After a first day that eased me into my new job it was time to start working properly. There were so many things on the go there was no time to get bored. My boss suggested that one of the first things I should do was keep a diary/blog of what I was doing and how it felt to be out in the community working. I did it but I was worried it was going to be rubbish, apart from a couple of silly made-up articles I wrote for the media course I hadn’t written anything since I was at school. Aeons ago. I wrote it with a light-hearted edge and, as much as I could be about something I’d written, I was quite pleased with it.
One of my main tasks when I first started working was to help with the organisation of the Inside Job Productions launch. Nothing had really been started yet so we had a lot to do: guest list, venue, invitations, food, drink, find speaker….in fact everything you can think of when organising a company launch. With a requirement for it to be a success. And to be within a relatively modest budget. In London. No pressure then. My main task was to help with putting together the guest list and I didn’t have a clue where to begin. Luckily suggestions were plentiful and I was soon furiously googling hundreds of different organisations and prisons who might have an interest in what we were doing.
Within a few days I discovered I had a slight problem. It was strange and slightly embarrassing but I had become really apprehensive about using the telephone. This was ridiculous, I’d worked in call centres before. So it seemed prison had had some effect on me after all. Yes, it had rendered me a nutjob. What an odd way for institutionalisation to manifest. And this despite the fact I rang my children every day and my parents a couple of times a week. Mind you, it might just have been that the office was completely open and I was worried people were listening in and hearing me say ludicrous things and that they thought me an idiot. What a plonker I was. But I got on with the task in hand, putting together an exhaustive list of people from all areas of business, mostly without having to lift the telephone. God I love the internet.
The guest list was by no means my only task, however. There was so much else to do, some related to the launch and some with our actual work, largely film making. Like most people I’m sure I’d always had a passing interest in this sort of thing, I’d imagined it to be glamorous and exciting and I hadn’t been able to believe my luck when I’d had the chance to help make a film in prison and that I would be doing it a fair bit in my job. So, what I learnt in prison was that I’m really shit at holding the camera, that people don’t do what they’re supposed to do and that total randoms just get in the way and ask stupid questions. What I learnt when we were filming at the local train station was that I was still really shit at holding the camera, actors do do what they’re supposed to do but that prison officers don’t necessarily understand the concept of artistic licence and that total randoms get in the way and ask stupid questions. And what I learnt on shoots out and about in London was that I thankfully didn’t have to hold the camera, but that I did have to carry the equipment and that it was very heavy and that I kept getting in the way. I wonder how many shots of me scurrying away were edited out. At least I didn’t ask any stupid questions. But there was soooooooo much waiting and standing around. Glamorous my arse.
We had to design invitations for the launch and that was left to me too. It was great that they were giving me the chance to do new things, setting me different challenges and I really hoped I’d be able to live up to their expectations. And if not I’m sure they were ready to step in and, if not take over, push me in the right direction. So one day I and one of the interns found ourselves heading towards the printers to see about getting some invitations designed and made. I hadn’t rung ahead (phone phobia) and we pretty much waltzed in and asked to speak to the head honcho. He was surprisingly accommodating. It did help that they were already printing up some A4 folders for us so it was easy enough to get them to agree to make up an A5 invitation based on those. We shook hands and headed back to the office. Within a few days I had my first set of proofs back. This was so exciting, I’d never done anything like this before but I was really relishing the idea of changing things to get exactly what I want. Hey, I hadn’t been out much. After much back and forth (email of course, phone phobia) the invitations were exactly how I wanted them to be. Of course if I’d known at the start that this was what I wanted I could have saved everyone a lot of time and trouble. But that isn’t how these things work, is it?
Launch plans were coming along apace but we hadn’t yet found a suitable venue. There had been a few suggestions but some hadn’t been easily accessible, some had been too expensive and some simply didn’t offer the facilities we needed. Then someone suggested a bar just off Fleet Street. It had everything, the all important bar, the space we needed and we were able to segregate ourselves from their normal punters. I had to ring them (gah!) to see if they were available on the night we wanted and I arranged for us to go and visit. And for everyone else to have a wine tasting. Everyone else, of course, because as a serving prisoner I was not allowed to drink. And as you have to do random drugs tests and breathalyser tests on return to prison after a day’s work or a town visit you’d have to be pretty bloody stupid to take the risk. Yes, loads of people are that stupid. More fool them. So, along we went to the bar and it was indeed perfect which was marvellous as it was the first place we’d looked at. Apparently all the wine was very nice too, especially the champagne. And the second glass that was had by some, just to make sure.
