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Journey to Rehabilitation
By Oliver Barton - 4 September 2017
You’d think that working in a prison, finding an offender to discuss his housing needs with him, would be easy. Well, the truth is quite the opposite actually.
Knowing where offenders are to complete assessments and provide updates is often the hardest part of my day-to-day work. Offenders can be in education, on movement, gym, work schedules, visits, video links and, sometimes, transferred at short notice.
More often than I anticipate, by the time I have made my way over to someone's location (no more than a five-minute walk), they've moved cells. Once having spoken to a client on the wing, I got back to the office only to be informed he'd been granted early release.
As you can imagine, things change very quickly in a prison. The average sentence at Thameside Prison is just 33 days, so referrals can come in at quite short notice with little time between referral and release.
Communication is, therefore, an integral aspect of my job. An offender’s case can involve more than 10 different organisations and individuals playing a core part to that individual being housed or supported, once in the community.
Substance misuse teams, care coordinators, probation, family and friends, the police, social workers, specialist nurses, council staff and project coordinators, each play a role in the client’s journey to rehabilitation into the community and keeping one another informed of changes is crucial.
Prison life starts early so I have adapted my work schedule to start at around 8am so I can make the most of movements and work rotations.
Once I’ve settled in to my work, I then check my emails for new referrals. This helps me prioritise my tasks for the day, write a "to do" list for myself and the placement students who support me and plan my workload around where I am going to be in the prison.
Clients come from every walk of life, and while they may face similar circumstances out in the community, no two clients I have met walk the same path to finding stable and fulfilling accommodation in the community.
High Level Support
Each case is different and each comes with its own challenges for myself and the placement students we have working with Depaul. Some clients will require an incredibly high level of intense support in the community, whereas others will have unique offences or unique licence conditions that have to be fulfilled.
Like any job, there are highs and lows. Highs when everything comes together. In recent weeks, someone I believed needed additional support in the community well beyond the means of a supported housing project was offered a place in a locked residential rehab.
Having been in and out of custody and A+E for many years, he had grown tired of the pattern he was living and was keen to take this opportunity. I felt immense pride and a flood of relief when after he was interviewed by the organisation in custody they told me they felt they could, long term, help him become more confident to live on his own and look after himself.
Having not lasted longer than 48 hours in the community for a number of years due to the sheer anxiety he felt when he left what he saw was the safety of custody, I take great pride in knowing I helped provide him with an opportunity that will, hopefully, allow him, despite his diagnoses, to live a normal and fulfilled everyday life.
Lows come when you see familiar faces. Some clients I will see time and time again. For instance, in just six months in the role I have seen one client four times.
Others get on better in the community and when I shake their hands and wish them well, I am unlikely to see them again.
But I never blame someone for finding themselves back in custody. There are so many factors that can affect someone’s ability to support themselves in the community, housing is but one big factor in a number of issues that need addressing when a client leaves custody.
I have been offered apologies from clients who missed opportunities but never accept them. Life is hard and some of our clients find comfort in the prison routine and what little home comforts they believe it has to offer.
New Chapter of Life
When someone has spent eight years with the same stable routine, is well known and liked, and has a job he feels provides him fulfilment, it can cause among other things the greatest stress and anxiety to know that, when the timer runs out, you have no choice but to enter a new chapter of your life regardless of whether you’re ready.
Ultimately, this job has had a defining impact on who I am in more ways than I ever thought it would.
For someone who had only previously worked with victims of crimes, this role has been an incredible opportunity to take my advocacy skills to the next level and to sharpen my courage under pressure.
It has given me immense pride in my ability to have empathy for people whose crimes I thought would have me buckling under pressure.