Steve Robertson (Dep Governor of HMP Guys Marsh) and myself were fortunate enough to present the Growth Project at the Criminal Justice Management Conference last month. This was the first time we have discussed the Growth Project to a public audience and naturally there were feelings of apprehension and excitement. It was difficult to gauge how the audience may respond to the project-a project inspired by Norwegian philosophy and applied sensitively to an English context.
As we arrived at the venue, the energy was positive and my reassurance came from having Steve by my side. Steve remains one of the most exceptional people I have worked with. His passion, commitment and dedication to rehabilitation makes him strong and inspirational, particularly when things get tough. He has been my rock over the past two years and with such a huge heart, our friendship has grown alongside the prison. Our relationship has experienced tears and repairs along the way, but we have never doubted our dedication to prison reform and making prisons meaningful and humane.
We had practised the Conference presentation to a group of staff and prisoners the day before the Conference and my advice from my team of residents were; “just don’t swear or cry Sarah”. “Easier said than done”, I said! I can pretty much manage the swearing within professional contexts (most of the time) but the constant fear of crying every time I talk about prison reform is getting a little out of hand. This negotiation between pain and love in prison ultimately results in tears and I am OK with that- it reminds me that it matters and people matter…I just wish I didn’t do it every time I think of prison! It is fucking exhausting!
As I stand next to my awesome friend, listening to his powerful account of our story, I suddenly experience a stillness and ease, with not a tear to be felt. We are ready to share this, I thought. We fundamentally believe it is the right thing to do. To be humane, to be compassionate, to learn and act. To keep going and above all this, to have hope.
We called for connection, to work together as a collective and as our talk came to a close, people congregated at the steps of the stage. As we walked into the group of individuals and listened to words of reassurance and support, it brought to my mind Maruna’s words, as he describes the importance of “injections of hope” within penal practice. I see Steve embrace an attendee from the conference out of the corner of my eye and feel an atmosphere build that is warm and positive. This feeling reminds me of Norway, of BastØy prison. I will keep it in my pocket for the darker moments, because let’s face it, we will need it.