night at an Approved Premises (AP) in Luton, before I was to transfer to another AP in Norwich. I was lucky to get away with a director’s warning. So, rather than be sitting here writing a blog, I could be laying in my prison cell awaiting my release on Wednesday, then again, given the fact my family and loved ones would have been so disappointed in me, so much that they would have disowned me, who knows where I’d be laying?
I can now admit that even without the directors warning as evidence, my time in Luton was fucking hard work. The first two weeks, I was the man I am today, however, that soon changed. I can make as many excuses as I wish but at the end of the day I wanted to remove myself from that environment. To do so I chose spice over alcohol, weed, crack or heroin to provide me with that opportunity. I started off smoking a gram a day, but in no time that was 3 grams a day, which was my personal purchase. Other’s I smoked with had theirs too. The place became a nightmare. The residents took control. The staff was scared to venture out the office. They did try to run psychological type prison courses, but we didn’t want to engage. We even had a recorded incident where two cars of lads pulled up at the hostel, accusing one of OUR lads of dealing drugs on their territory. We managed to sort it, and they left before any incident or the arrival of the police. It’s funny how things quickly slip from your mind when being spoken to by old bill. The hostel itself was in an area of Luton I can only describe as “WTF, whose idea was it to put a hostel here.”
I can pinpoint exactly where I began to make the wrong decisions. I thought a good idea to fill up my time in Luton was to offer my services to a local charity, who I knew about, that provide education opportunities for the unwaged (or whatever being on the dole is called these days), ex-prisoners and so on. I had been an education mentor in prison and have Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (P.T.L.L.S) along with a level three in Advice and Guidance, as well as numerous other qualifications gained from prison. I also had plenty of experience of working with adults in an education setting. I was in communication with the manager there, via the phone and email. I built up a relationship with the charity. Being totally open and honest about everything, they seemed thrilled that I had contacted them. One of the emails I received contained an application form that I was unable to access. We then made arrangements for me to go in to the office and physically fill out a form and have a longer chat about what they do.
In between the discussion and the appointment I had an key-work session at the hostel. I explained everything to my key-worker, “I’ve managed to sort it all out myself, so no need for any assistance thank you!” was my reply to his offer. When I arrived at the charity I didn’t receive the warm welcome my previous conversations would suggest I’d get. I felt they were going through the motions. I stuck with it and saw it through, thanked them then left. On my way back from the hostel I received a phone call from the charity, they said that unfortunately it would take six weeks to get a DRB check and that I wasn’t successful. I explained that I had been open and honest from the outset, so why the change? The manager told me that she had received a call from my key-worker, he was concerned that I was lying to him, that I had told the charity everything. My index offence was armed robbery which they were aware of. They were also aware I had been in prison on previous occasions for similar violent crimes. He then said he was unable to give them any more information and suggest they speak with my probation officer due to disclosure issues. But then, having this as my probation officers opinion of me, which is contained within my OASys report and I can’t challenge, one can understand my key-workers judgement of me, if not his actions. This was not the man released from prison. I approached my key-worker who gave me a completely different version, one that didn’t match the narrative of what had already taken place before his involvement. What could I do? I chose to get out my nut on spice and not, irrationally, face recall. I was damn lucky. I’m pleased to say that the day I left Luton, I left spice behind. However, it wouldn’t be my last relapse, although not with spice.
July 24th I left Luton and my destination was John Boag House (JBH) Approved Premises in Norwich, or as it is locally known, ‘Paedophile Palace’ (don’t shoot the messenger). As a violent offender, not only was I subject to MAPPA2, I was also having to adhere to the hostel rules. I was not allowed a camera phone, a smart-phone nor access to the internet. I wasn’t even allowed to enter the local public park located on the opposite side of the road. I had been to JBH on two previous releases on licence from sentence, recalled both times, and no FTR or parole. The first, impossible and the latter “fuck em, I’ll do the lot”. Yet, I felt more comfortable this time because I knew I was playing a different tune. Even though my happiness was somewhat muted. Due to my robbery taking place in Norwich, my arrival back not only upped my risk level but also, any conditions I had relaxed in Luton all started again. It was like it was day one of release from prison again. In a way, it was!
