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Hello,

I would like to tell you a bit about my neighbour, John ‘The Frog’ Bale.

I am proud to call John my neighbour, not just because he’s everything a good neighbour should be. Err, although granted he has had the occasional day or two when that goes completely out of the window, but now he has found some stability, he is a good neighbour and great company.

But it’s more than that… you see after 40 years of being in the criminal justice system (mostly inside) John is about to leave that all behind him.

We are both the same age and if you called in to admire John’s garden (it is a wonderful creation and he loves to show it off) John would most likely try to convince you that he’s many years younger than me!

Coincidently his birthday (next week) will almost correspond with the day when his probation licence ends; the first time in 4 decades. To be clear… for the first time in 40 years he will be a free man!

He would also describe Julie and I as the neighbours from hell! He loves that, and loves to get a laugh, I guess it helps and laughter in the ‘now’ is often better than looking at many, many years of doing time.

John on release from prison and on licence, moved in next door over two years ago, sharing the flat with others (the 11th LandWorks tenant), arriving into a new area, breaking away from a more troubled past in Somerset.

It would have been easy to point a finger at ‘The Frog’ (on the whole people did), saying he’s a bad man, to be fair his offending record and risk indicators declared that loud and clear.

But John will openly tell you about his life, his lowest moments and regrets. You could not find a kinder more caring man… so much so, that previously this often left him vulnerable, and he served time while others didn’t.

I cannot adequately explain in a few hundred words the personal effort, desire and strength of character that is required to change the life of a career criminal like John.

Perhaps if I tell you of the number of broken mobile phones that I have found and seen around the place… Yes, an odd indicator of somebody settling down, but the phones were smashed in desperation/frustration; to cut contact with the past, stop situations occurring that would have paved a way back to prison… so yeah, I get that.

John would not let me write this without telling you that we have on occasion had words… we have! Causing John to ‘put himself behind the door’ (a learnt prison reaction, in this case his bedroom door) for what felt like weeks, which left me feeling wretched.

We’re okay now, but it does show that change takes time, really quite a lot of time.

As I said, we are the same age both born in 1963, two lives that headed off in very different directions. I had it easy, and I now simply have the greatest respect for my neighbour the Frog. Because I have lived these last few years alongside him and can vouch for how hard this achievement has been.

Who’d have thought being a neighbour could be so important.

Congratulations John and Happy Birthday.

Chris

2nd December 2021