I hadn’t been there long when I was asked to write an article for the Women In Prison magazine about the course and the success I’d had and the opportunities it had led to. It seemed my boss thought me a good writer (although I was less than convinced) and wanted me to get the opportunity to write as much as possible to build on it. She suggested I write it with a light-hearted angle, though, because normally I was just quite factual and a bit “worthy”. Fair enough, so I wrote my article, (which I seem to have now mislaid) and I was really quite pleased with it, a first for me. Unfortunately other people decided what was required was a serious article and thought the tone of mine was a bit too light-hearted so they re-wrote to tone it down. They kept some of my jokes in though and that made me happy. And I was published! Sadly, “Women In Prison” doesn’t have a particularly wide readership, but hey.
By far the scariest thing I did while working for IJP (check me out using the initials) was have to deliver a speech to delegates at a conference about reducing re-offending. I was terrified. I had written what I was going to say (pretty worthy again) and practised it a couple of times and it seemed I was able to fill the 5 or 10 minutes that were required of me. But that is a hell of a long time to be up there speaking and I was never a fan of public speaking. Do I start with “Unaccustomed as I am….”? No. As part of GCSE English at school we had to give a talk. I hated it. My first subject of choice, for no reason I can think of other than the fact that we had a book on it, was bees. We may have had a book but I knew nothing whatsoever about bees. I wasn’t even interested in bees. And I don’t like honey. I did some half-hearted research, (did you know bees are stripy?) wrote a few notes, got up in front of the class and totally clammed up. Brilliant. I think the rest of the class felt embarrassed for me, and it was excruciating. The second one was about bats. We didn’t have a book about bats, but I like them, I think they’re really cute. Half-hearted research. Guess what? Yep, clammed up. Come the third talk, the one that was being assessed for the exam and the only one that really mattered, I decided I couldn’t take the humiliation again and spoke about my Saturday job at a bakery instead of animals or insects about which I knew nothing. And it was a hit, I got laughs and everything. I wasn’t expecting any laughs at the conference though, I’d be happy if I just got out alive. It was fine I suppose, but I was so terrified I just stood in front of everyone and read out what I had written without once looking up. Not cool. The fact is, I knew what I was talking about, I know my story and I could (probably) have relayed it easily and comfortably if I’d just taken a few prompting notes and ad-libbed it. But I didn’t so I looked a tit. I did the same thing the next time I made a speech as well. And the time after that. And the one after that. I’d like to think that if I were asked to do it again I’d try to do it properly. Who knows?
Back to the launch and the guest list ended up being fairly huge. Once complete it was time to do a mail merge (bleurgh) and print millions of labels and send out all of the invitations and information packs we spent days putting together. And further days lugging them to the post office. Then all we had to do was wait some more days and see how many responses we’d get and how many people would actually turn up. It was exciting but nerve-wracking stuff. We’d also been trying to get some famous people to come along. We wanted someone to give a short speech to our guests before I and my prison colleague (who would have joined me working by then) would say a few words (my favourite) but we were also looking for some minor celebs just to mingle a bit. We were struggling a bit. We’d tried Adrian Chiles (who no-one had heard of at the time, apart from me who’d seen Working Lunch), we tried Adrian Chiles’ wife but no joy. We tried Evan Davis of Dragon’s Den fame. Nope. We’d been to an evening do at one point and my evil colleagues/bosses, call them what you like, had made me go up to Monty Don and Grayson Perry and give them invitations to our launch. They looked at me like I was mad and I was fighting the urge to stare at Mr Perry who had come dressed as a little girl, his alter ego Claire I understand. Whatever, it was mortifying. At the eleventh hour we got Adam Shaw, also from Working Lunch. Phew.
And at the very last minute we managed to book Liam Halligan from the Telegraph and Ed Miliband to speak and we could breathe again. Except for me who had to do more public speaking. No, I didn’t look up. Got a laugh or two though. The launch was a big success, I had been granted an extension to my licence and didn’t have to get back until late, the prison had organised a taxi for me and my colleague, the wine flowed freely (too freely in some cases) but not to us prisoners and we had a thoroughly great time. A number of staff from Downview were there, governors, principal officers, senior officers and normal officers and one of the governors told me I should be really proud of myself. And I was! My friend and I were buzzing as we headed back to prison and without a single drop of alcohol too. I was certain Ed Miliband had asked me during the evening what I thought the government should do to improve prisons, but I may have imagined it.