Awareness, Creativity & Prison life…

So we’ve just completed the ‘2nd coming’ of the Rise up and Reach out project at HMP Risley.

I’m feeling that usual feeling that comes with endings; glad we’ve had another successful project, whilst also partly sad it’s come to an end, well for now at least. As Ash & Stuart gather all the numbers, data and feedback we’re confident that something special seems to be happening in what could be the most unlikely of places. 

A few thoughts on Her Majesty’s Prison Service;

The Prison service has had its share of challenges and publicity over the last few months and indeed years. With conditions at HMP Liverpool being highlighted recently as sub standard. Reports of suicides, lack of access to mental health support and incidents seem to be a regular feature in the headlines. It’s no surprise that just like services in the communities we live in, the prison services are also facing challenges. Challenges that can have a huge impact on all of us.

The costs of keeping someone incarcerated is around £40,000 per year. The process of arresting and detaining through the legal system around £65,000. The current government figures for reoffending are 28.7% for Adults and 42.3% for Juveniles. (All figures can be found on the government website and make for interesting reading). 

So why do this stuff in Prisons?

I’ve had some interesting discussions with friends and colleagues about working in Prisons. 

The question of Prisons being about punishment and/or rehabilitation can still be a contentious topic dependent on your own experiences and point of view. Crime can be a very emotive subject affecting lots of lives in many ways.  A sense of justice can be a powerful trigger on our values and emotional responses.Whilst I totally agree that we should all be responsible and accountable for our own behaviour, I don’t think we all get the same opportunities to learn and develop the skills to do so. We can learn a lot about change & support from other sectors.

 I think there is a danger in our emotional responses and use of language that we somehow ‘delete’ the fact that the people in our prisons are our friends, families and communities and in most cases will be returning to them. The experiences of all of us in life are very different. I don’t think anyone sets out in life to end up in prison. The fact that an emotional response, a bad decision, a reaction to bereavement, an addiction, homelessness, debt, mental health,  can all be factors that lead to being locked up should be a warning sign for all of us.

My experiences in services have taught me about the dangers and effects of ‘labels’. The effects of ‘Institutionalisation’ on both the people who live and work within the ‘System’ have been well documented over the years. The models and approaches that are used in therapy and change work talk about ‘unconditional positive regard’. Being aware and able to separate someones ‘behaviour’ from who they are; their sense of ‘Identity’. I believe this can be challenging, effective and transformational.

My Experience at HMP Risley

We’ve had incredible support from the Head of reducing re-offending and Educational support team at HMP Risley. Over the 6 weeks and the previous programme we have built good relationships with the Security staff we’ve worked with and the various curious visitors that have been to see what we’ve been doing. 

 Although there have been challenges in timings, locations and some perceptions of what we’ve been doing, overall it’s been a pleasure to share the journeys of all the men who attended the course over the 6 weeks. Each of who brought interesting and thought provoking experiences, questions and observations to the event. The willingness to engage and be open to the programme was exceptional. The relationships developed within the group helped to bring out the best in each other with support, compassion and understanding. Bumping into some of the attendees from last years project further inspired us all, as they were keen to share how they’d been using the models to ‘stay out of trouble on the wing’ and get a bit clearer about the future and what’s important to them.

Unfortunately this time we were unable to get offender managers to join us on the sessions.

What we covered on the project

We set out 6 weeks ago to share some inspiring stories, songs and poems. Introduce ideas, concepts and models that help us understand ourselves better, recognise and respond positively to the difference in others and get clearer about what we want in life. Our Purpose being to show people how to challenge their own beliefs about what’s possible in the world for the

Based around Joseph Campbells Heroes Journey, the project was made of 12 sessions over the 6 weeks.

Each session introducing a different model, Poem and Story that builds on each other week by week. Including practical techniques to help relaxation, building relationships and being more in control of thoughts and feelings. As we as setting Action Plans with Alison to aid learning and generalise it beyond the training.

On this project we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing Charmaine, a Poetry therapist from London who joined us for a week to share her approach to poetry, self expression and awareness which inspired some of the men to begin to express themselves through poetry, (See some of the Poems below for a taste of them).

Also Georgina, an accomplished Classical Cellist who came in to share her talent with her 300 year old Cello. Exploring classical and contemporary musical styles and how they can ‘touch’ us in different ways. It was an amazing and surreal experience to find myself  in the middle of a prison listening to the beautiful sound of cello echoing around the walls.

Although we know there are lots of things we could have done better, differently or even had to compromise to fit into the ‘system’ we’re working in, overall it’s been a successful, interesting and an excellent learning experience for all of us involved.

A great project and a pleasure to be a part of it. I’ve definitely benefited from the experience. Although the future of the project now depends on funding it’s looking bright.

Shady moves & Restless Nights

Shady moves and restless nights, All time lows and dizzy heights

It takes its toll I think you’ll find, It’s best to leave it all behind

Green bed sheets that itch the skin, A sweat stained mattress wafer thin

Uncooked chicken on plastic plates, Ice cold bars and noisy gates

2 hour wait for a toilet roll, All this nonsense takes its toll

We only wanted fun but things got out of hand

We lost our self control things never went as planned

But we know where we went wrong so we can start to put things right

It won’t always be easy but we’ve got the tools to fight

System Malfunction

Caught up in a system that’s wrong for me

I have to ask myself if I will ever be free

I made my own mistakes and now I pay a hard price

They teach me what they can but they need to think twice

I’ve had a few chances I won’t get much more

Sick up to the eyeballs with the same revolving door

Running out of time sick of looking back I am done

With consuming alcohol need to get back on track

Boredom by day the demons come at night sometimes 

I just exist and that’s the best I can do but I always

Find the strength to RISE UP and pull through don’t

Know what will happen when I walk out the gate

Try hard to prepare but it might come down to fate

Caught up in a system stuck at a junction

I think it’s fair to say that there’s a system malfunction

Roaring Wild Boar

I thought it was good to winge, scream and shout

To block out my family and friends without any doubt

I thought it was good but behold I’m in this mess

But I rose up to my crimes, too which I did confess

My heart was beating strong, and my head was shouting loud

For what I thought was good back then, well now I’m not so proud.

So when i came to Rise Up class, they speak to me direct

Forms of thoughts run round in my head, like ROARING WILD BOAR!!

All arguing and fighting! Over a none existent SCORE!!

So before I go to bed at night, I don’t listen to the boar

I sit up straight breathe deep and slow! Removing 


So That I may be calm and ready

For when the officers LOCK MY DOOR

Look for me on A wing

Time for me to go now I hate to say goodbye

But look for me on ‘A’ wing It’s where my head does lay

Because in the morning sunrise When all the world is new

You can look for me on ‘A’ wing Or remember that i love you

It’s time for me to leave now I hate to say goodbye

So wipe them tears away now Before you make me cry

Because in all the evening sunsets, When all the words are through

Just remember I’m on A wing And ill be close to you

It will not be forever The day will come and then

My loving arms will hold you And we’ll be together again

You know I love on A wing So don’t forget to write

And ill promise you my love I won’t give up the fight

                                   It wont be long 

                                                    now my love and children

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