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Fatherhood behind bars

CALM hears from Safe Ground about Family Man and Fathers Inside, the programmes making a real difference for dads in prison, their kids and their families.

Safe Ground believes people in prison are people; and that the Prison Service is only one of many mechanisms available to address social issues and harms, including crime. We aim to achieve improved relationships for individuals, groups, communities and institutions. We use the arts to create projects that involve, inspire and engage groups of people from different and differing perspectives. We work with people inside prison and in community settings to develop new ways of relating to each other, based on honest communication, self-awareness and the importance of our own and others’ needs.

Here at Safe Ground we are acutely aware of the propensity for self-inflicted harm and death in prison.  The Ministry of Justice figures for the twelve-month period from September 2015 – September 206 make particularly sobering reading: there were 107 self-inflicted deaths across the male estate and 8 in female establishments. This represents a 13% increase on the previous year. Perhaps even more sobering is the number of self-harm incidents, which is recorded as 36,440 – an increase of 26%. MOJ safety in Custody (October 2016).

Whilst we work with both men and women, working with men forms 90% of what we do. As Father’s Day approaches, we want to share some of the work we do with men across the UK.

Our programmes aim to address the complex needs of men in prison whilst supporting the generation of sustainable and positive relationships, which we believe are the key to any human being’s ability to flourish and to maintain a positive sense of wellbeing.

Safe Ground programmes acknowledge and promote the importance of families and social relationships. Our work is about social justice and the impact of criminal activities, harm and violence – our social and policy responses to crime affect us all, regardless of our status as family member, victim or perpetrator, community member, tax payer or citizen.

Our best known programmes, Family Man and Fathers Inside are designed to encourage men to examine the effects of their incarceration, not just on themselves but in terms of the wider ripple effects on family, networks and communities.  In the introduction to her book ‘Masculinities and the Adult Male Prison Experience’, Jennifer A Sloan says of Safe Ground:

Throughout their programmes, consideration has been given as to how to distinguish them from other “interventions”, in that Safe Ground aims to create sustainable performance that can be carried with the men after the intervention is over – it looks to create real attitudinal change in the men.”

***

The extract below was written by Dan Boyden, one of our freelance facilitators currently delivering our Family Man programme in a London prison.

“ We are one month in to a deeply moving delivery of Safe Ground’s Family Man programme in a London prison, working with a group of men inside and with their families on the outside. The other week they came together as a group during the programmes ‘What Next Day’, where external and internal agencies are invited in to provide advice and service offers to the men, alongside their families, thinking about individual and joint action plans for their futures. During this session, the men were the kindest, most gentle versions of themselves.

Safe Ground’s Family Man invites groups of men to step safely and bravely into a new place, looking at their world not solely as a ‘prisoner’; but through the lens of a father, a brother, a son. They are asked to sit right in the middle of their failures and insecurities as men, to share that and to see what they discover about themselves and the world around them in the process. Many of the men know some of the answers already, some of it is not new to them, but as they begin to take off their armour, they allow the possibility of doing and being something different to creep in. It’s transformational for them and for me. I feel privileged to be part of the process.

What strikes me every time I work in prisons is that the lottery of birth means that we don’t all begin on the same starting line. If we do manage to get to scrabble to the same place, then we don’t all have the same fancy running shoes and thermal underwear, or the same number of people coming to cheer us on to get us through the bits where we want to give up, or the same…

All these guys on the course are doing as well as they can with the resources they have available. Our choices are defined by the things we have to lose and the feelings we carry around with us. If we feel shafted and ignored and have felt like that for time, if we feel routinely let down by people in our life and the systems we are in, we’re going to feel pretty broken…. “ (June 2017)

***

Safe Ground has a broad range of statistical, qualitative and officially recognised data as to the impact and effectiveness of their work. Often, it is the partners of participants for whom the changes men go through are the most evident.

“He’s a different person now. He’s realised how his behaviour has affected us, his family. What he’s had from this course is what I’ve been fighting for all his life” – Wife of participant, HMP Parc, 2015

Safe Ground is committed to the idea and practice of social justice; how to create, sustain and develop relationships, institutions and communities in which punishment is not the first response to deviance and in which ‘deviance’ is understood as a response to social norms and expectations for which we all have a responsibility. Whilst it is true some of the people we work with have done some truly horrific things, it is also true that many of the people we work with have experienced horrific things, done some wonderful things and have the capacity, desire and potential for caring, honest, safe relationships. We believe those relationships begin with ourselves and it is all too often true that self harm and self-inflicted death is the result of the hate, shame and vulnerability that people feel unable to express, that is hard to listen to or share appropriately. Safe Ground aims to make space for that to happen more so less lives are lost, damaged and destroyed.

To find out more about the work of Safe Ground click here: http://www.safeground.org.uk/

Related issues

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article or in the comments below, are not those held by CALM or its Trustees unless stated, and liability cannot be accepted for such comments. We encourage friendly and constructive debate, but please don't share personal contact details when commenting and exercise caution when considering any advice offered by others. We don’t allow abusive, offensive or inappropriate comments or comments that could be interpreted as libellous, defamatory or commercial and we will remove these without warning as and when we find them.

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