This page contains articles and pieces written by our service users and colleagues from the prison service about their experience of Recoop and its work. Should you wish to contribute to this page please contact us.
“The training took me out of my comfort zone – I was anxious about doing anything in front of a group but when I did it successfully I felt great. I learned such a lot and am now fully aware of how I can be of benefit to others as a Buddy.
“Even as a medically qualified and trained person I have learned such a lot, and fully understand that being a Buddy is so much more – it is about the person/people I will be able to look after.
“I enjoyed the training and I am now able to handle and maintain the sensitive and confidential information I will have regarding others. I am confident and comfortable that following the intensive training I am fully aware what is expected of me as a Buddy.
“I have learned a lot of new and important information – in particular how to think in terms of the person I am looking after rather than myself. There was a lot to take in but I have really enjoyed the training and am now looking forward to fulfilling my Buddy role.”
Sentence: from 1978 to January 2019
Total: 21 years – across 6 different prisons in the South East and South West.
Where did you first hear about Recoop services in custody?
At an Equalities Meeting at the prison in Hemel Hempstead.
Did you attend Recoop sessions/activities regularly?
Yes – especially at HMP Erlestoke.
Did you feel you had a say and could contribute to Recoop programmes at HMP Erlestoke?
Yes – regular Focus Groups were held to gather ideas and feedback for future programmes to ensure the programmes matched our interests.
What activities did Recoop offer at your prison?
- Internal and External speakers from far and wide
- Activities and Projects – one with Bournemouth University in which I contributed to exhibits for their exhibition at Poole Museum
- Art Projects provided opportunities for smaller groups to meet and share a common interest
Who provided materials for these activities?
Recoop and the Friends of Erlestoke together with the Aldo Trust (via Recoop), helped cover the cost of art materials.
Which of the activities/speakers did you enjoy?
Guest speakers, especially those who had interesting, high flying careers in the navy. I also enjoyed the archaeology talk by the Directory of Devizes Museum, the Bournemouth University Project.
Which of the speakers did you find particularly useful?
Nicki Rensten – Prisoner Advisory Service: her knowledge of the PSI’s and changes in Prison Law was very informative. Prison Reform Trust challenged issues on our behalf – e.g. the cost of telephone calls.
Do you feel the prison and Recoop worked supportively together?
What contribution did you make to the older prisoner community?
In the area of social care, I voluntarily offered my services in physical care and practical medical manual support e.g. with wheelchair movement and following-up repairs; I represented prisoners at Parole Boards, helped be the voice for prisoners often being asked to do psychology courses when they were experiencing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Also prisoners with serious medical conditions, to ensure their position was highlighted and they could be treated with greater dignity in their vulnerability. This made me feel good too – doing things for others.
Do you feel social care requires greater levels of peer support or should this be provided by Health Care?
A bit of both maybe. It is more important that the right quality of peer support individual is selected. It is possible that some may have the wrong motivations and this could be dangerous for the vulnerable older men who need empathy. Before appointing, maybe put barriers up and see how they cope to test their ability and reasons for doing the job.
Do you think that Recoop services are useful for prisoners in custody?
It has been essential for me.
What areas of development do you suggest Recoop could follow-up on, having seen life in custody?
Firstly, I think it is about how prisoners are perceived. ‘Prisoner’ perceived as a human being in need of empathy and forgiveness. ‘Offender’ not the same perception. They are seen as a threat.
I have two areas that would enable prisoners to be better utilised.
- Environmental jobs – This will enable the men to be seen by the local public to be putting something back. There is a shortage of staff to deal with the volume of recycling waste. Prisoners could provide this labour. The men will be resentful to help in this way, but will need to be carefully incentivised:
- Halve sentences
- Better food
- Level playing fields ensuring some prisoners do not have power over others – resulting in bullying
- Strict warnings which must be adhered to consistently by all staff. It is important for staff to be accountable for their actions.
- Specific Wings or prisons being allocated for ‘squaddies’ with targeted rehabilitation and activities to meet their needs, which are similar but unique to this group of men. SSAFA should play a significant role in the level of support and activities offered.
Are there any particular people in custody, peers or members of staff/agencies that you wish to thank?
Justin – Equalities; Sandra – Recoop; Nicky Ralph – Head of Health Care; Chris and Simon – SSAFA; Andy Peacock – Shelborne; Barry and Mike – SSAFA mentors at Erlestoke; Governor Masserick (High Security Prison) and many other prison officers along the way.
Since release in February 2019, Recoop has stayed in touch electronically. You were signposted to on-the-ground support in Southampton. In Bournemouth, you have been signposted to our outreach staff. I know you have not contacted these people yet. Is it your intention to do so?
I knew it would not be easy when I was released. I did not think it would take this long though. Universal Credits caused many frustrations.
Yes, I will contact Nicola – because I have tried to find a job myself, but now, l would like to know the employers that consider ex-prisoners. This will give me more job options.
What are your immediate needs that Recoop could support?
I need to move out of the Approved Premises soon so need help with Housing (SSAFA are helping with this) and also in finding better job opportunities. I currently have my art which passes many hours.
Justin Hughes – Equalities Team – HMP Erlestoke:
“Both I and my boss, the Head of Safer Custody & Equalities – Governor Andy Graham, are extremely grateful to you Sandra for the service that you passionately provide to HMP Erlestoke via your Recoop provision. We are in no doubt how much our eligible residents very much appreciate and subsequently take out of the sessions that you in tandem work tirelessly to achieve with the support of the ‘Friends of Erlestoke’. Your efforts are therefore tangibly very obvious to us in the entertainment & mental health welfare benefits, that are then delivered to the men in our care as a result.
