LandWorks

Hope

LandWorks - Hope for people in prison. Working in the wood workshop

Hello

In the past, I’m not sure that I felt comfortable with the notion of ‘hope’.

I didn’t quite ‘get it’, perhaps it had some odd religious connotation for me, don’t know. But I have always had trust, that it’s going to be okay, a conviction that it will be all right.

Four years on (it’s LandWorks’ birthday this week), I now ‘get’ hope. I now humbly ‘get’ hopelessness.

Again (four years on), I am outside the big prison gates waiting for our new cohort of day release prisoners (only a handful of Category C prisoners in Britain get this opportunity).

Has anything changed? LandWorks’ fundamental beliefs and ethos hold true and we have not deviated from our original aims…

  • Improve well-being
  • Reduce reoffending

I am older, a bit battered, but wiser and I know I am about to hear the same stories today that I heard four years ago. Men at their lowest point are minutes away from giving me the glossiest possible version of their lives. And why not eh?

Because they want a future and they need a sense of hope to have a future.

The gates open, and here we go again. Together we’re going to go for it; we unpeel the lot, let it all out, ‘til finally the truth comes. The crime, the verdict and public admonishment… the sentence, the horror of doing time… Gives way to exposing and understanding the almighty “f#@ked up” lifestyle that was festering below, until the madness stopped…prison.

Nothing changes? Yet everything has changed. Four years ago there was a functioning prison service; there was a working probation service. Not any more, damming reports are piling up and evidence mounts of organisations that are failing offenders and, by default, all of us.

Essentially LandWorks has not changed, yet we have morphed and flexed to develop new referral routes to keep us going as the criminal justice system contorts and tries to evolve into a new ‘transformed’ rehabilitation service.

LandWorks is there, I believe ahead of the game.

Accepting and providing rehabilitation for:

  • Prisoners on day release, from our local prison HMP Channings Wood
  • Offenders on licence finishing the 2nd half of their prison sentence in the community
  • Offenders with community sentences and pay-back hours
  • Offenders with suspended sentences
  • Offenders with court orders with Rehabilitation Activities Requirements (RARs)
  • Offenders on a deferred charge scheme – diverting first time offenders away from crime

The prison population needs to be reduced. Community sentencing really should increase and I believe we need a ‘LandWorks’ involved at every prison and working in every community.

It’s quite basic really. At the point of release, to stand a chance of resettlement, offenders should have:

  • a safe place to sleep, from the day of release
  • access to enough money to meet basic needs including food, clothing, and transport
  • active links into services that can assist with other needs, for example substance misuse and mental health service

Today:

  • 27% of offenders leaving prison have some of these needs recognised
  • 58% have none of these needs recognised (Ministry of Justice, 2017)

Recalls back to prison are at an all-time high, last year 22,416 offenders were recalled (3,182 in 2001).

This is hopeless. Offenders are discharged from prison with £47 to last a minimum of two weeks before any benefit comes. Precious little chance of housing. Drug and mental health support simply disappearing. You can see the direct link to absurdly high prison recall numbers.

Entering the criminal justice system to become labelled as offender and classed as criminal, it marks you, tarnishes you as ‘other’. Often eliminating the ‘hope’ of a future.

I often wonder if most people just consider ‘criminal’ as a one-size fits all, simple, easy to use category.

The reality is a guilty verdict of an offence is the tip. The iceberg below conceals a multitude of problems around an individual’s lifestyle. The justice system at present can do very little to address these issues.

As you know, our resettlement figures are impressive:

  • 93% of day release prisoner graduates are in employment
  • Our reoffending rate is below 4%

So, why is LandWorks succeeding where others are failing?

  • Importantly offenders choose to come to LandWorks, they want to be here
  • LandWorks is based on core principals of empathy, acceptance, and honesty
  • Here, it is possible to create an identity that is not a criminal self
  • Our resettlement support is relevant to the lives of the people who engage with LandWorks
  • Unusually (in this sector), individuals remain in contact with tapering long-term support
  • LandWorks is a uniquely capable team, now employing two of our own graduates.

If a sense of hope can turn into a belief that a future is possible, then I think we are getting somewhere.

