Category Archives: Prison

Brexit. Trump. Strictly. No, don’t click me away! Bear with.

Cards on the table, I don’t much like the tellybox. I watch, occasionally, stuff like Railway Journeys with Portillo, or that wonderful Canal programme with Timothy and Prue, but on the whole most of it passes me by. Most of what I do see is caught accidentally when the rest of the family are watching and I stumble into the room on my way somewhere else. However, I have become surprisingly interested in Strictly Come Dancing this last couple of series – maybe it’s because I remember watching the original all those years ago, usually with an altered state of mind which helped.

Bear with…….

This year has been in interesting year for anyone with half an eye on politics. We have, allegedly, seen a rise in the proletariat offering a bit of a slap to the people who have seeped and dribbled into offices of power and decided they know best. Not only that they know best but that the proles know nothing and need to be kept in their place. Our place. To that end, arguably, Education and Health, and to a large extent the Criminal Justice System and Housing, have been morphing in recent decades, leaving behind much of the social construct and responsibility that most of us value and developing a profit motive that no longer has to try to hide. Priorities in socially important organisations changed of necessity – it was do or die –  and in part that has been supported passively by people still believing that someone with a lot of money and a private education knows better than them. Pair that with the desperate need of many to simply keep body and soul together leaving little time to be involved in much else and a consistent lowering of expectations and we have a perfect storm of passivity and fatigue that allows people who do have the time and money (and the networks developed at school and Uni and by family connections) to buy a pathway into power. I mention no names…….

And then came 2016. Hands up who approached 2016 thinking “Thank Goodness 2015 is over, what a year, it can only get better”…..? Yes, well that went well, didn’t it? Apart from lots of lovely people dying who had created my history and the musical and artistic backdrop to my youth, we also had Brexit and Trump. Divisions created deliberately by the powerful to conquer the masses led to the very public murder of one woman, an increase in the confidence of people with shameful attitudes, a legitimising of all kinds of isms from ageism (the older generation have spoiled things for the young/the young don’t understand the issues) through racism (go back to where you came from/who will you blow up next) and a general atmosphere of mistrust and hatred. Conversation was replaced by brick throwing and chanting, voting was seen as an act of defiance rather than an inalienable right and duty and more people voted for Brexit than at any General Election for years. Public dissatisfaction with politicians who fiddle expenses and despise their electorate was having some practical results. Trump had already hopped onto the bandwagon and shamelessly – alongside some of his opponents and supporters – traded insults and lies rather than debate and detail, whipping up his gang to hatred of others, violence, intolerance and a lack of facts. Taking mansplaining to a whole new level, and behaving publicly in a way that many parents would justifiably have slapped their children for, he set new and deeply unattractive guidelines for public debate and demeanour. In both of these events we witnessed the powerless grasping onto something over which they believed they had some control, a new experience for many. In reality the power and control remained exactly where they already were but the illusion of influence was conferred, more expertly in some areas than in others. That precious vote, hard won by ordinary people over the years, wrestled from the wealthy and powerful and certainly not given freely by them, was being manipulated to support the very people who stood to gain most. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is politics in the 21st Century. Ordinary people are encouraged to think they have had enough of the elite – by some of the elite – in order to get them to vote for the elite.

But something did happen. The idea of sticking it to the elite has taken hold. The concept that perhaps people can make choices, sometimes dangerous or wrong choices, and define their own reality and outcomes and live with the consequences is becoming clearer. And so we arrive at Strictly. I told you to bear with. Ed Balls joined the Strictly dancers and immediately gained the publics support for dancing badly, but with charm and warmth. The pubic enjoyed his efforts and his ineptitude, his determination to do his best and move forward – they liked it much better than some of the other dancers who danced better but were less appealingly human and had less distance to go to dance well. Someone who until recently appeared as part of the elite was shown to be Like Us. Not only Like Us, but likeable and funny. He charmed. The judges were ghastly to Ed and that just increased his popularity – they gurned when he danced, were outright discourteous, were way less encouraging to him than the other “better” dancers and generally behaved like, well, like the elite. Clearly they are the experts, clearly they are dancers, but their unpleasant behaviour rendered that immaterial – we liked Ed because he wasn’t an expert and wasn’t elite. We didn’t like the judges being smug and telling us what to like and what not to like. We Brexited them. We Trumped them. We voted in droves for the Little Man. Apparently. Well, job done. Ed is rehabilitated and the People have spoken. He has worked hard and redefined his place in the public eye.