“This case study further proves our point, if either of us were in any remaining doubt of the value of what you and your organisation do for our men on a regular basis. Therefore, not just because I am named personally here by SG, I very much take the positives out of this report because to me, it reinforces why we should all continue our working partnership with all of the collective commitment & unwavering enthusiasm that we have all enjoyed doing together thus far.”
Judith Squarrey – Friends of Erlestoke – Working with Recoop:
“I worked with Recoop for several months over 2018-2019. Recoop had a well-established group base to invite these men to. I went to great trouble to get a wide variety of speakers by people who had interesting lives i.e. an Ambassador, a retired navy Commander who had fought in the Falklands, a retired naval Captain who had sailed to the South Pole, an ex-army Chaplain and a land owner who manages a very large estate on her own to name a few. I think the men found all these speakers both interesting and became very engaged. These talks sometimes appealed to a much smaller target group than normally attend the Recoop sessions but worthwhile nevertheless. SG was always very participative at these sessions. Good luck to SG, I remember him well and liked him a lot”.
“I think it helps the younger, noisier inmates to realise how vulnerable some of the older men are. If you go to the Lobster Pot it’s like wearing a badge which says you need a bit more support.”
“It feels a safe place. It doesn’t feel like prison.”
“It’s nice just to know there’s someone there you can talk to if you want to.”
“You [Recoop staff] and [Personal Officer] are the only people I can talk to.”
“It feels a bit more normal.”
“You said it would be alright and it was”. [man going out the gate without cuffs for first time in 30 years].
“I don’t trust anyone here – except you.”
“I’m leaving with the clothes I’m stood up in. Please can you help me?”
“Attending my mother’s funeral I felt normal thanks to the clothes you gave me, even with an officer in tow!”
“Even though I don’t use the Lobster Pot as often as some, it really helps to know it’s there when I do need it.”
“Thanks for all the support you and your colleagues give Jim, I know he appreciates it too.”
Feedback from Recoop’s Transition 50+ Resettlement Programme highlighted the residents’ appreciation and how, with their new knowledge and understanding, they are able to positively plan their resettlement.
“I now have the knowledge and am more confident”.
“I have always been very positive on resettlement but now even more so. I’d recommend the course”.
“I’m looking forward now as I’ve got more tools from this course”.
“I was able to sit in and observe session 1/3 of the Recoop 50+ Resettlement programme. It was positive to observe a session tailored to a specific and seemingly growing group of men. The nature of the material covered was varied but always relevant to the audience. Tracy, in delivering the programme was keen to pace the sessions in a manner which would suit the attendees. She was keen to encourage the residents to share experiences and offer their own point of view. This seemed to provide an atmosphere where the residents felt comfortable not only supporting each other but also challenging options in a constructive.” AP Probation Service Officer
“I found the Recoop course to be very comprehensive and relevant to our men over 50, it is clear and concise and covers topics that are important to our residents. The materials are very clear and well put together and easy to follow. There are parts for the men to fill in and think about and also a lot of interaction throughout. I would highly recommend the course for all and I even I found parts very useful as I attended two of the days of the course.” AP Probation Service Officer
“Thank you for your input Tracy I think the group went well and was well received it was good to have you at CH with a well-structured, relevant programme and great facilitation.” AP Manager
“I know that the men really enjoyed it, they thought that the content was very apt and they were topics that were relevant to them and that they could take forwards. For me the programme looked really good, and I know it is for over 50s but actually the content is relevant for many of the men we have in the AP.
This type of programme really provides a focus for the men some of whom have spent a very long time in prison and who have lost track of the world outside. It also seems to fit well with the work NPS does with the men – it links to the Probation officer’s work and the AP staff who work with the men too – so we thought it was an excellent course and we know that the men did too.” AP Manager
Twelve men and good’ put their name down for the Transition 50+ Resettlement course, designed and delivered by Recoop and targeted specifically with the over fifties in mind. It ran over four days in February and covered a range of topics addressing Health & Wellbeing, Benefits & Budgeting, Accessing Community Services and the apparent minefield of issues, especially including an understanding of the Disclosure requirements surrounding getting back into paid work and/or volunteering.
Some were skeptical about the benefits of such a course – did we really need to know how to get a bus pass or how to re-establish links with our family? But it soon became clear that this course was more than that. It was a real opportunity to engage with these issues and a whole range of other matters in a discursive way, all superbly facilitated by the trainer/facilitator from Recoop, Pauline Haynes. Of course some issues were old hat to many of us, but not all and some issues were, as we’ve learnt during our time at Ford and elsewhere, not necessarily straightforward. But, the opportunity to share concerns with like-minded individuals with similar worries and definitely similar hopes about life on the other side of the fence was, for even the most inured of us, incredibly satisfying and reassuring. To learn new things, consolidate old things and see some of our perceived problems from a different perspective was brilliant.
This course will run again later in the year and I cannot recommend it more highly. Yes, you have to be willing to engage with the class. Yes, there will be some things that are totally irrelevant for your circumstances. But, yes equally you will definitely go away encouraged and with a strong sense that this was time well spent – perhaps that’s not an often experienced emotion here behind the gate – but these four days can be a special exception that you will benefit from and remember with a real sense of pride and accomplishment – life through the gate will be tough but it need not be impossible and courses like this from Recoop help keep that sense of reality in perspective.
PL, HMP Ford
You may recall that I recently mentioned to you the benefits gained from the regular meeting of the Over 50s Group of inmates since my admission here in January of last year. I have found that there is much to be gained by all concerned from the group. The inmates gain valuable mental stimulation from the quizzes, scrabble, chess and other activities which serve to sharpen the memories of many, some of whom are at a stage in their life where memory can escape into the ether.
