In this blog Equalities Ambassador Johanna-Alice Cooke discusses her personal journey and the system of rehabilitation in Scotland.
I’m Johanna and I’m a volunteer Equality Ambassador with EaRN. Not long ago I was something different… This blog is about recovery, offending and why how we treat those moving away from offending behaviour is an equality issue affecting us all.
My offences were committed in a clump in the summer of 2016. I’ve three Statutory Breaches of the Peace convictions, and served an eighteen month community payback order in consequence. That’s the bare facts, but below the surface, I’m a woman scarred by an abusive childhood, who did desperate things that only hurt herself in a mental health crisis.
My sentence was a positive thing for me because in Scotland a lot of offending behaviours are also seen as public health issues rather than solely as criminal justice issues. My sentence was for support and treatment in a vulnerable women’s recovery and rehabilitation project called Willow here in Edinburgh.
No one ever changes a person in any positive and lasting way by treating them unjustly or by stigmatising them. What happened to me in the supervision sessions, which I would have attended without the order, was that my story was heard, the injustices in my life recognised, and the reasons I went off the rails identified and acknowledged. Once I was understood as a person, I moved into group sessions, a lot of which were about mental health and recovery – one option was the same Survive and Thrive course the NHS delivers across Scotland each year. Another was an introduction to MBT, a therapy expressly designed to help people with my kind of issues. I finished up in individual sessions with a clinical psychologist working focussing on me and my recovery.
So many of the women who offend in Scotland suffer from Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (or Borderline). The offences we commit are generally less serious and less violent than those committed by men. The reasons women offend are often rooted in the poor mental health that exposure to abuse and neglect throughout their lives engenders.
The Scottish approach is simple: Address the mental health issues that underlie offending behaviours and you can increase quality of life and reduce the potential for reoffending at the same time.
It’s not easy recovering. You expect to be hated, stigmatised and blamed. You can be bereft of even hope of hoping. You need to learn to want to hope, to hope, and to trust the people supervising you are there to first help you, and administrate your sentence second. You have to reach deep inside and recognise this is an awful, painful and protracted process of learning to be more in control of your emotions, thoughts and life.
Another thing I am is a psychology student. So I understood the process at Willow and how it could help me. I saw other women without that insight hoping and engaging anyway every day. I saw women like me recovering and doing it together just reinforced our progress.
The system works. Investing in helping offenders rather than inflicting punitive sentences positively changes lives.
At some point your time in the safety of somewhere like Willow ends, and the wider-world awaits you. Only you don’t take that step alone. You just direct where the transition takes you and get supported through it.
For me that’s Volunteer Edinburgh. I wanted to be part of creating greater equality. Walking through the front door and telling my story for the first time was really terrifying!
For a recovering offender like me, what we most need after spending years being helped to put ourselves back together is for that to be recognised. It’s not wiping the slate clean, it’s simply seeing us holistically.
Holistically is exactly how I was seen here, and how I became an Equality Ambassador, doing work I love. Since then I’ve talked with a really diverse range of people and only ever seen compassion for me and admiration of the work projects like Willow do when I tell my story.
I’m also autistic. I find it hard not to be open and honest and to the point. So when I tell my story it’s everything, not a version that makes me look good. I don’t have to look better than I am. I made some mistakes and did some wrong things, and I’m someone who took all the help available and became the person writing this. That’s enough.
I’m one of the success stories, I won’t reoffend and I’m not alone in recovering from offending. What I feel towards our justice system which could have punished me, but showed me compassion and invested in helping me instead is simple gratitude.
Whilst my story is personal, the wider societal issue here is reducing offending in Scotland.
That’s why how we treat recovering offenders is an equality issue that affects us all. Yes, we need to assess offenders leaving a sentence carefully. That’s common-sense. However we also need to see the person holistically. Rejection and self-hate are big parts of the poor mental health that many of Scotland’s female offenders suffer. When we finish a sentence, we’re like people the day a cast is removed. We work, but for a time we aren’t resilient and break easily.
