Monday, November 30, 2009

My Future

One of the most depressing conversations I ever took part in occurred in Open prison. George was about to be released after serving 40 years and I was curious as to his future plans.
"A few months in a probation hostel, then see what happens." I was stunned. He'd spent the last few years in Open, a place allegedly intended to give us some future focus, and George was leaving without a single idea or skill with which to rebuild his life.
As a lifer, it is very easy to sink into adopting a very short term view. Our lives are not our own and it can be deeply depressing to attempt to plan for a release which may never come. Looking a few days ahead is as far as some of us dare go. At the moment, I am maintaining my sanity by not even looking ahead to tomorrow.
In the last decade or so, though, I have become increasingly focused upon my possible future. What do I do when I am released? Despite the strange life I have lived, I do have a broad skill set ranging from mediation through to E-Commerce. Completing the PhD will equip me with general research skills, and may even lead to a minor career in criminology.
Although I have been writing for many years for the prisoner’s national newspaper (, as well as for various campaign groups and prison magazines, I was taken by surprise when someone described me as "a writer".

Assuming my fan is correct, perhaps I could and should develop this as a way to pay the rent in my post prison future? But in what way?


  1. Considering that remittances for the written word are decreasing all the time and journalists are an endangered species I would stick to academia if I were you. From there you can write as a sideline, which if it develops all well and good but if not then at least you have a back up career.

  2. I should take it easy when you come out, Ben.

    My pre-release period and release plan were seriously distorted by risk-oriented thinking. When I told some old buzzard on an unsympathetic parole panel that I would not qualify for state benefits on release and would therefore have to hit the ground running it made no impact. They shot down my release plan, substituted an off-the-peg one, and sent me packing at the next review. Of course, I found myself unable to take the required time to find a suitable job. I grabbed at what was going and that was inadequate to support me. I missed recall by the skin of my teeth.

    You have to accept that coming back to real life from prison is likely to be difficult. Screws, probation officers, governors, inmates are all behind you. If you can, take a lot of time to get yourself adjusted.

  3. I don't know what PhD funding is like in the social sciences, but if you can get it, and you can live on it, I would say take that three years and run with it. It's a start, and although I wasn't up to academia, it was one of the most intellectually free times of my life. An ability to write consistently and to deadlines is a skill I wish I had mastered when writing papers and my thesis, and you seem to have that going on. I also hope one day to make the writing pay, although my current offering is possibly less weighty than yours in every sense :) If I find an answer, I'll let you know...

  4. Ben I am studying for a masters in the North East. Many of the lecturers there tell us 'students' that they have been in prison for certain reasons. My advice would be to apply for funding for your PhD live of that and do some teaching a long the way.

  5. Teaching sounds like a good option - it's what you do here.

  6. Ben, your fan is right, you are a writer for sure. But, yes, it is getting harder and harder to earn daily bread from written words. You may be better off aiming for esteem rather than a living wage - a slim vol of acclaimed poems once a decade. Journalism is downsizing bigtime. A day job of some sort is the safe bet. It is true that academia is more likely to be kindly disposed to your past - and teaching is a growth industry.

    But there are all the unknown unknowns to take into account. How will your independence of mind adapt to a workplace requiring conformableness? You say you are adaptable, and I think you probably are, but how will the process of adaptation feel and how long will it take?

    Given that you will be bombarded by all kinds of new experience when you emerge blinking into the pale light of freedom, I'd have thought there's plenty to be said for one day at a time for an undefinable period, until you get your bearings.

    We who breathe the heady air of liberty, and even kid ourselves sometimes that we are the masters of our own destinies, still acknowledge the ineluctable truth of what John Lennon said: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

    Have a map, old boy, but pencil in some roads less travelled. Wherever you end up, it won't be anywhere near your intended destination. Probably.

  7. Really don't want to sound like a pessimist but - having worked in employment for a while - it's really just about grabbing what you can to start with and seeing how you go. It's good to have something to aim for but don't let that ambition turn into a pride that prevents you from working some thankless and shitty jobs. Remember that for all the jobs you go for there will be people competing against you who have been getting experience on the outside - the one notable exception would be some kind of criminal justice type academia.

  8. Always remember to think positive :)