Those who know me personally can confirm I usually have around 20 projects on the go at any one time in what may be considered a pretty hectic life. However it may look, I do in fact, have quite a lot of structure built in. Organised chaos as the saying goes.
Living with complex mental health means structure is important to me. I like my routine. Whether that be in liberty or incarceration. However, structure was something I was not used to whilst at liberty. So, after an involvement with; and covering, four decades as a ‘client’ of the criminal justice system, what changed, for me to now be a mentor, writer and a very active advocate for prison reform? – *Thank you Lewis ; )
Coincidentally, it was the combination of two structures, if you will, which I used in combination with a few untried, adapted personal techniques, which as it suggests, are individual to me. I first needed to realise what my needs were. The point of reform is that it is down to the individual to choose when to do so. But, there has to be the resources available to do so. It makes sense that is down to the system to influence that decision for change ASAP. This is where my experience came in to it. ‘Transferable skills’ and ‘Modelled behaviour’. It was that shit that got me in it, I may as well use it to get me out. But with positive influences this time. Rather than choose not to listen to everyone, I instead chose who to listen to, and in some cases read.
Years of empty promises, failed offending behaviour courses and everything else the system threw at me. I had always questioned what I read and challenged what I was told. There are only so many times you can ask Why? & What for? Before being labelled as challenging and difficult. Fortunately for me, this was hardly a view given by landing staff, though in the main no higher than a senior officer, a few CM’s respected me, most in private. Psychology, probation (internal and external) along with prison management did not find my ‘lived experience’ so helpful however. The first structure I used was a pyramid built by psychologist Abraham Maslow. His ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, as published in a paper called A Theory of Human Motivation.
I mentioned earlier that I needed to realise what my needs were and this is where Maslow played his part, albeit not in the order he laid out. What do I mean? Well, first I had to understand who I was at that time, and who I wanted to be in the future, which I suppose you can call the self-actualisation tip of the pyramid. Being at rock bottom, having nothing in my life at that point, ironically gave me the clarity I needed. (If you wish to read what took place then click here.) Where could I go to fulfil the other four levels of Maslow’s pyramid, a place that would also provide me with an OPPORTUNITY (you have to apply yourself) for a better future? PRISON! However it turned out on the 30th July 2015. The self-actualisation, I was great at being a prisoner. Missed it, more so being homeless and on a cocktail of drugs washed down with alcohol when possible, or available. OR! Only thing available. If you can’t get a roof over your head, the second best thing, while having demons for company, is to get your head out the roof. Even just so you can breathe for a moment in an oxygen based paradoxical lung pull of freedom. Again, my own perspective.
The second structure I used was two-fold, and also a slightly tenuous link because this structure was a building, a building that contained two areas immensely important in my strive for personal reform. These two areas, which are linked with no eyebrow raised, were the Education and Library departments. The education department to, not only improve my knowledge and skill-set but to provide me with the necessary qualifications I needed as armour. The library department I used for two reasons, first to enhance what I was learning in the education department, and of course externally via The Open University. The second reason was to use the resources available through the library to assist in the goal of improving me, myself and I. My emotional quotient rather than my IQ.
Illegal pharmaceuticals I had banned, therefore, it made sense to also ditch the legal poison I was prescribed. I’m not a fool, I knew that could be a dangerous move. Especially with no alternative. Albert Einstein once said “The only thing you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library”. Absa-bloody-lutely you do. Over the years I have read more books than I can possibly remember. A problem usually realised by chapter 1 and a bit. Some I wish I could forget, some I wish I never read, some I read but wasn’t ready to understand. It was the later that I re-introduced myself to. Ones that had an effect on me at the wrong times in my life. Or opportunities I missed, though it matters not now. Opportunity is always waiting, bull-shit! that it only knocks once.
My chosen poison, although not literal, but literary this time, were books, with no real need of an introduction. They became my medication. I knew what I WAS WORKING WITH and I knew what I NEEDED. Linguistics not Librium. Anthologies not anti-psychotics. Words not worry. Now, don’t forget my following list is individual to me and my needs. Horses for courses. My reading list was: Neurotribes by Steve Silberman, ‘Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy’ and ‘Games People Play’ by Dr Eric Berne, ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne, ‘Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)’ by Richard Bandler (and John Grinder) plus ‘The Marshmallow Test’ a book which discusses The ‘Stanford marshmallow experiment’ and was written by psychologist Walter Mischel. The experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification that began in the late 1960’s and was led by Mischel. I even read Emile Durkheim’s book titled ‘Suicide’, in order to better understand myself and who I was. To explain what I received from those books is by far too much of an individual process and journey for anyone to truly understand, however, a point I do wish to make is, sometimes we are our own best doctor, therapist or psychiatrist. Medication doesn’t have to be the answer. One additional thing that I could not provide, was others to have the belief in me I needed. Again, I was a lucky man. It was just a case of putting everything together that I knew, along with what more, me, myself and I needed to know, and how to put it all together. So that I can influence change in the system.
Coming up next time I will discuss what I believe, to be the seven principles of reform that the system needs to adopt moving forward.