Out of the Frying Pan

When prisoners arrive on the assessment unit here at Grendon we are told that we will be on this wing for up to six months, though it can be longer. However, within hours of arriving here I was introduced to Shaun (all names are changed on this site), who had just been told he was ‘getting a wing’ (moving from the assessment wing to a therapy wing) after just eight weeks on assessment.

I was told that this was the rare exception to the rule and it did seem that the community of around thirty guys had all been here for a range of timescales ranging from a week to almost six months precisely.

As if to prove the point, the next person to leave the wing was Clint. He was told that, after six months on assessment, he was to be RTU’d (Returned To Unit – i.e. Sent back to the prison he had come here from). He was devastated. However, it soon became clear to me that there are at least five crucial elements to the therapists deciding someone is suitable for a wing. These are that a. The person needs therapy, b. The person will not disrupt the therapy of others, c. The person will engage in therapy, d. The person will respond to therapy, and e. The person can handle therapy. In the case of Shaun, these things had all been seen as present by his eighth week. In the case of Clint, they had not been seen even after six months.

Clint has been the only person I have seen get RTU’d due to not being suitable for a wing. There have been a couple of people RTU’d for violence against each other, but nothing else. As for getting a wing, the next person to be moved off to a therapy wing was Andre. He got his wing after around four months, I believe. And then it was Ricky, who had been here a similar length of time. After him was Jerry, who had been here just ten weeks. And then, it was me.

I had been here nine weeks when they called me into the office and sat me down. I took a seat, convinced I had done something wrong, and braced myself to be RTU’d.

There had been a wing meeting the day before where someone had said that they had changed their attitude towards people from different backgrounds since coming to Grendon, yet I had witnessed that person threatening someone just days previously precisely because they weren’t a ‘road man’. If you don’t know what that means, it’s better you don’t ask because it is so pathetic that you’ll wish you didn’t know. If you insist on finding out, look it up on Urban Dictionary. Anyway, I sat opposite him at this meeting and raised an eyebrow, sending him a little message that there were people in the room who knew his claim of change to be untrue – hopefully prompting him to either be a bit more honest or to actually enact the change his clearly knew was necessary. Only, as I did so, I saw an officer looking at me with a slightly puzzled expression in my peripheral vision, wondering what my raised eyebrow indicated. I dropped the look and carried on.

Twenty-four hours later, sitting in the office after being pulled in by the very same officer and a psychologist, I was convinced that he was going to ask me what the look was about.

“Why do you think we’ve asked you to come in here?” he asked.

“Is it something to do with yesterday’s meeting?” I replied.

“No,” he screwed his face up in bemusement, clearly indicating that I had thought more about him clocking my eyebrow activities than he had. “It’s because we’ve decided to give you a wing. How do you feel about that?”

My stomach flipped. I hadn’t expected this at all. I didn’t know what I felt about it, yet, I knew how important it is to recognise and identify your feelings here so I searched deep.

“Urn, shocked,” was all I could manage.

“Why?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I just didn’t expect it so soon. I know a few people have got wings early, but I didn’t think I would be one of them.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Ok. I’ll tell you my reasoning for voting for you to get a wing now. I wasn’t going to but I sat and thought about it and came to the conclusion that the only reason I would keep you on this wing longer is to give more time to settle in. Practically, what more could you achieve on here though? Pretty much the only thing you could work on to get the most out of therapy is your trust in authority figures, and you’re not going to do that in the next eight weeks or in six months — it’s a longer term thing for you. So I thought you have nothing left to do on assessment that you can’t do in therapy. That’s why I voted for you.”

“Right,” I said. “Thanks. I guess.”

They say that when you win a fish in a bag at the fair you should submerge that bag in the tank for a while so that the fish can acclimatise before you let it out of the bag. Moving wings is like that here.

You can’t just pack your property and move over the next day or even the same day as you would in most other jails. You have to ease in. To acclimatise. You are first told that you are getting a wing on the Tuesday. On the Wednesday the therapists from various wings meet and decide which wing you would be best on, both for your own therapy and for the therapy of others around you. They tell you which wing has been decided on and see how you feel about that, but you don’t get to choose. Then, on the Saturday afternoon, you go over to the relevant wing for an association period and receive a guided tour from the prisoners acting as chair and vice chair on that wing where you can look around, meet people, and ask any questions you have. The following Thursday you go over again and, this time, you have a meal over there as an opportunity to integrate into the community a little. Then, on the Saturday morning, you move.

And so, last week, I moved. Just weeks into my Grendon journey I am now on the wing where my therapy will take place. What I need to do next is to find a balance. I need to heed the advice of everyone on my new wing who have said “Don’t rush it. The therapy will come” whilst also remembering that I received a minimum term to serve of less than three years and have now been inside for seventeen. I don’t want to rush, but I don’t want to waste time either. Right now, I think the solution is to simply be open. That way, when the therapy does come, I am ready to engage with it without toing and froing, but I’m not forcing anything which isn’t there yet.

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