I have always been a shy person. Not many people who know me now realise that. When I tell them so, many struggle to believe it. The truth is, I compensate for that part of me with forced confidence. I spent too many years allowing my shyness to inhibit me and I missed out on many opportunities because of that. I won’t allow that to continue. So I am glad I compensate. I have occasionally taken that into the realms of overcompensating. However, I now feel that (most of the time) I manage to keep just about the right balance, including challenging myself when appropriate to do so. One such occasion came up recently. Here at Grendon one of the rep jobs you can apply for is Entertainment Rep. It puts you front and centre and demands that you get in amongst the crowd, putting on events and activities for the wing to enjoy. It is the last job I would ever feel confident putting myself forwards for. Which is exactly why I did.
Another aspect to my shyness is that I am often convinced that no one else has any faith in me either. Imagine my surprise then when I was voted by majority into the job.
I was asked some tough questions first, not least being “What ideas have you got for events you can put on?” I did have a few ideas but I didn’t think “darts” was an impressive enough answer to land the job.
“A Bullseye night,” I said. “All based on the old TV show.”
“But you’re not allowed to give out prizes here,” someone replied.
“That’s alright,” I said. “I can show you what you could have won.”
The room erupted with laughter, only a few people (all too young to remember Bullseye) looked at each other bewildered as to why that was funny. A couple of minutes later I was given the job. And we did do a darts night, just a few days later, but I also managed to get away with giving out prizes.
The general rule here is that prizes are not allowed as they encourage gambling but then the Wing Constitution (a document setting out the rules of the wing) defines gambling as any game which is not won by pure chance (as a raffle is). This would seem to indicate that prizes are ok provided that no skill is involved which, personally I found a bit bizarre. I raised it with one of the therapy managers and, the next day, she came out of her office and handed over a T-shirt bearing the logo of the Make a Wish Foundation, handing it over and saying “You can give this out as a prize if you want.”
I took that to be an implicit overturning of the rule against prizes and immediately started to allocate part of the £5 a week entertainment budget to buying things participants could win. The darts competition came with a prize of a packet of cookies. The T-Shirt was given to the winner of a pool tournament. A Who Wants to Be a Millionaire style quiz night carried a small chocolate bar for anyone who could answer five questions right in a row. In fact, the only part of the entertainment I didn’t include a prize for was a pirate themed board game we invented ourselves — which is exactly what you’d expect prisoners to get up to when they have too much time on their hands, isn’t it?
But I wasn’t the first or the last to come up with original ideas for the entertainment. It was someone else who first inspired me to do so.
He had put on a karaoke night which, to be fair, was only attended by about a quarter of the wing and included a karaoke machine that kept glitching, not showing the words that none of us knew up on the screen. However, despite this, everyone there really enjoyed themselves and we were in hysterics as the biggest, most overtly heterosexual gym-head and one of the smallest but most homophobic guys on the wing duetted “You’re the One That I Want” together.
Skip forward to last week, when my allocated four weeks on the job had just come to an end, and my successor put on an improvised Rap Battles night, with participants using hip hop beats as a base for their improvised lyrics, cutting each other down as humorously as possible. Again, it was great fun for all concerned and even those who had originally sniped at the idea came away feeling glad they had turned out for it.
But there was one thing that niggled at me. Like any group of people, those on the wings here will occasionally fall out with one another and, when that happens on the assessment wing (where no one has been at Grendon long) the typical reaction is one that should probably be expected: They almost always say that “There is no community here.” Well, I disagree. I believe that whenever you throw a group of people together, whether they gel or not, whether they like each other or not, even whether they can stand to look at each other or not, they are by definition a community. The truth of the matter is that many people struggle to see or to accept that when they first arrive here and, rather than taking responsibility for the community themselves, it feels far easier to say that there simply isn’t one.
Personally, I like to think differently. I think that if it doesn’t feel like there is a community, then make one yourself. I think that if something is pissing you off, the best thing you can do is to simply do the opposite. If people around you feel divided, reach out and talk to someone you wouldn’t usually. If everyone is behaving negatively, say or do something more positive. If it feels like no one is taking account of a certain subgroup, do so yourself. And that was why I put myself forward as the Entertainment Rep. For me it was more than just a chance to challenge myself, it was also an opportunity to unite the various cliques that had formed in the community. And, whilst it was annoying that some people continued to complain that “there is no community here”, I simply replied by saying, “Yes there is, we were all at the entertainment last night and we’ll be back there again tomorrow. Join in and you’ll be part of it.” Of course, some resisted and continued with the same outlook, but that’s their prerogative. Others, I found, were more than happy to get stuck in and see what things were about and, in one case in particular, it really got one of the guys to build bridges with people in the community he had never really spoken to before. And that’s enough of a prize for me.