The Coronavirus Prison Rollercoaster

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29 June 2020

The Coronavirus Prison Rollercoaster

The coronavirus pandemic has been a challenging time for all of us, whether we work in prisons, residential, or community services. We’ve never faced such an unprecedented change to the ways in which we usually operate as services, and support our clients.

In prisons, we have gone from daily groups, assessments, key work sessions, events and other face to face contact, to almost none. We have been as inventive as possible with how we see our clients, and are relying heavily on their self-assessment. We have faced daily changes from everything to which wings we can go on, to whether we need to wear PPE or not, to whether it’s safe to handle paperwork, to how many people we can have in an office at any one time. I entitled this blog the coronavirus prison rollercoaster, as that’s how it’s felt at times, both in terms of trying to manage and support the team as good as possible, through the constant ups and downs, and daily challenges and changes.

One thing I’ve realised as a manager is that you need to be flexible, accommodating, understanding and appreciate of the range of different emotions and feelings about the virus generally, varying levels of anxiety about contracting or passing on the virus both in terms of staff and prisoners, social distancing both inside and outside of work, staff safety and protection and engagement levels with the service. So I guess a bit like a circus performer, you need to be constantly juggling all of your roles, whilst keeping the crowd happy, hoping you don’t drop anything.

There are many unknowns with the virus, and many unanswered questions and it can be difficult not to leave work thinking have I done enough? Are the staff safe? Was I talking to that officer for too long? Should I have been standing further away from that client? (Oh and now I’m getting a slight sore throat, is this the virus or am I just imagining it?)

One thing I do know though, is that the resilience of both staff and prisoners throughout this pandemic so far, has been nothing short of amazing. Staff continue to do their absolute best for the clients under their care, day in day out, attending ACCT reviews for those really suffering with their mental health, and still trying persistently to get their clients in to residential rehab, post release. We’ve had last minute releases to completely different areas of the UK, high levels of anxiety around homelessness upon release and lots more requests for family support.

That said, levels of self-harm and violence have decreased and the men have adapted extremely well to the new prison regime, and their new way of life. Many seem to be reading more, creating art work, taking the time to write to family, and generally staying positive, as we are all trying too. Many remain concerned for those on the outside and very curious, as to what life is like, outside the walls. Many go out their way to thank prison healthcare, and apparently some of them even clap for key workers on Thursday nights.

I guess for now, this rollercoaster ride we are all on, continues, and who knows what will lie around the next bend. But for now, a thank you to everybody who shows a smile, positivity or hope for the future, in this difficult environment, and at this tricky time.

Written by David Brockett

Phoenix Futures is a registered charity in England and Wales (No 284880) and in Scotland (No SCO39008); Company Limited by Guarantee Number 1626869; Registered Provider of Social Housing with Homes England (H3795).