Tag Archives: community projects

September 21st 2011 – Cleaning steps with the nice guy

25 Sep

So week three and everything starts much the same way, except that up until now I have only seen males serving community service and today there were three women there too.

We still don’t leave the place until after 10am and once again I have a different supervisor a guy in his early 60s who seems remarkably upbeat. We all jump in a van and take off towards another mystery destination. One of the guys in the group asks a question that I wish I’d felt comfortable enough to ask: “Why do we have to sit around and wait an hour in the morning before we set off?”

The supervising officer laughed and said that, “10am was quick and most days you could expect not to leave before 11am”. He then told us that it’s because every morning they don’t know exactly who will turn up, and then once they are sure that everyone who is coming is there, they then have to put us into groups. Some people can’t do heavy lifting or can’t work in dusty places due to allergies etc, so everybody’s paperwork has to be gone through and matched up with whichever jobs are on the cards for that day.  This to me does seem like a rather long-winded system of doing things but, with the minimal information I have about the systems running behind the scenes here, it would be impossible for me to suggest how things could be improved, but I’m sure that with a bit of thought they probably could.

I had noticed that no tools had been put in the van before we had departed and was quietly quizzing myself as to what I thought we might be doing today. We show up at a small car park with flats on one side and a row of steel shutters on the other. We walk over to one shutter and our supervisor opens it. It appears to be some kind of field station with a table, chairs, and then around the outside of the room spades, shovels, folks, rakes, and brushes. We sit down and the kettle is put on as conversations about football and z-list celebrities bounce around the room, as do copies of The Star and The Sun. At this point I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but even in light, shallow conversation, today’s supervising officer not only doesn’t talk down to any of us but is rather friendly and even compassionate about our situation. It becomes apparent to me later why this is, and I shall explain later, but needless to say it would seem he has been doing this job for a long time and up until now is the only member of staff that I feel happy to be around.

After a while we drink up, load the van and set off again. In a few minutes we get to a wooded area and get out. We are led to some steps leading up to a footpath and told that all the mud and soil that has clearly been collecting on the steps for a while needs to be shoveled up and cleared. So we set to work. Interestingly, our supervising officer – who I am growing quite fond of – picks up a shovel and works along side us. In the previous two weeks I have been hawked over by chain-smoking officers looking grumpy but today this guy is whistling and getting stuck in. After a while, I start asking him about this supposed privatisation of the probation trust and he tells me quite openly that it’s already started and the switch over is slowly happening. He goes off on a rant about work load increase and pay freezing for all staff except his boss and one other manager, who are both lessening their responsibilities whilst receiving a healthy pay rise.  It is interesting, although not surprising to me, to find what I hadn’t previously thought of as a company would still have your standard, poorly-run-company problems. After an hour or so he stopped us told us we’d done a good job, thanked us and we jumped back in the van to go have lunch. The conversation had now turned to the subject of cannabis and the sentencing laws around it. One guy who had been to jail for dealing was serving a community order now for dealing again was very happy to admit he was still dealing now,how much he had at his house and would anybody like to buy some from him. This was all said  in front of out community officer who sat there completely unbothered by the conversation.  Another guy took his phone number and agreed on an ounce of blueberry skunk to be dropped off at his address on Friday night. Here I thought is some more proof that getting people to do unpaid work isn’t a deterrent to reoffend. It turned out later again in light conversation that two guys in the group had been in an out of probation since they were 16 and 14. Once again I can’t see how getting them to clear soil from steps would be of greater benefit than educating them! This guy didn’t finish school and openly says he deals because he can’t buy “all the nice shit I want” on dole money so I make the rest up selling weed. He now has been to prison and probably will again because its either risk that or live poor. He could earn at least as much money a week being a plumber without the risk of jail if he were given some incentive or support to do so. I maybe wrong about all this and I am still new to the whole community service thing and I haven’t experience nearly enough to damn the whole process and say it doesn’t work but this early on and that is really how it appears to me.

During lunch I talk to a 6ft4 black guy with size 13 feet about what he’s here for. He had already struck me earlier as being a bright guy and it turned out he was much more than that. This is a guy sentence to 200 hours community service for vandalism that he maintains he did not do, but in his spare time runs a youth club and mentors inner city kids. As he talks about his work (that he does for free) the passion and sense of importance comes flooding out. This is a guy who cares about what kids are doing with their future he’s talking to them as people and helping them find the right path but here he is now sat opposite me in a probation field office between a guy who was driving drunk whilst disqualified and another feller who punched his wife in the face. There are clearly a lot of different characters who end up here and I don’t think we should all get lumped in together. Some need the education or skills giving to them, some yes could clean some steps in a wood but people like this guy have precious skills that he is already giving to the community. The work he does in a month would outweigh one thousand hours of community service as actual service to the community. We head back after lunch to do some more work on the steps and clear some of the path at the top. One guy finds an old dilapidated bandstand which we discover you can get into round that back and is full of cider bottles, make shift crack pipes hundreds and hundreds of used needles and a burnt out motorcycle. Our probation officer makes a note and tell us he’s call the council and report it as a site to clean and them possibly remove.

We leave at about 3pm to go back at wait at the main building until we can leave. Once again we’ve only done 3 or 4 hours of actual work but I am signed off as apparently working 7.15 hours today. At least the work seemed like we’d actually accomplished something however slight. Oh yeah I forgot to mention why our probation officer seemed to treat us as equals. It turned out he use to be a policeman. He had witnessed the police be deliberately heavy handed towards suspects, he had seem innocent people stopped and harassed by his collogues for there race or appearance. He once witnessed a fellow officer strike a deal with a known drug dealer that instead of arresting him he should recruit some young idiot a week to sell some weed for him and then call the officer  with his address to make the arrest so the main dealer was safe and the police officer’s record looked brilliant. He said criminals and scum bags live on both side of the law and he didn’t want to be part of it so he came here to give some sort of encouragement to some of the people who had ended up in a situation they didn’t want or in some cases ask for. He told me his boss was an idiot and the place was run badly but that he felt a certain level of duty towards the convicted that ended up here. I’m not entirely sure why he feels this. I imagine that most of the people here knowingly broke the law but it is reassuring that there is at least one guy here that actually wants to help in some capacity rather than just punish.


