Painting: Where am I? by a young offender
Last week I was invited to witness and experience the work of The Forgiveness Project (TFP) first hand. It was nothing less than extraordinary. Every single person in the room was profoundly moved and affected by the brave story tellers describing their experiences, either as a victim or perpetrator of various crimes. The absence of anger, self-pity, self-loathing, and blame was palpable. The presence of self-awareness, understanding, empathy and personal growth equally so. This is the potential transformation brought about by forgiveness, a quality that I recognise from my own experiences of it. It offers a way through otherwise seemingly impossible situations – cul de sacs of crippling grief, suffering, guilt, anger.
The Forgiveness Project runs a 3 day project called RESTORE in prisons and elsewhere. I can only encourage you to read more on their website. It has had impressive results and we could all see why. http://theforgivenessproject.com
Then on Monday I watched BBC1’s The Prisoners following a handful of prisoners on their journey towards release and life on the outside. After more than 20 years of being actively involved in the Criminal Justice System myself, there was little new for me there. And yet it still baffles me that so little progress has been made in fully integrating some of the brilliant schemes on offer into the very fabric of our prisons. How can anybody today still think it is logical, acceptable, or even effective to release a mildly or severely institutionalised prisoner into the world with just £46 in his pocket, often homeless or disconnected from all support systems and usually having learnt nothing about how to really change their lives? And then to expect him / her not to re-offend? And despite there being enough anecdotal evidence to fill a house if not a street, arts-based projects and programmes like TFP or the gardening training shown on BBC1 that offer real and bigger chances of a reduction in reoffending, are still not being taken as seriously as they could and becoming embedded into our system. Surely we have reached a point where gambling at the chance that these things might work is more logical than plugging away at procedures that can’t possibly work?
And finally my week ended on a great note at a wonderful evening hosted by the Koestler Trust. Here we heard more heart-warming stories of prisoners’ lives turned around through their involvement in the Trust’s annual competition and exhibition of prisoners’ art and the mentoring scheme that follows. I met Shaun Attwood, who has become a successful speaker and a poet whose animated reading of his poems should be heard on stage. Art helps people come alive and want to change and lead meaningful lives.
Could BBC1 do more programmes about what really works maybe?