It is exactly 5am and I am writing this in bed on what will be my last day here at HMP Wakefield. That’s right. Today I get transferred. So much has changed since I was lasting posting here regularly. It’s hard to know where to start.
In 2016 I undertook the most intensive psychological work I have ever engaged in and, to get as much as possible out of it, I had to put all that I have into it. I offered myself up entirely and, whilst I was on the course, the support provided by the facilitators and the other prisoners on the course with me made it feel safe to do so. But, as the course neared its end, I was caught for my misuse of the prison phones (which I wrote about at the time).
The combination of my self-imposed emotional vulnerability with the prospect of imminent punishment for my wrongdoing and a sudden withdrawal of a much relied upon support structure as the course came to an end left me raw and unstable. I was in a bad place and struggling to cope. As a result, I landed myself in hospital. But perhaps the most despairing thing about this period was the fact that, in the aftermath of all this, the Mental Health Team here at Wakefield asked me why I hadn’t gone to them for support.
“I did,” I said. “I asked for support. You said I was fine and didn’t want to know.” They didn’t like that answer.
Then, a few months later, I faced adjudication again (as I detailed in my last two posts). So I was low. I was really low. But one thing kept me going. I started to attend Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings. NA was unlike anything else I had ever done, but I learnt something new about myself with every single meeting I attended.
My post-course report from the psychology team, essentially reviewing my progress on the earlier course and making an assessment of what additional work is needed, set me back a bit. They returned to tired old recommendations that I attend a personality disorder unit to be assessed for any possible disorders. At this point I should probably reiterate that I have never been diagnosed with any such disorder and the only previous assessment to have ever compared me against the diagnostic criteria for them found that it is unlikely that I suffer from any. (See my previous post ‘A Boy without a Past, a Man without a Future‘ for more information.) However, this recent report recommended that I be transferred to a particular prison I had never heard anything about before so that I could undertake an assessment. So I researched it and, as it turns out, I didn’t even meet the entry criteria for that prison. A transfer application would not be considered at all.
Now, maybe I’m still a little naïve, but prison entry criteria are the kind of thing I would have hoped that a prison service psychologist would either already be clued up on, or that they would research themselves before putting a potentially life changing sentence planning target into place. However, since that had not been done in this case, I decided to enlist the help of someone who would be a bit more thorough. With the aid of my solicitor I therefore re-contacted the independent psychologist who had concluded in 2011 that it is unlikely that I suffer from any personality disorders and I asked her to formally assess me for these, ruling them in or out once and for all. She did this and, as expected, conclusively ruled them all out. But what came next was far from expected.
What I expected was a long drawn out battle of “you say tomato, I say elephant” between my independent psychologist and those working for the prison service.
What actually happened couldn’t have been more different. It was February last year and the day of my sixth parole hearing. My solicitor and I had asked my independent psychologist to attend in order to answer any questions the parole panel had regarding her report and we were all about to go in for the start of the hearing when the judge chairing the panel asked for my psychologist and the prison service psychologist to spend some time together discussing their differing reports and recommendations before we began.
It was unusual. I’d actually never heard of this happening before. But they did it, and then we all went through to the hearing room. Introductions and pre-ambles were made and then, in another first for me, the judge asked both psychologists to give evidence at the same time, “so that any differences of opinion can be explored without witnesses having to get up and down repeatedly.” Again, they did so, and I couldn’t believe what happened next.
“I assessed Mr Mac for signs of personality disorder,” said my independent psychologist. “And there are none. I would reiterate the recommendations made in my report of 2011, that he be transferred to a therapeutic prison such as HMP Grendon to complete treatment before release.” So far, so expected, but then;
“Having discussed [the doctor’s] report and conclusions with her,” said the prison service psychologist. “I am in full agreement and I would withdraw my previous recommendations in light of this new information, supporting instead a transfer to HMP Grendon.”
And so I now skip past the batting backwards and forwards that followed, as I sought assurances that this would not be reneged upon as soon as the parole panel left the building (as has been done in my case previously). I skip past the removal of any mention of personality disorder treatment from my sentence plan. I skip past a lengthy application process for a place at HMP Grendon. I skip past a year of delays in the sending, receiving, and considering of various reports to decide whether or not to accept me. I even skip past the decision letter I received two weeks ago, informing me that my application has been successful and I will be transferred in due course. I skip straight to today.
Today, I will be transferred to Grendon. And the next time I write, will be from there.
Wish me luck!