A theme that has been running through my mind for the past 15 years and one I put into action regularly is ‘connect and collaborate’.
Looking at things from my perspective, you would see that there is no way I would be sitting at my laptop right now writing this blog, or any of my previous ones, without connecting and collaborating with the right people.
When, in 2005, I became a mentor for Shannon Trust, along with the many benefits attached to being a mentor/peer support one of my takeaways was the importance of connecting and collaborating with the right people in the right departments in order to fulfil your mentees needs being met. I may have had the experience of prison and from my own life, but I didn’t have the experience of being a support worker. A short-time after becoming a mentor for Shannon Trust I trained as a Listener with the Samaritans, not only did this role highlight once again the importance of connecting and collaborating for the benefit of the person you are supporting, it also showed the importance of the ability to signpost. However, I would not signpost someone just for the sake of it, I would want to know more about who I was signposting to.
Making those connections in prison isn’t as difficult as people may think, especially when being in the roles such as mentor, peer support, peer worker/advisor, Listener, prisoner rep or any of the similar roles in prison that involves supporting the person to have their needs met, or as many as possible with the resources each prison has. I found being in the right place helped and the right place, or should I say places, for me were the departmental management meetings that seemed to take place regularly. Mentor’s and so on would be invited to these meetings to voice any concerns our fellow prisoners had, and to put forward solutions. The meetings were also a perfect opportunity to connect and collaborate. In the main I would have to admit the inclusion of mentors and so on at the meetings were the prison’s way of paying lip-service to its residence, and no doubt the inspectorate. A few sensible ideas were taking on board and actioned, making life that bit more bearable for the lads back on the wings. You would not believe the lack of sharing of best practices at a local level, let alone regional or national.
I would regularly have the piss taken out of me, by staff and prisoners, for the amount of different coloured t-shirts I had. “Here comes Dave with his amazing techno-coloured t-shirt collection” I must admit got a bit tiring but initially was funny the first 50 times I heard it. Those who knew, knew, coincidentally, they were also those that mattered, and those that didn’t know didn’t matter. “Grass, screw-boy” were also never far behind from a few prisoners whatever jail it was, but I could hold my head-high that what I was doing didn’t require a name in the box or me stuck in the office making tea as a “brew-boy”, that way gets you nowhere, not even screws liked those types. The old saying of ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat’ springs to mind.
The more I could connect and collaborate with people from other departments within the prison environment, I’d hope the less shit it would be for not just the person I was supporting but also the prison. The game I played in prison wasn’t a difficult one to play but one that took years to learn and like anyone who has played a game for years you get pretty adept at it. The risk though is of becoming institutionalised, however, on my last sentence I knew what I needed to do in order to break away from the clutches of the prison system, and apart from a major fuck up half-way through my sentence which became another lesson I learnt and kicked on after, I put what I needed to do in action.
I connected and collaborated my way out of the revolving doors of the criminal justice system. In fact, out here, I connected and collaborated with an incredible organisation, Revolving Doors Agency (click here to access their website), with whom I am now a part of as a member of their Lived Experience Team. A role which I very much cherish and appreciate in equal measure. I can bundle up not just my individual experiences within a prison environment and over my life, but also the experiences I have encountered supporting my fellow prisoners and some of their stories along with the many transferable skills you pick up in prison and put it all together to influence change, decision making and policy writing within the system.
Our criminal justice system needs systematic change, and through Revolving Doors Agency I believe we are doing just that. We are not only influencing change on a local level for the few, but we are also influencing change, actual change, nationally for everyone caught in the arms of our criminal justice system.
Lived experience can provide the UX, the user experience, in the design of our criminal justice system and all its services contained within it.
WHAT IS USER EXPERIENCE (UX) DESIGN?
User experience (UX) design is the process design teams use to create products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users. This involves the design of the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product [in this case, the service], including aspects of branding, design, usability and function. Interaction Design Foundation.
Connect and collaborate because two heads are better than one! Remember though, too many cooks spoil the broth.