You might know one of my biggest concerns in terms of the engagement I’ve received over the last four years, is suspicion that some organisations, public, private and charitable abuse the status of ex-offenders and offenders. My experience and that of others seems to suggest so. If we consider the brilliant work and book ‘Making Good – How Ex-convicts Reform and Rebuild their Lives’ (2000) by Shadd Maruna, it highlights those ex-offenders who want to further redress the past by offering help to those associated with the same problems associated with criminal behaviour. My post is not to examine the work of Shadd of whom I now know personally and am a great admirer of his work. I’m using the title and the essence of what is explored in terms of book – sadly I no longer have my copy of the book, and am failing to get some sort of copy so I can quote the descriptions and postulations made by Shadd.
However, I will continue on cautiously. So what do I think? Firstly, it’s important to point out that great work is done in all sectors of the criminal justice system and even by those who I hold with suspicion. It is a very difficult area to confront, and my discussions have revealed that few want to actually say anything about their concerns. Some who have shared a similar view work within the CJS, others are [ex] service-users. Some are just observers and feel there is something wrong with the treatment of people who have been in the system, and wish to engage with it. I’m postulating that the essence of ‘making good’ (not the book) is an invitation to abuse [ex] service-users sensibilities, for many reasons. It might be ‘bid candy’ or creating a [ex] service-user ‘pin up’, it might be to use as cheap labour (volunteering or mentoring). What I can share is that I was naive, very naive in terms of the relationship between [ex] service-user and organisations. I moaned a few years ago in my naivety about the way my narrative had been used and why hadn’t the criminal justice organisations come knocking at my door. Well they sort of did, but not in the way I expected!
My need to ‘make good’ was seen as invitation, I put out my earlier guise of this website, sharing intimate details of my life, and frustrations. This began not long after graduating from university, not long later I became homeless and Nacro came calling, not to help; they wanted me to help them in their ‘Change the Record’ campaign. Of course I was a willing and eager participant, and in truth I thought it would be a way in to get help for myself. It would raise awareness of the issue that was really effecting my life, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act . I obviously wanted to add what was a perfect narrative for the campaign, and hopefully raise my profile. I began to get an unnerving feeling when – I asked the people involved with the campaign if they could direct me to some assistance, after all I was now living on the streets of London, awaiting a response from the spotters, and contacting as many charities as possible to help, on foot, via the phone and twitter. The response from the campaign team was to call the Nacro helpline, who basically said they can’t help, because I didn’t have a supervision order or probation officer to refer me. The campaign team informed me that they would wait while I became housed to film me for the campaign. Eventually, St Giles Trust asked me to visit their offices in Camberwell, and assisted me with securing a room, a deposit, some food vouchers and a secure place to store my laptop until the contracts had been signed and the keys given to move in.
I continued my association with the Nacro campaign, being filmed in my rented room the first day I was there. I blogged for them on their website, and did another official Change the Record video. With the extra attention on me due to being involved, I got so many e-mails to volunteer my story, help with young graduates and PhD candidates doing research to answer their questions. The other reason for being contacted was to be part of new and exciting businesses, social enterprises and organisations that are going to help people like me. I was not offered paid work, or even meaningful volunteer work, they wanted my narrative, they wanted a pin up for whatever reasons; I never really got to find out. I aired my frustrations online via social media, Twitter and the like. The professionals, the great and the good of the criminal justice world began to unfollow – I started to shut up! Except holding ones breath will kill you, or at least that’s what it felt like.
Over the last few years I’ve been engaging, some things have changed in terms of looking at the rehabilitation of offenders, the crock of shit the government call ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ is now a main stay in terms of the present governments agenda. I don’t feel the opposition are thinking of anything much different either. The ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ agenda and changes are all about opening up the the public services dedicated to protection of the public and reform of offenders to private and charitable ‘enterprise’. This is a red flag if ever there was one! It petrifies the life out of me that people who might be as naive as I was will be taken in, mentors and volunteers to assist some enterprise in their creation of a business in the guise of ‘doing good’. Even though we ex-offenders have important knowledge in terms of experiences and qualified more than any ‘professional’ to understand why we desisted, we are not considered as equals in terms of knowledge and expertise. They want it, they want to use it, they even want to sell it. But not as an equal in terms of being considered valuable enough to pay for.
I’ve never wanted to mentor, I’ve always being about challenging policy, the inequalities and discrimination faced by those who wish to integrate and ‘make good’ – the problem is and my warning to any would-be ex-offender who wants to make good is to be careful, be wise, value yourself, your knowledge and your narrative. Don’t let anyone make you think you owe them or society. You’ve paid your debt, you owe jack shit, other than yourself. Make good, but on your terms. Check out why they want you, what is their history, I advise anyone getting involved with any organisation, especially if new to check out who the directors of the enterprise are, what do their financial reports say. Some of the ‘enterprises’ will scream and say ‘We’re not for profit’ – you don’t have to be, check the wage structure and shareholder dividends (see below). Look for independent reviews by people who worked there or were service users. Don’t follow the crowd, the ‘in’ crowd. Some, if not all great services are often the quietest, they just get on with it, rather than odiously celebrating their ‘good news’ on social media and ignore the probing and relevant questions!
How to check company information financials, people (directors) and history.
You can do this in a number of ways, what use to be the common route was to purchase a report from Companies House, some basic information is available for free, Companies House is cheap if you wish to purchase a full report. The other route to finding company information is Dun & Bradsteet (D&B), you can view the ‘risk’ assessment and D&B rating, this is available online at a cost, or you can visit your library and get access for free or minimal fee. The route I have been using and is the new kid on the block in terms of company information, and assessment of risk is DueDil, it offers lots of free information about companies, directors, turnover, risk, wages, assets and lots of other information. For example, there is a well known, well followed organisation that has never submitted financial reports to the HMRC. You will find out the previous company information for directors, including all previous financial reports. And finally the place to check charities, full reports all available free of charge, The Charity Commission – Follow the money!