Putting your past behind you

Mike Guilfoyle
Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Finding the time to dip into esoteric criminal justice journals can be somewhat challenging, but lighting upon the angry prose of committed scholarship makes the effort of trying so much easier. 

Such was my initial reaction to reading some of the writings of the American academic Ruth Wilson Gilmore, the noted prison abolitionist and prison scholar, whose timely insight on racial injustices in US policing is well-captured in a quote from one of her podcasts, that as Black Lives Matter said so poignantly: "When Black lives matter, everybody lives better."

This put me in mind of my brief but memorable supervisory contact with Jadyn (not his real name) who, having served a short prison sentence for offences of dishonesty, reported to the probation office on a particularly cold winter morning. This initial encounter was hardly improved when the heating in the office went off and after a brisk but brief introduction we agreed on a follow-up appointment in a week's time.

When the appointment time arrived, Jadyn did not attend. I then received a hurried telephone call from him stating that he had moved to a friend's address and that his partner would be coming to the probation office to update me on how things had been going since his release. Somewhat bemused, I recorded this as an acceptable absence and awaited the promised office visit with measured resignation.

A few days had elapsed when the keenly attuned office receptionist somewhat breathlessly rang me to explain that Jadyn's partner was in the reception area, adding that she looked like someone off TV.  I made my way to the interview room without my usual keen expectation, not least because initiating a transfer of supervision on licence had proved something of a bureaucratic headache in other cases I had supervised.

When I met Jadyn's partner, I sensed a degree of familiarity but contained any obvious professional curiosity, allowing her the opportunity to outline how Jadyn's circumstances had resulted in his abrupt change of address. One of the first troubling aspects of his situation post-release which was drawn to my attention was an unscheduled house call from the local police. At this meeting, it appeared that some 'racial epithets' were exchanged and Jadyn had been 'manhandled' but was not, it appeared, arrested.

I enquired further as to the basis for the police's interest in attending Jadyn's address. It soon became apparent that living in a multi-occupancy building with some of the other residents already known to the police, coupled with his recent release from prison and 'uncooperative' manner resulted in what she described as 'just plain racist policing'. Would she be prepared to offer him accommodation, I mooted? Her hesitancy suggested that their relationship needed time to recover from the fractured separation of a custodial sentence: "I want to help him get his life back on track Mike, but need more time to get to know him and trust him again."

At this point in the interview, she opened up about her own personal struggles with enforced separation and her sudden fame as a singer in a well known seventies pop group. I struggled a little to deal with the mild incongruity of listening to someone, whose tuneful melodies suddenly started to play in my head, imagining a particular popular song that brought to mind the lively Kazachok dance, named in the lyrics of one such hit single! But she remained remarkably courteous and modest about her stellar singing career. Wanting most, she noted to be fully supportive of Jadyn making a success of his life. I then reflected that I had spent more time with her than with Jadyn at that point in his supervision! "I will keep in touch with you and do let Jadyn know that if he puts his "bad" past behind him, he has the chance of the relationship working".

When Jadyn next reported to the probation office, his demeanour and outlook were worryingly unfocussed. He was very uncommunicative and struggled to articulate what he described as 'his troubles'. I passed on the positive sentiments from his partner and tried to make sense, without some honest disclosure of the genesis of his sudden change in circumstances, as to how supervision might better assist in his effective resettlement. I managed to elicit some elements of what were then ailing him, namely, unspecified 'unpaid debts' and an outstanding arrest warrant which had not been executed prior to his sentence at the Crown Court. This fitted into the earlier narrative around 'unwanted' police attention, I mused.

The priority at that moment in time was dealing with the warrant and I encouraged Jadyn to contact his solicitor as a matter of urgency to avoid a remand in custody which might well trigger a recall to prison. Until this was dealt with, transfer of licence supervision would have to be stayed. I agreed to contact his advocate with whom I had a healthy professional regard for from my time in the local court setting. The warrant was later withdrawn. It seemed to have been unfairly (maybe illegally?) executed as a ploy for the police to enlist Jadyn as a potential informer and such bad debts as had been referenced at the outset of supervision had by now been sorted.

When transfer of supervision was eventually completed and Jadyn had settled into what he described as a 'suburban' setting with his partner, I received a surprisingly joyful telephone call from her: "Mike, I have decided to give Jadyn another chance and the relationship is going well, but with so little left in royalties I may be performing again, so prepare to dig out your discarded disco shoes."

Mike Guilfoyle is a retired probation worker