Last month, Gef attended a talk by Lord Bird, co-founder of The Big Issue, at the Isle of Man prison.
The talk coincided with Bird’s visit to the island to discuss the prevalent issue of poverty with the Island’s Poverty Committee, with the Committee hearing Bird’s evidence to understand his definition of the differences between being poor and poverty.
Lord Bird defines poverty as more complex than its immediate presenting cause, with homelessness rarely being solely about having nowhere to live, but the multiple crises that have led to the situation, and the Poverty Committee intends to draw on Lord Bird’s experiences and gain insight into what has and hasn’t worked in the UK, via his work with the House of Lords.
Having been in and out of prisons and reformatories for the best part of his early life, Lord Bird fought against social expectations to launch The Big Issue in 1991, which eventually led to being awarded an MBE at the Queen’s 1995 Birthday Honours for his services to homeless people.
His talk at the Isle of Man prison was geared towards his achievements since leaving prison and the merits of hard work.
He lamented on how fantastic his parents were, but their parental successes were limited by the challenges of poverty, with much of his parents’ income spent on alcohol and cigarettes, which acted as coping mechanisms and dictated their social narrative.
His childhood was dotted with bouts of domestic violence, and for a man as kind and as hardworking as his father, the strains of living on the breadline were a catalyst for his behaviour, not a product of.
Lord Bird’s talk was part stand-up comedy routine, part TED talk.
He’s a proper East London geezer and the delivery of his speech is reminiscent of Tom Hardy’s performance in Bronson, switching from quietly spoken to screaming lunatic within a matter of seconds. He’s an extremely likeable character and from the offset he held a captive audience, Gef and prisoners alike.
I imagine that preparing to leave prison is one of the hardest times in one’s life, sort of like being pushed from an aeroplane, free-falling and being expected to land on your feet.
A survey undertaken by the Ministry of Justice in 2014 showed that 25.6% of adult and juvenile offenders that were released from prison/reformatories in the British Isles re-offended within a year.
There are obvious contributing factors to social impediment, and it’s hard to break the cycle of correlation between poverty and offending when there’s very little help in terms of social reintroduction. Your existence has been limited to the groundhog routine of your prison bubble and then you’re suddenly expected to acclimatise to a society or community where time hasn’t stood still and people’s lives have moved on exponentially.
Yes, it’s likely that your friends and family are still around and they’ve been keeping you up-to-date with home life during visitation hours, but the reality of rekindling fragments of relationships you once knew in the real world, coupled with the added pressures of finding your feet in terms of accommodation and a career, can be unfathomable, and thus the cycle of poverty and drug use renews.
It’s easy to see why prisoners re-offend.
There’s a social alienation, a sort of ‘out-of-body experience’, where you’re looking at the ghost of a life you once knew. There are many career prisoners who purposefully re-offend to reenter a system of familiarity, where the stresses of the outside world are obsolete and you retake your place amongst the people who understand you.
It’s a harrowing fact, and more needs to be done to break this cycle and provide more rehabilitative stability.
The Isle of Man prison currently houses 106 prisoners, with 4.7% of those female prisoners.
70% of prisoners incarcerated are there on drug charges, with drug possession and drug use well documented in the cycle of poverty.
Failing academically leads to lesser work opportunities, and when work opportunities do present themselves the pay isn’t enough to support yourself or a family in today’s economic climate, so quick money is needed, and the cycle of drug possession and petty crime begins.
It’s enlightening to see someone of Lord Bird’s stature taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk to prisoners on the Isle of Man.
Whilst I was initially dubious just how much weight his words would hold with his audience, it was a beautiful display of what can be achieved when you break the cycle and aim for the sky.