If you have read this far, thank you, it is an unusually long blog. Hopefully you are not alone!

If you would like to comment please do so.

Chris

Can You Hear Me?

PeN Project - A Window Into LandWorks

Hello

It’s June 2007 (life before LandWorks), Blair is about to finally leave No.10 and Gareth Jones is released from HMP Channings Wood after a 3-year stretch.

Hot, sunny, and day two of his release. Gareth is working with our landscape company in a rather quiet part of South Devon… It’s morning break and a group of seven of us are sitting in the shade, opening flasks and assorted Tupperware.

The following is best read in a (strong) Welsh accent…

“Ohh my fathers” he roars “the thing is I’ve never get heard, see.”

His booming voice reverberates around this gentle Devon valley. Gareth is known inside as ‘Brian the Jones Blessed’… He is unbelievably loud.

Gareth pin points to where his life started to go wrong… As the pits closed in South Wales, the men started to hang around, nothing to do, drink and – for some – drugs.

“Nobody listened to us, there was just men everywhere, cluttering up the park, nothing to do”.

Given half a chance Gareth loves to talk (clearly) and I discover he’s not a Max Boyce fan but loves Tom Jones, smoked drugs with The Clash, has 13 children across the South West, suffers with ADHD and has never voted.

“Us boys, us prisoners, well we don’t get to vote in prison, my voice is not heard Chris”.

Well to a certain extent it has been heard, a lot of LandWorks is based on those formative conversations and experiences with Jones ‘the mouth’, plus others who were less vocal but wanted to be listened to.

Today at LandWorks, the conversation flows as we eat around the table. Our local MP is a supporter and genuinely wants to hear their voices. There are weekly counselling sessions and the Wednesday ‘crime club’ provides a great forum for debate from victims to prison reform.

But, perhaps one of the most extraordinary and for me thought changing experiences is provided by the PeN project: www.penprojectlandworks.org/blog

The blogs are the men’s own words, their version of their lives. It is often powerful and thought provoking. It is using social media to get their stories ‘out there’, allowing them to be heard by the community that they hurt.

And suddenly men are saying they have been heard. Facebook ‘likes’ and comments flood in (www.facebook.com/penprojectlandworks), their story has been listened to by people that they often suppose rejected them. That can be life changing.

A few weeks ago, Julie and I were walking into Totnes. A builder’s van was passing with a man almost climbing out of the passenger window… ‘Alright Boyo’ he roared as they drove past ‘You two alright? I’m going to vote, see’.

Chris


Click here to follow the PeN Blog on Facebook

Tits in the box

Blue Tits nesting in the post box

Hello

This morning I found a little note pinned to the gate, informing me that we have blue tits nesting in our leaflet collection box. As I unpinned the note, I could just make out the cheeping of impatient offspring demanding food.

I opened the office and placed the note on the growing pile of other blue tit notes. The interest is understandable, if a little overwhelming. The notes a reaction prompted by care and concern for the vulnerable.

The entrance bell rings and I duly jog down to the gate…perhaps change of a tenner or to answer a question about wood. Instead I find a rather concerned man leaning over the gate.

“Do you realise you have a family of tits in the box?”, he says loudly, just in case I was hard of hearing.

Next follows a lecture on the RSPB and the great support work they do. He stops mid-sentence as one of our lads walks past.

“Ummm is he alright, he looks a bit, err, well you know, odd?” I am very tempted to say (loudly) of course he is a bit odd, that’s why he is here.

I manage not to, but I do explain that for some the application of ‘factor 50’ can be a bit haphazard. And the reason he is carrying toilet roll into the polytunnel is probably hay fever related more than anything untoward!

He then asks me about the support available to ‘Mr Odd’ beyond our gates.The honest answer is…over the last four years, support for mental health and drug and alcohol addiction outside of LandWorks has almost disappeared and it wasn’t hugely abundant in the first place.

In the last year, we have witnessed the probation service implode. One of our local Torquay offices now has one offender manager left. Yes folks, that is one to look after over 100 offenders.The upshot of this is offenders no longer have any meaningful support, guidance, or supervision.

The man at the gate comments, “It is a tragedy the way society looks after the vulnerable.”