A number of people have told me personally that the group gives them something to look forward to each week. This can only be a good thing, particularly for those with a release date far into the distance. This can only be of assistance in terms of prisoners’ self-worth and general wellbeing and will of course also be a benefit to staff who will be dealing with a happier and more contented group of people.
On behalf of those prisoners in K Wing, who have greatly benefited, I would like to pass on my thanks to yourself and to those involved in your organisation for your excellent work. Long may it continue.
JS, Over 50s Rep
HMP Manchester K Wing
“Here I am at 71:
Suddenly my freedom’s gone.
Had my birthday in December –
Not a good one, I remember.”
“Here I am at 51:
Suddenly I’m a creative one.
In the group I’ve learnt some knitting;
On the wing I’d just be sitting.”
“Prison makes you tense and nervous;
Making things provides a purpose.”
“This is a space that’s safe from harm.”
“I just like the peace and calm.”
“Here we’ve come from every nation,
Much better for us than Education.”
“Me, I like the company
And the real mugs for the tea.”
“Rubies sparkle like the sun.
Alma is our Number One.”
“Prison blues? – you can shove it:
I’m a Ruby and I love it!”
Head of Adult Care Operations & Health, Devon County Council
“Devon County Council (DCC) believes that the Devon Buddy model is critical to the implement-ation of new Care Act responsibilities for local government in a prison setting. The support and co-ordination of this model needs to be provided to ensure it is fully bedded into prison practice, reducing the costs associated with deteriorating health and care needs.
“The Buddy model in Devon, developed through the collaborative work between NOMS, NHS, DCC and Recoop, is an example of good practice that could be rolled out wider across the region and estate. This good practice model was showcased at a national ADASS conference in London in 2016.
“Recoop has been instrumental in the success as it has brought extensive experience, expertise and wide ranging links within local prisons and wider communities. Coordinating and delivery of the buddies training and support is pivotal.
“Recoop has been providing informal prison buddy training and support in Devon prisons since 2010. With the introduction of the Care Act this work became formalised in 2015 when Recoop secured a contract through DCC to develop and deliver a Buddy training and support service across the Devon prison cluster.
“The partnership approach from Recoop has brought informed and innovative solutions which have enabled DCC to deliver its responsibilities in relation to the Care Act.”
“Liz (Recoop) has been instrumental in providing training and support which would be extremely difficult to match if we were to provide the same service. Current operational difficulties would make it impossible to provide the same level of service. F Wing and other prisoners, who do not meet the criteria for Social Care, benefit greatly from the Buddy role, providing preventative support which, if left unchecked, would result in additional social care needs. The Buddy system and training give us assurance that the relevant PSIs, prisoners assisting other prisoners, are fully complaint.”
Buddy Worker – HMP Exeter
“Working as a Buddy here at HMP Exeter has been a brilliant experience and one that I would and will recommend to everyone.
“I have been in prison for more than two decades and worked within the prison estate in many different roles during my time inside. Working as a Buddy has changed my life and in doing so has given me a new lease of life which I never thought possible.
“Being able to help other prisoners, many who have very complex needs, disabilities and illnesses, has given me so much more from life that I never knew existed. To be fulfilled in this way gets me out of bed in the morning with a head and heart full of purpose and eager to start the day.
“The effect that I have on my clients daily lives is so important that I can’t not go to work. All those little things that able-bodied prisoners take for granted, they just can’t do these simple daily tasks that I help with, cost me nothing, yet how they make me feel is priceless.
“I feel valued for the first time in my life and now have purpose to the long days in here. I used to feel a bit sorry for myself, a little worthless and more than a little depressed on the occasional day, but working as a Buddy has helped me put everything back in perspective, it’s given me Life! I never knew that I could feel this good about myself just by helping others. Thank you”.
Prison Officer – Social Care Wing:
- Recoop is well-placed to offer this support owing to their expert knowledge of working with older prisoners and national influence.
- Buddy Training should be widely publicised to encourage other prisons to take up this good practice.
- Outside agencies working on the Wings reduces the need for specialised Social Care Wings for medium to lower level support.
- Establishing the Buddy Support Worker role would avoid reverting back to the informal situation which could lead to people being taken advantage of, especially the more vulnerable.
Example: Prisoner in Channings Wood had stroke and was moved to F Wing HMP Exeter. He was given appropriate Buddy support and became well enough to return to Channings Wood. He now has a Buddy offering a consistent standard of support.
DCC Social Worker:
- Recoop has expertise in this field with a keen knowledge of how they work and is in a position to identify best practice within the regime.
- It helps to meet the Duty of Care needs within prisons, provides training and employment, provides an equable service to the community and saves prisons money.
- The Buddy Support Training programme takes the pressure off the Social Worker, providing a constant approach and ensures training is done to an acceptable standard.
- Without such a Programme, informal support would be offered with no safeguarding.
“The Lobster Pot is a good place to come when you first land here. You can find out info about the prison, make friends/mates, get info for forward planning / release and they do a lot of varied sessions on many varied sessions from benefits to banking, social care to community links.
“I find the information available displayed on the walls amazing. The people who come into Leyhill (Recoop project workers) are really friendly and are always open for a chat and are worth their weight in gold. They provide a worthwhile service to help prisoners like me prepare for release. The programmes provided, quizzes, nature walks and lots of other things are well presented and they also provide drinks and sometimes food, giving prisoners who have passed through life to become OAPs on the outside. It’s a wonderful centre and works 100%.
