May 15, 2015

Is Joe Worthy?

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This from the indomitable Chris Parsons who runs the Landworks prisoner rehabilitation programme at Dartington Hall in Devon. Why anyone would want to work to improve the lives and life experiences of prisoners and others on the receiving end of the criminal justice system is often a mystery to people who have no understanding or experience of the issues involved. For Chris there is not even the slightest hint of mystery in his reply to an email from concerned outsider Rupert:

From: Rupert To:

Date received: Wed 6 May 2015, 18:28

Hi Chris

Thanks for your blog…I do have a quick question, do you think the LandWorks guys are as worthy as a lot of the young lads that have not committed a crime but are struggling?



Response from Chris:


I rather like these. Difficult, even awkward questions, I think demonstrate a broad engagement with the project, drawing out a greater explanation of LandWorks…. It has to be helpful and it’s always good to be asked. Before I answer Rupert, and in the spirit of greater explanation, I want to give an answer to another commonly asked question: “I heard the prison news, have you got anyone left?”


Well, we have five men currently involved, living in the community who are on licence (having served their sentence but still under supervision for a fixed period). We also should have another four men as day release prisoners (currently held in prison while a new ministerial directive is sorted out). We expect a solution soon!


So, back to Rupert’s question… Joe is 21, living locally, joined us a few weeks ago and his story may help to form an answer or at least expose differences between him and other struggling young adults. Unlike many lads of this age he simply has not had any formative family involvement. Abandoned at seven months old, by the time he reached 18 he’d had 43 different homes. Good experiences were precious few.


Last Christmas Joe was in prison, toasting the festivities with ‘Jail House Houch’ (an illicit brew made from oranges, sugar and bread for yeast) and just about recovering his eyesight by Boxing Day! For a man who has few real friends alcohol is becoming a reliable companion. I’ve heard this before, from others…


‘Chris, I learnt at the age of twelve that alcohol numbed the pain from my parents’ beatings. It’s taken me 38 years of struggling to find resolve.’


Joe is a lovely man, bright and quickly learns new skills… born into a different family background, well who knows? But he wasn’t and, in common with many of our trainees, he has very little confidence, a deep self-loathing and really struggles with decision-making.


I don’t think many of our guys at the point of joining LandWorks consider themselves to be worthy at any level. To be honest quite a number have previously tried to end their lives. For most of us, we are some distance from rock bottom. Joe and co hover millimetres above the jagged rocks of the next crisis, struggling to find a way out. Prison is far too often the only option. I believe they are worthy. No more, no less than others – but worth supporting.


Hear Hear Chris, a lovely piece – thank you – and good luck Joe!

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