A Visit from my Dad.

After an eventful few days, my dad popped in for a cuppa, he’s been reading my blogs and is aware of my intentions to move into a much more challenging job role. After a brief chat about what options I have at the moment, we both laughed and pondered on were I would be now, had I have not been involved in that drunken fight. I assured him, everything happens for a reason and I may not have got as far as I have, if I hadn’t endured all that I have. Living in ‘The Big House’ was character building. With that being said, he still says “It must have been traumatic for you Michaela”.

He knows that only too well, he took the brunt of my pissed off phone calls telling him every single story of what the offender management team in the jail and outside probation were doing to me for two years. Nothing caused more trauma than the day I called him to tell him of my experience, starting the T.S.P Course.

Having been willing to do any course in prison offered to me, just to pass the time of day, I would of happily participated in this course, had they deemed me suitable. In fact, after completing various alcohol awareness courses, due to the fact I had been drinking when my crime took place, not because I had an alcohol problem, I actually approached the offender management team myself, to ask them if I could be on the next T.S.P course. This was 6 months into my sentence. They did their assessment based on various questions, my offence, background, my risk and progress I had already made so far. They said, I didn’t need to do the course. So, that was that.

I was, at that point, medium risk to the public and low risk of reoffending. According to their assessment anyway. Of course I didn’t need to do the Thinking Skills Programme. It was my first time in prison, I had no alcohol or drug problems, prior to prison I was in full time employment and I had no problems with mental health. My reviews from my previous alcohol courses were great and the course leaders had stated to the offender management team that they had no concerns for me in the future and as far as they were concerned, I didn’t need any more help.

Fast forward 1 year and I can apply for my Cat.D status. Everything was looking great, not a chance in hell that I could get a knock back. Outside probation had been in to visit me, all went well. OM were backing me, so I should have been out of there to spend Christmas at home with my daughter. I was sitting the board for my first home leave. When I heard my name over the tannoy being called to the resettlement office, I was so excited. Then my world came crashing down. My home leave had not been authorised by the prison because my outside probation officer had put my risk up from medium to high. Without telling me or telling the prison. With out any reason. This woman, had called my mum and told her she was approving my home leave and I would be back for Christmas. She did approve my home leave, knowing full well the prison would reject it because they don’t let prisoners out who are deemed a high risk to the public. But, she approved my home leave and put me up to high risk, how the hell does that work?

I called her straight away thinking she must have changed my risk by accident and not realised. Needless to say, I cant recall the whole conversation we had because I was so annoyed. My probation officer informed me, it wasn’t a mistake and she deemed me a high risk on purpose. That was that, I wasn’t going home and I had yet another complaint and battle on my hands to get myself out of there. I urged her to send me, in writing, her reasons for deeming my high risk and also he reasons as to why, myself and the resettlement team were not informed. After being in prison for 18months, as a low risk of reoffending, medium risk to the public and doing all the offender based courses on offer, with no warnings and the backing of everyone inside the prison, how the hell had she deemed me a high risk to the public? I was to find out, after another Christmas spent in my cell.

January came and I received a letter from probation, stating that, she feared I had alcohol problems which would be of a huge concern to her if I were to be allowed home. Yet, she approved my home leave? AND I hadn’t completed the T.S.P course, yes, the one I asked to do a year ago and wasn’t suitable for.

After I composed a letter of complaint to my probation officers line manager, I sat tight and waited for a response. It took about 3 weeks. Thankfully, the manager who received my complaint saw what a sham it was and put me back down to medium risk but then I would only be allowed to reapply for my home leave once id completed this T.S.P course. Apparently, after no change at all in my circumstances, I was now deemed fit to participate in this ‘programme’.

So, here I am. 21 years old, in prison for the first time, filling in a ‘treatment’ form. When I queried why I was signing something that said, ‘I will comply fully with the treatment programme’ I was basically told, asking questions like that doesn’t show compliance. Um…how can I comply with something I don’t understand? I was 19 years old when I ended up in a fight in a nightclub with a stranger, a first offence and now I’m sat here answering yes and no questions of ‘have you ever considered having sex with an animal’ and ‘have u ever considered having sex with a child’. This is the sheer definition of causing people trauma. I will never forget how I felt, sitting there with that woman, answering those questions. Any one in their right mind could see that I didn’t need to do this course. I sure as hell did not need any treatment. She never did clarify, why I was signing a treatment form, I don’t think she knew herself.