“I enjoy coming to the Lobster Pot each day because of the company and the conversation. The staff and orderlies are more than accommodating and the nature walks are very interesting.
“The Lobster Pot is a good place to meet others and have a chat with the staff. There is a lot going on there and they are always trying new things. Prison can be a lonely place and this place can keep you out of your room.
“The benefit to me is that it gets me out of my cell, gives me a chance to go where I can have a hot drink and read the newspaper. I can get advice from the friendly staff and you’ve always got someone to talk to. I’ve been involved in the horticulture course they have been running and I have enjoyed that.
“It’s great for advice on outside associations, bail hostels and other places on the outside. All the staff are very helpful. It’s great to come in, have a coffee and the garden is great.
“My time in prison has been a lot of emotions mainly – dampened – but I love the Lobster Pot for the smiling and chatty faces. When I help out I’m always thanked for my contribution which is appreciated.”
There is a group of ladies
Whose age is vintage wine
They knit and sew and craft and talk a lot
And have been known to do a dance or two!
These ladies may all be in prison,
But they know how to make you laugh
And when they burst into song
They make you feel like you belong
Alma is their ‘leader’
She sparkles like champagne
So if you are here and over 50
Join the ladies and you’ll stay sane.
“I am pleased at how well he has seized the opportunity to engage with Recoop. He was quite socially isolated previously and his confidence was low, which had a bearing on risk as he tended to lapse into a low mood and fantasy to try to make himself feel better. I have been impressed with how enthusiastic he has been about the Recoop sessions. He has spoken with pride of the tasks he has accomplished and it has opened new doors to activities and resources he had not previously considered.”
“I cannot believe what a change he has had in his attitude and engagement in all aspects of his support. When he first arrived, he was very difficult to engage, tended to isolate, was low in mood and occasionally hostile. He was on 3 signings a day and he was considered high risk. Due to his age, physical disabilities and offences, his opportunities in the community were very limited. Since attending Recoop, he has become more engaged with staff, his attitude is altogether more positive, he is more active and he has had his risk level reduced from high to medium”.
“In my opinion he has made considerable progress since his release on licence. Clearly the opportunity to work with Recoop has helped his resettlement in the community and helped him develop a pro-social support network. This has been particularly valuable as he was new to the area”.
“Social isolation is a huge risk factor so these weekly sessions definitely contributed to reduction in risk. Due to his learning difficulties and limited social skills, he was unable to live independently as he had lack of basic living skills. Due to cooking weekly with Recoop, he is now able to cook for himself and has consequently moved to a lower support house.
Recoop has also helped with his social skills and he now has some self-awareness which has helped his friendships with other residents in the house. We will be putting him through the move on panel soon and his engagement with activities such as Recoop will definitely help his application. I am extremely grateful for the input of this group in helping resettle this complex gentleman into the community”.
“I am pleased at how well he has seized the opportunity to engage with Recoop. He was quite socially isolated previously and his confidence was low, which had a bearing on risk as he tended to lapse into low mood and fantasy to try to make himself feel better. I have been impressed with how enthusiastic he has been about the Recoop sessions, he has spoken with pride of the tasks he has accomplished and it has opened new doors to activities and resources he had not previously considered”.
After being in prison for a couple of weeks I was put on a list to join the over 50s group, I thought do I need that? But as I am 64 I did join. It is probably the best thing that I had done. The people who run it tell you the true facts, not stories – they make you feel part of the outside world. I have learnt so much. Firstly I didn’t talk about problems but Recoop has given me the confidence to talk and I really enjoy helping others. During one session they asked for volunteers to help others in prison. I was keen and this allowed me to offer help to others. I have helped write letters, reading for people who cannot read. I did know that people couldn’t read or write but being in prison I now know that I am so fortunate. When I am released from prison I have offered my time to help others with Recoop. I intend to put something back what I have learnt. I would like to say a big thank you to all those involved with Recoop.
‘A’ was on an ACCT and Suicide Watch during the first weeks at HMP EWP. There are days that ‘A’ has difficulties eating and/or speaking. She was referred to the Rubies Group by the Mental Health Care Team. (The Rubies is the name of the Over 50’s group, facilitated by the Recoop worker).
When ‘A’ first came to the Rubies, she didn’t speak at all and sat very quietly, head bent, isolated and cut off from the rest. She is very softly spoken, warm-hearted and polite.
Slowly but steadily she relaxed more and one could see from the intelligent look in her eyes that she started to take an interest in her environment and the other group members. After a while, she became very involved with our discussion sessions (re: abuse, domestic violence, kicking substance mis-use issues), our poetry sessions, but craft work in particular. She learnt to crochet and is making an amazingly beautiful blanket, which occupies her during our sessions, as well as during in-cell time. This, she claims, keeps her mind off boredom and worrying.
At the same time she also became more and more interested in the other members of the group and her deeply caring nature became obvious, also to the prison and she became a trusted ‘Care-Orderly’, working with our Diversity and Equalities Officer
A. would now also make sure that those members of ‘The Rubies’ who are disabled and/or in wheelchairs would not be forgotten. She helped me campaign to get wheelchair access to our group meeting room, speaking up at a meeting in the Board room with our Top Governor present!
Becoming more involved with the needs of others, there were times that ‘A’ would come to the Rubies, just, as she said, to get some peace and quiet, away from the noise on the wings, but also to be away for a while from all the stories she heard women tell her about their lives.
During her 16 months in prison, ‘A’ faithfully came to every session; she is our ‘record attendee’ and though I am so pleased that she will be out soon, she will really be missed.
