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You don’t have to be in a cell to be a prisoner …

Up until fairly recently I spent the past two years working for a National Charity who specialise in Health & Social Care and Criminal Justice Services. Those of you who work in the third sector, or who have worked in the third sector will know, it can present its challenges. More often than not the work we wish to do to help people is put on hold because of bureaucracy and legislation, and it can be frustrating especially when we all work in this sector for one end goal; to help people. One thing is for sure though, the reason that we do this and the reason that we persevere is because one good day can counteract a dozen bad ones, and just helping that one person can make it all worthwhile, and you realise ‘this is why I do this’.

I absolutely loved my job, I went above and beyond sometimes, and never for financial gain or bonuses (Third Sector doesn’t always have that luxury!) but because I believed in our values. I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to have met some truly amazing and inspirational people, staff, service users and volunteers – the admiration I have for what they do is substantial. The staff couldn’t always help everyone, sometimes it was too late, but they still got up every single day and continued to try and for that, I think they are absolutely outstanding.

One person in particular that had a lasting effect on me was a gentleman for these purposes, we will call him Joe Jones. Joe was a prisoner in HMP Pres-Coed, an open prison facility, Category D. Part of the work we did was to take on volunteers from Pres-Coed to work with us, to get them job ready for release. When I first met Joe he was extremely shy and very nervous, I could barely get two words out of him. Still, he turned up every single day and always worked hard, and over time he felt more relaxed and eventually he opened up to me about why he was in prison and what he had been through in his life.

Joe committed a financial crime of fraud, and he eventually handed himself in because he couldn’t live with the guilt of what he had done. He knows more than anyone that he did wrong, and was fully prepared to face punishment, little did he know it would be so harsh. Joe received six years in prison for his crime and was sent to HMP Cardiff. I’ve been to HMP Cardiff myself (not as a prisoner) and it isn’t pleasant, it’s not supposed to be.

It was in HMP Cardiff where Joe tried to take his own life. He couldn’t face up to the fact he was in there and the fact that paedophile’s had lesser sentences, it made him feel worthless. Luckily his attempt to take his own life failed, and I’m so thankful that happened because I made a friend for life. Joe has often said that he was judged for being in prison, but we can all be prisoners, we can all feel like there is no way out at some point in our lives. Who are we to pass judgement on a human being that we don’t even know?

Recently a man was sentenced 9 years in prison for killing a new born child, this is only 3 years more than Joe received, yet he took a life? And if the judge had cared to look beyond a piece of paper he would realise that Joe’s life and livelihood was taken from him as young boy. He didn’t ask why he did his crime, he just assumed it was due to greed. All he needed to do, was a look a little further.

Joe is now working full time for the charity, and is helping other people change their lives around too. He truly is the most inspirational person I have ever met, and he is so grateful for all the help he’s received. I’m proud to have been a part of his journey, and I’m very proud to share with you, this heartfelt poem which he wrote after his unsuccessful suicide attempt.

It’s so easy to pass judgement on people and we all do it, but I ask you, next time you find yourself passing judgement on someone, speak to them, ask them, and don’t just write them off, because everyone is fighting a battle and we can all be prisoners sometimes.

 That day in court

 Who are you to say I am bad?

What do you know about the life I have had?

You read out loud the CPS report

My life was ruined and with no support

Who had cared that I been beaten, raped and abused?

You see me as a criminal the one who is accused

To you I’m just another case

Another criminal with a different face

In your wig and robe you sit

But do you really give a shit?

So next time you dismiss me with a wave of your hand

Just think for a second and don’t put your head in the sand

Think of the family you’re about to tear apart

As they lose a family member and a piece of their heart

It’s about what is right and the interest of fairness

I won’t give up until I raise awareness

You may not have meant it, and if it was never your intention

But you condemned me to 6 years of HMP detention

You turn a blind eye as if nothing you did was wrong,

Then you set free a paedo who dressed young boys in a thong

You think you’re the man moving up the ranks

CPS and police give you thanks

All because you wanted to express your power

And ruin my life in just less than half hour

Not a single thought for me as a human being

Or for the family I will no longer be seeing

If you adjourned to get an idea of my life

Or even asked for a comment from my wife

I will speak out and I will end the silence

As I raise awareness of victims of domestic violence

I committed a crime and I did wrong

But 6 years for this was way too long

Probation said suspended sentence and com service I should have had

Then I could still be at home and be a good dad

You allowed the press in without hesitation

With no thought of how they could cause devastation

Things were printed that wasn’t even fact!

 I ended up in prison on a suicide act

I don’t hate you or resent you for sending me to HMP

As I am getting the best help in years and for free

My mental state was a cause for worry

I have plenty of time to get better and I don’t have to hurry

I will prove you wrong when I change my whole life

And be a better dad to my son, and husband to my wife

Take head of my name *Joe Jones*, take a long hard look,

As next time you hear about me I would have written my book

You labelled me a fraudster and a thief

But here in prison I am not judged, such a relief

I am hoping my book will serve to inspire

And stop people harming with razor and wire

The help here is exceptional, better than on the out

They help with mental illness, anxiety and self-doubt

If you need to talk there is always someone there

Dr’s, nurses, officers they all seem to care

I came into prison scared and wanting to end my life

Fed up with stress and all the strife

Now I look back to when my treatment began

The torment, negativity the devil within

I wanted to get it all out, but didn’t know where to begin

I was struggling and panicking and I couldn’t cope

I felt the whole world would be better if I hung myself from a rope

I had to learn to trust adults and that to me was a huge roll of the dice

Yet the answers from counselling have been clear and concise

I won’t forget the day in court

But I will learn life’s lessons and I am happy to be taught

My childhood was a mess and where my problems began

But because you sent me here, I have a chance to become a better man.

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