Monday, January 15, 2018

UK’s only therapeutic prison, Grendon, put this criminal in touch with his feelings. (THIS is why I read the Guardian)

Why has serial offender Terry Ellis swapped a life of crime to go straight?

A stint at the UK’s only therapeutic prison, Grendon, 
put this criminal in touch with his feelings. 
It’s allowed him to set up a business to help others leaving jail

Ex-offender Terry Ellis
On release from Spring Hill prison last January, Terry Ellis was given a small blue tent to live in. “They actually said, as long as you give us the postcode of the bench you’re going to stay on tonight, that’s all your probation officer needs.” 
It was the third time Ellis had been behind bars. After serving eight and a half years of a 16-year sentence for robbery, at the age of 53 Ellis had spent half his adult life in prison, and understood as well as anyone the revolving door of homelessness, joblessness and incarceration. “Survival kicks in. You’re going to go back to the thing you know. You’re going to go back to selling drugs, you’re going to go back to breaking into gaffs.”
But this time the old ways haven’t kicked in for him. Instead he is establishing a social enterprise which he hopes will generate funds to provide other ex-cons leaving prison with a rent deposit scheme instead of a tent.
Ellis is extraordinarily open, articulate and warm – unexpected qualities, perhaps, in a career criminal, but ones he puts down to a life-changing decision he made early in his last sentence. “My social skills were pretty, you know, criminal. So it was always about ego, bravado, the way you looked. Back in the day you had your role models. My dad was an armed robber, and did life. These guys were my idols. I met three robbers in prison the first time I was in, when they were all in their 30s and 40s. And then I went in this time, and met them again in their 60s and 70s. And they’re never getting out. And I was sitting there and I thought, ‘I’ve really got to change this’.” So he applied to Grendon.
HMP Grendon, in Buckinghamshire, is the only prison in the UK run entirely as a democratic therapeutic community. The prison houses 238 prisoners, who undergo a rigorous programme of daily group therapy, and who in turn each share responsibility for making decisions about the running of the prison. Underpinned by a commitment to democratic values and community ethos, the therapeutic community approach focuses on interpersonal relationships and regulating emotions such as anger.
Prisoners in group therapy at HMP Grendon
‘Grendon houses 238 prisoners, who undergo a rigorous programme of daily group therapy.’ Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian
“They break you down. There is a lot of crying; there is a lot of soul-searching. All the stuff that you’ve been normalising since you were a kid.”

The results are remarkable. Rates of recidivism for those who stay longer than 18 months are significantly lower. Grendon inmates self-harm less than other prisoners, and both offenders and staff report higher levels of wellbeing. By every measure, Grendon is a success story. And yet, in the rest of the prison system it has a reputation for being, as Ellis puts it, “full of rapists, paedophiles, nonces”. When he requested a transfer to Grendon, “Everyone thought I was crazy”.
I’d never talked to people before who had killed their kids, or to rapists or paedophiles. And all of a sudden I was in that environment, and I had to engage. You learn how to talk to people about things that you never really speak about. When you’re a criminal you’ve got your guard up. But in Grendon, you learn how to say things you genuinely feel.”
Ellis spent more than two years there. “When I left, I don’t think I realised how much I’d actually learned.”
Ellis’s transformation is instructive at a time when the justice system is quietly imploding. A slew of “transforming rehabilitation” reforms between 2014 and 2016 have privatised much of the resettlement and probation systems: a new private sector of community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) now supervise the majority of those leaving prison, often with negligible impact on reducing reoffending rates.
At the same time, the government is planning to invest £1.3bn to build up to 10,000 new adult prison places over the next four years, despite prison staff shortages. Ellis spent the last portion of his sentence in HMP Spring Hill, a resettlement prison next door to Grendon designed to help prisoners arrange housing and work for after release. “From the minute I got there I was asking, ‘what’s the housing situation like?’” He says the CRC is supposed to rehouse people, or get them somewhere to live, but a shortage of suitable housing or private landlords willing to rent to ex-offenders makes this impossible.
Ellis is now living in the spare room of an ex-girlfriend and working on Sealing Futures, a social enterprise he plans to fund by marketing an environmentally friendly reusable envelope. “Business-to-business use about 850,000 envelopes a day. If they used the Resendvelope, you could potentially cut down on 193m envelopes a year. It’s a simple concept. We want to get the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, interested, and colleges and councils interested.”

The Resendvelope was designed by Ellis’s friend Darryl, who has bipolar disorder and is still serving the last 12 months of his sentence. “We’re hoping that if we can get this off the ground in the next 12 months, we can get him a rent deposit so that he has somewhere to live when he gets out. Because unless you’ve got somewhere to live, you’ve got no respect, you’ve got no security.”

Curriculum vitae
Age: 53.
Family: Three daughters, two sons.
Lives: Camden, north London.
Education: Sir William Collins school, Camden.
Career: 2017-present: director, Sealing Futures social enterprise; 2017-present: running educational workshops steering young people away from crime; 1981-2009: career criminal (with three stints in prison).
Interests: Bike riding, gym, yoga, long walks, helping out at the local food bank, and a new life at church.