Here's an interesting fact I have just learned. Apparently, if you work with a large number of men, you can get Man Flu even though you're female. Astonishing. What I thought was a cold that was lasting for weeks got worse and the Doc said it was in fact flu and signed me off for a week. Boy, day-time television is RUBBISH. And my head's too groggy to read a book or hold an interesting thought. But then, if you're enjoying yourself you shouldn't really be off sick. As soon as I start to enjoy myself, I promise I'll go back to work!!
That was the week that was, and I'm glad it's Friday. On Monday I was in both jails followed by an evening visit to a prisoner who is seriously ill in hospital, so was away from home for thirteen or fourteen hours, this on a day when the kids were off school. Don't panic, their dad was in charge, but of course I felt like a neglectful mum.
The children were off on Tuesday too - an in-service day for the teachers - so I took Tuesday off and we went down to the church cafe and they got, not only a hot chocolate and a scone, but the chance to play in the sports hall with various other random kids enjoying the freedom from school, while I had lots of chatting time with pals. However I had to "pop" into work in the afternoon (if half an hour each way is really popping) for my health screening. Hurray, I have a pulse and am officially alive!
On Wednesday it was the SPS Chaplains' Away Day. Yes, I know it sounds like buckets and spades and off to the beach but it's actually in a meeting room in the SPS college at Polmont, probably just as well in February. Wonderful talk on "disenfranchised grief". Grieving is very difficult in prison, and I will blog about that some other time as there's so much to say about it. I had to leave early, though, as Big Chief Him Indoors was at a CofS Special Commission meeting in Glasgow and I had to be home for the kids getting out of school. Of course I felt guilty for leaving early.
On Thursday I was in Edinburgh for a conference on Restorative Justice. Again, absolutely fascinating, and so much to say another time... I was planning to leave a bit early to be home in time for the first appointment (5.30pm) at our Firstborn's school Parents' Night, and I felt guilty about that. However it got worse than that because about 2.15 I suddenly remembered I had forgotten to go out at lunch time and top up my parking meter. I bolted and when I got to the car found I had a parking ticket for a cool £60. My distress at that was about to be put into perspective though when I looked at my phone which I had left in the car. There was a text message from Firstborn's school to say that she had not registered and where was she? It took me an hour to establish that she was in fact fine and had just been late and missed registration. It was a long hour!
Today, Friday, there was an all-day management meeting. I felt guilty for going because I hadn't had time really this week to spend with prisoners, which is what I regard as the bread-and-butter of my job, but I went anyway, and in spite of feeling guilty was finding it very interesting and worthwhile, when I got a text from Him Indoors to say that our Penultimate child had a sore tummy and had come home from school. It was so sore that although he had obtained a GP appointment for late afternoon he was now taking her up to the hospital's Accident and Emergency. So, I felt guilty for being at work and left early, feeling guilty for leaving early.
She's okay and home, with no diagnosis but the hope that it was "one of these things". She was hugely cheered by the arrival today of a Blue Peter badge the same as the one her brother got last week (the fruit of some pictures they did which their dad posted off for them).
Firstborn and Blue Eyed Boy are off for the weekend to Scripture Union camp, embarrassed no doubt by each other's presence but otherwise sure to have fun.
What a week, and I'm sure you're probably feeling the same about your own past week. Lots of our lives are the same. When you're dealing with the one thing, you're feeling guilty about neglecting the other things, and so on. But it's not an appropriate guilt, is it? Guilt's the thing you should have when you're sinning, not when you're just busy. So begone, false guilt! Cheerio! We don't need you!
Looking forward to a guilt free longish lie in the morning, and hopefully (!) a guilt free trip to the slimming club. Meanwhile I'll pray the end of Psalm 139 and ask to be shown the things I'm happily oblivious to that I OUGHT to be feeling guilty about and ain't!
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thaoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting".
I took the kids to the cinema yesterday (to see Alvin and the Chipmunks if you want to know). We walked there and then we got the bus home.
As I was paying for one adult and four children and watching all the tickets come shooting out like a ticker tape parade, I heard "Hello, Anne!" behind me. I turned round and there was a fairly recently liberated life sentence prisoner I had come to know well!
A couple of weeks after liberation this man had phoned me at work to say he was missing jail. And yesterday he said that, over the first six weeks or so, he'd experienced a few panic attacks. He has found being out of jail very difficult. This is someone for whom prison is no punishment really - he is "jail-wide", which means he is so experienced in prison life he knows all the dodges and tricks. He knows how to get by in jail. He is looked up to by younger or more inexperienced inmates who come to him for advice. In jail, he IS someone, in a sense. Out of jail, he's - well, he probably feels he's a nobody. And the world has moved on, and he struggles. Alcohol's a big issue for him in the community whereas in jail he's not surrounded by the stuff.
If you're the praying kind, please pray for him. He used to come regularly to the services in jail but I wasn't always sure why! I would hate for him to resort to crime specifically in order to get back to jail where he feels comfortable. He lives within walking distance of our church and has promised many times to come "some time".
And pray for youngsters everywhere who're on the path to where that man is today. He's not particularly young - I believe he's a grandfather - but there are youngsters today in secure units who will get out briefly, get into more trouble, be re-arrested, will graduate to Young Offenders Institution, will get out briefly, get into more trouble, be re-arrested, go to Big Men's Prison, and become as institutionalised as my friend whom I've described. It's not right.