Quite a few of The Elite are chums of mine. Quite a few of The People are chums of mine. I like them all – I think there is a little bit of fabulous about everyone, without exception. Their politics are not what I admire about them – if they charm me and make me laugh, if they have a brain and a heart, are kind, and hold a conversation well that is what I admire. What they do in the ballot box is not my business. What is my business is what happens when the votes are counted and policy decisions are being made. As someone who has worked for years in health, justice and social care and across all the sectors, and as a school governor, I have seen how public policy impacts actual people. Left and Right are almost irrelevant as long as socially important organisations and services remain at the whim of people many of whom will say and do almost anything to sit in a seat of power, many of whom have no meaningful experience of the departments they lead ( I am sure you know what I mean and who I mean……), and who potentially change direction regularly every few years. When there is actually a direction to change and not just a dogma to follow.  While we have no available Intensive Care beds for children anywhere in the country, while nearly 9,000 people slept on the streets in London alone in 2015/16 – and that is only the recorded figure – and 57,750 households were accepted as homeless and in ‘priority need’ in the same year, a six percent rise on the previous year, while mental health services are randomly delivered and under-funded and a false economy as so many people bounce around the expensive system, while almost as many people leave prison unable to read as entered it (this is changing, thank goodness, thanks to some fabbo people, but so slowly), while people with a criminal record are routinely excluded from jobs and housing denying them the opportunity to desist, while all of these things and more are happening Left and Right can argue until blue/red/green/yellow/purple in the face but it will remain a disgrace and the responsibility of all of them. And all of us.

There are some properly decent people in and around government and in and around some of the organisations that develop and deliver services, people who actually want to make a difference and not a fortune. I insist on feeling hopeful that the vote for Brexit – and Strictly – is an indication of the start of increased popular involvement in government. Whether or not I agree with outcomes upon which people vote does not matter – it is up to me to make a case for my view and debate properly. If votes go a different way to the one I would like I still rejoice that democracy has taken place. We have become a tad complacent in recent years, the freedoms and opportunities that have taken so long and so much painful sacrifice to attain are at risk. That complacency has allowed bad practices to slip under the wire – without some darn good journalism the expenses scandals would have remained unknown, for example, or at the least unremarked. Our inexplicable faith in people in positions of power, supported by the anaesthesia of media dependence, has let us take our collective eyes off the collective ball. My optimism tells me that people are perhaps willing to become more engaged and knowledgeable about the things that will affect their lives and less tribal in their allegiances. Brexit and Strictly both cut across most demographics…….

So, vote for Strictly! Vote in your local and general elections! Talk to your MP, find out what she or he actually thinks and don’t take it on face value – challenge, probe, question, scrutinise. And crucially, tell her or him what you think and what you expect of them. Own outcomes. Learn to Salsa and wear some fancy clothes. Dance and vote like no-one is watching.  And remember that T Blair is creating a global organisation to combat populism  – that’s you and me – and promote globalism – the thing that fills his pockets. We must be becoming dangerous……….

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A little pain goes a long way…..

Gosh how we undervalue our physical selves! All High and Mighty about values and philosophies and high-falutin’ principles we ignore the uncomfortable truth that without physical comfort we can sink.

After a week of volcanic uncontrollable pain which I knew was temporary but that didn’t help, the pain is coming under control and the say-it-quick-and-it-won’t-matter cause, a massive infection, is starting to abate. Good grief I even got dressed for part of today! The worst is over and I am re-entering the world of humans again even though I still can’t talk without sounding like Sylvester Stallone chewing socks. I want to stay awake all night and read poetry! Write poetry! Get that sunrise that has been in the back of my head right to the front and then onto canvas. Read A Brief History Of Time again until I actually get it. Having spent a week unable to do anything other than lie down and let my mind rattle around I want to jump and dance – not that I could realistically anyway with two left feet and a dodgy knee but the urge never goes. Actually it’s more like three left feet when I get going – how on earth do cats and dogs and other cleverly quadruped creatures co-ordinate four limbs? I struggle to keep the two legs I have under control, on a good day.

I have dived deep into the many dreams that came courtesy of the analgesia and had the time to understand them – without that luxury I would have romped out of bed the morning after my dreams and failed to reflect enough to see that, for one example alone, on one night the unrecognisable woman in the dream was my Mother and lying there following the dream backwards I was able to start to understand a few things that had foxed me for years. With eyes closed and mind open I could travel around inside my head and find some of the obstacles there, and start to remove them. Thank you analgesia.

