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Us, Them; We

Turning ‘Us/Them’…into ‘We’ is what this ACE movement is capable of. Those navigating the criminal justice system are sometimes the little damaged children we all failed years ago, turning up as broken adults who need help.

tree

“The wee tree in the cage is sort of being restricted to where it can go without a cage, a kind of obstacle round it. So it’s still got the walls but it’s not got its freedom. It’s confined within its areas…because it is… it’s restricted and that. If you look at that [other tree] behind it, there’s nothing round that. That’s a free tree, do you know what I mean? That’s going where it’s meant to go.” (Elvis, 2018. Current supervisee of penal supervision)

(* For the purpose of this essay, I will refer to the photographer and supervisee as Elvis/ he/ him. This is for practical reasons – I am unaware of the photographers’ gender.)

………

When I look at this picture I recognise a park near my home. A park that I have walked through many times, negotiating the winding paths whilst chatting with my sister. In this picture I see a source of calm and reconciliation. A place in which I am reminded of my childhood, a time spent roaming around my back garden, learning about plants and insects with my Dad. When I look closer I see a sapling. A plant that someone has taken time to protect from grazing rabbits and will grow tall and strong as a result. What I see is quite different from what the photographer and supervisee, Elvis*, describes above.

The contrast in our reaction surprised me. Why did Elvis perceive the mesh around the plant as a restrictive force? Why did he not see the importance of the act?

Since learning about penal supervision, I have a greater understanding of why Elvis may take this perspective from the image. Indeed, those under supervision are directed, controlled and positioned by authority figures. They are stigmatised against and often excluded from society. Supervision creates obstacles that the people subject to it must be capable of manoeuvring. Whilst I may understand supervision as a safe and stabling force, those under the watchful eye of the state often regard it as a continual source of control. A tightrope – one wrong move and you fall back into the widening net…

I found it difficult to relate to Elvis. In my experience, supervision has been a source of care and protection: an attentive parent who spends time guiding and teaching (“The wee tree is in the cage so that the bunnies don’t get at it!”). A lifeguard, ready to jump in at the first sign of vulnerability. So, in order to modify my lens to align with Elvis’, I decided I needed to modify my own experience.

Swimming is a leisure activity that I am lucky to partake in four times a week. I generally go to the university gym between classes and spend roughly thirty minutes in the pool, after which I slump onto a hot bench in the sauna. This routine is a great source of relaxation in my day. Swimming has been a big part of my life; I used to compete with my local squad around Scotland when I was at school. The presence of lifeguards, therefore, is something that I have grown up with. I understand their purpose and respect what they do. In fact, during my regular visits to the university pool I have become acquainted with the lifeguards that work there and find their presence unintimidating and natural. If my experience of supervision was different and was more closely in line with Elvis’, then this leisure activity may look quite different:

I arrive at the swimming pool, jump in the water. I instantly feel like a goldfish in a glass bowl; can sense the uncomfortable glare of the lifeguard. They walk around the edge of the pool, like a shark hunting its prey. I am uneasy. I proceed to veer into a different lane of the pool, disrupting the other swimmers and going against the norms and the rules. I am stopped by the lifeguard who scolds and defaces me in front of the other swimmers. These people stop and watch as the commotion unfolds. In this scenario, the supervisor is a negative figure in my life. They are not a friend, but instead, a restrictive force that stand for discipline. They have the ability, the capacity, to make me feel vulnerable. In this scenario, I do not go back to the swimming pool between classes. I become the entrapped tree, limited and restricted.

Creating this dystopian-like reflection helped me gain a deeper understanding of Elvis’s description of his photograph. It made me think about the parallels in mine and Elvis’s lived experience of society. The differences in our freedom of movement and our outlooks on the world.

Before starting this Sociology course, I believed that supervision was a much less evasive form of punishment than prison. A softer option. I still do believe this to an extent. However, I can understand now that this perception was likely the result of my own positive experience with it. A perception, I have come to realise, that is not universally shared. The literature we have discussed in class would suggest that Elvis is not alone in his understanding of penal supervision. Supervision can be regarded as an ‘in between’ sentence. You are existing in society yet subject to the continuous scrutiny by the state. You are the sapling that is encased by mesh, forced to watch other trees grow in their chosen direction.