Day one, on the T.S.P course, I find myself sat in a semi-circle of 9 other women, all repeat offenders with serious drugs and alcohol problems and various mental health issues. I could not believe it. Three women were delivering the course to us. The lady that told me asking questions didn’t show compliance was in for a big shock, I questioned everything. Its in my nature. The course involved role play, setting and achieving goals, effective communication and a huge time was spent on ‘comfort stories’. You cant make this crap up. Yes, agreed, some people always have a sob story, a reason as to why they did something, this was a huge focus on what we, as offenders tell our self and other people about the nature of our offence and/or offending behaviour. Personally, I was struggling to even come up with a ‘comfort story’ I didn’t have one. I fully accepted that fact, I committed an offence, while drunk and I am serving my punishment. OH MY GOD, you can actually get into trouble on these courses if you are unable to offer a comfort story. After a lot of interrogation from the course facilitators, they came to the conclusion and subsequently noted down my comfort story, as to ‘I was drunk when it happened’.
When I explained that, I didn’t agree with that being a comfort story because had I have been sober, I know it would never of happened, they, assured me, it was a comfort story. OK, so day one, progress so far and the outcome achieved was, I now know that I tell myself my offence happened because I was drunk, to make myself feel better and so it lessens the impact when telling people. Although, I didn’t tell them, they probed me into saying it. Great start. I phoned my dad that night in tears saying I didn’t know how I was going to cope for the next 4 days. The memories of this course still scare me now.

Over the next few days I was told to slow down my written work, incase I made another women feel as though she wasn’t as good as me because I could work with speed, and it wasn’t a good look for me to be finished a good half an hour before the other prisoners. I was also told to stop offering answers when nobody else was willing too, and the obvious, stop asking us questions!

The next interesting subject was ‘red flags’ now I wont lie, I did like this and in all honesty I still apply this now to my life, what is a red flag thought. In common sense it is just a gut feeling that something isn’t right, that this could lead to trouble, or in our cases, doing this, could lead to offending. I didn’t need to know, that in T.S.P they call this a ‘red flag’ because I have common sense and I know right from wrong, and following my conviction I well and truly learnt the consequences of my actions. For instance, my offence was while out drinking, so if I am asked to go out drinking now with the girls, this should be a red flag, because for me, it is dangerous. Well, that’s what the T.S.P course leaders told me anyway.

Next we touched on passive, assertive and aggressive attitudes and actions. They told me, I could be considered aggressive because I question everything! I assured them, I considered it assertive. I also told them, if I ask a question, I don’t know the answer so educate me, please don’t belittle me. They didn’t like that at all. I already knew very well about passive, assertive and aggressive attitudes and actions, however it may have been worth while for some of the other women, so that part of the course was ok. Although, worryingly, I recall a repeat violent offender referring to her offences as assertive, because she was paying attention to what was going on around her and acting accordingly. The women running the course did nothing to amend this womans way of thinking and just laughed, like it was a joke, it really wasn’t a joke and I remember sitting there thinking, have I really just seen this. I’m getting told off for working to fast, asking questions and this woman has just said a massive statement on her thoughts when she commits a violent crime and these woman have just laughed and moved on. They were unable, unwilling and uneducated in how to address that statement from the offender to change her way of thinking, yet we were on a thinking skills programme.

Finally, role play, everybody hates role play! Me more so than ever based on this next experience. We were all given a part to play. We didn’t have a choice, we had to comply. Imagine being given a role as a sister who’s role was to convince the person in question to go out and get drunk with you. That was the role I was given, I was to pursued the woman to come out and get drunk. Another woman was given the role of trying to make the person stay at home. I complied, gave a fantastic acting performance, again, a role I been given and then in my final written report, it stated I had raised serious concerns to the facilitators when acting too persuasive. That’s right, I ACTED too persuasive, in a role given to me, by them, to pursued this lady to go out drinking. I still can not believe that report. I wasn’t expecting a fantastic final report but to anyone’s standards, that just takes the piss.

This course did nothing but cause me serious problems, I will never forget it. A course which I wasn’t suitable for, that wasn’t designed for me and did absolutely nothing to improve my thinking skills, decision making or perspective taking. It did however, give me a huge insight into the ability of these ‘Treatment facilitators’.

They struggle to engage with offenders, they didn’t address serious comments from repeat violent offenders, they can not take being questioned and they gave me a terrible report for speaking up against me being on that course in the first place.

Thinking Skills Programme. How much money was wasted on me, do to that course?

Finally, when talking to my dad about this, he asked me if the course facilitators ever encouraged or conversed with any of these women addicted to drugs about attending N.A meetings upon release. They did not. They did however, advise me and my probation officer, to do an alcohol awareness course upon my release! I didn’t do it, I didn’t need to. I need a drink now, recalling that!

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