Moving from almost unbearable pain towards comfort it is possible to close my eyes and instead of the scary black holes that were there until today, see in their place now a multitude of constellations that give light and warmth as well as shade and comfort and I can watch and follow them behind my eyelids enjoying their shapes, colours and variety. They offer entertainment and reflection. During the worst times of the last week as a distraction I forced myself to stop and listen to the birdsong outside my window – a window through which I have, with great pleasure, watched the seasons changing for more than fifteen years and through which I have watched my children play and grow, and where my granddaughter now plays too. I was as warm and as comfortable as I could be given the pain and it was possible to start to look forward to the Spring listening to those birds, to picture the flowers and hedgerows and smell and taste the asparagus, spring greens, cucumber, strawberries, rhubarb as if they were already here. I was in my own bed, my own house, with my children making sure I was comfortable and my books and cushions around me and a shedload of pain relief making life ok.

I was able to look forward past the pain because I was physically secure. How much would I have coped with the pain had I been cold, wet, outside and without comfort? I have little enough to be grumpy about even with the temporary illness, but I still managed it from time to time. How dreary, how impossible to cope with each day had I been homeless or stateless, insecure and alone. I am one of many people fortunate to have the opportunity to work and create an immediate environment that is comfortable, happy, peaceful. I have provided for my family, alongside my husband, and we have done it pretty well. We can be satisfied that we have done a decent job and we reap some of those rewards in terms of love and affection, support and security, wellbeing and happiness. Damn, I am lucky! There are however many people denied that experience, denied the opportunity to raise their children in safety and warmth, sometimes even without adequate water, food, protection. As I look forward to Spring and those strawberries many others look forward to nothing at all, hoping simply to exist for another day, hoping to keep their children alive, if not safe. There are people living in hospitals who should never have been there and who have suffered infinitely as a result, the product of arrogant careless models of “care”. There are people bereaved because someone didn’t give enough of a damn.There are people who sleep on streets and benches because they struggle with a world of barriers and expectations. There are people in prisons because they have no meaningful means of breaking away from the ropes that hold them in place and fix them in the amber of chaos. There are elders locked inside “homes” who will never ever feel the breeze on their face again because there is no-one to help them outside because of “staff shortage” and because of people who don’t get that some things matter enough to make them happen even if they don’t show up on KPIs and audits.

Creative as I am I cannot even begin to understand how that feels. I can empathise and I can witness – and both of those things matter and support a greater understanding and tolerance. I can try to make a difference, and I do try. But those things, those terrible circumstances, will continue for too many people. That is almost as unbearable as the pain…….

As I recover and anticipate with pleasure and gratitude the rhubarb, spinach and strawberries I will keep in my head all the people who I know are not as happy or lucky as me. I will offer them my love and respect and will continue to try to make a difference in the tiny ways available to me and I will try to create more ways, and I know many many fabulous people who do the same and more, and it is a genuine honour to know them.  We will keep on trying, in gratitude and humility and this last week has helped me to focus on that. Otherwise what is the point?

 

Hay Festival 2014

The Hay Festival couldn’t be more middle class if it changed its name to Pippa and married its cousin. And I love it. And if it becomes more Hay Market than Hay Festival at times, with the clear purpose of shifting tomes, then who cares? It delivers what it promises: a literary festival, a celebration, putting the word above all else and giving us all permission to sink into a proper vocabulary and literally indulge in wordplay.

 

I have spent most of this week sloshing around in mud listening to and talking with people who love words, people with something to say but who reached that point by listening to others and by reflecting and not by following dogma.  Joyfully reaching for the right words and finding them, hearing new ways of using them, turning context on its head and finding a new way to slip the surprisingly appropriate word prolepsis into general conversation – thank you Margaret Drabble! – has been a genuine inspiration.  Rustling about happily under the trestle tables in the Oxfam bookshop in the boxes filled with rummageable delights waiting in the dark to be found was the best time I have had in weeks. Possibly months. WarHorse and Michael Morpurgo  thrilled everyone, watching Marcus Brigstocke casually overtake a bunch of feathered aliens without a second glance on the path outside the Friends coffee shop was a little surreal, noticing the fact that we probably all had a proper education under our belts and were using it to good effect was a significant pleasure, and hearing children pronounce their words properly and insert the letter “t” in the right place was phenomenal! No extraneous or dropped aitches either, bliss! Not a baggy trousered foul mouthed rap artist in sight or hearing, and there were times when I was one of the youngest in the queue, and it is a long time since that happened………

Listening to a group of academics with serious life experiences attempt to shed light on prison life and its consequences – dear to my heart – it occurred to me that even in a room full of Telegraph readers, and I am one, the Grauniad Effect (my husbands media drug of choice)  was apparent. Most of us gave a damn, giving the lie to political drubmongers who like to insist on the differences rather than the similarities between groups of people.  That was also apparent in other conversations, and one that focussed on corporate greed was particularly pertinent. The workshops around Social Enterprise were a real pleasure and welcome at the heart of the Festival as a demonstration of how things can be done  ethically and well.

