From the House of Genesis to the House of Lords

 

Many of you that read my blogs will know that I have been in prison and have been a resident at the Approved Premises in Norfolk. Since May 2018 I have been living in accommodation provided by the charity House of Genesis, and this has afforded me many opportunities to sit and continue my writing career and the other work that I get up to.

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The House of Genesis, Norwich.

 

In this short blog I want to share something exciting that happened to me on Tuesday 5th February 2019. I was invited to attend and speak at an event at the House of Lords to celebrate the work of Wayout TV, part of the PeoplePlus Justice Division. I had worked for Wayout TV when I was in prison, I was part of the production hub, and worked mainly on compliance -ensuring that the programmes we made and broadcast met set standards (nothing got passed my eyes and ears).

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Outside the Houses of Parliament

The event was well attended with representatives from the prison education company and their partners; there were people from government departments and from both houses of parliament. Baroness Pidding CBE introduced the evening, and handed over to Simon Rouse, Managing Director of PeoplePlus UK. Simon introduced the work of Wayout TV, and shared how the television channel now broadcasts to 25,000 prisoners every day. He introduced my boss, the man that I worked for in the prison; Jezz Wright, the creator of this amazing television channel.

Then Simon showed a promotional video that I appeared in (and did an awful amount of talking), and after the video he discussed my work when I was in the prison. Then as he introduced me to give my talk on why Wayout TV is important, Simon told the gathered audience that PeoplePlus were going to offer me employment with them.

How was I meant to talk after a shock like that?

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Mark Humphries speaking at the House of Lords event 05.02.2019

It has to be said here, even though I might be 18 stone and 6 feet 2 inches tall I did cry. Obviously it didn’t come as a complete shock, but it still had caused me to get emotional. I also get emotional when I talk about prison education because it is important for a full rehabilitation process to begin. So there I was discussing why in-cell learning is important and the tears trying to escape down my face. I did want to go on a few moment more to discuss the team that I worked with, but the tears got the better of me.

Life dose not end with a prison sentence. If you are (un)fortunate enough to end up behind the high walls and razor-like topped fences then take the opportunities that are offered to you. If none are offered your way make your own. Since leaving custody in February 2018 I and a friend (colleague and mentor), (Areformedman) have been working hard to change how the prison system operates.

In a year I have gone from being locked up in prison, finding accommodation with the House of Genesis to speaking at the House of Lords and now about to start work with a prison education company.

The future is what YOU make it.

The Prisoner Policy Network.

There are some organisations that simply demand respect, and so when I was invited to attend an event to launch the second question for the Prisoner Policy Network (PPN) run by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) I had to say yes. And, I am so pleased that I did even though it meant taking a taxi back to prison (well they were going to let me out again on the same day).

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@Areformedman standing outside the visits centre.

It was on the morning of the PRT event that my friend, (colleague and mentor), said to me that we were getting a taxi back to prison. I have to say we did have a laugh about that, and talked about it as we travelled to HMP Coldingley.

This was a surreal moment as we signed ourselves in through the ‘official visitors’ entrance and showed our photograph ID. Then once enough of those attending had been signed in we were escorted from the gatehouse through to the chapel complex where this event was going to take place. I am not sure of the total numbers, but the mix of attendees from HMP Coldingley, the Ministry of Justice, mentoring and support organisations as well as other interested partners of PRT proved to be beneficial to the conversation and the day as a whole.

As a Life Sentenced Prisoner it was good to hear Jo Sims, the prison governor at Coldingley give an honest and open welcome address. It is refreshing when a governor starts by saying that her prison doesn’t always get everything right. They did get it all right for this event. Her address was followed by the PRT Director, Peter Dawson who gave us a brief introduction to the work of his organisation and what the PPN set out to achieve.

Dr. Lucy Wainwright gave an informative address on her report What incentives work in prison? The report can be read by clicking on the title. It was encouraging to hear Dr. Wainwright say that prisoners are unique, and their responses to this question fitted that. There was no one homogeneous response. The report came with four broad findings which go to say that when you get the basics right with meaningful incentives and positive models for the prison to follow then those in custody will go on to learn to trust the system.

The final part of this event was to discuss the second question: What do you need to make best use of your time in custody? Rest assured, I will report back on this in due course; this will be after our responses from the day, and those of serving prisons and others have been collated and the report published.

Creative Writing: A Route to Rehabilitation

 

When the author of this document was recalled to custody he realised that there was an untapped creativity among his peers. Men and women in prison with lots of time on their hands, and the age old prison issue of what to do when banged-up. He had always had an interest in writing stories and poetry and during his work as a peer-mentor at a local prison in Norfolk he started to pen his first novel. The Literacy tutor read the work and commented on how the story attracted her to read more. He was then introduced to the Koestler Trust, who hold an annual exhibition and awards scheme for art from prisoners and those is secure environments. The novel (in draft form) was duly mailed out to the Trust, and it eventually gained a Bronze award.

