Kenneth Brown, 44, spent his childhood in and out of care and has lived just a few months of his adult life outside the walls of a prison. An opportunist burglar and career thief, he has visited almost every one of the 140 prisons in England and Wales.So, you can’t say he hasn’t achieved something in his life…
His behaviour has become so institutionalised that unless something radical happens, the second half of his life will follow the same course as the first.But it seems Kenneth lacks something. Self control:
On each occasion Kenneth has been released from prison, he promises himself he will never go back.
“When they let me out of the gates, I always say the same thing: It’s going to be different this time. I’m going to stay legal. I never want to go back.”And that encapsulates the utter failure of this man’s life. He knows the inevitable outcome, but is unable to prevent himself from actions that will have drastic consequences.
But the path to rehabilitation is rarely smooth. “They give me my £46 release money and a travel permit. And I sit there on the train to London, saying to myself I can’t go back. Then the trolley arrives and the bloke asks me whether I want anything.”
By the time the train pulls into the London terminus Kenneth’s good intentions are four sheets to the wind. Separated from a hefty chunk of his release money, Kenneth is usually fretting that his probation officer will smell alcohol on his breath only hours after winning his freedom.
“I know it’ll be bad if he smells alcohol on my breath, so I probably don’t bother turning up for the meeting.”
He almost certainly isn’t classed as ‘learning disabled’, in the medical sense of the word, but what else would you call him?
The probation service has little choice but to alert the police and, inevitably, Kenneth is recalled to prison for breaching his licence.‘Little choice’..? It’s their job!
It isn’t the fault of the prison service or probation service or police that Kenneth is apparently as incapable of fending for himself as a newly-released zoo animal.
It’s (possibly) not even entirely Kenneth’s fault…
Even if he makes it to the probation office, resources are so stretched that there is little they can do to sort out his more pressing needs, including food and accommodation.What’s the other option, realistically?
Kenneth usually ends up sleeping rough on the street or under a bridge. Within days he will have spent his £46 and drawn closer to nefarious means of survival. One way or another Kenneth ends up back in prison.
But today is different and he won’t have to worry about the temptations of the railway buffet trolley: he is being met at the prison gates by George Tanimowo, 42. George has driven from London to Wayland Prison in Thetford, Norfolk, where after signing the release papers he leads Kenneth to his car.George is a volunteer worker for the St Giles Trust, a resettlement charity dealing with offenders.
Kenneth says it is the first time anyone has taken an interest in his life outside prison. He is in good hands.
And also an ex-con himself:
George served a prison sentence for fraud involving the purchase of plane tickets for illegal immigrants. He was only convicted of playing a minor role in the scam but candidly admits he was stupid and says that the shock of prison helped him to turn his life around.And that’s the crucial difference between George and Kenneth.
George can learn. Kenneth apparently can not. George has self control. Kenneth apparently does not.
And even when he shows a brief flash of some self-control, the system (in the form of George) paints a picture of life as out to ‘get’ him which can only help to reinforce his learned helplessness:
Outside the probation office, while George has gone to get his car, Kenneth is approached by a man who wants to sell him a very cheap Rolex watch.An undercover policeman? Seriously? They’d have time for this penny ante stuff?
He resists the advances of the man and tells George about the offer.
“I’m pleased he didn’t take the bait. For all he knows the man could have been an undercover policeman and Kenneth would have been straight back in prison.”
It’s laughable, but presenting the world as out to ‘get’ Kenneth perhaps isn’t the best way to help him…
Robert Owen, chief executive of the London based St Giles Trust, knows that the value of the work done by Colin and George is measured in more than just personal terms. “The people we work with are some of the most disadvantaged in society. An independent study has shown that the prisoners we work with have a re-offending rate 40% lower than the national re-offending rate. Investment in this work carries far more value than what people get up to in the city.”We should spend money on ex-cons (and ex-con charities) rather than on the hub of our banking economy?
Well, OK, then. I’m sure you can sell that to the public, Robert…
If the Trust and other groups like, which all work closely with the Probation Service, were given more funds it would be possible to offer every offender leaving prison a new lifeline. The potential savings for the economy are enormous.But perhaps that’s money well spent? You see, we seem to have two sorts of offenders here, represented by Kenneth and George. One redeemable, one less so.
The annual cost of convicting and keeping someone like Kenneth in prison each year is £126,000 and the estimated total annual cost of re-offending is £11 billion.
Should we not concentrate on identifying the former and assisting them, rather squander money willy-nilly on all offenders?
Labour and the Conservatives believe jailing more and more criminals is a necessary evil and are committed to building more and prisons.Let’s turn that around.
All this is news to Kenneth who, even a few hours after his release, is unaware that Brtain is in the grip of the most exciting election for many years. How is Kenneth planning to use his vote? "Why would I vote. What has anybody done for me? What have politicians ever done for people like me?"
What have you ever done for yourself, Kenneth, or for society? Why do you imagine that you can't take control of your life, like George did?