Downsides? Well……..I was unprepared for the ill mannered stampede of middle aged middle class audiences as they clambered over and around people to find their favourite seats! The wonderfully patient and charming stewards allowed those of us with mobility issues into the tents first to avoid catastophe – no-one wants Hay Headlines about mangled elders or the dissed disabled – but as soon as the hordes, or to use their title Friends of Hay (and I am also one) were released into the tents all Hell broke loose with disabled feet trodden into the dirt and bags ground into the floor as they shouldered and elbowed their way to “their” seats. Clashes were inevitable and there was,  I am sorry to say, a degree of braying involved at times. And although the lavatories maintained their dignity against all odds I did occasionally wonder, as I took my ease,  on  the number of buttocks that had been pressed against those seats during the week……..I was also a little alarmed to find I shared Jonathan Millers haircut and colour so startlingly that I wondered who had put the mirror on the table as I entered the bookshop……..

Being a seasoned Hay Friend I staggered my meals so that I ate between the usual meal times and avoided the crowds and it was very pleasant with all tastes catered for, although I did wonder if vegan and gluten free also meant salt and pepper free a couple of times as I searched for seasoning – but once I had found it the food perked up. In fact, the food even for us fussies was indecently good and I enjoyed it very much. Good choices, well prepared, charmingly served. The people running the show, from box office to stewards to food hall and more, deserve a medal!

The B&B, The Old Vicarage in Prestiegne, where I always stay was, as usual, perfect and this year they even have alpacas as well so I woke to the sound of sheep, alpacas and chickens and a real symphony of birdsong, and breakfasted brilliantly with a view over the fields and with the sound of a stream in the background. It couldn’t have been better. Best start to a Hay Day ever.

 

And now my Hay Days are over for 2014, but the mud is still on the car and my boots – and my jeans and my skirt and my jacket! And I have a fresh stash of books, images and memories and the certainty that words matter, that we can use them better, and that we should.  And I will plan for next year when I hope that we will make Hay in the sunshine and not the rain and I can rummage and read and rest and draw comfort from more wordsmiths. Hay Ho.

 

 

 

 

Freedom this Bank Holiday Weekend……..

Every morning I wake up and whatever else is happening I recognise my good fortune and articulate my gratitude. I think about the day ahead, and reflect on the day before. This morning, looking out of my study window at the world outside my thoughts drifted down a path that pondered Freedom.

Living in a democracy, perhaps I am politically free, although that is dubious given how much people pay to become politicians and how much it costs them to retain power. Their wealth supports their power grab.  But I have a vote which matters and for which people gave their lives, so partially free perhaps and indebted to those courageous people.

I am free to work and earn my living, earn my self respect. Dependent on the people above to enable jobs of course, and dependent on me doing a good job.

I am free to marry whoever I choose, and that freedom has been refreshingly extended recently, partly because of our democracy and our right to lobby and protest peacefully – although that too is under threat when police measures so obviously discourage peaceful protest and peaceful and passive campaigners are taken to court for exercising their peaceful rights.

I am free to have a religion or not have a religion, but sadly not free to express serious doubts about religions because the weight of those religions are impacting my own, and their money and votes talk.

I am free to live in the expectation that I will not be abused, although that too is impacted by others who might disregard my freedom to live safely and securely and the impotence, ineptitude and apathy of those who might want, or be tasked with, protecting me.

Despite the limitations, I live in what we call a free society. But on what does my freedom depend?

While 9 year old girls can be bought and sold and abused and raped in “marriage” in some cultures, how can I be free?  While a country with whom my own country does business and exchanges money and with whom we have a relationship, is passing into law the right to stone to death someone who has sex with someone who is married but will not pass a law to protect those children who are being sold off how can I be free? When cutting into a child  of any genders genitals and mutilating them is accepted and condoned, how can I be free? When entire corporations condone the use of an animal slaughtered in a way that my society had rightly decided was barbaric and disallowed but which has, somehow, become acceptable again, how can I be free? How can I ever be free when my fellows are trapped?

Our freedoms are bought with our courage and our vigilance. Without the bravery of the people who marched, fought and died for my right to vote I would not have that democratic right; without the real struggles of people who valued freedom I would still be my husbands property and married to someone chosen for me; without serious campaigning and people prepared to endure hostility and violence I would not be able to earn a living wage. The key to life is movement, when we stop struggling and moving we die and that liberty is lost .

