A different perspective from LandWorks, as trainee Grayson reflects on his time spent in prison and at Quarry Field.
I never saw myself as someone who would ever go to prison.
I had worked hard all my life, I respected the law and I couldn’t have had a better upbringing. It just goes to show it doesn’t matter where you are on the ladder in society, one momentary lapse in judgement and all of a sudden everything can come crumbling down.
The courtroom was one of the biggest eye-openers. Before you’re sentenced, guards and staff chatter away to you, human to human. As soon as the judge bangs the gavel, the handcuffs go on and it’s like you’ve slipped down a lifetime of rungs on that ladder.
And that only continues in prison. I was a qualified builder with decades of experience and suddenly I felt like an imbecile who couldn’t be trusted to operate a screwdriver. That ability to make decisions for yourself, and for those around you, just goes.
You have one decision to make: ‘string up’ (prison slang for hanging yourself) or do your time. You adapt to get through your sentence which makes you become a guarded, untrusting and isolated person.
But I was lucky to have another choice towards the end of my sentence: whether to come to LandWorks. At first, I just saw it as an opportunity to get out of prison for five days a week.
I quickly realised it was much more than that. Getting stuck into a full day’s work was great – if a bit of a shock to the system – but it was also being trusted with tools, being asked for your opinion about a new piece of work, having ‘normal’ conversations with people from all walks of life.
“I used to have such a fixed view of people who broke the law: throw them inside and lock away the key. It’s just not like that.”
The funny thing is that before I came to LandWorks, I thought I was ‘normal’. People warn you that you get institutionalised in prison and I just thought, ‘nah, not me’. It isn’t until you leave that environment that you realise how odd you’ve become – programmed not to trust anyone, not to open up, not to care about others.
That’s the thing about LandWorks; it’s a reality check, a stepping stone. You think your life will just take off from where it left it off. You forget that three years has gone by and life and everybody in it has moved on.
Without this, it would have taken months, maybe years, to slot my head back into normal life and normal relationships. It is only through building relationships with the LandWorks team and my 1-2-1s with the LandWorks counsellor that I have started to trust again, to speak openly and think clearly. If my thinking had carried on the way it was before coming here, I would have destroyed so much.
There’s something special about this place and the team that Chris has got around him. Everyone brings something different but no-one judges, nothing is too much trouble. It has restored in me that it is ok to be kind, to help others but also for others to help you. Most of all though it has reassured me that everything might actually be alright.
My personal turning point was a conversation I had with one of the team. She had asked my advice on a personal subject. Something so simple yet so significant to me; I felt normality after two and a half years. (cont. below)
I used to have such a fixed view of people who broke the law: throw them inside and lock away the key. It’s just not like that. As the poem by Judge Dennis Challeen on display at LandWorks says:
‘We want them to have self worth, so we destroy their self worth
To be responsible, so we take away all responsibility
To be part of our community, so we isolate them from the community’
I’m not sure society knows how to deal with prisoners yet. What I do know is that LandWorks has done more for me than I’ll ever be able to put into words. I have been able to come to terms with what I did, but also how to move on, in a safe environment with people who make you feel human again.
There are 136 prisons in England and Wales, and 365,000 people go through the system each year. But there is only one LandWorks.
We know it couldn’t happen without the supporters. On behalf of the 26 trainees who have come through these doors, thank you for helping us start again.