In my scenario, I had the choice to veer out of the lane. To go against the rules. I wondered if Elvis had this same choice, or in fact, if he knew the rules in the first place? I could return to my lane – unscathed. Could Elvis? My upbringing has set me up in a way that I have the ability to make a bad decision yet land onto a far-reaching safety net. My positive experience of supervision means that I respect and understand it in a way that Elvis does not, or perhaps, cannot. My childhood and the encouraging role-models that existed in it taught me to respect and listen to my supervisors, the rules of the game. Maybe his childhood did not afford him this same chance. Elvis’ view of penal control means it is understandable that he may not gain the benefits from it as an institution or respect it as a form of social practice. Perhaps if Elvis and I could align both of our perspectives then he would be able to gain more from the process.

Our dissimilar perspectives suggest that there is an ‘us’ and ‘them’ in our society. However, my ability to see through Elvis’s lens made me wonder whether this could be joined through empathy? Before this task, I would have asked: What did Elvis do to find himself under penal supervision? But after my attempt to understand Elvis’s perception, this question has shifted to: What happened to Elvis to trigger his opinions and feelings of supervision? Changing my stance from ‘them’ and ‘us’ – to a more inclusive ‘we’. I believe it is vital that we understand both sides of the system in order to reach a well-rounded and effective solution. Elvis’s apparent trauma with this form of punishment is what may be happening to widen the net of supervision. When individuals lose trust in the state, then they also lose faith in its methods. By educating and helping Elvis to gain a better experience of supervision, perhaps we could work together to make sure Elvis goes “where [he is] meant to go”.

I am now intrigued by Elvis’ story and feel I understand a little better how supervision as a lived experience looks through his eyes. Although I can never walk in the shoes of Elvis, I can broaden my experiences and knowledge of supervision to perhaps walk beside him for a while, negotiating the winding paths together, and in that, try to help.

Anonymous

My First New Pair Of Shoes

I was 9 years old and I’d never seen a dead body, or even ridden a bike, but then, my ‘I’d nevers’ were an endless list. They would fall one by one gradually with the years to come. This year in the third grade, one of my ‘I’d nevers’ came to a premature end. This was the year I’d have my very own brand new pair of shoes. Everything I’d ever worn before was hand-me-downs from my older brothers or picked out from a second-hand store. How I got my new shoes, was unforgettably wonderful.
My first two years in elementary were just awful. I was a small, Mexican boy in my class in Torrington, Wyoming. I couldn’t speak English at all in first grade. The other children stared at me and giggled when I tried to speak. It embarrassed me to the point that I regressed slowly, shamed, ridiculed and outcast those first two years. I dressed sloppily, my hand-me-down pants were always too big, and my shirts too long. I tried to make things fit but I couldn’t. If it weren’t for my belt holding me together, I think I would have fallen apart. My old shoes had holes in their soles that my father patched up as best he could. He would cut out cardboard inserts for me that eventually disintegrated with the wet, slushy, snow. Children made fun of me and my tortilla tacos that I took for lunch. I was always excluded from their games and my teachers didn’t seem to care.
I knew my place when I started third grade. I took my rejection quietly, and at age 8 I sank further into a solitary heaviness and its tentacles that wrapped around my small body, consuming me little by little, taking me down. I sat by myself in a dim corner of the cafeteria, ate my tacos from inside my brown paper bag, trying to hide them. When I finished, I drank water from the fountain outside. I never participated in class, too afraid to raise my hand and make a fool of myself. I was skinny, undernourished and small.
Vernon, a loud, husky, red-haired, freckled-faced bully picked on me and pushed me around while the others laughed, probably glad, better me, than them.
It was at this point that my third-grade teacher noticed me and took me under her wing. She was different, she was very nice to me. She was my savior. She always took care to make sure that I understood what she was teaching. It was like she taught the other children through me. She noticed how and why I sat alone during lunch so she bought me lunch cards for the year and immersed me into the group. I was soon enjoying wonderful hot food and delicious, wholesome, fresh milk.
She took me by the hand one day as we walked together down a few shady, tree-lined blocks to a shoe store nearby, where she bought me my first pair of brand new shoes. She even bought me a small tin of wonderful smelling Shinola so that I could take care of my new shoes. Walking back with her, with my old beat up shoes in their coffin box, I could not take my eyes off my feet.
From then on, the children accepted me, I participated in class and Vernon and I became best buddies. He and I were the best tether ball players in class.
I don’t remember if I thanked my teacher, but I have a feeling her reward was being proud of me and seeing how I responded socially and academically to her act of kindness. I’d like to think it was an act of love.
I admire and applaud all of you, especially my Facebook friends, who have chosen this noble profession, made noble by your dedication and love.