Put "(Your name) needs" into Google and see what you come up with. No reason. Just for fun!
For instance, when I did it I found that:
Anne needs this yesterday. Anne needs to win sexiest veg! Anne needs to unequivocally apologise for entering an arena... Anne needs to be at least pardoned for the crimes she didn't commit. Anne needs a group of at least 6 people. Anne needs help and her parents decide medication is the best alternative. The elephant Anne needs to retire. Also I give and bequeath unto Anne Needs the lower house and garden.
Excellent!! (I'm particularly amused - or should I say hugely amused - by "the elephant Anne needs to retire") as on the same day I've joined a slimming club!
“The best way to judge a society is how it treats its prisoners”, said Winston Churchill. “The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons”, said Dostoevsky. The Bible gives us a pretty good basis for treating prisoners well even if their crime, their attitude and their behaviour offend us. We've to remember prisoners as if we were their fellow inmates but why?
Here's an EXCELLENT reason! We ARE their fellow prisoners!
Romans 7:21b-23 says: "When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members." What was that? I'm a prisoner too? Well, yeah, I suppose I am. And if I am it's certainly easier to remember those in prison as if I were their fellow prisoner. Too right I am. "For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing" (Romans 7:18b,19).
I guess I'm just lucky that the things that tempt me aren't illegal so my sins are not crimes. But I'm in prison just the same, like good old Paul before me.
January in Scotland in 2008 was wet, dark and "dreich". Big Chief Him-Indoors and I have been tired and fed up, and fantasising about chucking it all in and going off to the Bahamas... We were amused/amazed/chastened to find in today's "Daily Bread" (Scripture Union Bible reading notes) the following:
"So Moses takes his problem to God - the only proper place for our pain and difficulties. And God says, "There, there, never mind, you tried your best... Have a nice holiday in the Bahamas to get over all the stress." Or not! No, God repeats his amazing promises... and Moses faithfully takes God's words to the people".
Er, oh well, ok God. Head down again, and chin up! (Not sure how you put your head down AND your chin up but I guess I'll try!)
The Sun and various other newspapers seem to hate the Scottish Prison Service's open estate, referring for example to one of them, HMP Castle Huntly, as a "bouncy castle" and a "country club" amongst other things.
What is the "open estate"? It is the name given to two Scottish prisons which are open in the simple and obvious sense that they have no big fence and no walls.
They are controversial, there is no doubt, and particularly in the last week or so when we have heard the shocking news that a prisoner from the Open Estate who was allowed out failed to return, went on the run, and committed a very serious violent crime. My thoughts and prayers have mostly been with the unfortunate victim.
There have been a number of "absconds" from the Open Estate in my time but this is the most serious and alarming case by far. It has sparked off (yet) another round of calls for the end of open prisons.
However, I really hope that doesn't happen. And I feel sad for the many prisoners currently at the Open Estate who are working extremely hard, holding down work placements (sometimes the first time in their adult lives they have worked at all), or undertaking education, or winning a long-standing battle with addiction, or making plans for the future and committing themselves afresh to their partners and children. Certainly not all of them will succeed in living up to their good intentions, but plenty will, and they really deserve our respect for the distance they have travelled, often guys who have had an awful start in life.
Since starting work in the prison service I've developed a sudden interest in a genre of tv I would never have looked at before: "America's most violent jail"-type programs have me glued to the seat! Are there a lot more of these programs at the moment or did I really never notice them before? Even "Ross Kemp on Gangs" has me totally intrigued. This week there was another similar documentary on gangs in Glasgow and London that had me nearly in tears.
The Louis Theroux program recently on an American jail showed inmates who had sentences of over 500 years. Our tabloids would love most criminals to be locked up and the key thrown away. But we don't do that. Our prisoners are going to get out eventually. So, given that that's the case do we want them prepared for release or not? Do we want to release totally institutionalised people who haven't seen anything of the outside world for years, or do we want to re-integrate them in a staged way? I vote for the latter.
Now, some prisoners behave so badly in closed jails that they are not allowed to progress to open conditions, and of course eventually they are released anyway, but I don't think that negates the good that can be done for those who are able to make the progression and benefit from it. Also, the carrot of getting to the Open Estate with its Home Leave Scheme is an incentive to tow the line in closed jail.
I think of a man at the Open Estate whose drug history in the past was totally chaotic, who is into his forties and has spent most of his adult life in jail. Now? He's clean. He's established good relationships with his family (I think for the first time) and he's had a couple of home leaves. The first time he had one, he couldn't cope, totally panicked and took a non-prescribed drug (valium) to calm himself down. He came back to jail, failed a drug test, owned up, got counselling, and has since accomplished a couple of home leaves drug free and feels a whole new self-confidence. His story is not untypical. I am as confident as I could be that he will do well on release.
I could tell you lots of stories of success, and quite a number of failures too. But we're in the business of risk. And I get tired of the bad press. And so do the prisoners. And their families.
Do you know what I wish made the news on the average day? "Today across the Open Estate nearly 500 prisoners stayed in jail even though there is no big wall or big fence". But that kind of news doesn't sell papers.
Incidentally, if you read this in time, watch BBC1 at 12.30 tomorrow (Sunday) lunchtime - Castle Huntly is on Politics Today!