It’s been really long time since I’ve written regularly on Word-Press.
I started a new job at the beginning of April and it’s been putting me through my paces, mentally and emotionally, and consequently I haven’t had the time or energy to focus upon anything else. I’m working for a homeless charity called St Mungo’s, as a housing advisor for people who are leaving prison. My places of work are two prisons in South London, one for men and one for women, and it has been an extremely steep learning curve.
I’m loving it though, and this has made all the difference. The last time I’d been in a situation as stressful as this was when I started a Social Work Ma about five years ago, and I had to bow out of this course after only two months. The stress levels were bringing on symptoms and making me unwell, and after about six weeks I’d started experiencing visual hallucinations of a fairly disturbing kind. It becomes quite difficult to focus on the lectures and the essays, when little demon faces keep appearing in the periphery of your vision every time you shift your gaze.
So I didn’t last too long on that course, and it was heart-breaking because I’d really wanted to do it. This time around, five years later, and it seems that my tolerance for horrendous deadlines and workloads has increased. I work with clients who are either due to be homeless on release, or who have tenancies but need support maintaining them whilst they are serving custodial sentences. I’ve had crash course’s in the justice system; prison systems; the probation service (flailing as it is); prisoner categorisations; community rehabilitation companies and the way the various relevant organisational structures involved gauge risk to the public.
The first week was a blur. I was shadowing a colleague who is as brilliant as she is fast and so I simply felt as though I was following her about not really knowing where I was or what the implications of anything she was telling me were. She told me, a few weeks later that I had looked like a ‘deer in headlights’ over the course of the first fortnight; which was fairly on point.
It’s a complicated system to get your head around. There are acronyms for everything, and the system of prisoner management is messy, really messy. It is obviously such a massive, complex area with so many different departments working in partnership to ensure that security and standards are maintained, that there is a lot of room to become overwhelmed.
I became overwhelmed, and then became a little bit more so. The work I am doing is kinda similar to what I was doing before, however the difference (and it’s quite a spectacular difference), is that the work that I would do before in about a month I am now required to do in an hour.
The turnover of clients is massive; I receive at minimum about ten new referrals a week and that is on top of a caseload of about thirty. Previously I never worked with more than about ten people at a time. I have had to adjust my own expectations, something which I had to do previously, but this time it has been a case of leaving behind the notion of person-centred work in the way which I had interpreted it.
I went into this line of work extremely naive, and extremely idealistic. I haven’t lost either of those traits completely because I think you’ve got to hold onto the dream a little bit, but I’m realising that it’s impossible to put the client first in all situations. I will likely never be able to work with clients in the way that my social workers worked with me- but I’m OK with this now. I’m hoping that the longer I do the job, and the more comfortable and confident I become with the process, the more I will be able to explore ways of working which hold onto my core values.
At the end of next week, it will be the end of my third month and I am planning on returning to the world of writing, word-press and the outside world generally.
Hope to see some of y’all about out there