By Rudy Ruiz-Arce

PC 57-D Signing Off by Graham Goulden

(Written 31st May 2017)

Well, as they say, “That’s all folks”.  I appear to have blinked twice since 1987 and here I am 30 years later retiring from a career that has given me so much.  I’ve had many roles in my time, which seems relevant as my first police collar number was PC 57-D and just like the reference to the Heinz label I’ve certainly had variety.

I’m leaving a profession that faces many challenges.  Recent events in Manchester and London clearly demonstrate that we live in a different world than the one I faced all those years ago.  Despite the challenges I still feel that solutions are not as difficult as we may think.

I wanted to impart some words of wisdom to officers who continue to serve communities across the United Kingdom as well as individuals thinking of joining the police service as a career.

“To my former colleagues you are doing a wonderful job and to those aspiring to join the police, do it.”

There is no better career than the police service and it is one, where officers find themselves meeting communities and individuals on the ground that they stand on.  In many cases this ground is troublesome and chaotic.  As ‘Homeboy Industries’ founder Father Grieg Boyle from Los Angeles seems to suggest this when he says, “we stand on the margins of society, with those who are in the margins”.  I feel privileged to have served as an officer, engaging with many different individuals and communities over the years.

My words of wisdom may sound too simple but they are what they are.

“I firmly believe that community engagement is where the magic will happen.”

How we form and develop relationships with our communities will bring us wonderful results both for the short and long term.

“That’s it, simple – ITS ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS.”

For me, the key is for the service is to better understand the people we deal with and come across in our role.  I can say hand on heart that over the 30 years I have met 2 individuals who I was really scared of.

“The rest, the clear majority I know now, were individuals who before 10 o’clock in the morning had already lived a day.”

As a service, we need to better understand the chaos, the trauma and complex issues that many people in the UK face today.  The evidence tells us that many of our societal issues are rooted in Adverse Childhood experiences faced in the first 3 years of life.

To my former colleagues I would ask that you think of the young people that you on  a regular basis: arrest, detain or search. Think also of the young people who taunt you when you drive past them.  Are we as a service encouraged to think of the stories behind these individuals?

How many will have been or continue to be victims of abuse at the hands of a family member of friend?

How many will have witnessed parents fighting in the home?  

How many will have lost a parent through addiction or violence?  

How many have a father in prison?  

How many will have witnessed violence in their community?

“I know that we as a service are not encouraged to think this way.”

I look back at incidents I attended were I found myself struggling with a prisoner, getting a punch in the face by a young person I wanted to search or shouting at the top of my voice to try and establish control.  Looking back, I now think did I really know the people I was dealing with.  No I didn’t and in many occasons this is still the case today.  I feel we as a service are ignoring the biology of behaviour.  We simply look at the behaviour and not at the pain behind the behaviour.

“If a child is being abused they won’t have the words to tell you, they only have their behaviours.  It’s vital to look beyond behaviours.”

Now before you think I’m excusing behaviour, No I’m not.  I’m just wanting to get people thinking about why a person may be behaving that way.  I’ve moved from simply thinking “it’s about bad people making bad choices” to a position where I look at the adverse circumstances and experiences suffered.  Again, I’m not excusing, simply trying to understand.

Last week’s horrible events in Manchester presented us both the worst and best in humanity.  The following images reflect what we do best as a service and a ‘best’ that has been there for many years.  In moments of clear crisis, we can show that compassion to those in need.

This image, a favourite, was shared a few weeks back and again shows an operational officer showing his human side.  This officer like me is a father.  It’s clear to me that he is using this skill to engage with the young person.

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For me,

“we need even more of this and towards people who we often find in moments of their own crisis.”

As I say behaviour is often a way that a person expresses how they feel.  A better understanding of childhood trauma will I feel help all officers in their roles supporting the way that they build relationships in our communities.  A great resource for developing knowledge on this subject is https://acestoohigh.com/

Well as I said at the start that’s my police career finished.  It’s been a blast and I leave with a mind better aware of the complex issues that we face as a society.

“It’s time we stopped looking at crime and behaviour as simply moral issues and started applying the scientific knowledge we possess.”

Criminal Justice approaches are needed but they create more problems than they were designed to solve.  How we engage, interact and communicate with individuals will bring positive outcomes.  We as a species are born to connect, so let’s connect.

I wish former colleagues all of the best in the years ahead.  To potential officers this job is what you make of it.  Enjoy it but always remember the privileged position you hold.

By Graham Goulden