It's been quite a journey with many new beginnings, including this guest piece. The title reflects my twitter journey @iangould5 which began in December 2013. Alongside 100's of others I too entered the affray to do whatever I could to defend against the indefensible. Whilst concerned this piece is 'off piste' from Jim's usual blogs, I'd like to share a little of my journey and MY take on Paul Seniors BJCJ retirement lecture at Hallam University (@yorkhull) and share whether or not it has inspired me going forward to be more robust.
This piece is devoted to all those who Probation work alongside daily, its Partners and friends that provide hope, purpose and opportunity and to all Probation staff (CRC/NPS) who take great pride in doing a job where making a difference, protecting the public, managing/reducing risk and getting the job done are all part of their hopes/aspirations.
Never a strong Napo person, I paid my dues for 33 years prior to early retirement in July 2015. Like many, retirement wasn't chosen lightly. Rather, aged 60, I did so for my personal health and well-being. I too took part in Industrial Action and stood proudly amongst managers and probation staff and went down to the House of Commons rally and subsequently attended Napo's Birmingham EGM. At the time I believed anything was possible and never gave up hope.
Prayerfully considered, my twitter campaign has taken many forms. Almost daily reading/RT of Jims blog/comments. Many will remember Joe Kuipers series on TR which I passionately RT, updating followers of correspondence outcomes with ministers, my own MP and yes 313 other MP's, RTs of Fridays Napo bulletin and not least RT/Fav so many staunchly loyal Probation protagonists/supporters/friends. Indeed, promoting everything worthy of Probation/Good news. Alongside, reading Facebook's Keep Probation Public Not Private. Indeed you could say Probation is in MY blood.
In the early days I wore my heart on my sleeve and shared much of my life history as a careleaver/survivor probation officer and SPO. With hindsight, this was all part of my own journey of self discovery and it was whilst on the twitter journey my path crossed with Paul Senior when the British Journal for Community Justice called for 'Thought Pieces/Letters' in 2012. Having left care/school at 14 and having plagiarised books through college/university, putting pen to paper has never been my forte. You can imagine how chuffed I was when my Dear Mr Grayling letter was published in Dec 2013.
Vocationally driven, it felt like a natural progression from being a careleaver/survivor to becoming a Probation Lifer. I'm immensely proud to have worked for the Probation Service and post retirement my Love of Probation hasn't waned.
Prior to celebrating/sharing another Probation Lifers Service I want to plug Every Child Leaving Care Matters. Indeed the long haul has sometimes been a lonely journey and I have often drawn strength from positively focusing with efforts on ECLCM. Feel free to visit the website at elclm.org and significantly consider and hopefully sign the petition.
So, it was just over a week ago when I started out on my long drive to Hallam University, Sheffield. I wasn't sure what to expect, although twitter exchanges suggested that I wouldn't be disappointed. In response to one commentator Paul tweeted 'he was going to give an evidence based appraisal before firing on ALL cylinders about TR'.
Arriving early it quickly became apparent that Paul is a highly respected and much loved Probation champion, evidenced by all the accolades. A whistle stop tour of 41 years service included, being a probation officer, a member of Napo's practice committee, member of CCETSW, Editor of Jarvis, helping develop the Diploma in Probation and creating the Hallam Centre for Criminal Justice and the Criminal Justice Portal. Significantly, for promoting evidence based practice which Paul boosted, as being Probation's greatest legacy. Through-out the TR debacle Paul remained resolute that Probation should remain Public. It was clear Paul was immensely proud of being invited to the Chair of the Probation Institute. So you could say that Paul is worth 'Listening' to. Very sad that the Government chose not too.
Possibly Paul's greatest tribute came from his biggest critic, Sir Martin Narey, who acknowledged that Paul was Probation through and through, had consistently demonstrated great capacity to defend against the indefensible, had a huge talent and whilst they had not always agreed, had healthy debates
I'm not proposing to go through the whole lecture as I believe that it will shortly be posted onto YouTube. Further, I would commend you purchase a copy of the BLCJ Spring edition 'Imagine Probation in 2020' which covers much of what Paul shared. However I do want to share what had the most impact on me.
Far from a gentle introduction Paul starts his lecture with a quote from Gramsci:
'I hate the indifferent. I believe that living means taking sides. Those who really live cannot help being a citizen and a partisan. Indifference and apathy are parasitism, perversion, not life. That is why I hate the indifferent.' (Gramsci : Prison Notebook)Through-out my long haul I've been very clear about what side I'm on. So this was very much to my liking, a hugely passionate start. I'm often struck by those who fundamentally believe that TR is working and have to accept that they too have chosen to take a different side.
The lecture coincided with the publication of the National Audit Office Report and whilst Paul had yet to fully digest its contents, you sense Paul was unconvinced by its opening gambit 'restructuring had been successful'. Rather, as the Independent/other Commentators subsequently reveal, the real impact of TR is to be found in the finer detail. Paul reflected on the vagaries of the report and was concerned there is no way to measure the success or otherwise for a number of years. As Paul went through the headlines his 'really' comment struck home.
