Two years ago today, LandWorks took its first steps.

We had a derelict porta cabin, three serving prisoners, a man released on licence, a bit of overgrown wasteland, salad for lunch and a plan. The plan: help these guys back into the community and employment.

Since those faltering steps (Defn: just hard work) we have played a part in supporting 20 men, with all but two making good progress.

Time to celebrate: LandWorks' 2nd birthday cake

Time to celebrate: LandWorks’ 2nd birthday cake

These last two years have given us a privileged insight into their lives, many similarities, difficult backgrounds, little education, dysfunctional families, crap role models etc. Yet individually they have a host of differing personal issues.

I see them in prison and out of prison; meet their families and gain a fundamental understanding of their life stories, frequently recounted with refreshing honesty.

I’ve found I like them all, even the most troubled, the most challenging, regularly catching a glimpse of a boy, disguised as a man. Just as often discovering many admirable human qualities.

Prison must not just ‘warehouse’ troubled individuals (and) … lock offenders in an 8′ x 6′ cell for 23 hours, 7 days a week. This is immoral”

You’ve probably gathered from my blogs (I happily assume you read them all) that I have developed a scornful view of prison… the system not the people.

In complete contradiction to my ‘wishy-washy, salad eating, liberal type view’, all our men over the last two years have told me: “I needed this sentence”; “Prison probably saved my life”; “Only in this sentence have I understood about my victims.”

And just to be clear, before committing a crime, none of the guys refer to prison as necessary or a deterrent.

Er…so what’s going on?

I think I can now answer some of this: when a life becomes so muddled, dangerous, violent, riddled with addiction; dreadful hideous actions can happen and you may be on a treadmill that you can’t get off…

Prison becomes the last stop, intervention and punishment.

So I now think for our LandWorks trainees, their crimes (I agree all unacceptable) should be seen as an indicator of a distressed life, but not pointing to an evil lifestyle.

If asked to reflect on all of this… I would say a custodial sentence is very often needed both for the victim and to lift the offender out of that catastrophic situation.

But – and it’s a big ‘but’– we need to change what happens in prison. Aren’t we missing an opportunity?

Two or three years, as any Uni student will tell you, is a long time and a lot can happen, much for the better. Prison must not just ‘warehouse’ troubled individuals; it needs to support re-entry back into community.

And absolutely not lock offenders in an 8′ x 6′ cell for 23 hours, 7 days a week. This is immoral and that’s not ‘wishy-washy’ thinking it is no good for any of us.

So, yeah, okay I’ll keep thinking.