Yes, I agree, but it’s also reckless and dangerous. I am surprised that nobody seems particularly informed or have much knowledge of this seemingly serious state of affairs.

We watch the parent birds diving in and out; looking after their rather ‘odd’ looking brood (weird stage of bare skin and stubbly feathers).

Mr and Mrs Tit don’t see the oddness, they are just driven to support their brood.

Chris


Support Fin and Mira on their 10k run!

We are really proud to say that Chris’ son Fin and his girlfriend Mira are running a 10K next month to raise funds for LandWorks. They would love your support.

You can sponsor them by clicking here

Message from Fin and Mira:

“We have decided to do a 10k run in support of LandWorks! This will be challenging for both of us (especially Fin) as it will be our first ever long distance run! LandWorks needs all the funding it can get to continue providing a great service to those in desperate need of it! Thanks everyone.”

There’s f#cking criminals out there

LandWorks Honesty Box

Hello

We were running.

Running fast (I thought) to the market stall at the entrance gate. Frank’s haunting words in my head, “That honesty box is a mistake Chris, there’s f#cking criminals out there” (he should know, he’s done a bit of time) .

I was yelling, “Oi Oi Oi!” – I have no idea why. The hooded head glanced up, hand snatched from the box and gone.

James and I jumped up onto the hedge bank. Pathetically we watched them flee, pelting down the footpath. We were the victims and I felt helpless.

Slightly embarrassed, I realised I was still clutching a hammer…

It wasn’t a weapon. No, I had been repairing the chicken pen with James when we spotted the hooded figure at the box and ran.

James then disappeared, on his bike in hot pursuit, taking the lower path to cut them off. He did and demanded our money back. They meekly handed over the £1.95 and then went back to school.

I had put the hammer back just before the police arrived…asking if we wanted to press charges (the boys had been up to other stuff locally).

“No” I said, “I would rather the boys came and spoke to the men, heard about LandWorks and understood the importance of our honesty box.”

We were all eating lunch when the car pulled up, two small defiant faces in the back. The cops indicated they should get out, I said hello and the boys bristled indignation at us.

In our building, on LandWorks manor, it must have been terrifying, the boys denied everything.

Then came the older generation’s stories; jail and broken lives, life after prison. Why the money was important, the symbolism of an honesty box, here of all places.

The boys didn’t tell us their stories, about their broken lives, their school for kids excluded from main stream education.

But they did say sorry and they told us their names.

We shook hands.

Chris


Important date for the diary

The next LandWorks Supporters’ Day is on:

Friday 18th August 2017
12-2pm

Join us for the annual Supporter’s Day, where you have a chance to meet current and past trainees, see progress at the Quarry Field site, and there will of course be the famous prize draw.

To book a place register on our mailing list by clicking here and keep an eye out for official invites via email nearer the time.

What inspired you to go down this route?

Chris Parsons in LandWorks' Workshop. Photo Credit: Recourse Magazine

We thought you might like to read an extract from an interview Chris did for online magazine ‘Recourse’ about LandWorks from the beginning, answering some frequently asked questions along the way…

The sun was beaming down as we pulled into the grounds of LandWorks on the Dartington Estate in rural Devon. Matching its warmth was the firm handshake of founder Chris Parsons as he greeted us outside his wooden clad office, a tall burly fellow with kind eyes and a jovial spirit.

Can you tell us a little about how LandWorks started?
The first guys to start were four men. Three were on day release from prison and one lad was serving a license in the community. So they and I really started the project I suppose.

When we began, there was absolutely nothing here until a portacabin was donated to us from a building site. It arrived and the roof had blown off on the A38. This symbolises where we were. This was just a bare field so everything you see has been built by the guys themselves. There’s quite a sense of ownership about it all. On any one day we could have between five and seven men. Devon is unusual for such a small place in that it’s got three prisons; Exeter, Dartmoor and Channings Wood. So for a small county, every night there are about 2000 men locked up.

We use woodworking, vegetable growing, construction and landscaping as the work structure. We do try very hard to have a work ethic here but around that structure we weave I guess, soft skills. Social skills. We have a communal lunch every day. We cook and everyone sits down together and we may invite people which is great because it’s all about mixing.

