In his latest recollection of his time as a probation officer, Mike Guilfoyle remembers 'Seth'
Whilst reading Mary Bosworth's excellent study on the criminalisation of migrants and asylum-seekers, Inside Immigration Detention, I was keenly reminded of my supervisory experiences with Seth (not his real name). His period of statutory oversight had, I recall, a number of overlapping orders due to his persistent pattern of low-value offences of dishonesty.
Seth was perhaps one of the most affably charming people who I had supervised and this surface charm seemed well suited to his calculated predations on the businesses he targeted to illegally obtain goods and services.
At one of our initial supervisory meetings we agreed the schedule of appointments and casework tasks that centred on ensuring a proper focus would be on exploring non-offending options ,strengthened by the knowledge that he had demonstrable employment skills (mainly in the hospitality industry).
After one session at the probation office which appeared to go well, and we agreed our next appointment, his mood visibly changed and I sensed that he was almost tearful with apprehension. ‘You, may not know this but they want to kick me out of the country' he said. At the time, although fraught and worrying, the provisions on applications for leave to remain in the country for those within the purview of the criminal justice system would now be deemed as ' Foreign National Offenders' were yet to be more aggressively implemented.
The implications for him, his family and the wider community, of his continued forays into shoplifting and allied offences of dishonest handling had been well explored in supervision and some tentative progress did seem to be paying off. Seth had been in custody after past court appearances and seemed to view this possibility with more alarm in light of what he believed were deportation proceedings.
‘Will you come to visit me at home so you can meet my family?' he implored after one appointment. I arranged to home visit and after some halting attempts to locate his address, and on entry, it was clear that I had arrived at a particularly fraught moment during an argument with one of his teenage children who was not holding back from saying, 'father is always getting into trouble and bringing the police to the address'. It was apparent that the strain on all was palpable and this offered an opportunity to challenge Seth when he minimised his, ‘I only take what no one else wants' attitude.
After some awkward silences I finished the visit with a better appreciation of how the threat of deportation would impact on him. Seth was accessing legal assistance and I contacted his advocate to offer my professional opinion on his largely positive response to supervision and how the deportation would destabilise the family at a time when his older children needed to have their father's support.
Seth's partner seemed a more passive presence and I found it difficult to determine just how the relationship was working in light of such events. The deportation proceedings seemed to recede for a while and it was during this period that Seth made a surprise announcement when at one of his appointments at the office. ‘I will be appearing on television and wanted you to know’. I was more than a little bemused when I realised just what this meant. ‘Do you think it is wise to appear on television’ I asked him, on what was the forerunner of one of the brasher reality TV shows of today? Seth replied ‘Yes, I do, and what's more I want them all to know about my circumstances!’
Undeterred by my mild protestations, that this might prejudice his application to remain in the country, I waited for the programme to air. The presenter (well-known at the time and having had a reasonably enlightened penal reform outlook) introduced Seth. ‘Why do people get into trouble with the Law and how can they be helped to stop?' the presenter enquired. Seth held the floor and was proving to be something of a media hit! Before the programme concluded he was offered a final word, I was more than a little flabbergasted when he uttered, 'Mike Guilfoyle is the best probation officer in the world'. In a knowing side glance to the camera the presenter pointed at Seth!
When we next met for our penultimate supervision, I was unsure just how I might broach the topic without sounding conceited and Seth said, ‘Cheer up Mike, I wasn’t being paid to say that!’
At the end of the order, his deportation status remained unresolved, but his appearance on television (day time!) seemed to pass unnoticed by the Home Office and I sent him a final confirmatory letter.
With new controversially drafted powers to criminalise defendants under the governments drive to deport foreign offenders, I pondered on how Seth might have responded to such a change with or without his prime time guest appearance!
Mike Guilfoyle is a retired probation officer