In part one of Facts, fears and fables: Silent Battles, I had described my time in the two Approved Premises (AP) (one in Luton and one in Norwich) which I was made to reside in as part of my licence conditions during my first three months of release. I also discussed two of my relapses. In part two I’ll disclose my time in my supported accommodation home.
Bank holiday Monday, 28th August 2017 was the day I would move to the House of Genesis, the supported accommodation that would be my home for the next 20 months.
I’d already had my appointment at the House of Genesis the previous Thursday (24th) and was told at the end of the interview that I will be accepted. The manager, Donna, would come in on the Monday, even though it wasn’t to be a working day, to make sure I could get in as soon as possible. The timing of this gesture could not have been any better, with what had happened at John Boag House (JBH) I was at my lowest point thinking I would be trapped in an AP. I, on the Thursday, also found myself being proved right as to my experienced feelings towards probation.
Newtons third law tells us “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction force”. The House of Genesis required a deposit of £75 before I could secure my room. I therefore felt a quick call to probation would put me in a position to be able to pay the deposit. After a brief call to probation, it was left to my support worker, Grace, putting in a call to her superiors at Future Projects, to step in once again to assist with the deposit, which I’m pleased to confirm, they received back once I moved out.
Please bear in mind that this was the first time, after numerous attempts, I had managed to make it through my time in an AP without being recalled, and completing my sentence in prison.
So, everything was totally different. I no longer had restrictions or a curfew, save the house rules, which, considering the conditions I had been under, were ones of common sense and mutual respect. Time, and people, move on, but at the time I could not have asked to share a home with anyone better than the residents already living there. There are four bedrooms in the main house, which consists of three bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs, there are also two separate self-contained rooms, which formed an annex detached from the main house. Therefore, the house and annex could hold a maximum of 6, in an all male residential environment. 5 of us were all around the same age, this made household chores something that just happened organically, we just pitched in. It wouldn’t be too long after my arrival that I would be grateful to have so much experience around me to tap into. In fact, it would only be two days. On Wednesday afternoon, the small unobtrusive CCTV cameras in all of the common areas of the house, began to burn into the very heart of me. “Wait!”, “Hold on a fucking minute”, “Am I truly free”, “Will I ever be truly free”, and similar thoughts, began to batter my mind at a rate of knots. The windows became dark, the walls closed in, the ceilings dropped, the cameras got closer, grew eyes, pointed fingers. “What the fuck is going on?”. BANG!!!!! I crashed. The problem was exasperated by the height I had crashed from. For a while I slumped on my bed, curled up in the fetus position. Not wanting to be dead, but not wanting to be alive either.
Like I say, I was fortunate to have some good people round me, well, I suppose society would debate whether ‘good people’ is the correct term, but they, and one in particular, probably, saved my life. As I don’t drink Carlsberg, I’ll stick with the term ‘good people’. A lot of problems in life are not physical, that’s not to show disrespect to anyone fighting an illness. We are struck down by our thoughts, feelings and beliefs, which are not created by a chemical imbalance that a doctor can over-prescribe poison to help. Mine come from the life I had led, the feelings I felt, the things I experienced, the things I saw, the things I did. Medication cannot deal with that, not really. Medication can, of course, paper over the cracks. Well, that is until one of life’s many triggers sees irrational, befuddled decisions being made. Ultimately leading to a visit to one of the many hotels belonging to the queen, or a stay in a particular hospital that seem to be as rare as rocking horse shit these days.
Within no time, med free, I was back on my feet, simply through talking (Thanks Mike). Donna, our manager, provided me with my own PC (the one I am writing on now, in fact), and a whole new world opened up to me.
One of my diagnosis is one of having an Anti-Social Personality Disorder. Ironic really, considering the label as a child of having Conduct Disorder, a natural progression, it would seem, based, not! on a decision Who knows, maybe I became the label. At least I would fit in at the secure unit/Children’s home I was made to stay at. Then the detention centre’s and Youth Custody Centre’s that quickly followed that. Unfortunately, by the age of 14, the education system had had enough of me. As did the retreat centre I was placed in, to continue my education. It was my own fault, I was out of control and nothing worked. Nothing, apart from taking me off the streets that is.
Having my own computer, in my room, meant that I could study for the next module of my criminology and psychology degree in comfort. Or so I thought. A mistake I had made, was in not checking out the student home page provided by The Open University for their students. In prison, I only had access to text books as a study resource. I started my studies again in the beginning of October. I didn’t pay too much attention to the student home page as I studied, prepared and sent off my first tutor marked assignment (TMA). I received a pretty good score of 74% and told myself how much more I could improve by using the resources that were now available to me. Bad move. I became so overwhelmed with the plethora of information that was available to me, I struggled to cope. After speaking with my tutor I was made aware that I could miss out on a TMA. I, therefore, chose to miss out TMA02 and concentrate on TMA03. I couldn’t do it. This time my tutor advised me to speak with the student helpline. They were fantastic, and extremely understanding. Between us, although I had the final decision, we felt the best course of action would be to bank my TMA01 score and defer my degree for a year, which I did.