About a month, prior to her release, ‘A’ told me that she started to have anxiety-attacks about the up-coming release when she will re-locate to a new town in the SW of England. A. expresses fear of isolation and possible boredom. Apart from passing this on to the appropriate staff in the prison, I also gave her as much info as possible in order to build up a ‘new life’
‘A’s comments: “Rubies has been like an oasis at times when I thought I wouldn’t survive. The weekends were the most difficult for me and the boredom.” When speaking about her anxieties regarding release she said:” I have lost my ability to be spontaneous and I am afraid of possible loneliness when I am released.” And when asked about her experience of the Recoop Rubies Group she said: “It is an unpressured time separate from Mental Health Groups and where the outcomes are frequently different from expected in the situation. It could only be improved by having the group more often, I suggest 3 times a week, including at least 1 day at the weekend; then you know it’s not long until the next little oasis in a long sentence”.
“Coming to Rubies is like going home to my own bed.”
It’s up to me
I’d like to visit Blackpool
Count pigeons in the park
I’d like to meet an old lover
Rekindle a forgotten spark
I’d like to see the mountains
Topped with glittering white
To walk in fields of daisies
My secret, out of sight.
I’d like to wear more colours
And not to care when people look
I’d like to talk to tadpoles
In some dappled forest brook
I’d like to hold my Grandchild
And see the northern lights
To even win the lottery and own
Those transparent granny tights!
I’d like to share a cocktail
With some sunny, smiling friend
I’d like to have a hand to hold
When my journey’s at its end
I’d like to see Vienna
To trail my hand in its reflection
And have a steady beating pulse
When I reach life’s intersection.
I WILL. One day I WILL
In my dreams I see lions,
I see pixies, clouds, a stream, I see mountains,
I can see me falling.
In my dreams I hear ….
Busy birds, a waterfall, the sea.
A sigh, a saxophone, tinkling bells.
The exhaust of a Vespa, disappearing into the distance.
I can hear silence.
In my dream I smell disinfectant.
I smell roses, the warmth of a Mediterranean sea,
Basil, lavender, trees and leaves.
My grandmother’s 4711 cologne.
I can smell rain.
In my dream I taste hot chilli, lemons and ripe peaches.
I taste mountain air and snow.
I taste salt.
I taste blood.
I taste my own dry mouth.
In my dream
I touch velvet, wet grass, feathers,
Cat’s fur, a baby’s skin,
The dark silky hair of a man.
I can feel safety.
I touch burning fire.
I can feel freedom.
Green leaves, blossom, birds singing in the tree
I so wish that I was free.
Another day, routine and gloom
Again I will stay in ‘my room’
Keys, steps and screams
That’s all there is, it seems
Some are good and some are bad
I stay on the good side, I am glad
This will help me to move quicker on
To D or F-wing, with more freedom
I hope the hours-days-weeks-
And months go quick
Seeing my loved ones gives me a fix
Green leaves, blossom, birds singing in the tree
I so wish that I was free.
Does spring still come?
With a story like mine?
But a victim instead
Birds might still sing
But all I hear
Is clanging metal on metal
No spring green
But dull, army green paint, distortion of colour!
As electrics seem to be on
Whenever you don’t want them to
Does spring still come?
Held in the tension
Of tight, suffocating, enduring, disempowering, maddening
Does spring still come?
When you can’t feel beautiful
On the inside
Inside these gates
Locked away behind bars with heavy keys
Judgement and despair
Does spring still come?
On the ‘outside’
When inside my prison walls
No one hears my silenced cry
For understanding and hope
Change is flowing, unreliable, not known,
Change becomes something different, unstoppable and fluid,
Change becomes something else.
Change does not stay still but will grow and shrink,
Change is opposite and the same.
Change gives hope and despair, promises and trepidity,
Change has already started and is both future and the past,
Never visible but can be seen.
Entering into a new place
Expectancy on every face.
But I know there is nothing to prove,
I needn’t fit into any groove.
Accepted with smiles,
Forgetting such trials,
I allow friendship to bloom,
In this once unfamiliar room.
Memories have been made,
Echo’s of laughter that will never fade,
Hands held and stories told,
Reminiscing on days young and old.
If this Prison were a Poem
If this prison were a pub, it would be …
It wouldn’t serve food,
It would be, rat infested,
A bar in Spain.
If this prison were a car, it would be …
An old banger, 3 wheeler, Robin Unreliant,
It would be broken,
A non-starter and
If this prison were a car,
It would have no head lights,
A leaking tank,
It would be a very uncomfortable ride,
A white limo with
Pink insides …
If this prison were a book, it would be …
A tome, an epic, a tragedy,
An open book,
It would be a text book for rules
And how to ignore them.
If this prison were a book,
You wouldn’t waste your time to pick It up,
It would be uninteresting, characteristic, heart-breaking,
With a few heroines and heroes.
If this prison were a book,
It would be called ‘The Gate’.
If this prison were a song, it would be …
A lament, flat, off-key,
A sad song,
With a few good solos,
It would be badly written,
Definitely not a chart-stopper,
As a song it would be
If this prison were a meal, it would be …
Out of date, unpleasant, satisfactory,
Mouldy, and most certainly
If this prison were a meal,
It would be tainted, lumpy
Australian Chocolate Crunch,
It would be delectable,
But too processed and packed,
Carbohydrate heavy, not well presented,
The worst packed lunch in the world ….
If this prison were a memory, it would be …
History, unpleasant, haunting,
It would be a good memory,
That wonderful art course,
It would be learning the computer,
If this prison were a memory,
It would be horrid,
Very lonely, dangerous,
With good friendships,
If this prison were a poem.
