Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Confined to your own space, changes to your daily routine, limited activities and outside exercise, ‘virtual’ social interactions with friends and family, time on your hands and thinking about the future…
The national lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic was challenging for all of us. But how does our experience compare with that of the lads in custody?
"Bad situations ain't just going to stop. It's learning how to deal with the situation." In2Out Participant
Like us, the lads were unable to meet their friends and family face-to-face as visits into prisons were stopped. Although they received extra phone credits and were able to speak to their families, we all know that it really isn’t the same. And prison visits are a powerful connection to the outside world for those inside.
Published in April 2020, the Young Advisors on Criminal Justice: Hearing from Young Adults in the Criminal Justice System report found:
“Visits had a particularly powerful impact on mental health with one young adult explaining how they felt like they were in “another world” when they were on a visit, forgetting they were in prison.”[i]
Many young people in custody are familiar with the feeling of isolation. Statistics show that 60% of them have communication disorders and many struggle with social skills. Prison staff support and encourage the lads, but it can be difficult with those who are resistant to trusting others, especially authority figures. In2Out mentors have worked hard to continue support and regular communication, staying in touch with participants through email and letter as well as by phone, with HMYOI Wetherby providing access to call directly to the lads’ cells.
Too much time
During the national lockdown, to prevent the potential spread of infection in custodial establishments, education and gym were also put on hold, meaning that the lads spent extended periods of time alone in their cells.
In2Out recognised the challenge of the lads having ‘empty’ time on their hands and so started a weekly newsletter to encourage, distract and entertain. Initially, this was targeted at the lads we were working with in HMYOI Wetherby, but at the request of the prison leadership, this was quickly expanded to the whole prison population. In addition, copies were posted weekly to around 30 of the lads that we are supporting in the community.
Activities that were put on hold included the In2Out Life Skills Challenge – our person-centred education and enrichment programme for young people approaching release from the Keppel Complex Needs Unit at HMYOI Wetherby. Many of the challenges, such as cooking, couldn’t be completed due to the restrictions so we had to be creative and target different challenges in different ways. Challenges were delivered using phone and email conversations with bespoke worksheets created by In2Out and distributed by the prison staff. During lockdown we created over 20 bespoke worksheets and also sent in DVDs, puzzle books, games and art materials to the Keppel Unit.
Having too much time on their hands resulted in loneliness and boredom for some; for others it was an opportunity to reflect on their lives and the future. As a result, a number are now making self-referrals to In2Out, asking for help and support to turn their lives around.
Acts of kindness
Being in custody and alone for much of the time, it is easy to think you have been forgotten. In2Out wanted to make sure the lads knew that we were thinking of them and that we were still here for them. So, with the help of our supporters, we provided a gift bag to every lad inside HMYOI Wetherby. The gift bag contained shower gel and deodorant (prized items on the inside) and chocolates and sweets, and a choice of one of three magazines, all very much appreciated.
“Thank you for the magazine, sweets and gifts. I really appreciate receiving them, as it is nice to receive something nice through this very hard time. The magazine has kept me occupied and the extra gifts are great. Thank you again for these gifts. I’m very grateful.”
“On behalf of E-Wing, we all felt [grateful for] the heart-touching gifts and support which we haven’t received for months... Words can’t express the comfort and relief, but deep within our hearts are chanting a big thank you!”
Lockdown ‘on the out’
“I've gone from lockdown, to coming out and being on lockdown again."
For those released from custody during lockdown, there was the frustration of having their lives put on further hold as employment and education opportunities were postponed. This was really challenging and the contact with their mentors has been important in helping them navigate this new reality and to deal with the frustrations that it can bring. As a result, some participants have been in more regular contact and having longer conversations with their mentors.
While we are always open to the possibility that the world post-COVID-19 may offer some unexpected opportunities for our young people, we feel it will be more difficult. They face a different world on release and the challenges to turn away from their past lives and set a new course, may well be significantly increased. Jackson finds life ‘on the out’ challenging and the thought of being back in jail, even under COVID-19 restrictions, more appealing.
"I wish I was on 23 hour bang up because it’s quiet and calm inside.”
However challenging the future may be, we at In2Out remain highly motivated and committed to providing emotional and practical support to our young people through this period and beyond. Maintaining our presence is more important than ever.
[i] Young Advisors on Criminal Justice: Hearing from Young Adults in the Criminal Justice System. Final Report April 2020. Written by Jodie Beck and Rose Dowling. Leaders Unlocked