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  • Institutions 13 August 2018 | Comments (0)

    13th August 2018 | By David Jolley

    This week I went to Stafford Gaol. It was always Stafford Jail when I was at school, but the alternative spelling seems to have become the fashion. No clues from Chamber’s for why and wherefore. I had learned it houses nearly 800 male sex offenders. There has been a prison at Stafford – county town – since the 12th Century and the current building has parts which date from the 1790s. Oddly it was ‘mothballed’ between the wars but brought back into commission and took on its current role from 2014.

    There is a small carpark opposite the main entrance. The entrance is as seen on many TV programmes – entry via an intercom to a bare-floored vestibule with no seats but access to the uniformed, male receptionist through a grill. Items such as a mobile phone to be stored in a locker – key number against a register. I was expected and welcomed, then ushered via a locked door to await collection in another barely furnished room. Here there were seats and two cheerful, uniformed, female cleaners. In the ten minutes I was waiting, any number of uniformed people came in one door and of the other – every opening and closing requiring noisy key work from the noisy doors and locks. No use of electronics or keypads here – an almost fond confirmation of belonging and status from the routine.

    Jo – the senior chaplain – is so nice and we breezed through courtyards and doors, greeting men who were pleased to be recognised, admiring flowerbeds and appreciating the geometric beauty of three or four storey buildings, and exquisitely polished wooden doors (would this be rosewood?) on the corridor through the main building. Jo and her colleagues have offices and there is an impressive chapel – a very high vaulted ceiling, some stained glass windows and rows of chairs – Sunday services bring about 80 attenders. I learned about the work of the chaplaincy and the international context which has brought so many older men to gaol for offences committed many years ago. We read much of those who were famous in entertainment, and ongoing stories of churchmen, scout-leaders, football coaches and more, who took advantage of positions of trust. It is so saddening to find that good works have, in some instances, been motivated by illicit desires. For others chance temptation has been too much. There is a range and a mix – I did not hear how far the details are known or discussed.

    Jo is at pains to emphasise that the punishment is the loss of freedom and that life within the gaol is not to be characterised by a punitive regime of food, physical facilities or activity. Plucking oakum is not part of the schedule https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oakum

    Most of our time was devoted to the day centre available to older prisoners – Monday to Friday, run by a ‘residents’ committee which has monthly meetings with the Governor. There is a range of craft and hobby activities, newspapers when the library has finished with them, and open access to a garden/yard where the men can spend time and tend their plants. It is a place where everyone is respected as a human being. There are counsellors. The chaplains make clear they are not professional counsellors, but they are good listeners and do have a code to share and recommend.

    We were able to see a cell. Cosy for one, but overcrowded for two. One bed is an upstairs bunk – you have to be able to get there. CQC would not find this acceptable in a care home.

    I have experienced, and liked, institutions throughout my life: schools, churches, colleges, mental hospitals, general hospitals and care homes, but this is my first prison. I have rarely been a ‘resident’ – just a few days in hospital to have my tonsils out aged about six and another few days in a general hospital dealing with a heart problems fifteen years ago. I did not like either very much, but friendship with others in the same boat and sensible care from nurses and others, punctuated by family visits, not to mention the expectation of return home, made the experience not so bad. My involvement in longer term care contexts has been as a professional who pops in for a while. Albert Kushlick coined a nomenclature which graded doctors as the briefest of carers, qualified nurses as next and unqualified or informal carers as 24 hour supports. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/09638288009163968?needAccess=true&journalCode=idre18

    I have tremendous respect for those who give hands-on ever-present care in all these situations and for the management regimes which seek to make the life tolerable, even educational and therapeutic. Respect too for the residents who strive to maintain their individuality, standards and humour in these most dehumanising circumstances.

    I was touched and impressed by this experience of a brief visit to Stafford Gaol. Visiting on behalf of Christians on Ageing and seeing the life with the benefit of a chaplain’s perspective, it felt certain that physical health, mental health and the social prospects of the residents are being considered and respected, though people would want to do better. As for spiritual matters – a brief intrusion such as this is not the vehicle for discovery – but later life is the time for everyone to reflect and revise personal beliefs and values. The setting and the staff are making space and time, moderating as far as possible the distraction which can come from pain and punishment. There must be stories which can be told – We have much to learn.

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    6th August 2018 | By David Jolley

    The week ahead includes a visit to Stafford Prison. I am going as part of an initiative by Christians on Ageing who have been keen to discover if there any ways in which we can be helpful to older people in prison or those who are responsible for their welfare. This is a potentially important area of work as the number of people over 60 years of age has tripled in 15 years and there are now more than 14,000 prisoners aged over 50 years.

    My approach was welcomed by the lady who acts as chaplain to the prison but I am a bit apprehensive about what I will find and how such a visit will be received. Johnny Cash’s concert at Folsom Prison is a favourite and shows him to have been very well received – But he was bringing entertainment with his singing, and he was going as someone who had spent time in jail himself and made clear the felt an affinity for their circumstances.

    I am interested to listen and learn. Colleagues at the PSSRU in Manchester have researched the social needs of older prisoners https://academic.oup.com/bjsw/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/bjsw/bcx115/4568986 and there is a growing literature on the health needs, including psychiatric morbidity of this group and their families. https://www.ppo.gov.uk/prison-service-needs-strategy-to-deal-with-growing-numbers-of-older-prisoners-says-ombudsman/ This is not a phenomenon which is unique to the UK – studies in the USA have included a review of faith and spirituality amongst older prisoners and found that the presence of faith and involvement in religious meetings and activities is associate with better mental well-being. https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/48/5/692/625313

    My understanding is that the numbers have swollen by survival of long-term and ‘lifer’ prisoners and by the incarceration of some older people for crimes of sexual misuse committed many years ago but only recently brought to the courts. Both might have time to reflect on great themes and the mysteries of life. I know there are some opportunities to be involved with educational courses www.prisonerseducation.org.uk/. Studies suggest that maintain links with family may not be possible for some and there must be anxieties about what life can be like when leaving prison after such a dislocation. We do hear of people coming to faith during time in prison. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/oct/26/religion-prisonsandprobation.