Two poems inspired by a poem by Lucy Trevitt
From my stony cocoon I cannot taste spring
I cannot hear the bubbling waters
Or drink in the dewy sunrises
But I know that it surrounds
Even the darkest walls
And erupting into verdant green
Caresses the shadowed fortress
So I will wake with it
Song in my every breath
The lamb-skip in my every move
And when I break free, bursting
Into bloom from the gloomy cell
I will spread my unused wings
And let it surge through my veins
Into my hungry fingertips
Coursing like the blood that boils in its absence.
Brick on brick, I am caged.
If spring is outside these walls,
It sings not to me.
If birds flit in revived sunlight
Wings beating through
Air laden with freshness
It reaches not my eyes.
I smell not the flowers breathe
I hear not the flourish of green
Spreading its vivid mangle.
Why can I not break free
From these torpid walls
As the willowy buds do?
Stretch my wings in a milky sunrise?
Leave the cankerous nest of decay
To inhale springs delicate blossoms?
Poem written by a Ruby on her release Summer 2012
I am so glad
To leave HMP EWP
And turn off the light when I want
I am so glad
To leave HMP EWP
And eat what I like
Choose bacon, beans and a warm fresh roll
Smell the coffee filtering through
A giant wallop of ketchup
I am so glad
To leave HMP EWP
And listen to the silence
No more clanging of gates
Grating metal on metal, scratching my soul
I am so glad
To leave HMP EWP
And wear colourful clothing
Forgetting the black/white uniform that remind me of scare crows
I am so sad
To leave the Rubies
Those glorious Rubies
Now my friends, my sisters, the chats, the respect, the normality and fun
Sharing, sharing, sharing
I am glad, but I am sad too
“…I now have another wonderful memory for the word ‘Rubies’. It’s a place to go to be accepted for who you are, a place to meet some very warm and friendly people, some of those people becoming very precious to us. I am due to go home soon to my beloved family, but I will never forget “The Rubies Club” at Eastwood Park. I thank you all for making a nightmare situation bearable and acceptable. I am very proud to call myself a Ruby'”.
“There is a great sense of trust, respect and understanding and above all caring, that we seem to pick up from you and learn to share. It is a great comfort and support and helps to beat the terrible isolation and loneliness. By you accepting us as we are ‘today’ we are learning to accept and value ourselves and this gives a feeling that a new beginning, even at our age, is possible!
“Thank you for all your encouragement; it has given me new ideas about my future life. I know I might be vulnerable, but I also dare to be brave! And as you once said to me: there is nothing bad about admitting that I need help from time to time and that it is OK to ask.
“Keep this message going for all those Rubies that inevitably will follow me ‘inside’.
“And do keep the wonderful group going.
“With greetings and thanks to you all”.
“Our Older Persons population has been steadily rising for over a year. The distinct differences and needs of the Older Person as opposed to those of our younger prisoners have until recently not been met. Since we have had interventions from Recoop our older population has been much happier and feel valued as people and also feel that as a group they are not being disadvantaged.
“Their sessions are looked forward to so much that they talk about them all the time and discuss their activities with both staff and prisoners alike. For the first time in my prison career I have witnessed this unique group of prisoners happily serving their sentences whereas in the past they would be quite vulnerable and of a concern to staff.
“Staff also now have a support network they can turn to with Recoop where in the past none was available. I find this Intervention absolutely invaluable and a great support to both staff and prisoners.”
Officer at one of the prisons in which Recoop work
“Many thanks for the time you spent trying to find interesting things to do and talk about”.
“Now, released, I am contemplating joining a volunteer group somewhere where I can participate in craft work again”
“The quiet makes me feel more normal”
“I feel included and safe here, which is a new experience”
“I have not knitted for 40 years but all the positivity stimulates me to start my own knitting-on-line-business when I am out of here”
“It helps me to be with people of my own age”
“I have learnt more in this session then during the 2 weeks of my stay. Thanks for the tips”
“By the time you get this, I will be nearly home. I would like to say thank you for the group the Rubies. It was something to look forward to in all the mayhem and noise and it was lovely to talk to women of my own age (60 going on 21) about everyday moments and thoughts. Although I was in prison for only 4 weeks, your twice weekly group was very much appreciated. It was my first visit to prison and my last!” – Rubies member, Eastwood Park
“I came into Exeter prison in November 2008. I remember it well. The over 50’s group, run by Liz Ropschitz, had not long started and I joined at one of the earliest meetings on my arrival. Six other inmates, also new to the prison, were in attendance. We held quizzes, talks by various members of the group plus volunteer speakers who came in from outside. I remember we had the Chair Based Exercises, A Teign Valley Railway presentation, advice regarding pensions and benefits and a book club amongst others.
“I remained in Exeter prison and was a regular attendee of the group. I was able to interact with other older prisoners and discuss issues relevant to our age and ability.
“I was transferred to Channings Wood prison in September 2009 and was pleased to find that the Over 50’s group was already established. I joined the group immediately and was asked by the chairman of the Over 50’s Forum to consider becoming a committee member. This became a regular commitment for me and remained so right up to the time of my discharge, which is tomorrow, May 2011.
“Having Liz Ropschitz from Recoop regularly coming into the prison has meant that there has been a wide variety of topics available to attend, ranging from local history and topography talks to dementia awareness, the slave trade, during Black History month, and matters of a more personal nature, bearing in mind the problems inmates face.
“As I’m leaving tomorrow I would like to express my gratitude to Recoop and Liz and all the people concerned with making this valuable service possible.
“Thank you.” – Signed Channings Wood prisoner at the point of release.