Being seen as people and having our offending placed in the context of what we’ve done since, as well as the offending, and recognising the work we’ve done to recover and change, supports us and shows the stigma of minor offending does end and that recovering offenders can re-join our society with minimal barriers. To not have that reinforces rejection and self-hate and pushes us back towards the kind of poor mental health where we could offend again. And that is bad for everyone.
But if recovering offenders enjoy better mental health and don’t offend again, everybody wins.
How often can we genuinely say that?
Here at EaRN we are excited to announce we are hosting a free networking event on February 21st at the Norton Park Conference Centre. The concept of ‘networking’ can seem a bit mysterious and confusing. Basically, we are hosting an event where individuals, groups and organisations involved or interested in Equalities and Rights issues get a chance to meet, chat and share ideas. As well as an opportunity to meet others working within Equality and Rights in Edinburgh, it is also a space to promote your own project and connect with public sector representatives.
It is a great opportunity to find out who’s who and who’s doing what. The event is from 9.00am-1.00pm and will run as follows:
- 9.00-9.30am: Registration, tea & coffee.
- 9.30-1.00pm: Event open, visit stalls in our market place.
- 12.30-1.00pm: Light buffet lunch – if you have any dietary requirements please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
There will be a variety of stalls run by organisations based in the third and public sector. Each organisation will be promoting their projects and initiatives, giving everyone the perfect chance to find out more about the issues faced within Equalities and Rights and how people are tackling them. If any organisation would like to run a stall, and isn’t already, then please get in touch via email – email@example.com. There is limited number and they are filling fast so please get in touch as soon as possible!
For anyone and everyone interested in equalities and rights issues this is a brilliant way to get involved. From those who are new to the scene and want to get exposure to the projects underway, to those who have been active in equality and rights for years and want to discuss and share the issues important to them.
We are hoping to use the event and discussion surrounding Equality and Rights to help set our priorities here at EaRN. From feedback and involvement from the community and organisations we can use that to shape our future work and make it as relevant as possible.
It is a free event to attend and we would love to see you there. To register for the event please use the link here.
Date: 21st February 2019
Time: 9.00am – 1.00pm
Location: Norton Park Conference Centre, 57 Albion Road, Edinburgh, EH7 5QY
If you aren’t able to attend we would be grateful if you could spread the word in any way possible. Much appreciated!
In this blog Equalities Ambassador Luke Padfield, shares his experiences of attending the Human Rights Day celebrations at the Scottish Parliament on 10 December
On the 70th anniversary of the universal declaration of Human rights, delegates assembled at the Scottish Parliament for what was to be a memorable occasion.
The First Minister formally endorsed the main thrust of the Advisory Group’s recommendations in that the Scottish Government is to put forward a new Human Rights Act for Scotland. The new act will protect existing civil and political rights while at the same time incorporating social, economic and environmental rights. The use of language was cautious as politicians threw what weight was in their power behind the human rights agenda. The word ‘cultural’doing a bit of a vanishing act as it was included and omitted by various speakers. Notably, a young man of 16 years expressed his support for the incorporation of the principles of the UNCRC but challenged the FM to “fully incorporate the document before the end of this parliamentary session”.
Other brave voices were also heard with an Engineer from the University of Leeds talking of his threatened deportation, a delegate from Iran calling on the panel to condemn acts of violence against his people and a person with experience of abuse at the hands of mental health professionals all told their stories.
After several speakers and poems, we broke into groups to discuss various aspects of how to progress the Human Rights agenda in Scotland.How can the parliament best fulfil its role as a Human Rights guarantor? How can we best hear Children’s voices? Is there a consensus among politicians about what human rights actually mean? We heard from many practioners about their first hand experience of Human Rights with an emphasis on why, and perhaps more importantly how the language and practice of Human Rights is making a difference to people’s everyday lives. One of the most significantpoints of the day so far is the perceived sense of momentum behind this pieceof collective action. The question remains will this momentum be enough toensure these much discussed rights actually make it to the statute book?
In this blog post volunteer project assistant Bianca Jensen discusses the equality and rights implications of depression in the workplace.
Depression affects a huge amount of the people in our society, and if you have it, you may know it’s often missed when we talk of equality and rights.