Whilst addressing fears/concerns, Paul affirmed my own thoughts/beliefs which are also likely to be shared by many of you. The very heartbreak of a fragmented service, issues around communication and IT, the moral waste of talent and loss of experience, expertise and staff, staff feeling deskilled. Paul echoed your concerns about McDonald-style Intervention booths and later would mention the possibility of the privatisation of the NPS.
Through-out, Paul's pride in Probation was palpable, sharing how Probation had always been under attack and yet remain resolute and steadfast in all its efforts. There was a sense of great pride that despite everything, good practice continues. Further, TR was being driven like so many other privatisations, by economic pressure and political ideology. Certainly, all music to my ears. This is what I got out of bed early for every work day for 33 years. Only then for probation to be decimated, all for a political ideology and 26 votes. Paul's words were empowering, adding to a sense of being on the same wavelength.
Struck by Paul's view about 'historical perspectives', I valued his quote 'historical amnesia serves only those who wish to destroy/remove from the past'. I felt proud when he proclaimed 'the past is a cupboard FULL of light and all we have to do is find the keys to open up the door.' Further, history enables us to understand the Achilles heel of those parts that have caused us problems. Through-out this long haul I've been struck by efforts to 'snuff out' Probation's light. Yet we were always innovative, increasingly successful, positively role modelling pro-social behaviour alongside other Partners, assessing/managing risk, influencing changing lives and evidentially year on year, reducing re-offending rates. Far from airbrushing out Probation, Paul made clear Probation must be at the heart of the future of the Criminal Justice profession.
Paul's pride in probation staff also shone 'Probation is an invaluable organisation and one which is worth giving your heart and soul to. Probation practice has never been so strong.' He explained how it was that whilst dismantling a Public Sector Probation service its legacy was being showcased across Europe. Despite everything, staff remained resilient and innovative, creatively adapting to an ever changing horizon with fewer resources. You could feel a deep sense of pride toward OUR Probation family. How could you not be inspired.
Possibly, and not by coincidence given last weeks blog on Surveillance, this was one of Paul's biggest fears as well as focusing too much on the American Way. Paul expressed concerns about the continued de-professionalization of Probation and significantly as Chair of the Probation Institute, what he referred to as politics of ignorance and despair.
Many will recall the recent Guardian article about 'Neo Liberalism' and Paul referred to 'holding onto the politics of paradox, believing that outcomes do not have to be inevitable'. For example Serco and G4S. In recent days we have seen NOMS take over Medway. During my Journey, I have always thought/prayed about Probation positively and actually have not wanted to see Probation staff fail. I actively tweet good news story's feeling that I didn't want to heap burning coals on a fiery inferno. However Paul referred to the very real possibility, despite sterling efforts, an outcome of failure.
It felt good when Paul mentioned how language is still resistant and like Jim Brown and many others who contribute to this blog that of NOT letting the 'Light' go out on either TR or the Probation ideal.
Sharing how Probation's essence is most effective when driven by strong values, ethics, diversity and occupational culture, Paul spoke of the emerging core practice elements of Desistance, Reflective Practice and the development of emotionally literate practitioner's. Paul strongly believes the Probation Institute can develop as a Centre of Excellence, a repository for evidence based practice, provide an environment in which Probation voice is spoken and heard and that the worst excesses of change are resisted in Partnership with others. Whilst I suspect that his worse fear is that the Probation Institute goes out of business. It is unsurprising that the Lecture finished with another quote:
'Standing back and seeing how it goes will result in the PI failing. The danger is that too many people will only realise that it might have been worth getting involved when it is too late to do so.' (Ann Worrell).I've never been sure about the Probation Institute. Certainly, they have never RT any of my tweets, but perhaps that's not surprising. I often wonder if they read this blog. I suspect Paul does. Whilst 'trust' can be very costly and knowing of my naivety, I left with wanting to entrust faith in Paul's integrity and his LOVE of Probation and work alongside both his and indeed others efforts to keep the Probation Ideal very much in focus.
So what of my journey home? Well, I was very clear about what side of the fence I sat and this had been further inspired by what I had heard. Significantly, it was OK to believe in MY VOCATION and Public Service and proudly say the word Probation. Certainly I wasn't disappointed and would commend everyone who reads this to watch the YouTube footage and make up their own minds
I for one will be going nowhere soon. I still have 49 quotes from Deering/Feilzer Privatising Probation to tweet, 126 miles to swim and who knows maybe a further 107 quotes from BJCJ and that would be yet another New Beginning. That should keep me going for another 12 months. So, a Very big YES about this experience being a New Beginning for me to be more Robust. I have always said it's not finished until it's not over YET.
Indeed, Jim and Paul will know that just finishing this piece has been a remarkable Journey in itself.