My freedom is your freedom, and yours is mine. As fellow humans, as people, we share the right to the freedoms that do not reduce other peoples freedoms. I will never be really free until all people are free and for that reason I will continue to strive for freedom for all of us. Freedom from the tyranny of crime, substance mis-use, abuse and the after effects of abuse, poverty, violence, oppression, political deviance, homelessness, fear and prejudice. In my small life there are opportunities to make a difference and I have an obligation to take those opportunities and pay back some of the debt I owe. It is my pleasure to do so.

 

I am looking out of my study window enjoying the birdsong, the breeze and the people passing on the pavement below. I can do this and I can write about it because of my liberty. Let us value those freedoms and strive to enable everyone to experience the same liberation. Let us not take our eye off the ball and let in those who want to reduce our freedoms – there are many of those, and the most dangerous are those who do it only because they believe they are right, who have a belief system that values their own principles and degrades mine. The picture outside my study window is beautiful because it is my view and I value the things in it, and one of the things I value most is that those things are not reducing anyone else. As I play golf this afternoon I will rejoice that I have the freedom, means and desire to do so, and can enjoy the wonderful company of my friends. We all deserve a life worth living, in freedom and in peace.

Have a great bank holiday weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A criminal waste, a disabled society. Unlock Your Future.

Easter is a time for reflection. I have been reflecting on the many people it has been my privilege to meet over the years. Many of the people I have worked with are people that the Jesus that I like to imagine would recognize: vulnerable, damaged, disenfranchised, hostile, broken, pathetic, lost, abused. I like them.

Disability is a strange concept, and many of the people with disabilities who I know would strongly suggest that it is not them with the disability but society, culture, which is disabled or which provides the disability. We build streets fit for the able bodied, buildings that exclude all but the well and the fit, work that suits only the driven and the straight and “normal”.  We see “work” as a means for economic growth and acquisition, and ignore the very real other benefits work can bring such as purpose, esteem, quality of life, respect. We patronise the successful disabled and express astonishment at their success. We create targets and drivers that take no account of alternative talents and aspirations, that fail to value otherness, indeed in a tabloid sense disability is so often viewed simply as a problem, a drain, a fiscal error.

If you look for the word “disability” online these are some of the words you get:

handicapafflictiondisorderdefectimpairment, disablement, infirmity  incapacityweaknessinability • Disability can make extra demands on financial resources.

Transfer those words to our environment and see what happens. Our shops have defects and will not allow wheelchairs in, our streets are afflicted with high kerbs and a lack of ramps, many work environments lack the capacity to value a range of people and talents and are, as a result, weak and impaired. Recruitment is afflicted by a set of rules and processes that despite legislation and encouragement still often excludes too many and that handicaps the workforce.

I would go further and suggest that people with a criminal history have been handicapped or disabled by society. Their forensic history effectively cripples their employment potential and afflicts their family life. If we suppose that it is indeed society and our culture that creates disability, in effect cripples its citizens, it follows that society can redress that. Some legislation attempts to do that by supporting “equal opportunities”, but equal ops can only happen if we view all candidates with an equal eye and the work environment is capable of accepting all candidates equally.

If you look for the word “criminal” online these are some of the words you get:

unlawfulillicitlawlesswrongillegalcorruptcrookedviciousimmoralwicked, culpable, disgracefulridiculousfoolishsenselessscandalouspreposterousdeplorable

I notice that none of those characteristics is irreversible. They are a description of how it is at the moment, not how it will be in the future. If we continue to exclude people from employment, to ignore the many benefits a varied and experienced workforce can bring, to expect jobless hopeless futureless people to suddenly somehow behave like employed, hopeful people with aspirations on release from prison, we set ourselves up to fail, and we fail our communities.

I don’t suggest for a moment that we employ anyone and everyone into any vacancy without safeguards and safety nets. I don’t do soft and fluffy. I do however suggest that we create those safeguards and safety nets and take the trouble to include the excluded and create a properly integrated and cohered environment in which everyone is valued, has the space to grow, and has their aspirations valued. Not because it is soft and fluffy, but because it reduces the risks of offending, of disaffection, and increases the chances of people buying into their communities and making the effort to support their futures and crucially it means we reduce the risk of missing out on some serious talent. Back in the day when social and health care services were even more rigid in their outlook than they are now, I employed an ex-offender who had done time for murder. I employed him in elder care. This was not universally welcomed…….But I ran the checks, created the risk assessment, spoke to the people I needed to speak to and importantly offered him a mentor and some effective support to re-adjust. It was a success.