September 7th 2011 – Weeding an old peoples home

20 Sep

I had been given a date to go see my probation officer who ended up not being there when I arrived for my meeting and so was met by someone else who spent half an hour getting me to sign forms and then arranged my first day of unpaid work which would be September 7th. I was told that I should arrive at 9am and stand round the back.

I arrived at 9am to a small crowd of adidas and knock off burberry not the usual crowd I would stand around with if I’m honest. At 9:15am we are lead into a waiting room where we give our names pick up so old stinking steel toecap boot and then wait. All everyone is talking about is how many hours they each have left to serve and how much they hate doing this every week. After about 45 minutes we are finally put into small groups of between 6 and 8 and then handed orange jackets with “Community payback” written in big letters on the back.  It is impossible not to feel like a lesser person when in this situation. I couldn’t believe hat woodcarving had landed me in what felt like a school detention. Being talked down to as if you were a complete idiot. It made me feel quite angry. Why should my supposed crime make me a moron? Just because I somehow ran afoul of the law does that automatically mean I’m an uneducated delinquent? Steven Fry went to jail and he’s a nation treasure! Anyway all this aside we are then piled into vans laden with tools and we’re on the road. At this point none of us know what it is we’re going to be doing or where. We arrive half an hour later (about 10:30am) at an old people home we unload the van and then are walked around to a little staff area where we are given tea and aloud to smoke if we so wish. Here we sit with our one community officers who is also drinking tea and reading the Sun for another half an hour. We finally start work just after 11am. The officer is pretty vague about what it is the 8 of us are supposed to be doing. “Get rid of weed and that” is the only real direction we are given. So I get on my hands and knees and start pulling up the unwanted flora. One young guy has already lost interest and is idly hacking at an old tree with a set of garden shears. One or two of the other lads seem to be working relatively hard and everyone else just seems to be stood staring into space. Then it starts to rain. Not heavily just a light spit and instantly all tools are dropped without as much as a word said and everyone heads back for the staff room. I kneel up to see the community officer gesturing to me to follow. I do and we sit inside for another hour drinking tea while the light rain passes (it is at this point interesting to note that the light rain that obviously was unworkable in didn’t stop anyone including the officer from going outside for a smoke). We go back outside and carry on for about 20 minutes before it is apparently time for lunch. So back inside for another hour to eat the food we have been told to bring with us and also the home made soup that the people at the old folks home have made for us. At just after 1pm we head back outside to do some more work. So far even with 8 people it’s impossible to see if any work has actually been done at all. We carry on as before for about another hour when suddenly there is a yelp from over by a bush after the commotion has settled it is apparent that one man has upset a bee’s nest and has been stung twice on the back of the head. He is told to sit down which he does for 10 minutes or so before a decisions is made that he must be taken to hospital so we all pack up the van leave all the dug up weed all over the ground so that in fact the old people home looks in a worse state than it did when we arrived and head for the general infirmary.  Some people get dropped off near there houses on the way to hospital but are told that they will not be able to count an hour or so as worked if they don’t stay, this doesn’t seem to stop many of them so most leave. We get to the hospital and the man goes in three of us and the officer sit in the van and wait when it get to 3:50pm we are told we can go and given a little green slip to say we have done 7.15 hours work for the community. Hang on a minute! How is that right we have done barely 3 hours work and in those 3 hours actually made the place look worse. I walk home feeling perplexed and wondering if what I had just experienced was a typical day of community service as it turned out by next week things got even more ridicules.

Arrested, court and sentencing

20 Sep

Earlier this year I was arrested for position of a bladed article in a public place. As the court heard and understood I was sat on a bench whittling a piece of wood (as was my want on that occasion as it often is or I suppose now was). To cut an incredibly long story short after my arrest I was charged and had to appear at magistrate’s court as it appeared the knife I was using was 1/8 of an inch over the three-inch limit for pocketknives. The knife itself was a small wooden handled DIY wood knife that I had purchased many years earlier in a small fishing shop in Whitby and in good faith and completely unwitting to me was apparently not lawful to have anywhere other than inside your own home. My solicitor explained to me that pleading guilty to the charge was the best course of action for at no point did I deny having the pocketknife only that I was using it as a tool for a hobby and that I had no idea it was not an ok thing to do. To my horror I suddenly found myself possibly facing a jail sentence despite the fact that it was obvious I had not threatened anyone and that I had never been in trouble for anything before. So here I was sat in court my freedom balancing on the scales of justice in a situation I had never thought myself possible to be in. The dreadful case went on for months until on the final day (after a probation report in which the officer made the conclusion that I was little threat to anyone and unlikely to fall foul of the law again) I was given 150 hours community service.

So why am I writing a blog? Blogging is not something I’ve done before and not something I was ever planning to do but after a couple of weeks of “serving the community” I feel what goes on in this unpaid work and how probation officers and the law deal with people who have been given a community order an what they actually do is not really known by the average member of the public. So here it is from me! I have decided to write this under a fake name and not disclose any locations so that what is written in this blog can remain utterly honest. So I shall be assuming the name Abel Magwitch.

Hope you find what i have to say of importance or at least of interest.