It’s June 2007 (life before LandWorks), Blair is about to finally leave No.10 and Gareth Jones is released from HMP Channings Wood after a 3-year stretch.
Hot, sunny, and day two of his release. Gareth is working with our landscape company in a rather quiet part of South Devon… It’s morning break and a group of seven of us are sitting in the shade, opening flasks and assorted Tupperware.
The following is best read in a (strong) Welsh accent…
“Ohh my fathers” he roars “the thing is I’ve never get heard, see.”
His booming voice reverberates around this gentle Devon valley. Gareth is known inside as ‘Brian the Jones Blessed’… He is unbelievably loud.
Gareth pin points to where his life started to go wrong… As the pits closed in South Wales, the men started to hang around, nothing to do, drink and – for some – drugs.
“Nobody listened to us, there was just men everywhere, cluttering up the park, nothing to do”.
Given half a chance Gareth loves to talk (clearly) and I discover he’s not a Max Boyce fan but loves Tom Jones, smoked drugs with The Clash, has 13 children across the South West, suffers with ADHD and has never voted.
“Us boys, us prisoners, well we don’t get to vote in prison, my voice is not heard Chris”.
Well to a certain extent it has been heard, a lot of LandWorks is based on those formative conversations and experiences with Jones ‘the mouth’, plus others who were less vocal but wanted to be listened to.
Today at LandWorks, the conversation flows as we eat around the table. Our local MP is a supporter and genuinely wants to hear their voices. There are weekly counselling sessions and the Wednesday ‘crime club’ provides a great forum for debate from victims to prison reform.
But, perhaps one of the most extraordinary and for me thought changing experiences is provided by the PeN project: www.penprojectlandworks.org/blog
The blogs are the men’s own words, their version of their lives. It is often powerful and thought provoking. It is using social media to get their stories ‘out there’, allowing them to be heard by the community that they hurt.
And suddenly men are saying they have been heard. Facebook ‘likes’ and comments flood in (www.facebook.com/penprojectlandworks), their story has been listened to by people that they often suppose rejected them. That can be life changing.
A few weeks ago, Julie and I were walking into Totnes. A builder’s van was passing with a man almost climbing out of the passenger window… ‘Alright Boyo’ he roared as they drove past ‘You two alright? I’m going to vote, see’.