The day arrived for my first day at work in the big wide world beyond the walls of HMP Downview. I would be working in Shoreditch and travelling there daily by bus, train and tube. My first day was in September, a few weeks after my first town visits and by this time I believe I’d already had a home visit, a whole weekend back in Portsmouth, so I was feeling completely at ease with being out and about. We’d already done a bit of filming down at the local train station for a film about the difficulties of leaving prison if there’s no-one there to meet you when you’re released and we’d used the bus to get there so I was happy enough to do that again on my own. On my first day, however, I was accompanied by one of the resettlement officers as is the norm for people going to new work placements. The resettlement officers are amazing, they work so hard to support the prisoners that they look after, tirelessly working to raise awareness in the local community and find more work placements than the ones that are already on offer so as to give more prisoners an opportunity to reintegrate into society. This kind of work is essential in the fight against re-offending. The officer that was accompanying me that day had won an award that year, Prison Officer of the Year or something, that’s how good he was and how much he cared about what he did.
At about half 8 the officer came to get me and we were ready to go. He was going to drive down to Sutton where we’d get the train to London Bridge and then the tube to Old Street. From there we would walk to the office of Media for Development, my new employers. It was very exciting. Fortunately he was wearing civvies so we wouldn’t attract any attention. There’s something of a procedure involved when leaving the prison grounds, not surprisingly. You’re given a licence which proves that you are entitled to leave and between which hours you are allowed to be out of the prison. You have to carry this with you at all times and essentially it’s your ticket into and, most importantly, out of the prison. If you fail to meet the terms of your licence then you face adjudication which could result in loss of privilege and the freedoms they have entrusted to you. For the first month because I had no wages yet I was given the exact money by the prison to buy a travelcard every day. They’re trusting you right from the start not to spend the money on anything you shouldn’t but the fact is if they couldn’t trust you to do that it’s pretty unlikely you’d be given the opportunity to go out in the first place. I also got a prison packed lunch. A sandwich, a choccy bar, an apple and a yoghurt. I felt like a school child.
So off we went, we got to the station, bought our tickets and got on the train to London Bridge. The train was pretty busy but we found some seats and made polite conversation for the 45 minutes or so that it took. I got on well with pretty much all the prison officers I came into contact with, you may not believe this but I have something of a reputation for cheekiness (I know, it surprises me too) and they seemed to like me for it. They certainly mostly took the mickey out of me anyway. But that doesn’t mean to say that you can have an easy conversation with someone when you’re stuck in a confined space and don’t want to talk too loudly about prison matters so everyone can hear. Still, it was fine and when we got to London Bridge we walked to the tube station. It seemed really far, stupid massive station. The train was packed and I must say I’ve never really been a fan of the underground, except maybe when I was a teenager and it was new and exciting. I know it’s an excellent way to get from A to B but there are far too many people squeezed into the tiny space and I always inexplicably end up with my face in someone’s sweaty armpit. Not by choice you understand. Fortunately London Bridge to Old Street is only a few minutes on the tube so I never had to endure it for too long. Still didn’t like it though. Once we’d negotiated our way up steps and escalators to get out of Old Street station we next had the problem of which way to go. There are about 8 different options all taking you in, well, 8 different directions. Eventually we more or less found the right way and headed to the office. Just around the corner from where Boy George lives, dontcha know.
We took the long way it seems as we had to go back on ourselves, but at about 10 we arrived. Hurrah! The office was on the second floor of a trendy warehousey type building, the only office as almost all the other floors and surrounding buildings had been converted into really expensive apartments. East London is hip apparently. We went up and were welcomed by the smell of fresh coffee and several people, all very friendly. Having done the course I met quite a few meedja…I mean media…types and they were very, very enthusiastic, very friendly, incredibly pleasant, but so very enthusiastic. I was always rather taken aback, but that will be the cynic in me, it’s not my most redeeming feature. The people at MFD were all lovely, so welcoming and really believe in what they’re doing and it’s hard not to be buoyed up by that. I was feeling pretty nervous and didn’t really know what to expect, my role there was as a Production Assistant but that’s an incredibly varied job and who knew what it would entail. But when we arrived we had some coffee and a biscuit and a good old chat before the officer headed back to Downview and I felt much more relaxed. There were a number of different staff working for MFD, several who were in the office most days as well as Project Managers who were based in the prisons and various interns. I had seen most of them before when they’d come into the prison but was introduced to those I didn’t know. And then it was time to work! Well, sort of. First and foremost I had to get loads of stationery from the cupboard. I love stationery, it’s a bit weird. There’s something lovely about a crisp clean notebook as yet unsullied by my tiny handwriting. And post it notes. And new pens. And diaries. Maybe that’s just me. Although I’m rubbish at ever remembering to use my diaries, I use them for a week and never look at them again. I got all of my stuff and took it to my new desk. I had a desk! It was huge! I was shown a few things around the office then fired up my computer and tried to look Production Assistanty. I had no idea what they do. I had a look to see of my old email address still worked. It had been 10 months since I’d used it. Good grief, it did! I had about 2000 emails though which I couldn’t be arsed to tackle straight away. I thought I’d leave it for another day. I was given keys to let myself in and the plan was that I would leave prison daily at 6:30 to make my journey. The problem with going out every day to work is that you are affected by the officers’ shift changes. You can’t come or go while they’re doing a handover so if you work outside you either leave at 6:30 or after 8:30. If I left at 8:30 I’d get in much later thanks to the train times so it made sense to go in earlier. OK, so I’d be the first there for at least an hour, but who cared? Not me, sounded marvellous. And I could read my email mountain while I waited for everyone else.
So, not a great deal happened on my first day, I don’t remember doing much for which I was thankful and in the afternoon myself, the chief executive and the executive producer all went to a meeting with one of the companies that funds the MFD projects. This was a bit scary because it was a video conference and quite a few people were in attendance. The meeting itself wasn’t scary, no, it was the bit where everyone has to introduce themselves I didn’t like. It’s a strange thing, but I feel myself going bright red for no reason I can fathom when all I’m doing is introducing myself to a few other people. But it happens every time and it both sucks AND blows. I can only assume it is some kind of residual shyness, most of which I thankfully left in my childhood. The meeting was…well…unutterably dull. On the plus side they had provided the poshest sandwiches I’d ever seen in my life and lovely fruit. I became addicted to the grapes. In fact the only people that were eating the food were the MFD contingent, I was staggered at how much the chief executive managed to put away and not a little amused, he’s a slim fella. But I also thought he might be a bit bored because he was making pretty patterns out of the garnish on his plate. Most amusing. Eventually the meeting was over. I’d understood very little of what they were talking about but it didn’t matter, my first day of work was over and I could head back to the Big House for dinner. You’ll be surprised to know I was looking forward to getting back and having a laze on my bed in front of the telly. This working lark is pretty hard and it had been a long day.
If you’d like to know about Media for Development the website is http://www.mediafordevelopment.org.uk/
The particular part of the company I was involved with was Inside Job Productions which you can find out about here.