Friday, 26 September 2008
298 days to go: Open Day
It was Open Day on the TC (Therapeutic Community) at my prison. The TC is one wing which isolates itself from the rest of the prison. The prisoners sign up for a one year programme to deal with their substance misuse.
The TC was where I spent my first six weeks working in the prison before I got my keys so it felt a bit like going home.
I visit the TC now one afternoon a week helping the wing to compile a magazine which is sent to every jail in the country.
It was a strange day. There were 75 guests from linked services (probation, drugs work etc) wandering around the wing chatting to prisoners.
Before the end several prisoners read out their poems, one guy read out his life story and another played the mouth organ. In attendance were two women from Mothers Against Violence - they were the real stars of the show as they were recently featured on the programme, "Secret Millionaire."
Below is an article I wrote for a prison magazine about their recent visit.
What good can come of this?
Unusually for a prison wing the silence is deafening.
Patsy Mckie has just spoken.
A tiny woman in a brightly striped sweater her presence fills the large space where 43 prisoners gather on the therapeutic community.
Calmly, Patsy tells her story. A heart-breaking story that is only too common. The story of loss. A mother’s loss. And a mother’s reaction to that loss.
On August 3rd 1999 life for the mother of six changed dramatically when her beloved 20-year-old son, Dorrie, was shot and killed during a series of tit for tat killings on the streets of Manchester.
A woman of faith Patsy’s response to that heartbreaking loss was to ask one question:
“What good can come of this?”
Ten years on the answer is here. It stands suspended in the silence.
A silence which is swiftly broken by a brave but brutal honesty.
“I have taken another man’s life and seeing you here today makes me understand that pain,” says one.
And then another prisoner responds with equal candour. And then another. And so it goes on.
Tears stream down Patsy’s face.
But these are not tears of sadness nor ones of relief.
These are tears Patsy ascribes to something more powerful – something she can only describe as “A connectedness” and an affirmation that the path she chose following Dorrie’s death was the right one.
A path that saw the formation of Mothers Against Violence.
“Some time after Dorrie died I met with a group of around fifteen mothers who were fearful for the lives of their children and who knew either a family member or a friend who had been a victim of gang shootings or other violent acts. Out of this, Mothers Against Violence (MAV) was born.”
The mothers responded in the most powerful way possible to the violence within their community.
It was the power of compassion and understanding.
To create a voice of reason within madness.
MAV’s aims are clear. Their deepest desire is to put something back into the community.
“In Mothers Against Violence we come alongside grieving parents and parents who are concerned that their children will be caught up in gangs. We aim to go into schools and break the taboo about gangs and violence. We need to talk, and, much more importantly, we need to listen.
And so Patsy and her colleague Angela Lawrence listen.
And they repeat these stories at the highest level.
MAV sit on the Home Office’s Guns and Knives Round Table which is chaired by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.
And they do it all on a shoestring.
MAV is a voluntary group with a core team of ten. Angela, who joins Patsy during today’s visit, is the only paid employee and her part-time salary is funded by the church.
A grant of just £5,000 a year and a committed team of volunteers makes today’s visit and the rest of their far-reaching work which includes a helpline, parenting groups, campaigning and outreach work possible.
A visit which is not initiated by the prison service but by a prisoner on the wing.
One of the last men down from the roof during the notorious Strangeways Riot, Drew is no short-stay inmate, the 38-year-old has enjoyed just five years of freedom since the age of 15.
But he has decided, like Patsy, that there is a new path he must follow.
A path which crossed at the door of Mothers Against Violence.
After a lengthy correspondence with the group he issued the invitation which brings Patsy and Angela here today.
“I have been violent and I have left a trail of victims behind. I was a role model on my estate for all the wrong reasons,” he says.
“That needs to change and when I get out I want to work with your organization to become a role model for good,” he tells the women.
After the meeting ends Patsy and Angela are asked if they will pose for a photograph with some of the inmates.
They expect a few men but in the exercise yard more than 30 men are waiting patiently in the grey summer afternoon.
Before they leave Patsy and Angela are stopped once again.
They are thanked many times over and told what a big impact their visit has made.
And Patsy responds once again as only a mother can, with hugs and hope for a better future for all these sons.