No-one would suggest  there is an easy answer or that it is a simple matter. But that is not a good enough reason not to try.

No Offence CiC is a social enterprise  and I am lucky enough to be on the Board. We are not driven by private profit and we facilitate open access to crime and justice information. By challenging barriers to positive change and influencing future policy, our objective is simple: to make a difference. My own organisation, Mayall Management Ltd, is proud to support the Unlock Your Future project that No Offence is driving.

http://www.no-offence.org/

Unlock your Future

‘Breaking down barriers to employment for people with convictions’

This project will focus on identifying and breaking down the barriers to employment for people with convictions, to bring employers and employees together.

A simple key discreetly placed on a job advert will indicate that this employer will consider all applications on their merit and not their past.

Many employers have a skills shortage and would benefit from an increased pool of suitable candidates from which to recruit.

Unfilled vacancies can have an economic impact on any business and increase pressure on other employees attempting to make up the resourcing short fall.

We need a network of champions to raise awareness of this project and support employers to use the key either on their own website and/or on our jobs board and spread the word to those people looking for a job and also recruit other champions. Could you help us?

Employment provides us with a significant opportunity to break the cycle of reoffending. If you are an employer please join our network and we will send you the key to use free of charge.

http://www.no-offence.org/static-page/unlock-your-future/

 

My Fault, Your Fault, Our Fault

Ever since the breaking news of Jimmy Saviles alleged offences I have been reflecting with sadness. I worked in Stoke Mandeville Hospital and other local health services for a short period in the 70s and 80s while he lived there – in the nurses sick bay, for goodness sake –  and was one of those who “knew” and did nothing.  I can barely describe how appalling that makes me feel – although we did not “know” anything at all, we simply knew he was someone who made us uncomfortable and witnessed some odd behaviours like an unusually high interest in the younger and more vulnerable nurses and dreadful social skills with anyone other than the vulnerable or the star struck. I never saw this man do anything other than be odd, but I am left wondering why I did not put the facts together.

Back then, being touched up in the pub, wolf whistled in the street, and having leering men make unfunny jokes about sex or bosoms at parties was par for the course. It was expected, unchallenged and if we made a fuss we were lesbians. I was a feminist, still am a feminist, and make no apology for that even though my interpretation of feminism has developed over the years and bears little resemblance to my 70s feminism – but if I am claiming the political and moral high ground how can I explain not twigging some behaviours that were, if what we hear is true, going on in front of me? And now it is all breaking, it is so obvious that I am stunned by my own stupidity.

It was an era when children, especially disadvantaged children, were routinely dismissed as liars  or simply ignored, women were routinely patronised and abused, and the disabled were still called cripples and expected to stay indoors. The culture of celebrity was in the ascendence and the Telly was King. People were beginning to seriously worship the famous average and the famous odd. Throw some serious money from fund raising into the mix and we begin to see the shape of this picture.

This man was courted by people because he could get them dosh. He solved money problems for institutions and they grovelled for that. The institutions and the people running them dissolved the usual failsafes, ignored the usual safety measures, fell at the feet of that potent sludge of money and fame. The rest of us were too busy working to pay much more attention than t0 notice the guys odd manner and feel repulsed. This begins to look even less satisfactory the more I reflect.

We are a little complacent now – we see the paralympics and marvel at how “the disabled” now have the same opportunities to compete and win as “the able bodied” – we don’t really question whether that impacts on disabled people who just want to live an ordinary life, we just stand open mouthed at crip power. We reel back in horror at some of the “antique” words that were commonplace a few years ago, like “nigger”, “dyke” (although that has now been wonderfully reclaimed!), “spastic”, “dolly bird” (a personal pet hate), and we turn our noses up at “black coffee”, the term of endearment from strangers such as “love” or “dear”, and find new forms of offence to be taken every week, new words and phrases with which to struggle and stammer over. No offence.

But have we moved on that much? We worshipped a rich-girl-made-good when Diana died – she never had the opportunity or perhaps even the desire to just be a woman. I used to wish she would break wind savagely when she got out of a car in one of those  fab dresses just to break the spell.  We follow the slebs lives slavishly, young women have surgery and starve themselves to be like the famous average and people line up to be humiliated on national TV in the hope of being famous for a while. We profess horror when a footballer says “black” to a black man but still have room for the BNP leader to tweet an incitement to harass a gay couple for winning a court case. Young women are still less likely to follow a career in Physics than their male colleagues. Charmless rich men still trot about with tall totty with boob jobs and bleach jobs, wide smiles and silent acceptance.

