Today the growth team had their first visitor since we recruited 8 new members. there was a sense of apprehension as we all met in our hut and shuffled papers around, making small talk. The visitor was a lady with 20 years experience of prisons and someone who may show some interest in our project. Exciting!
As the Dep entered the grounds one of the team whispered 'they're coming! Lets put on the kettle'. They entered the hut, a space decorated with photos of the memories and achievements of the men and of the different projects we have completed. We were all a little apprehensive, I'm not sure why, probably because this was a significant opportunity and we wanted to do the project justice! We wanted to articulate our passion for reform and as a group we wanted to highlight how Guys Marsh is evolving. Three of us at the same time, asked the two visitors if they'd like a cuppa, which was declined and we proceeded to all sit down.
The meeting was initiated with a short set of introductions by the men and some information about the project, something they feel is meaningful to them. Then I discussed the how the project was created. I sensed a sudden shift on anxiety fill the room and the team looked at me with surprise on their faces. One of the researchers (a growth project team member) leg started bobbing and I realised this meant something to them. I met his gaze and smiled at him - 'it will be okay' i said in my mind and he nodded as if he heard me say those words to him out loud. The team felt uncomfortable due to the pressure of wanting to impress and because of the hard work we have all contributed. Yet, one by one they spoke from their hearts, each man making strong, thoughtful and well-articulated points to the visitors, overcoming all anxieties. It was the bobbing researchers turn to talk and silence filled the room quickly. He spoke quietly and thoughtfully which encouraged the atmosphere around us to to feel safe and this calmness lead to a rich and heart-felt discussion.
I then sat back from the talking and clocked the fascination on our visitors faces. The Dep had heard the stories several times. He should know it, he has lived it all the way and been by my side from the very beginning. The lady is composed and quiet but her unreserved support and belief in her work filtered through her expressions and reassuring smile. It was clear that this was not new to her. Her comforting words brought a spectrum of emotion into the hut.
I felt overwhelmed with the task ahead, scared that we wanted too much and at the same time, riddled with excitement of what could be achieved. I also felt very hopeful and undeniably proud of the challenge and my team. She spoke to us about the importance of the team being a family. She spoke to the men with complete respect, recognising and acknowledging their worth, hearing their individual voices and seeing them as experts.
The Dep then reflected upon the growth hut, saying it was his favourite place in the prison and he showed real appreciation and confidence in the team. I was then reminded of Margaret Meads quote which says, 'never underestimate what a group of like-minded people can do'. I felt that sincere connection I love so much and our visitors became familiar, as if we had known each other for years.
After about an hour the meeting came to an end and the men reflected excitedly about meeting such as inspirational figure. 'She is just like you! She is just like you!' bounced one of the growth champions. 'We need more people like this on board' shouted another. We were all animated and giggly. I hugged each champion and told them how impressed I was with the professionalism and passion for change. I left the day feeling we can achieve anything. With a small thought in my mind that this feeling would only be temporary, I decided to embrace it, sit with it and enjoy it whilst we could!