Part II – The Powerful Story of a Friend of Families Outside

In November 2016 we published the first part of a powerful story of a Friend of Families Outside who’s son had been in prison. Now in this second part, his mother tells the sorry of her experience of his return to the community…

Note: the whole story is available to read as one in this PDF link – Mother and son…and prison

Stress of release and system failures

There is a watershed when serving time. In Joe’s case it was the half-way mark, and for a longer sentence, from my experience as an Independent Prison Monitor, it is the last few months before the release date.

Prisoners begin to feel uneasy, more vulnerable, towards the end of their sentence. Prison has become a safe environment, and on the cusp of their liberation, their anxiety begins to mount. There is a set pre-release agenda and in some cases opportunity to be accommodated on an open estate. But there are hurdles…

…Prison is a process, a journey, from the day the sentence is passed, to the day of release.

Joe served the last three months of his sentence on an Open Estate, during which time he spent three weekends on home leave. This was not a success, because during this time he discovered the reality of the economic demise of the farm he worked on, and his cottage had been occupied by itinerant workers. He did not have enough money to re-establish his electricity supply, and his hot water boiler had burst, causing damage to the property.

On release, he had been told he could apply for various grants but only if he signed on at the Job Centre. This is twenty miles away, and there is no bus. He could not sign on because he had a job. And so he had to find money for repairs and new clothes, because he had put on weight in prison. He could also not work his usual 12-hour day due to the constraints of the tag. His employer rang G4S (who deals with the tag), and his time was extended by two hours a day.

But there was no one to ask about stuff like this. He felt that this was a failure in the process of throughcare and resettlement, and in some ways was worse than being sentenced, because he was on his own and afraid.

He realised how safe he had been in prison. He commented on the number of prisoners who reoffend for the security they feel inside. The outside is cold and comes with a responsibility that a lot of people are not equipped to deal with…

…That release date is a challenge which warrants serious anxiety.

Joe was badgered for council tax payments until his wages were arrested. Both myself and his employer tried to sort it all out, and I went back to source information from Castle Huntly about where this had gone wrong. The prison was less than helpful and reinforced the fact that, because Joe was on the outside, he was no longer their responsibility.

I went to Social Work, and they passed me to the Criminal Justice Team, and Joe had someone phone him with a view to a visit within the week. The professional did not seem to understand his remit. He made a visit to discuss Joe’s situation with the council tax and promised to sort it out. That was in November 2016, and the demand letters still kept coming. His wages are still being arrested, and this is now mid-January 2017.

Four months after release…

Throughcare is an option for those leaving prison (with sentences under four years) but it would appear it needs a lot of work before it becomes successful for everyone.

The Scottish Prison Service is actively positive, but if resettlement is to work, the transition should be seamless. My family experience has sadly been on the negative side, and in my work as an Independent Prison Monitor I find that stress levels in prisoners do rise considerably when prisoners are nearing their release date; tempers are short, and such a climate is likely to induce issues which might lead to reassessment of the liberation date.

Joe continues his work, reduced to 25 hours a week, not because of his detention but because of the economics of dairy farming. He has restored his bank account, receives no benefits, and over Christmas ran out of money and electricity until his fortnightly payday. My 36-year old son had to ask to borrow money from his family: a humiliating step backwards.

…This is life back in the real world.


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