    This is generally seen to be a good thing and gives hope for a better future. On the other hand ‘radicalisation’ of vulnerable and impressionable individuals in the name of a faith is recognised to be a danger. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/01/new-counter-extremism-taskforce-tackle-poisonous-repugnant-radicalisation/

    From a person perspective and from the context of Christians on Ageing, this will be a learning experience with a mind as open as I can keep it.

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    31st July 2018 | By David Jolley

    Thursday afternoons we have been running a Pop In at a local Methodist Church for anyone who wants to join us for tea, cake and time to talk of this and that. Latterly we have introduced a quiz and regular celebration of birthdays.

    Who comes? Usually a mix of older people plus a group from the nearby disability centre. It works well. Previous years have seen a break through the last weeks of July and August. This year we decided to carry on – Why close down what if one of the few organised activities available in the village? The disability group had already arranged trips away but for the rest, Thursdays were still open.

    So we gathered our cakes, eclairs, egg custards, strawberries, bananas, tea etc and put together a different sort of quiz. It was more difficult to park than usual – and the little church was flooded with teenagers – This was Team 6 of the local National Citizens Service project. www.ncsefltrust.co.uk/

    We have Team 10 working with us on the park – but I had not known about Team 6. What is their project – The team of 15 plus are preparing for a cake sale, which will be held at another small church nearby on Monday next. The proceeds will be used to sponsor a Garden Party for residents at a MHA Care Home for older people, with any extra to be donated for Music Therapy for people with dementia. Now all that is close to our hearts, but it emerged that the productive tangle of connections is even more entwined:

    Under the circumstances it was not possible to run the Pop In – so I sat at the door to repel would-be attenders. Millicent came along on her disability scooter. She was disappointed but glad for a chat – and she met Katie from Team 6 who was rehearsing the words she will say to the ‘Dragons’ Den’ in arguing for funds for the project. They both enjoyed this and Millicent will be at the cake sale on Monday and will tell her friends about it. David brought along Jocelyn and Annabel – David is a driver and J and A live in the MHA care home where the Garden Party is planned – so they are all in the know now. They will be there and will encourage others and families to know about it. Robert is usually a bit late – and so he was – But he is reliable and came with his carer. Again they were disappointed not to have our Pop In – but glad enough to have had an outing and to learn the news, pass it on, and will be there on Monday.

    In these times it is wonderful to know that such innocent good work is going on – connected locally- and with every turn being aimed to improve understanding and care.

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    25th July 2018 | By David Jolley

    Professor Dawn Brooker has been kind enough to organise an occasional series of lectures at Worcester University in my name over recent years. Lectures have been delivered by Alistair Burns, John Killick, Barbara Poynton, David Challis and Cathy Greenblatt – all addressing topics for which they are recognised as international experts. This week’s lecturer was my friend and colleague Dr Claire Hilton who introduced the assembly to the story of Barbara Robb – A story I have referred to in these blogs previously because it is so wonderfully brought to light by Claire’s PhD and recently published book www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783319548128 and because Barbara Robb’s work was conducted in association with heroes of my personal journey – Drs Russell Barton and Tony Whitehead. 

    Making full use of the trip to Worcester, Claire had visited the site of Powick Hospital during the morning. Powick was celebrated for its innovations in care https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powick_Hospital and played a big part in sharing with a bewildered and unbelieving wider world, the conditions in which patients lived out their lives www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzjeBaBFWqw


    I found myself reflecting on the smaller St Wulstan’s Hospital https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=1977-03-23a.1419.0 whose medical Superintendent Dr Morgan came to Manchester to describe his work amongst patients with long-term mental disorders who had spent many years in hospital. Like Eugen Bleuler, who had described his life to an audience at the Maudsley Hospital, he lived as part of the community which was the hospital and grew close to the resident patients and their families, gaining a special understanding and empathy for their condition and circumstances. Dr Morgan and his nursing colleague A.J Cheadle wrote a series of papers describing their work and its successes by enlightened use of work and other engaging activities in unlocking people’s potential from the grip of psychosis and institutionalisation https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/156d/c207f430b401071e5ba69a5786811ec6c9f9.pdf

    I had seen and been impressed by similar approaches at Severalls Hospital with Russell Barton, and later by Cheadle Royal Industries and Don Early in Bristol. The good news of St Wulstan’s was set aside in the surge to close mental hospitals. On balance this has to have been right, but the loss of identification of and with people with severe long-term illnesses and investment in therapeutic sheltered work is a source of shame which should be recognised and acted on.

    Like me, dawn began her career in mental hospitals and has contributed to the changes which have drawn a wider and richer community of professional to work with people with dementia and other mental disorders. It was lovely to see and hear her talk with such enthusiasm of the project to encourage the development and support of meeting centres www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13607863.2016.1258540 something which I would like to do in Trafford and Greater Manchester. Wonderful too has been the insights by which teaching about dementia in schools can lead to understanding amongst parents and other members of family http://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar_url?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.worc.ac.uk%2Fdocuments%2FSchools_Evaluation_Final_Report.pdf&hl=en&sa=T&oi=ggp&ct=res&cd=3&d=972939890011961971&ei=hTNUW9m2LYOImgHtwKb4DQ&scisig=AAGBfm2cQbdh_-0fcWu-fidv7o295PLO8Q&nossl=1&ws=1280x899

    A week about and with people who care and are close to their work. This is the power which delivers.

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