No two people are the same. I’ve sat behind the charge desk over a period of seven years and seen people from every walk of life. From those in penury to those who have more than they will ever need. From those who couldn’t give a toss about arrest to those whose life I could see unraveling before me as we spoke. Those who were confident of their innocence when guilty and those who were innocent scared of what guilt may mean. I’ve seen them all.
Some I’ve seen once and never again. The more concerning ones are those who come regularly. Our frequent flyers. Some who landed so often that if we had a custody club card they would have amassed thousands of points!
The relentless vicious circle of crime, drugs, poverty, domestic violence and other factors means many people are trapped in a world they cannot escape from and pretty much becomes normalised. One young woman used to be in custody every week. Sometimes every day. She was involved in drugs, she was stealing, dealing and also getting knocked about by a procession of “boyfriends”. Her life was in a total mess. My dealings with her were regular but I can’t, hand on heart, say that I had any influence over her. She was so regularly with us it was almost like she was one of my team. She was skinny, unhealthy and looked.. for want of a better word, like shit.
Then suddenly she stopped coming in. The assumption was she was finally back inside prison. It really was only a matter of time. She probably was for a short while. However, a few weeks became a month or two. A few months became 6 and life moved on. I hadn’t heard she was dead but it could have been a very real possibility.
Then, 18 months later, local cops arrived with a prisoner. The prisoner had been arrested in another force for a matter she had been identified as being responsible for some time ago in our area. I barely recognised her as she walked in. She had clean hair and clothes. She was clean. She had put on weight and the gaunt face she always wore had been replaced by a rosy cheeked, sparkly eyed one with a somewhat cheeky grin. It was like meeting an old friend. What a transformation. Underneath all the abuse she had put herself through (and been exposed to) was a good looking young woman.
We chatted as I booked her in. She had made a change in her life. She had moved to another area, was off the gear, had a stable home, was trying to learn new skills and find a job. I was, to much consternation from my colleagues, utterly delighted for her.
She was ultimately charged but with a lack of recent offending and a new life at her feet she was granted bail. Something she never got and this also put a smile on her face. She left. I don’t know what happened next but over a period of a few weeks she went to court. She met up with old contacts in her old town and suddenly, defying all logic, she was back in the town and back on the gear. She spiralled rapidly downward into the hole she had so successfully crawled out of. Regular arrests, remands into custody, lost weight, gaunt face, dirty and unkempt and her health crumbled. She was right back where she started from. It was all her doing but it was tragic. My heart cried for her.
I’ve no idea where she is now. I hope and pray she found her way back out of that dark place. I hope she is healthy, happy, clean and living the life she was clearly capable of giving herself.
Having spent 7 years in custody I met many people like this. I often pondered about how this circle of behaviour could be broken. Over the years my only hope was to talk to people in custody. I never knew if I got through to someone but, where I could, it was worth trying. I was then introduced via Twitter to a lady called Clare McGregor whom I then met at the very first BlueLight Camp in Manchester. I have remained in contact with Clare ever since and she has been doing some amazing work with women at Styal Prison. Working with women to help them break this cycle of crime, prison, crime.
She has now written a book about her work which is really making a difference for women in prison.
I have met many women similar to those Clare speaks of in her book. Women trapped in a revolving door of crime and despair for a whole multitude of reasons that we, the police, rarely get beyond. The cycle of reoffending is notoriously hard to break but Clare took this project on and once she has something in her sights she is like a dog with a bone. Her determination, passion and commitment to succeed and help women at Styal shines through on every page.
This book will open your eyes to a world rarely seen. It will make you think and seriously challenge any stereotypical perceptions you may have of offenders. These are people that are lost who, ironically, have the map to freedom and a new life within their own head. They just need a coach to show them where to find it.
At a recent TEDx event I listened to a presentation by Clare. She said she had realised she couldn’t tell people what to do. She had to ask them what they wanted to do. What they wanted to change and then help them explore how they were going to do it themselves… and it’s working!
It’s a remarkable book detailing some amazing work by a team of dedicated and passionate people who can only inspire you.
In Italian the word “Ciao” means both “Hi” and “Bye”. It is fitting that CIAO is the name of the organisation. The coaches say “Hi” to a new client and later say “Bye” as they wave them off to a more rewarding and satisfying life. Brilliant.
You can find out more about Coaching Inside and Out here