Outside West Yorkshire is at its best with blue skies, green grass and grazing sheep, but the room where we meet Sophie is very different. In the New Hall Prison visiting room we’re cold, the only pretence at comfort comes from the foam padding on the seats.
Sophie is my first client today. We met seven months ago when she was referred to the About Face programme with a history of substance misuse from an early age, which led to a burglary conviction and time in a Young Offenders prison. We’d met with her and her alcohol worker, and had helped her join a volunteering organisation in order to fight one of the main barriers to her recovery: boredom.
Though all our clients volunteer for our services because they want to change, only four weeks in Sophie was recalled to prison after being found working the streets trying to earn money for drugs and alcohol. It’s rarely an easy road.
Today she looked tired and defeated. We are one of few visitors she gets. We talk about what education programmes she’s enrolled in and what her plans are for the next few months and by the time we say goodbye, she’s perked up and looking forward to the afternoon and getting outside for a few hours.
On our way to a home visit I get a call from South Yorkshire Police about Trevor. Trevor is one of our clients who has been doing really well, but now he’s broken his licensing conditions and is being recalled to prison. It’s a blow – Trevor had strong motivation to rebuild his life and most importantly to regain contact with his children. But he’s living in the community surrounded by the things he is trying to move on from, so it’s difficult.
There will always be bumps in the path from criminality to desistance that individuals like Trevor will need to navigate with our support. If Trevor is open to our visiting him in prison while he serves the remainder of his sentence we will. When he’s released we will do everything we can to support him as he integrates into a new community, and rebuilds his relationship with his kids.
My final meeting for the day is a good one. I go to see Brian at his home. He has a cup of tea and a huge smile waiting for me as he tells me he’s got a job. Three months ago we connected him with at a local community centre where he completed an employability skills training course, his local Job Centre arranged an interview for him, and a fantastic charity fitted him out with his very own brand new suit. For the first time in years, Brian feels motivated towards something positive and can see himself in a stable job. It’s a big win.
Each day as an About Face key worker brings new challenges for me and for the clients I work with. It’s never straightforward, and sometimes the setbacks can seem discouraging. But we don’t ever give up on a client, and we continue to work with someone for as long as they want our support. We’re working with a lot of people from very troubled backgrounds, but there are still so many positives, and no matter how small a victory is, we celebrate, as they represent a step in the direction of desistance from crime and into building a brand new life.
About Face supports men and women who have a history within the Criminal Justice System and are vulnerable to re-offending behaviour. Through a designated mentor, we prepare individuals for the transition from incarceration to integration into the community, helping them live positive and fully restored lives.
This service forms part of our commitment to starting at the source, supporting not just survivors but also perpetrators, to create a better society.