“A very interesting and informative walk through areas of the prison we wouldn’t normally see. It was an experience to walk across rough ground, something I rarely (if ever) do during a normal day. From a mobility point of view it was an excellent exercise.”
“A very interesting and enjoyable walk. I don’t think I have enough room in my diary to write up all I have observed today.”
“It was nice and a pleasure to see so many over 50s take time out to take an interest in setting up garden activities – I hope it continues.”
“Went to plant seeds in the raised beds this morning, something I haven’t done for many years and I really enjoyed it. I found I still had the skill of landscaping gardens. It was a lovely fresh change.”
“Creative writing sessions have enabled me to develop communication skills I never had before I attended the centre. I plan to have this activity as part of my community options in my release plan.”
“A very enjoyable morning watching and discussing life in the 40’s. Brought back a lot of memories and was good to hear others’ experiences in this area.”
“I did remember a lot of things in the film and I would like to see more of the same. It’s good to remember.”
“I remember when I was released from institution. I saw the Queen’s Coronation on TV in 1955, my job was working in a laundry with a low wage of £9.00 a week, although I enjoyed the freedom.”
“The stress and relaxation class was for me the most relaxed and stress free period I have ever experienced. I look forward to the next session.”
“I found this session to be very informative because of recent stress. The methods of explaining how to relax helped me feel good about myself all day.”
“I felt the stress releasing from my muscles and felt very calm at the end.”
“The prime time 50+ Gym sessions enhance the quality of my life and helps maintain my fitness levels.”
“I feel more comfortable being able to train with people in my own age group.”
“Nice to be able to get personal help and advice while training and not be embarrassed to train in front of younger fitter guys.”
“I joined the over-50 gym class for the reasons of keeping fit and healthy and want to continue this when I am released. It is also healthy for communicating and integrating – all good goals for me.”
I have just been sentenced and come from Court. It is my first night in Prison. The metal door has closed behind me and I have no idea of what is going to happen next. Cold stone floors, stone walls, toilet in the corner, metal bed and only two thin blankets. There is no glass in the window and it is blowing a gale outside. Only the squealing of seagulls for company. What have I done? Some joker has scrawled ‘Hades‘ on the wall. I know what he means but this one is freezing cold.
I want to tell my wife and family how sorry I am and pray that they will be there for me when I get out. (That is too far off I must not think about it). I am feeling depressed already. I think I will be even more depressed when I fully realise the extent of the damage that I have caused to everyone that loves me. Somebody told me that when you hit rock bottom there is only one way to go and that is up. I have got to the point that I will say a prayer tonight to keep those I have left behind safe and well. I hope I can speak to my wife tomorrow or else I will go mad.
It cannot have been only 7 days that have passed. It seems like a lifetime already, but some good news has come to me. I am being transferred to a different prison tomorrow with less stringent regimes I am told. I must admit that I have more freedom and better conditions but nobody can replace this loneliness and helplessness. Apparently my first two weeks are an ‘Induction Course‘ when I must ‘get to know my prison‘ and be taught the ways of the world.
I have to learn the difference between a green bucket , a blue bucket and a red bucket all in the name of Industrial Cleaning (and I thought it was just the colour !!). And who would have imagined that at the age of 66 I would get a day-long sex education lesson – (Very interesting but totally useless to me stuck in here for another 18 months). I have the beginnings of dementia and will have forgotten all about it when I get out anyway.
At the end of all this I have to go to the Employment Office only to be told that at my age I don’t have to work and that I can spend my days sitting with a load of old codgers and play games and read newspapers all day. I will most probably get involved having to change incontinence pads as well!! I explain that I cannot sit around and vegetate so I am told that if I can find anyone who wants me to work for them then good luck, but it is not their responsibility to find it for me. My luck must be changing and I realise what they mean when they say about being in the right place at the right time. I walk in to the Chapel just as two of the Orderlies are about to be released – I get the job. I now have something to occupy my day and keep ‘the little grey cells’ occupied.
I have not mentioned that in my past life I have been a bit of a workaholic and totally immersed in the business and financial world for 45 years. Sometimes I worked 7 days a week dealing with other peoples’ problems and a lot of the time at the expense of a family life. Leaving my wife to bring up the children on her own. What have I missed?
Because I now work for the Chaplain I get to meet people everyday with horrendous personal problems that require his help and guidance. People who have lost close relatives through bereavement and not allowed home to the funeral or be able to say goodbye to their loved one. People about to be released and have no home to go to. People who have just receive the ‘Dear John‘ letter. People frightened to death because they do not know the reaction of the people that they have wronged when they meet again.
How can I feel so sorry for myself? Compared to them I am very lucky. This is when my life is going to change. I am not going to say that ‘I have seen the light‘ but sitting alone in your cell every night you begin to think seriously about the true values of life and who you should concentrate your time and efforts on.
Meetings of all descriptions are held within the Chapel Complex and this month Liz Davis (Recoop) and Dick Stokes (Help the Aged) are coming along to encourage the inmates over the age of 50 to set up a Forum to deal with and understand the special problems of people of that age group that are in Prison. Similar Forums are in existence for the general public but this would be the first one for a Prison community. I will go along and listen as I am in the building anyway but not get involved as I have been on Committees in my working and personal life and especially as the meeting is so well attended and great interest aroused. To cut a long story short over the next few weeks further meetings are held to bring this idea to fruition but as time went on it became apparent that whilst interest did not wane those who wanted to become physically involved in the operating of the Forum became fewer.
