What we talk about when we talk about freedom

Written by: John McCormack, Recovery In Prisons

Published: 02/03/2020

An exciting new partnership initiative has launched to support people in prisons to understand trauma.

Strengths based…recovery focused…self management…peer support…training for trainers…partnerships…life beyond prison…psychologically informed…confidence building…expanding possibilities…learning from each other…what’s not to love?

A new initiative funded by the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) (this link will take you away from our website) launches on 10th March 2020 at Dumfries Prison. It involves the VRU, alongside prisoners and prison staff, police and local agencies ‘We Are With You” (this link will take you away from our website), Apex (this link will take you away from our website), and Aberlour (this link will take you away from our website).

Among the advantages of taking a trauma informed, solution focused approach is the fact that participants are not required to disclose vulnerabilities or past traumas. This is always important but especially in a prison setting. The emphasis of the programme is on relationships, boundaries and creating a safe space in which people can explore their personal stories and see new possibilities.

Understanding Trauma…Not Sharing Trauma

Trauma and distress are highly prevalent in prison populations yet they are not easily discussed in prison environments. The group work establishes safety from the outset, making it clear we are not in group therapy and that ‘baring your soul’ plays no part in the process. Instead we talk about how we survive distress, how we overcome challenges and in this way we shared our knowledge and experience of resilience and strengths through real life examples.

This approach helps break down barriers, allowing people to see beyond identities such as ‘prisoner’ or ‘offender’ and to see that other positive roles and identities are possible.

Building on Success

A first iteration of this approach was piloted in Perth Prison with prisoners engaged with the Physical Education team. The 8 sessions were highly rated both by prisoners and staff interested in prisoner outcomes.

The positive results led to a second programme being run with the prison’s NHS “Moving on in Recovery” (MOIR) addiction treatment team. This work was jointly facilitated by Rhona Millar of the ALLIANCE and John McCormack of Recovery Training and Consultancy who is leading on the new VRU initiative.

One major difference in the new pilot is the inclusion of local agencies, thus ensuring that the ethos and practice is in action both inside and outside of the prison. This will help to support a more effective and helpful transition experience for prisoners on release.

9 Session Structure

The 9 session course is built around safety, enhancing self-awareness, and reviewing current knowledge around adverse childhood experiences and trauma. The course essentially seeks to provide people with the kind of knowledge and skills previously only given to practitioners and therapists. By the end of the course participants’ will have an enhanced capacity to self manage and direct their own recovery journey towards a self determined preferred future. The nine sessions are:

1. Resilience and Recovery

2. Exceptional Moments

3. My Preferred Future

4. Understanding and Overcoming Trauma

5. Tackling the Inner Critic

6. Truth is Strength

7. Stepping Out of the Drama Triangle

8. I am on a Mission!

9. Reflections on Talk About Freedom

Sustainability is Key

We plan for the pilot to become sustainable, providing best value along with solid outcomes. Taking a Training for Trainers (T4T) approach in parallel with the groupwork is an effective way to achieve this.

Participants to the course are offered the opportunity and training to become facilitators themselves. There are T4T days available after the course and the aim is that the work can continue in the long term without external input being required.

‘Talk about Freedom’ group work aims to:

  • Empower people to envision and plan steps towards their preferred future
  • Help people recover from mental distress
  • Enable self-management
  • Enhance awareness of strengths, skills, abilities and resilience
  • Build self-sustaining local groups as a resource for wellbeing
  • Make recovery knowledge and skills widely available to all

A central ambition is that the project will be rolled out across the communities and wider prison estate in Scotland, providing low cost, effective and replicable approaches to recovery and rehabilitation.

John McCormack can be reached by emailing johntraining@talktalk.net (this link will take you away from our website) or on Twitter at @recoveryjohn1 (this link will take you away from our website)

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