In every prison, detention centre, rehab clinic and hospital ward lie the forgotten. Yet, one by one, people are realising that they are actually the unforgotten – the remembered, the noticed. Siobhan, one of our City Hearts staff, writes about her experiences taking the City Hearts ‘About Face’ programme into the criminal justice system in Britain and seeing hearts stir as the spotlight of love and care falls upon them.
My day starts in the New Hall Prison visiting room, meeting Sophie*, my first client of the day. The cold room with old foam padded seats is very different to the blue skies and green grass outside, and Sophie looks tired and defeated.
We met seven months ago when she was referred to the About Face programme with a history of substance misuse from an early age, which led to a burglary conviction and time in a Young Offenders prison. We’d met with her and her alcohol worker, and had helped her join a volunteering organisation in order to fight one of the main barriers to her recovery: boredom.
All our clients access our services because they want to change, but only four weeks in Sophie was recalled to prison after being found working the streets trying to earn money for drugs and alcohol. It’s rarely an easy road.
We are some of very few visitors that she gets. We talk about what educational programmes she’s enrolled in, what her plans are for the next few months and by the time we say goodbye, she’s perked up and looking forward to the afternoon and to getting outside for a few hours.
On my drive to my next appointment I get a call from the police. It’s about Trevor, one of my clients who has been doing really well. But now he’s broken his licensing conditions and is being recalled to prison.
It’s a blow – Trevor had strong motivation to rebuild his life and most importantly to regain contact with his children. But he’s living in the community surrounded by the things he is trying to move on from, so it’s difficult.
We know there are always bumps in the journey for the people that we work with, and we try to support them through them all. If Trevor is open to us visiting him in prison while he serves the remainder of his sentence we will. When he’s released we will do everything we can to support him as he integrates into a new community, and rebuilds his relationship with his kids.
My final meeting for the day is a good one. I go to see Brian at his home. He has a cup of tea waiting for me and a huge smile on his face as he tells me he’s got a job.
Three months ago we connected him with at a local community centre where he completed an employability skills training course, his local Job Centre arranged an interview for him, and we arranged for a fantastic charity to fit him out with a brand new suit.
For the first time in years, Brian feels motivated towards something positive and can see himself in a stable job. It’s a big win for him, and it’s great to have helped him to get there.
Each day as an About Face key worker brings new challenges for me and for the clients I work with. It’s never straightforward, and sometimes the setbacks can be discouraging, but there are still so many positives. We never give up on a client, and we celebrate each victory no matter how small, as they represent a step forward into building a brand new life. Being part of that transformation is so rewarding. ■
About Face supports men and women who have a history within the Criminal Justice System and are vulnerable to re-offending behaviour. Through a designated mentor, the team prepare individuals for the transition from incarceration to integration into the community, helping them live positive and fully restored lives.
This service forms part of City Hearts commitment to starting at the source, supporting not just survivors but also perpetrators, to create a better society. To read more about work of City Hearts, go to their website.