Depression can be harder to spot than physical disabilities but can still have a huge impact on our lives. The experience can be made worse because we can hide how we feel due to stigma, feelings of inadequacy and shame. The impact of depression also flows into our work lives and can result in discrimination.
Personal Experience of Depression at Work
Susan who’s been a long-time sufferer of depression shared her experiences. “The anxiety from past negative experiences can stay with a person for a long time. I still remember the cruel words of people, voicing opinions about me that weren’t constructive or kind. At the time I knew I was falling behind in things, coming in late and becoming reactive. I found it incredibly difficult to deal with this since I felt out of control and helpless to change. The cutting remarks from managers and co-workers just added to the shame and isolation I was feeling. They ultimately added to my lack of self-esteem which kept me in the downward spiral longer”
In my experience, one reason this kind of discrimination happens is because it’s not understood, therefore the symptoms are attributed to something else. An example is when someone starts coming into work late, losing confidence and their productivity falls compared to their workmates. A colleague or manager may assume that they are just being inconsiderate and a bad employee but it’s the underlying issue of depression, not a character flaw.
Equalities Act 2010
A very important thing to know is that the Equalities Act 2010 classifies depression as a disability and therefore it’s covered by the same protections as other disabilities. This means that an employer can’t treat someone less favourably or fire them based on depression or for a reason relating to depression.
Employers are also under a responsibility to implement a reasonable adjustment to the workplace or the role if the disability puts the employee at a substantial disadvantage compared to their colleagues. In plain language this means that if you’re finding it much harder than your workmates because of depression, your employer needs to put things in place that can help you. These can be a wide range of things like allowing time away from work for appointments, time to collect yourself during stressful times or giving you a permanent desk rather than hot desk if you’ve got social anxiety. The changes vary between people and workplaces.
Benefits of a Diverse Workplace
In case you feel worried about asking for special treatment or being a bother, there’s a lot of research that states having a diverse workplace can be better for everyone involved. The benefits are substantial and include:
- Having a range of perspectives and ideas which fosters creativity and innovation
- A raised profile in the community
- Growing your talent pool by attracting a wider range of candidates to vacancies
- Improving morale when people know inclusivity is important. This can lead to better working environments and increased productivity
Personal Experience after Learning Coping Strategies
Susan is now in a much better space. She knows her own early signs of depression and has systems in place for heading it off before it gets too bad. She also deals with work better by knowing her limitations. “While before I used to run myself ragged trying to accomplish everything and more, I’ve now got an appreciation of working smarter not harder to get the work done. I’ve also acknowledged my perfectionist and people pleasing tendencies and know not everything will be 100% up to my standards, or all people happy, but that’s ok”. These things are all a part of a bigger plan to prioritise taking care of herself. She also mentioned that “I think I’m a sincerely happier person now and more capable of dealing what the world throws at me in a healthy way.”
It’s good to be aware that depression can be part of “intersectional” or “multiple” discrimination. This is where people have several protected characteristics therefore experience a more severe form of discrimination. When dealing with other types of discrimination depression can sometimes compound the problem.
This blog only scratches the surface of this subject, so if you want more information please read Blurt it out’s article, Depression: Your Rights at work, which covers your rights in much more detail.
My favourite quote that helped cut through some of my own fear and shame is that “having depression doesn’t mean you’re weak, you’ve just been strong far too long”.
A note for those dealing with depression: You are not alone, and it does get better! Reach out to someone you trust, and if they don’t understand keep trying other people until you find someone who does. Talk to a doctor and discuss options, there are a lot of options out there.
If you need help please contact one of the NHS recommended helplines here.
This applies to UK only, different countries will have different laws.
An opinion piece from EaRN project assistant Jenni, talking about consent in our sexual health choices.
It’s Sexual Health Week 2018 (24th- 30th September) and the theme is consent. I want to share with you my thoughts, discuss contraception and sexual well being.
First of all, a disclaimer, I have never written a blog post before. I’ve written pieces of academic work, I have scrawled my feelings into a diary and often after a few glasses of wine tried to organise my life into an iPhone note scattered with misspelling. So, this may turn out to be a mash of all three but I hope you find it interesting.
