The title of this blog is actually an acronym – we love an acronym in the criminal justice world, not! – which stands for person under probation and is a label I had stuck to me many moons ago, from my formative teenage years right through to April 26, 2019. Please excuse the lengthy context I’ve laid out before getting to my point. It took me a long time to get to it myself.
Over those years, I have had my fair share of probation officers, and from up and down the country as I tried to escape me, but I can honestly say after my first probation officer, George Ansell, in the mid-1980s, I hardly engaged with any of them. George was like another dad to me. He’d visit me in the children’s home. He then came and saw me when I ended up in detention centre for the first time in 1985. However, caseloads for probation in those days without knowing the official stats I’d guess were at least half of what they are these days. I remember a board they had at HMDC Blantyre House where they’d chalk up the roll and at the bottom they’d write what the entire prison population was. I never knew why they did that. It hovered around the 45,000 mark if my memory serves me right.
I learnt to distrust probation. I trusted George. Even when he was no longer my probation officer, I’d still speak to him whenever I bumped into him at the probation offices. A place which, before being placed into the care of the local authorities but after being permanently excluded from school and a pupil referral unit, became my second home. I was being schooled there Mon – Fri, plus whatever court/probation order I was on. Apollo House in Ramsgate, Kent, home to probation, became my second home.
Once I turned into an adult, it all changed. I was not a very mature, sensible adult either, although I was intelligent that I know. I was told enough times, however, in the eyes of the system I had become an adult by age if not by anything else. The relationship I had with probation was no longer the one I had as a young offender.
I can’t think of another who has had such a continuous role in my life as probation has over the years.
I have had several proper jobs as an adult. A few were fantastic jobs. The longest ongoing proper job I had was about 14 months for an advertising company in the City of London. I fucked that one up eventually, just as I did with all my employment opportunities. I had one job that I didn’t get around to fucking up, because I really enjoyed it and as a bonus was also bloody good at it, but I lied about having a criminal record which just before the end of my 3-month probationary (ironic, eh?) period they found out about. On the day of my dismissal, security watched me as I collected my belongings and then escorted out of the building, a converted town-house in Bedford Square, just off Tottenham Court Road. TNT was the company I worked for, and they were a fantastic organisation to work for. I was gutted, but all my fault and who’s to say I would’ve got the job without lying? So at least I have the memories, although it was only a few months I have some splendid memories from my time there.
Probation as a service went from a duty of care to one of judge, jury and executioner as I transitioned from youth to adult in age. The rules of the game changed. “You don’t have the right to silence and everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law” is what they should’ve said at probation induction when an adult.
“Tell ’em what they want to hear, boy, not what you need them to hear,”
That’s what I learnt very early on from my peers and was the advice I followed thereafter until the day my last ever licence from prison ended, April 26, 2019.
In 2008, I had grown even more resentment towards probation. I was not in a good place as it was and as part of yet again another combination order from the courts I was to attend what they called OSAP, an offender substance abuse programme. I’ll cut the story short and just say I felt extremely let down by absolutely everyone around me which ended when I totally lost the plot a few weeks later. Being sent to prison again in 2008, although not overnight and with more mistakes to come, saved my life. A contradiction in terms, considering I attempted to take my life in January 2009. After several attempts at taking my own life over the years, the 2009 attempt was probably the only genuine attempt and not a cry for help. I wanted to be dead, not asleep.
However, 2009 was also my last ever attempt. I have had thoughts since, who doesn’t?, but no actual attempts. My relationship with probation, in my eyes at least, but I could argue also from their perspective, had become fractured. Almost beyond repair. I even took the power to recall out of their hands by ensuring they recalled me. My choice, they just signed the official documents. To my detriment, I would completely disengage whilst in prison from probation. I had my enhanced status removed frequently for refusing to engage with probation. Fuck em! The IEP scheme was pointless anyway if you knew what you were doing. Even a sensible prisoner on basic will have a telly and plenty of spends available on another prisoner’s account. IEP is just another game within many games that you play in the criminal justice compendium of game playing. The game itself can become quite addictive and one difficult to break away from. Especially if it becomes a habit.
You may have noticed a common denominator in all this and I’m not talking about probation, I’m talking about me. Me, myself and I played a major role as to the way they treated me. Did I deserve everything? Possibly not. Was I, amongst other things, a twat? 100%.
Oh well, it is what it is and was what it was because things have changed once more. One major change is that I’m no longer a ‘service user’, of the court service, of the probation service, or of the prison service. However, it would be an utter disgrace of me to not utilise all that experience and to not see if I can use it in the right way to educate others.
At a recent event organised by the Probation Institute I could do just that with just a few highlights from my personal experience. What I had to say at the event was well received and was an experience beyond my wildest dreams. That wasn’t to be the end of it, though. As you will see, by clicking on the links below, what I had to say at the event was published as an article in Probation Quarterly. I’d like to think, alongside the background I provided, you can somewhat understand the enormity of what has happened. If you can, please explain it to me, because even a day after they published my article I still can’t explain it to myself.
Thank you to Revolving Doors Agency and Probation Institute for making this a possibility and making it happen.
To download the full Probation Quarterly, where you’ll find my article on page 14 click this link:
Or to go directly to my article please click this link: