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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

The Probation Mutual Appreciation Society

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This is @ZoeStaffsGMPT eighth and final post in a series about her life and learning as a probation officer.

 

This is my final blog folks, and is a tribute to the wonderful probation officers I work with, exemplified by people on twitter such as @poOfficer @officerbazza and @probation_pract

As previously mentioned, I have been fortunate enough to be in gainful employment with the Probation Service for nearly a decade now. Not quite long enough that it’s the only job I’ve ever known – I’ve had dalliances with recruitment consultancy, karaoke demonstration singing and zoo-keeping – but long enough to know that I never want to go back to the zoo.

It’s the work; yes. It’s the feeling you’re actually doing something that isn’t for profit of the fat cats, but the benefit of the under-dogs. But for me, most of all – it’s the staff I work alongside and the values, culture and behaviour they embody.

Things like…..

 Positivity

Probation officers are like ‘Weebles’. Knock us down, and we get right back up again. When you spend a large percentage of your time working with people who don’t want to be there, you just have to make your own positivity and hope they catch it – like an extremely contagious “happy-rash”. When you find out the drug user you’ve worked with has relapsed for the umpteenth time, you have to have some inner resilience to pick yourself up and try again, so you can pick them up too. And yes…I know there are some negative officers out there – some would say rebellious, others would say healthily cynical, occasionally even whiny – but even they, at the heart of it, are whining for the right reasons.

 A Creative Bunch

Is it just me, or does there seem to be a disproportionate number of left-handers in probation services? (me being one of them). We did a straw poll in our office once, and it was FULL of lefties. In another, we put on a “Talent” show to raise money for a Women’s Refuge and it was amazing how many talented musicians came out of the woodwork. Myself and my District Manager set up as a guitar-vocals-duo, and another Probation Officer was on the fiddle (not in the false accounting sense).

Of course, what all Cosmo-quiz readers will tell you is that being left-handed instantly makes you into Van Gogh’s brother-from-another-mother. However, having observed first hand the drawing capacity of some of our programme tutors, I don’t think we’ll be winning The Turner Prize any time soon.  But I do see a willingness to try new things and be creative in my colleagues. When I did training for them, demo-ing my new victim awareness sessions which involve drawing cartoons and running around a room putting cards on the floor – I got less resistance than I thought. Having said that – my next venture involves a ball pool and a washing line – maybe I’ve gone that little bit too far this time….

Social Chameleons

Working with the variety of human existence that comes through probation’s doors, stands you in great stead for dealing with the equally strange, wonderful and downright awful people you meet in every day life. If my friends were the kinds that had dinner parties – I am sure I’d be the one they’d stick next to “Nigel” – the three-times divorcee with pants three sizes too tight and an obsessive encyclopaedic knowledge of his ex-wife’s new boyfriend’s failings. We are generally a safe pair of hands when it comes to meeting new people, as we have to do it so often, and often with those other people wouldn’t give the time of day to. When put in a room of strangers, we’re just thrilled that we’re not being asked to facilitate a drugs group with them. And you get used to making small talk, when you spend your day talking to a lad who is giving one word answers, still in ‘no comment’ mode from their police interviews. As one of my boyfriend’s friends used to say “I am a social hand grenade….just pull out the pin and ROLL me in”

 Deep-rooted values

I went to a works party once of someone I know. I won’t say who. She worked in a ‘normal’ job anyway (that should narrow it down then). It was fancy dress, and two of her colleagues came ‘blacked up’ in black make-up and made vaguely racist jokes all night. I was horrified (as was she) but when I asked her about it she explained that there was quite a few people she worked with whose views she didn’t agree with, but what could she do? They didn’t do anything wrong at work, and the company looked for work skills, not whether they had a subscription to The Guardian or not.

That’s when I realised how blissfully and ignorantly lucky I had been all these years to be working in an organisation where the values someone has are the bedrock of the reasoning behind employing them. Even admin officers are asked what their understanding of ‘diversity’ is in interview.  It’s not just that the ‘isms’ aren’t “tolerated” in probation. It’s that we are FIGHTING these isms every day. I certainly don’t have to put up with such blatant ignorance and prejudice from colleagues as “just the way it is”. If you cut a probation officer open, I wouldn’t be surprised to see “belief in the capacity to change” running through them like a stick of rock.

Again, I’m not so naive to think that there aren’t any people who work in probation, that are prejudiced. We all have our prejudices. But at least, starting the process by focusing on your employees values has got to be better than nothing, hasn’t it?

Over and out

 

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One Response

  1. BIG thanks, Zoe. I have really enjoyed your blog posts and am sad they are ending. I happened on the first one through Twitter and found it a delight. I worked in prison education for 20 years, and what struck me was chiming with so much of what you said, even though seeing people in different circumstances. In probation and prison work we obviously have the same “client group” – and with the same ultimate aim of helping them towards a crime-free lifestyle – just meet them at different stages of their “journey”. (Often an much-repeated journey, it has to be said.)

    One poignant thing in your first post was about offenders being an unhealthy bunch. In the structured environment of prison, with basic needs taken care of, we’d see many of those same people get visibly more fit and well, eat properly, go the gym, engage in meaningful work or education, EVEN – in some cases – get off the drugs. The sad thing is that life on the out is just so damn hard that it can be difficult to maintain this.

    On a lighter note, my total favourite bit in your blogs was about the central part played in your work by … Febreze! Loved that!

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