It is worth saying that everyone deserves the right to happy, fulfilling relationships and sexual intimacy if they want with whomever they choose.
This is coupled with the knowledge of how to take care of oneself to enjoy these relationships to the fullest. Knowledge of contraception, what you like and don’t like, understanding how important your emotional wellbeing is and how your contraception among other things may affect that.
On the Family Planning Association website, they wrote “Consent: Yes, yes, yes! will be talking about how consent is about far more than saying ‘No’ to unwanted activity. It’s about listening, negotiating, and enthusiastically agreeing.”
As a former anthropology student when I hear the word consent I think of ‘informed consent’. By which I mean knowing all the options and being given time to weigh them up, to decide for yourself what is the best course of action. Knowing what you are getting yourself into. This is SO relevant when it comes to your sexual health. Listening, negotiating and enthusiastically agreeing with your doctor about appropriate healthcare is key.
Leaving Northern Ireland where as a young person I was taught abstinence or hell fire, or an even worse outcome at that point pregnancy, coming to university I really had to do a lot of the research into contraception myself. With such repressed ‘education’ on sex and sexual health in Northern Ireland many young people are left feeling embarrassed, even guilty, by the whole ordeal.
Shame is interesting in that it is a learned response to societal pressure. Despite how much more empowered women appear in the media, the volume of ‘feminist’ merchandise the high street flogs on us, we deserve better than to feel restricted and embarrassed in taking charge of our sexual selves. I am thankful to have such strong female friends in my life who are not ashamed to talk about their sexual health, were open to questions, chatting about periods, we had a box of condoms in the shared bathroom and we would chum each other to the clinic for screenings.
Now this is the part where things get tricky. “Imaginary female trouble” is a phrase I was reminded of recently thanks to a designer, mental health activist and general good human on Instagram roobs_grlclb. What she says with more poetry than I can manage is that we live in a world where women, even when we try to voice our opinion, when we are trying to make informed choices that affect our bodies we are made to believe we don’t know ourselves.
In my opinion and experience, and the lives of people close to me often when it comes to contraceptive choices we are told that we just need to wait out the side-effects, the hormones will settle down. But what happens as a result of this dismissal is our ability to choose and negotiate is removed. Our feelings are invalidated. Side-effects can interrupt your day-to-day living, your relationships, and strikingly it takes on average 7.5years for an endometriosis diagnosis.
In the past whenever a woman was ill the umbrella term “hysteria” was used to explain away symptoms. For the low down on how this played out through the years, an explanation of the ‘trust gap’, with some excellent illustrations follow the link; The Dark History of Hysteria. This is “imaginary female trouble”. It encompasses plenty of other experiences outside of contraception (think gaslighting) and is directly the result of a patriarchal society and will be felt more acutely in all instances by people of colour and marginalised groups.
To sum this up, I want to re-iterate that consent is so incredibly important in your relationships and in your health and wellbeing. It should be taught from a young age that we all have the right to our own bodies and to treat them, and each other’s with respect in all instances. Doctors have a duty of care, to give you all the options and do not feel ashamed to use your voice to ask questions and be fully informed about your options. Whether is it contraception, pregnancy, abortion, your mental heath, your physical being; own your choices and do what is best for you.
Jenni McCandless. EaRN project assistant.
NHS Lothian are looking for your views on their draft Equality Outcomes for 2018-2021 and their British Sign Language Plan for 2018-2021.
As part of their statutory duty under the Equality Act 2010, NHS Lothian must publish equality outcomes every few years and report on progress towards meeting them. The NHS Lothian Equality Outcomes set out their approach to improving equity and justice – for the people of Lothian, and for our own staff.
As part of the process so far EaRN members took part in a workshop with NHS Lothian in June which helped shape the content and themes of the draft document.
The NHS Lothian British Sign Language Action Plan tells you what they will do in response to the commitments the Scottish Government has made in the Scottish National BSL Action Plan (October 2017). It also includes actions they will take in response to things people told us in the local engagement events and process earlier in 2018.
The consultation for both documents is open until Friday 7 September 2018 so get your views in now. To see the draft documents please click on the links above and to submit your feedback click HERE.