There were so many more benefits from me having my own computer. Writing this blog being one, however, I also write for a number of online journals as well. I will soon be publishing all my article links within my blog. It enabled the start of where I am today in respect of my social media presence and the opportunities I picked up because of it. It provided me with a platform to, not only, voice my opinions, but also, share my many experiences of the criminal justice system and life.
It wasn’t long before the dynamics of the house changed. A few masks dropped, and as I said earlier, some people move on. Again, I was fortunate to have a few around me that remained constant. None more so than the manager, Donna. Donna came to mean many things to me. Of course, a manger, a position I respected but also as a friend, a confident, on some occasions, even as a mum. Along with Laura & Grace from Future Projects, and Deborah Stewart my former curriculum manager at HMP Norwich, Donna understood me, knew how to manage me. Knew when to discipline me and knew when to put an arm around me or give me space. I’d like to think that was also a lot to do with my honesty to the said ladies. No more would anything in my life be hidden as I moved along the path of reforming ME! You’d think that to have such shoulders to cry on would provide me with strength, and it did. Yet, because of the support and the belief these ladies had in me, it allowed me to really look at me. Remember, I had not been in this position before. Yes! My plan in going back to prison was to make sure I was in this position, however, be careful what you wish for. If you’re not ready, it can overwhelm you so much you can end up ruining everything you have worked for. I was becoming successful at what I wanted to achieve, whilst laying on my bed, day-dreaming, in my cell, months earlier.
To say I didn’t know my arse from my elbow would be a huge understatement. I made some bad decisions over the following months, decisions, some of which I kept to myself, breaking my own code of openness and honesty, fearing for loss of liberty via recall. A real fear when considering I could be recalled within 20 minutes for disclosing the wrong thought. Drugs, alcohol, violence, debt all played their part in my daily thoughts. Especially when struggling for a few quid, knowing an earner is only a phone-call, text, chance meeting or opportune moment away. One way to beat any of those thoughts, not to allow them to become actions, is to not put yourself in situations where it could happen. How does one do that? Easy, don’t go out. Become institutionalised once again. Prison no longer an option or choice. It mattered not. I had my own cell, for that’s what my room become once again. To survive, what I knew would be a temporary situation, I flicked on the prison mode switch. I became a prisoner in my own home, and actually liked it. I had stumbled upon a way of life that suited me. Not at first I must admit. It didn’t happen over night and the process led to some desperate times.
One particular day, during this transitional period, I was due at probation for my regular appointment. I knew I had to get out, and I knew I had to go to probation. I spoke with Donna in the morning, and then Grace phoned me and helped me get to probation. Grace stayed with me on the phone as I walked to probation. Public transport not an option, and getting a lift would make the exercise pointless. We started off slowly, using distances between upcoming lampposts as targets. The walk would usually take me 35-40 minutes, after about ten minutes we extended the distances. This continued until I had made it to probation, in time to have a fag, and completely ready for the appointment. I even caught the bus back after.
Being in this low mood, the thought of drugs were never far from my mind. My brain had chosen crack as it’s drug of choice to keep hitting me with. The physical symptoms becoming real, the need to go to the loo whenever the thought of that much needed escape from reality would rush through my mind, not once or even twice a day, but there it sat, on my shoulder, constantly reminding me of that sweet buzz I once had a love/hate relationship with. Relapse number three not far on the horizon, inevitable. Who do I talk to about my constant want? Bear in mind paranoia of recall had kicked in by this stage. Then, the inevitable did indeed happen, I snapped, the voices beat me. A few calls, an hours walk. It was mine. A point six of, at that moment, my desire, the bitch!
Self-loathing was not my desired destination. The escape from reality, of course, ending up not what I was expecting. And Yet! It made me realise, “What was the fucking point of that?” What did I achieve, absolutely fuck all. I was then honest with those close to me over what had happened. To my surprise, although they were upset with me, I was met by empathy not the expected anger.
They say that yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? well, that’s a gift because it’s the present. The gift of just living can sometimes be overlooked or taken for granted. I don’t need any drug to just live, not any more. I have a life. A great life. I may never be proud of what I am, I cannot delete the previous chapters of my life, but I am definitely proud of who I have now become, because of my life and not despite it.
I will close with a poem that a good friend, Gethin Jones, inspired me to write.
Bars on the windows, locks on the door.
Hark! A sound heard, but not listened before.
A waterfall behind my eyes appear,
humanity released, shed by a tear.
Crawling to walking, gestures and talking,
this isn’t fantasy, or a book by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Drama not acted, nor read from a script.
This is real life mate! A heart left bare. Open and stripped.
Cried over, tasted and sweated the years.
Would one be so kind, and reopen your ears?