I think what I am saying is that the revelations about the alleged offences committed by some famous men over the past few years – probably decades – has caused me to take a long hard look at how we have all been living. Perhaps doing that can help to make sure we reduce the risks of abuses happening in the future. Abuse isn’t just about force, or about sex, or even about  violence. It is about violation and lack of respect. It is about reducing people to objects, or to things that we can make use of – the vulnerable, the young, the minorities, the poor. People with little or no voice. People who have been in prison, people with mental health issues, the homeless, people with learning disabilities, many many more – a long list of groups and individuals who have been – are – abused without consequence. When was the last time you were enraged when you heard about a homeless person being beaten up? Properly enraged?

Until we  take the time and the effort to see people as people, human beings, with worth and value, abuses will be a risk, and we will open the papers again soon to find ourselves shocked about another story of inhumanity, perhaps a story about human trafficking, about an “honour” killing, about something dramatic enough to excite the papers. We will not see the wifebeater next door, the abusive Father and his submissive daughter, the homeless guy in the shop doorway, the celebrity with his own set of keys to a place that offers asylum to some of the  most dysfunctional and voiceless people in the UK.

Add some integrity and stir…….

I ambled around the idea of being selfish in the last blog, mainly because I had been, and I was doing a bit of self-justification. But it set me off on a canter about integrity – I was selfish, and left a project, because I wanted to maintain my integrity. It had taken considerable reflection and planning, and was not a whim or a fancy, and I had done my best to reinvigorate the role in the first place when I realised it, or maybe I, was going off the boil,  and to put in place all I could put in place to reduce the risks of me leaving, but it was still a rigorous decision making process not without its pain. And I did my usual agonising thing about it before and after, although after was easier because the decision was made, and it was a good one. But I was leaving behind some great people and had had some real fun and achievement out of it.

So…….integrity. What is it? And why is it powerful enough to make me lose sleep?!

“Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.  The state of being wholesome; unimpaired.  The quality or condition of being complete, pure.”  That was what the dictionary said.

“Reduced risk of compromising moral or ethical ideals, a need to move on before effectiveness is crucially impaired” is what my head said.

I will not claim to be pure, wholesome, or even complete, but I do claim to have some moral integrity and a bit of an ethical code motoring around in my aura.

My company has the tag line “Henry Ford said: quality means doing it right even when no-one is looking. We agree.” When we started the company we started out with ideals which are still as fresh as the day we started: we have a sincere and genuine commitment to people, to human rights, parity of services and equality of opportunity. We believe that everyone, regardless of all the usual suspects like race, (dis)ability, religion, gender, sexuality, forensic history and so on has a right to a Normal Existence and the support to create that. We have been around a long long long time most of which has been spent in and around different kinds of  health and social services and have seen it all – as it says on our website (www.mayallmanagement.co.uk) we have seen the Good the Bad and the Ugly. And our experiences drove us to want to influence and improve – to make sure that, wherever possible, we made things better for people, with people.

S0……… we have Integrity, dammit, and sometimes that means we have to take difficult decisions.

I have made the decision, a number of times, not to take a piece of work because I am not confident that the prospective client actually wants to improve rather than just meet compliance. We are not interested in simply or solely meeting compliance targets, although that matters very much indeed. It is my belief that in order to continue to reach people who need to be reached we have to reach compliance targets as a given before moving into the work that makes a difference. But that is only the first step, the loosening of the stabilisers on the pushbike before taking off and getting the yellow jersey. If an organisation or group – or even a single service – wants to make things better and actually make a real difference to the people using and working in their services, then  I am there, will go the extra mile or ten, will work with them as hard as it takes to make that difference. If I don’t see that commitment and understanding then I will walk away. And that sometimes costs us money!!!!! But some things are more important. We are good at what we do and can  make that genuine difference, but not if the organisation hiring us has different goals or is looking for a different set of results. I can cut your costs, but  won’t do it at the expense of quality. I can reduce your  staffing but I won’t do that if it leaves people at risk. But I can cut your costs and improve your quality if you don’t think throwing money at services improves them but rather it is about leadership and direction. I can reduce your staffing if you can think creatively about what you do and what the people using your services actually want rather than what you think you can or should provide.

So, I think what I am leading to is that my integrity caused me to take what could be seen as a perverse decision: I walked away from a project before completion because I knew that I could not, if I was to understand my own motivation, remain in place as effectively as I had been given the changed circumstances. I would, to put it simply, not have performed. Not have wanted to perform might be nearer the truth. I would not have done the best that I could for the client hiring me, or for the people using and working in their services. So integrity meant that I moved on. Integrity also meant that I did everything possible to mitigate that before moving on, as well.

