Recently reading a critical appraisal of some of the predictable shortcomings of the government’s Transformation Rehabilitation reforms, and its botched attempts to offer better resettlement openings for released prisoners, reminded me of my supervisory contact with Tommaso (not his real name) when working as a field probation officer.
I recall our first meeting occurred in the less than congenial surrounds of a derelict shop front as I was walking towards the Probation Office. Sensing that he was en route to his appointment but had taken shelter from a passing rainstorm, I broached the conversation with 'Are you Tommaso?'. 'Si', he replied, followed by some jumbled words. It was clear to me that an interpreter was required and I arranged for one to be present at our planned interview.
The cumulative ravages of drug use and his chaotic lifestyle, compounded by homelessness, were etched on his face but once inside the office there was a greater brio to his outpourings. The presence of an interpreter, with an avuncular disposition, helped to set into some biographical context Tommaso’s troubled background. This included his 'forced' move abroad and his current unsettled lifestyle which had resulted in statutory supervision for a string of petty thefts occasioned by the need for heroin.
One of the casework challenges was his lack of fixed accommodation, which meant reporting requirements (weekly contact being the norm), would dictate some flexibility to ensure that connected interventions were tailored to Tommaso's circumstances and ongoing drug dependency.
At the point at which he was sentenced he was linked into a number of community-based organisations that offered support and assistance to dispersed members of his emigrant community in London. In particular, a much used resource in East London with an energetic and charismatic Pastor, whose commitment to assisting in rehabilitative endeavours meant that Tommaso had at least a culturally sensitive refuge at times when he was on the streets.
After some arduous bureaucratic attempts to secure short stay accommodation closer to the Probation Office, he was admitted to a hostel in a neighbouring borough (at the time dubbed the largest of its kind in Europe). We met there for a three-way meeting with his keyworker (interpreter on hand) to assess his progress.
I sensed that Tommaso was struggling to adjust to his new environment (which before its refurbishment had an unnervingly Orwellian ambience), and he was hinting that he might 'move on' to an unspecified address. I was notified that his place had been withdrawn as he vacated his room and for a while contact was lost. Breach proceedings were set in motion. The interpreter went well beyond any contractual obligation and managed to find Tommaso using his extensive network of contacts in the community before any court date had been actioned.
But before any formal withdrawal of pending breach action arrangements were made, again through the assistance of the interpreter, for Tommaso to renew contact and we agreed to meet at a venue close to the aforementioned hostel. Although I was confident enough to believe that the appointment would be kept, it was unclear how he was coping without access to drug agency intervention and a ready source of income.
I remember thinking that it would be naive to imagine that some of Tommaso's resilient re-engagement to his 12 month probation order was not funded by some 'shady dealings' - 'affari loschi' as the interpreter would knowingly utter. He pitched up at the coffee bar for his final formal appointment, opting to conclude the period of supervision in a more 'continental' manner. Tommaso had been prescribed a methadone reduction script and was living with a 'friend' whose identity remained unknown but offered some measured stability. He had not (to the best of my knowledge!), been convicted of another offence and recorded his appreciation for the rehabilitative opportunities afforded him - the flexible reporting regime and the supportive casework relationship - fostered in part by the remarkable assistance of the interpreter.
At the point when we were about to leave the cafe a sudden downpour held up our departure for several minutes, although this time far from dampening the occasion Tommaso opined in broken English patting his chest, 'Weather...London...never change...me…Si Si!
Mike Guilfoyle is a retired probation officer