Sunday, 25 January 2015

A Tale of Two Prison Visits: Part Two.

If you have ever tried to find out how a young person is feeling or what they are thinking you will know what a futile thing it is to ask. Increase that futility tenfold at least if the young person in your life has suffered trauma. I am sure that, like me, you long ago abandoned questions like "What's wrong?", "How was school?" or "Are you OK?" We learn new techniques, new ways of saying the same things, we begin discussions with an interested expression and a thoughtful "I wonder if....." Sometimes it works but often it doesn't, particularly when you are dealing with a teenager who hides beneath his hood with eyes glued to his phone or simply walks off and refuses to engage.

Conversations with a young person in a visits hall often have a different quality which contradicts the negativity of your surroundings. Firstly this visit is the highlight of their week. On the most basic level you are a break from the monotonous routine of life in custody but also as a visitor you represent the outside world. You bring hugs, news, smiles and thoughts from the other side of the impenetrable wall. You bring hope too, hope that there is still someone out there that hasn't forgotten them, who cares enough to give up a day to travel to the prison and back, who will still be there when their sentence is over. There are few diversions: it's just you and them staring across a table at each other for two hours. They can't leave the room when you refuse to change the subject, you don't have to compete with Facebook or texts from the girlfriend. There is no reluctance to talk, they jump at the opportunity. However it is still possible to talk without actually saying very much. Thankfully this has not been the case on this most recent visit to OT.

I have written about OT before, most notably in the post Offending Behaviour which attempts to explain the turn his life has taken. He is twenty now and his sentence ends in just a few days. He has been counting down to release day for the last month at least and has shown excitement during visits and optimism about his ability to turn over a new leaf when he returns home. There has been a fair amount of bravado, many unrealistic expectations of his ability to cope with no issues at all after almost two years of being removed from all the situations that he finds challenging. So yesterday I was relieved to spend time with a very different young man. Yesterday I listened to memories of the family who have rejected him: some of them happy and some horrific. I witnessed barely suppressed tears, quiet moments where he struggled to regain his composure. Once or twice he became quiet and the, usually futile, question "Where have you gone in your head?" elicited an honest answer.

For a couple of hours he revealed the vulnerability and fear which I have always known about but which he has gone to great lengths to mask. It was as if he consciously made a decision that it was time to trust me with his anxiety about rejoining the community. He was telling me for the first time that he wants to succeed but he is frightened that he doesn't have it in him. He was putting his pride to one side and saying "I'm scared. I can't do this alone. I need help. I need to know you're going to be there."

It was emotional and beautiful. I drove home feeling optimistic for OT's future for the first time. He did a very difficult thing yesterday and I am proud of him but I am also relieved that the bravado has gone because now I have a young person I can truly support and work with.

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