So eventually I was elected Chairman. Whilst I accepted this position I did not appreciate at the time just how many and varied problems of this age group there were within a prison community. It was then that I began to appreciate the reasons and efforts being made by people like Liz and Dick on their behalf. From that day forward I also started to gain more interest in this situation.
During the course of my period as Chairman of this Forum I was fortunate enough to be allowed to represent it at a South West Conference and AGM of all 50+ Forums in the area. Being the only one coming from a Prison I was obviously wary and apprehensive to the reception and reaction that I would meet from others present. This was overcome within minutes of being there as the reception and interest from other groups was overwhelming and totally supportive.
I have received news that I am going to be released this month on special licence and therefore have to resign as Chairman of the Forum. During the last six months I have been amazed at just how many problems have been brought to the attention of the Forum and how instrumental such a vehicle can be in dealing with them. Problems about conditions and circumstances within the Prison, as well as personal and financial problems of those looking forward to release.
Obviously I am overjoyed and looking forward immensely to being reunited with my family, but I would very much like to stay involved and hope that I can be of some help to those organisations and people who really do make a difference to peoples’ lives.
I have now been home for 3 months and trying to get back into a normal way of life, but it is amazing even for the short time that I was in Prison just how institutionalised you can become. I have also come up against problems that I was warned about. The reaction of so called ‘friends‘ and Insurance Companies objections when trying to renew policies. It only convinced me even more just how necessary the work of organisations like Recoop and Help the Aged are and I hope that I can play a part in that process.
Whilst being detained ‘at Her Majesty’s pleasure’ it is not long before you feel cut off from the outside world. You may be able to see television programmes and keep up-to-date with news stories, but you are not experiencing real life and the problems that go with it. It is like the difference between seeing a sporting event on television and actually being there. You see the event but you do not get the atmosphere and adrenaline that goes with it. You see what they want you to see not the actual picture.
If a problem arises within your personal life, whether of a personal, financial or emotional nature, you can usually find laying around somewhere a pamphlet with a telephone number to call, or sometimes a representative from some outside organisation visits the prison for a personal consultation. This may seem very good on the surface. Unfortunately at times there could be in excess of 500 people about, a lot of which are trying to get a 10 minute slot in a monthly visit of 4 hours. There is not a lot that you can sort out in 10 minutes and sometimes you have to wait three or four weeks for that slot. Similarly with the telephone your weekly allowance of call time is invariably taken up with one call hanging on waiting to be transferred from one department to another or listening to some recorded preamble.
This situation can be frustrating and infuriating enough when at home, but at least there are ways of overcoming the problem. When you are confined as a prisoner and sometimes have nothing else to worry about it is not long before impatience sets in and a molehill quickly turns into a mountain, sometimes resulting in giving up altogether.
In April of 2008 whilst being resident at HMP Leyhill we were advised that representatives from Age Concern and Help the Aged were coming along to discuss with those over the age of 50 the possibility of forming a Forum. This would be specifically to deal with their problems both of an internal and external nature and on any subject.
The idea sounds like a good one to me on the surface but I am a total cynic, a ‘doubting Thomas’, somebody who in real life sees things in black or white. Are these some more ‘do-gooders’ with an idea that sounds good on the surface but will fizzle out like most other things you experience as a ‘captive audience’?
Lets see what happens.
We are visited by Liz Davis (Recoop) and Dick Stokes (Help the Aged) who duly explain to a large and eagerly awaiting audience the purpose of a 50+ Forum and with the approval of the Governor it will be ‘run by the prisoners for the prisoners’. A new concept indeed and one worth taking a lot more interest in to see if it will really work.
Over the course of the next few weeks an acting Committee of eight prisoners get together with Dick Stokes to put together a Constitution and decide in more detail what could be achieved by having such a Forum. To be led by such a knowledgeable person as Dick in these matters and to have a team of such enthusiastic members it was possible to have formulated a Constitution and be able to hold an AGM by July of that year. According to Dick this was an all-time record but can be explained quite easily by the fact that all its eligible members lived within an area of 100 acres and had nothing much else to do to occupy their minds or distract them from the tasks in hand.
Over the next few weeks after a proper working Committee had been elected it became more and more apparent that this WAS going to work. Prisoners were encouraged to see people actually trying to do something for them especially as they, through their Committee, could make decisions as to who they would like to come and speak to them and on which subjects they wanted help from the outside world. Speakers almost queued up to come and speak at monthly meetings, perhaps because it was a unique audience.
Prisoners, Speakers, Liz Davis and Dick Stokes alike were having there eyes opened to the diversity of problems that were being raised and existed within a prison community.
During the course of the six months that I was involved with this Forum we had speakers with a wide range of interests. Magistrates came to explain their work and detail there private lives, representatives from the Pension Service and other voluntary organisations came to give advice and explain their purpose and even a renowned expert on the subject of Dementia came to give a talk and conduct a survey on the subject.
Where were we able to get these interesting speakers from? Liz Davis and Dick Stokes of course.
Other such Forums have of course existed for some time within the general public and it was therefore my pleasure to actually have the chance to meet representatives from these Forums at an Annual Conference. It was interesting to learn also how diverse their problems were and what they were able to achiee. Meeting these people and getting their support was even more encouragement for ourselves.
In such a short space of time it has therefore become apparent to a cynic like myself just how important and worthwhile such Forums can be and the thanks that we owe to people like Liz and Dick for their visions and endeavour in making it all worth while.
The 50+ Forum for a prison community is a concept that does and will work as long as the membership is prepared to also put some effort into it. It is a vehicle that is being presented to them and should be driven like a Rolls Royce not a Robin Reliant.
To find out more about Recoop and how we help professionals working with older people with convictions, please contact us.