“Chris can you describe me, you know, what you see now, in a few words?”

At that precise moment my thoughts were more around tea break. So I wasn’t ready for such a profound question nor absolutely comfortable that the middle of the yard was the right place for such feedback.

“Well,” I stumbled, trying to collect my thoughts, “Er you’ve come a long way”. Good reply I thought, plus I had managed not to add something hopelessly patronising like ‘well done!’

“Nah, I’ve written a few words that describe me and I want to hear yours”

This suddenly felt a touch awkward and we were both uneasy, so I blurted out my thoughts, “Kind, responsible, good with people, intelligent and …”

“Stop, alright, stop” and he was gone.

Oh bollocks, I messed that up. I should probably have said stuff like tough, hard man, tattooed.

After a certain period of time people do become deeply affected by the ‘prison system’, just to survive they toughen up, trust nobody, don’t display emotion and so on.

So (just imagine) a first day at LandWorks…

  • Prisoner A670399 arrives on day release
  • Mr Cole
  • Previous: three custodial sentences; current sentence: 6 years

Your first impressions? Are you shocked by his appearance, his attitude, his crime?

Mr Cole prefers to be called Craig. Over the coming weeks and months Craig starts to tell you his life story. Some detail is difficult to hear, feral upbringing, a series of bad decisions and victims. Yet other aspects are similar to your own desires and hopes.

If I had a ‘couple of quid’ for every time a visitor to the project has whispered to me, “Chris they’re actually quite normal”, then happily there would be no funding worries.

The point is if we could all see beyond appearance, attitude and crime, which is often the popular but unhelpful media description of a ‘prisoner’, and actually understand that person’s whole story…Well we might just start to wonder, what is to be gained by years of punishment?

There are 85,930 people in prison tonight. How many get good meaningful rehabilitation support?

…We’re packing up, tools away and sweeping down the workshop. My questioner from earlier has found me.

“I always thought that was me, just didn’t believe it”.

Turns out our two descriptions had matched!