What’s your background?
I didn’t think I’d be doing this when I was twenty. I set up a landscape company about 25 years ago in Totnes and one of the first guys I employed was an ex-addict. He was an alcoholic at the time and the outdoor work did him good. He’d sort of thrive and then stumble so we had to get him through rehab a couple of times.

Then I started taking men who would come and work with us on release from HMP Channings Wood, which was pretty hairy for them on their first few days. It worked because they were being accepted. We based a lot of this on that principle I suppose, the feeling that you may have made some awful mistakes and you’re in a bit of a mess but you can be accepted. You’re not going to be judged for that, for your worst moment, you’re not going to be judged forever, or hopefully not.

Do Police Officers visit?
Yes from trainees on placement to quite high ranking police officers who have come, I think partly because sometimes they don’t believe that these guys can reform themselves. I think they want to see it. Some of them have a strong belief that that’s what the job is about; they are there to serve the community.

What inspired you to go down this route?
There’s lots of things, it was a development over time. I guess somewhere in there I have a belief myself that people are fundamentally alright.

Everybody is so different, the term ‘prisoner’ is hopeless, it’s just too black and white. Every single person has many common themes and similarities in their lives that got them to where they are, but when you listen to the story of the individual, they are so different. There are some people who will say ‘Yep I’m a hardened criminal’ and almost be proud of it, others would say they didn’t do anything wrong.

Often when people start here the story they give you is a bit odd. They’re probably at the lowest point of their life. They meet new people and want to tell them the better story about themselves. They’re trying to say ‘I’m not who you might think I am just because I’m a prisoner’. Quite understandably they want to give the better version of themselves.

So if someone comes in as a proud hardened criminal, you’re trying to find a way of reprogramming them so they can be proud about something else?
I don’t know if we could say that we undertake to reprogramme as such. Definitely allowing them to be proud of things they never thought they could be proud of that’s very important, again if you go back into their childhoods, most of them have had very little support or been criticised or made to feel useless and that becomes a story through life. If they turn a wooden bowl or make or grow even the simplest of things then that builds self worth which is really what a lot of this is about.

Do you have big plans? Is it a model you will export to other places?
I think we’re trying to prove what we’re doing works, which brings into it a whole other notion about what people think is its success. At the moment 93% of the guys who came here on day release are in full time employment after they’ve left us. They are resettled so for us it’s a fantastic statistic.

There’s a much bigger picture really, if point A is where you’re offending and point B is where you’re a perfect member of society, well there may be blips along the way, you’ve got to ride those blips with them. Supporting people in many different ways is very important and I would say that’s success, that the offending is getting less. It doesn’t have to just be a categorical ‘right they’re sorted and not re-offending’, it’s reducing the reoffending along the way.

You can take lots of other measures of success. I think that the community here are interested is a great success and that we’re still going is a great success, that people want to put money into it… there’s many different types of success. The fact you’re here and you want to hear and talk about this, that’s great. And it’s all about what these guys are doing, it’s not really about what I’m doing.

When the time comes to leave this place, do you find people are reluctant to go?
Yes, there’s a great sense of ownership to it and we haven’t really lost contact with anybody yet, they often come back and want to show that they are doing really well which is nice. We’ve realised that our support goes way beyond the months that you’re here, it goes on for years really.

The older guys who are here, men in their 50s often give advice to the younger lads. I think it is helpful, they just want to stop the cycle that they were in. I don’t know how much the young guys pay attention to it.

Do you think you almost need that naivety in the first place?
You do, you want to be incredibly optimistic that things are probably going to work out.

Also in convincing organisations, I remember going to a meeting with some fairly high up people in probation and the lead probation manager was playing with his phone whilst I was trying to do my pitch, he wasn’t interested at all really, and now he’s a huge supporter of LandWorks.

The same with the prison you imagine they get lots of initiatives, why would they believe that this idiot’s going to do anything really, so you’ve got to keep on and almost ignore it I think, just keep on. That’s what I’d tell someone actually, just keep on doing it. Don’t give up.

Photos and words credit: Recourse

You can read the full Recourse article with some lovely pictures by clicking here