This further encouraged him to continue writing, and to help others in their writing. It was not too long before he was leading classes; holding the class as a kind of creative writing workshop for those taking the literacy course. He was able to engage most, if not all, of the learners in the class to write something; most of whom went on to share what they had written. Even the regular class tutor (who shall not be named) was able to sit with the men and write her first ever piece of poetry.

The sessions proved popular and work was then exhibited on the walls of their classroom. There was a real sense of community and belonging being built in these sessions. Some of the men that attended the sessions and were keen to write have since gone on to also enter the Koestler Awards scheme, and several of them have taken awards and cash prizes.

It was during this time that the birth of the Introduction to Creative Writing course came about. Over time the sessions became more formalised with Humphries having to learn more about this useful skill himself. He borrowed books from the prison library, and from the county stocks and then started to write up worksheets that could be used in his sessions, and that the men could take away with them.

He continued with his own writing and went on to gain further awards for both fiction and poetry writing. He has gone on to work with a writing mentor organised by the Koestler Trust. They meet up regularly to chat over a coffee and to discuss the work that Humphries is now doing.

After leaving the local prison Humphries was sent to a category C prison in Norfolk; a move which has proved to have been very worthwhile for him as a prisoner, a person and as a writer. He was able to participate in a PIPE unit, which is a Psychologically Informed Planned Environment. This is a unit that allows prisoners (an now others) to put into practice all the new skills that they have learned on rehabilitation programmes within their prison sentence. This enabled him to continue to write in his spare time, but it also introduced him to a group that he has gone on to work with since leaving custody. He now writes for Greener Growth in their monthly column in the Bury Free Press (a local newspaper in Suffolk).

While at this Norfolk prison Humphries also had to work, like all prisoners do. He was fortunate enough to gain employment with Wayout TV, a very proactive group that were creating innovative television material to be broadcast via in-cell televisions. Humphries started with the group on a compliancy role, and moved on to do some video editing work with them. Since his release from custody he has gone on to continue his involvement with this group.

He has now written and acted as course consultant on the Creative Writing Course that Wayout TV offer through their Way2Learn TV channel. This course, along with others, are now being broadcast in 29 jails around the country. The videos, which will be included with this document, have been enhanced using a published writer to present the series. Phil Earle, was working for the Scottish Book Trust, who gave us permission to use their material as it matched what Humphries was saying in his hard-copy workbooks.

All of this has come about because he saw the need to be a little inventive himself about getting prisoners involved with creativity, and in particular, Creative Writing. Humphries believes that this subject should be taught in prisons as an employability skill. It has all the aspects that employers look for when they are recruiting: can the candidate read, fill out form, count, and are their good time keepers.

Creative writers obviously have to read, if not other people’s work they will read what they have written and the research notes for their piece. Editors are always pushing the word counts, and timescales of jobs. Writers have a lot more going on for them than simply sitting at the keyboard and typing words onto a screen.

 

Episode 1

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Y7tYR2IcIg&t=10s

 

Episode 2

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Y7tYR2IcIg

 

Episode 3

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Y7tYR2IcIg

 

 

 

cropped-20180908_142555  Mark Humphries is a former life-sentenced prisoner and now prison reformer tackling the subject of education within the prison estate. He wants all prisoners to have the chance to better themselves whilst in custody; he has also written and acted as course consultant on a Creative Writing video course that is now being shown in 29 prisons in the UK. He is also a member of Prisoners’ Education Trust (www.prisonerseducation.org.uk) Alumni Advisory Group. Mark has written for various magazines and journals on issues of criminal justice and reform.

 

A Lifer Released

A Lifer Released is about Mark Humphries and his story from a life sentence to the future. In this blog he will discuss all things concerning criminal justice, prison, prison education and life in general.

Mark Humphries was sentenced to (Discretionary) life imprisonment in 1993, and served 10 years on a 4 year tariff. He served time at the following establishments HMPs Bedford, Wormwood Scrubs, Grendon, Leyhill, Bristol, Sudbury. He was released in 2003 and relocated to Peterborough and then to Norfolk.

Since 2011 Mark has been recalled three times; twice for offending and then the last time was for an argument that he had with another Approved Premises (AP) resident. Both people were recalled even though no criminal activity took place, and no further charges were brought against either. Mark was released in February 2018.

Since that time he has been further involved with Greener Growth and other organisations that work both in prison and outside the high walls and fences with prisoners and ex-prisoners. At the time of drafting this page he is awaiting a contract of employment with a prison education company.