Relapse number two, fortunately, didn’t last long. Things were going really well, despite my key-worker at JBH, where the feeling of hate was a mutual thing, based on previous visits. So much so, I was informed by another member of staff that at the staff meeting where it was announced I’d be returning again, she had turned around and said “Oh! for fuck sake not him again”, I was pleased to hear that, as it meant that I didn’t have to do much in order to look good, again, based on my previous stays. Even still, she would try to get in my face and wind me up on her shifts, wanting a reaction. My reactions remained; the salutations of the day along with a warm smile, my thoughts? Well! Some things should stay private.
I was really happy, I was even having discussions re: moving on. I had an appointment with a housing association that, in my opinion, had gone really well, promises made, no guarantees of course, and rightly so. I had done it. I was on my way out. First-time ever. Yesssssssssssss! I had completed the part I felt was the only area I was in danger of recall. A couple of days later I had a key-work session. I was being spoken to as if I was aware of a certain situation. My key-worker saw (knew?) I was confused and went on to explain that the housing association had, had their funding stopped and will be closing down, therefore, not taking on new clients. The lady who interviewed me, allegedly, in full knowledge of this at the time of the interview. Outwardly I took it like a man, especially in front of my key-worker. Inwardly, I died. I’m going to be stuck here for months, I knew it. Do I make a phone call to reception at HMP Norwich and reserve my old room? Fucking all this off, going back and finishing off my sentence and being released licence free an option no longer available to me. Not if I wanted to keep my family and loved ones. Their support already strained, as I tell them everything these days.
Another friend of mine, who had moved out, and I, had set up a financial arrangement between us. We got paid alternate weeks. I had lent him money when I got my benefit, the following week he would pay me back. Guaranteeing that we’d have money the weeks we wasn’t individually paid. Today was my day to collect. When I got to my mates, something I wasn’t aware would be happening, he had a crack-pipe waiting. Fuck it! By the time I left I had smoked four pipes. On the walk back to the hostel, with cash in my pocket and high on crack, I made a call to a contact and arranged to meet where I paid for a bag. This bag, however, contained weed. The lesser of two evils, although abstinence was also a choice I ignored. I was also in a position to choose weed due to my skill and experience in certain drug tests. JBH no longer did urine tests for drugs, they swapped to another way. One easily passed if you know what to do. One day this would come to my advantage. I had been out fishing with a mate (well, watching) and I was due back to the hostel for a regular 4 pm sign-in, at 3.45 pm I realised I was too stoned to; give a shit, devise some elaborate plan, or think of an excuse. Thanks to the aforementioned experience, I was able to not only walk out the office after a negative result, I also left the staff member somewhat perplexed, with no other option than to believe my last-minute hay-fever story. Head and Shoulders shampoo, my excuse in jail for red-eye wouldn’t have worked in this situation. I will say that Cannabis should be considered as medication for someone with multiple personalities who has learnt to embrace them and control them with Cannabis. So a friend tells me, anyway!
This is when the amazing, incredible, wonderful, fantastic Grace Richardson from Future Projects (it’s okay Laura Bloomfield, I haven’t forgotten you) within hours of hearing my accommodation problem called me to tell me that she had arranged an appointment, two days later, with a local supported accommodation provider. The place where I met the equally amazing and so on Donna Myall, the manager of the House of Genesis in Norwich, the place that would become my home, four days later, for the next 20 up and down months. Donna understood me. I possessed, and still do to a lesser degree, a scared inner little boy who needs reassurance, not in a motherly way, not in a typical way either. No doubt a psychologist will have a theory on the fact that most of my support network, on the face of it, were women, I can assure any Freudian’s, that, although I loved my, now departed, mum (1990, aged just 59) she definitely wasn’t my type.
I feel this is a good place to stop and I will continue sharing my journey whilst on licence next time, including my third and final relapse.