I had a letter from Lad the other day, a care-leaver who has lived with me on and off for the last three years. His news is that he moved recently. He is sharing accommodation with an old friend and they are getting on well with each other and have a good social life from the sound of things. He is enrolled on a course to improve his Maths and English and has a part-time job as a catering assistant; he has also earned a place on the local football team. I really couldn't wish for better news, except that Lad and his mate share a prison cell rather than a flat and he has another 7 months to serve.
The letter saddened me because reading between the lines he sounds content, it sounds like he has returned home rather than been deprived of one. From age 14 to 21 he has mostly lived behind bars and he knows the routine, the rules, how to make friends and keep on the right side of people; skills which overwhelm him in the outside world. When in prison he engages with education, work and sport; in the community he leads a life of chaos.
Discussing these matters with his Probation Officer we were both at a loss to know what else could have been done to support him when he was last released. He had a supportive home, help to organise himself, a college interview and medical appointments arranged. These advantages alone gave him better odds of success than most released prisoners but ultimately the end result was still a return to custody. We both agreed that at some point something would just have to click and he would have to want to turn things around for himself; alternatively we could see an outcome where a more serious crime is committed and he finds himself "back home" for years rather than months.
I hope for the first option but suspect I could be his penpal for a while yet.