Further blogs and pages will be published shortly

Education: The Way to Rehabilitation

Prison can raise many images in our minds. While you might not have given prisons a great deal of thought, I can assure you that when you hear about them on the news, or read about them in your newspaper an image or two appears in you mind. It might be that you see Ronnie Barker in Porridge, or you might have the media presented images of holiday centres, or places of continued rioting going through your mind. This article wants to present a new image for you to consider.

We will always have the uniformed prison officers that walk the landings and deal with the prisoners’ requests, we will also have the medical, teaching, training and religious staff that help to deal with the complexity of needs that prisoners present with. Then we must remember that all prisons will have the backbone of civilian staff that offer administration support on all levels; without these people the prisons would not operate.

If you were to walk into any of our prisons around this country the scene you wold be presented with is not one of rioting, and it is not one of holidaying with the prisoners doing whatever they want. There is a lot of hard work that goes on in workshops, and other places of employment.

There is also a great deal of emphasis placed on what brought to prisoner into custody. Today the Prison Service and its partners work hard to provide courses that prisoner must, or can (if not directed to) participate in to gain an understanding of their offending cycles, the triggers that caused them to offend. These courses are not easy and each participant will undergo vigorous challenges in order to change their attitude and behaviours..

None of this matters if the prisoner simply participates in the OBPs and leaves jail with no further qualifications. I have lived the experience of prison, and I have seen the systematic destruction of real rehabilitation through education by prison ministers and governors alike. The former Prime Minister, David Cameron, said in an interview that he wanted to treat “prisoner’s problems, educate them [and] put them to work”. This would seem a good idea, and it should be, but most prison governors do not actively encourage their prisoners to get involved with education. They would prefer the prison population to be working in the workshops. Many of the prison workshops are now run as private enterprises or contracts that are bringing much needed funds for the jail. So, why would the governor want his prisoners sitting in a class gaining new qualifications when they could be earning for the prison?

The serious question here is, what will happen when prison governors get more powers to decide what education courses are made available in their prisons? The Rt Hon David Gauke MP (Secretary of State for Justice) said that “the first step on a prisoner’s path to employment on release is acquiring the right skills”, and I hope that he will remember this when he hands this power to the governors.

What this new strategy sets out to achieve is admirable, but as a former prisoner I can see the pitfalls between the Justice Secretary’s comments and what the governor puts into action. The key points to bear in mind about this new strategy will be that:

Prison Governors will be able to commission whatever education they deem meets the local employability market.

Some reduced regulation in how the education budget is handled.

PA new vocational pathway be set up to enable prisoners to gain apprenticeships.

If a governor chooses to look at what the local employers are wanting to fill their vacancies, and then commissions learning that will fill the gaps it would seem that they were doing the right thing. It is not as simple as that. Many of the prisons do not hold local people. In the county that I live in we have three prisons, all operating on a different regime. If you were to walk into anyone of them you would find that the majority of prisoners do not come from this area. This would mean that while the prisoner would be learning a new skill it might not meet their need, and might not be what employers in their area are seeking.

 

In the recent Ofsted report into Education, skills and work in prisons and young offender institutes the inspectors highlight that in just over 110 prisons and YOIs around two-fifths were able to study at level 2; at the same time the Chief Inspector noted that ‘participation on level 3 courses has been in decline over time, dropping from a peak of 2,400 in 2012/13 to a low of 100 in the latest published data’ (Ofsted 2018).

Two-fifths of the prison population works out around 33,000, which is not many people learning new skills. It concerns me that even before governors gain these powers that there is a drop in level 3 learning. There should be an emphasis on getting prisoners into learning. The author of this article chose a pathway to rehabilitation that came through education, and continues now even though he is the other side of the high walls and razor-like-topped fences. The author of this piece went into jail knowing that my English levels needed enhancing and improving, and now he is reading for a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing at the Open University. And he believes that this opportunity should be afforded to every prisoner in the country.

Not only should prisoners be given the opportunity to learn new skills in custody,  they ought to be offered the chance to study through distance learning. Rod Clark from Prisoners’ Education Trust, says that ‘prisoners who spend their time studying through distance learning are significantly more successful in securing employment after release.’ Offenders in employment within one year following their release from custody were significantly less likely to re-offend than those offenders who did not get employment, confirms many reports.

This writer believes that this is the most sustainable pathway to real rehabilitation. There is that ancient saying that, if you give a man a fish you feed him for the day, teach the man to fish and you feed him for a life time. The same with education and rehabilitation; if you show a man how to do something new he will know what to do, but if you teach that man to want to learn he will learn more new skills and go on to show others. When this prisoner is then released from custody they are armed with more than a skill; they will leave with a new pathway in life, and that will lead to change in the community that they return to.