I like my integrity – it walks with me and reminds me why I do what I do and that it isn’t all about me. It does sometimes give me a hard time and a sleepless night, but I forgive it because it has also meant that I have met an infinite number of great people and had opportunities to make a difference and have had a real ball along the way. And it continues! I am having another great time with some fab people even as we speak, and if my integrity had not pushed me away from my last project I would not be in my current project and loving every minute of it. Thank you, Integrity! You may join my bad knee in the list of Unexpected Things That Have Improved My Life………

Restorative Justice starts here……..

….with you and with me.

I have been following The Forgiveness project for a while now – it is a  a UK-based charitable organisation which explores forgiveness, reconciliation and conflict resolution through real-life human experience. They work in prisons, schools, faith communities, and with any group who want to explore the nature of forgiveness whether in the wider political context or within their own lives.  The Forgiveness Project has no religious or political affiliations.

I work at the moment, and have done previously, with people with many reasons to forgive and be forgiven and little opportunity to do either as survival is the priority. When I read and hear the countless personal stories in my own sphere as well as through the Forgiveness Project the bitter defiance and hunger of the unforgiving almost pierces the skin. Those who are unforgiven are lacking in a human aspect, but those who are unable to forgive suffer more with each reminder of what they cannot forgive. 9/11 is opening some dreadful wounds and there is some toxic stuff coming out, poisoning the future for those who cannot forgive. It is not their fault.

One of the things I have reflected on is my own lack of forgiveness. Not towards others – I could not bear a grudge  for the winning lottery ticket – but towards myself. More than the usual perfectionist thing of  beating-oneself-up at work, I have also consistently failed to forgive myself for just about every possible wrong I have committed. An example: recently we adopted a greyhound and had everything in place to allow him to get used to our much loved cat before letting them loose together. But it went horribly wrong – as I describe it I can just about smile with a grimace – it all sounds a bit Brian Rix to me now – the dog killed the cat, but while it was all happening and we were trying to separate them I was hauling on the dog and found blood on my hands. I instantly knew what I had to do and I punched the dog to the ground to free the cat, but it was too late. All over in seconds. I took the cat to the vet at once but he was too badly mauled and we had to do the decent thing. I blame myself, of course. Not only that but a few days later I ran over a blasted rabbit while driving to work down one of those country roads where the small animals fling themselves suicidally under the wheels of passing cars in the early hours. I should add I am vegetarian. Picture that. I arrived at work feeling like Jack the sodding Ripper.

But more painful and more troubling than all the other transgressions rolled into one is the one I find most difficult to even think about forgiving myself for: my Mother died earlier this year after a stroke – my Father had died three years before after a stroke as well. She suffered the most degrading and neglectful nursing in hospital at first until I made a quiet fuss and things improved. But my own shock and pain and the need to be constantly on the alert – no time to take ones eye off the ball –  to ensure decent care for her made it difficult for me to do as much as I should have done. I played her favourite music for her through my headphones on my iPod as she died, sharing it with her with one earpiece in one of my ears and the other earpiece in one of her ears – I do not know if she heard, the stroke was so massive and so determined to take her that it was not possible to know if she knew I was there or not. But just in case, I held her hand, played her music, talked a bit and sat with her and waited, for such a long time. I did things like the crossword in the Telegraph and read a bit as well to keep a grip on my sanity – but I so regret that now. Why didn’t I keep talking and playing music all the time? Or would that have just been annoying for her – perhaps she preferred to have some peace, some quiet to contemplate and prepare? I know that whatever I did it was the wrong thing and the right thing, and as I can never know I am unsure about how to  forgive myself. Relationships are complex and we had a challenging relationship – she was a charming but difficult woman and I suppose I am a little assertive… All of which means I am left with the most tremendous guilt, which is unfair on the rest of the family who bear it with me.

But the people I have heard and read during my following of this project have caused me to reflect: they are humbling in their own humility and forgiveness and need to understand, and somehow, their forgiveness starts with themselves, their understanding is rooted within. I need to think that through, perhaps there is work to be done – perhaps I should remember that my Mother would probably forgive me, and if she can, maybe I should also forgive myself and free myself up to forgive others, let me and let my family off  the hook. I need to do that if I am to prepare my children for what may happen in the future too and reduce their pain in advance. Like the outstanding, human people you will read about if you follow this link    http://theforgivenessproject.com/about-us/

Please do – for your sake as well.

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