I have been visiting a young offenders institute regularly to deliver sessions on the effects of weapon crime as part of a Gang, Guns & Knives programme for young people. The 4 day course tackles gun and knife crime and looks at ways of helping the young people lead different lives when released back into the community and also discuss the negatives around being in gangs and gang related crimes.
I have to admit that I was more than a little nervous prior to my first visit. While I already deliver similar sessions to young offenders in the community, I was concerned that this may be my toughest audience yet.
My nerves weren’t eased at all when I arrived at the prison reception for the first time to find that I must go through security checks, a scanner, and a body search before leaving my handbag and it’s contents in a locker for the day (no phone all day!!)
I am escorted by a prison officer wherever I go and every single door or gate must be unlocked and locked again as we pass through. The prison officers are a really good bunch and when we chat over lunch I am reminded of the mess room banter that we have in the ambulance service.
The sessions take place in the education centre within the prison grounds; I normally deliver two sessions over one day – one in the morning and another in the afternoon. As the young people come in to the room they always acknowledge me respectfully and say ‘Hello Miss’ – female staff and visitors are always addressed as ‘Miss’. At each sitting there are up to 12 young people and 2 or 3 prison officers present. The sessions follow a similar format to the ones that I have described previously.
As I have come to expect now, it is the recording of the 999 call made by the distressed sister whose brother has been stabbed, that appears to have the most impact. I play the recording first and ask them to listen with their eyes closed because it is a good way to quieten them and bring the mood down in readiness to talking about my experience of attending a scene where a young person has been fatally stabbed.
There are often a lot of very good questions after hearing the recording and my testimony; and these two invariably come up;
“Why did the ambulance take so long to get there?” To which I explain the importance of giving the exact location where the ambulance is required clearly and promptly. I also tell them that demand on the ambulance service can sometimes exceed supply because we are very busy with other calls or may have to travel some distance to the call.
“Why are the police always sent first?” This process clearly baffles them, until I tell them that the police are there to protect us while we go about our job and also point out that because a serious crime has taken place, the scene must be preserved and an investigation will take place.
I take in some medical equipment including urinary catheters and colostomy bags with me to prompt discussion around other non-fatal injuries. They normally initially start to laugh about the concept but it doesn’t usually take long for them to seriously consider the impact that these may have on their life – and in particular their sex life.
Personally, I avoid any gory photographs as I believe that rather than being shocked many of us are desensitised to such images nowadays; I have seen them laughed at during other people’s presentations. Instead, I am keen to show images of well-healed scars and deformities that some young victims have to live with as the emotional impact of these can be more enduring.
I have always been very impressed with the willingness of the young people to engage. At times the discussion can become very lively and animated – which I prefer over silent and sullen any day. Often they talk about their experiences of being stabbed or of losing a friend or relative to knife or gun crime. This provides an excellent opportunity to talk about how their loved ones would feel if they were to become victims and how the impact can be far reaching, affecting schools, communities and professionals. They have asked me if I get upset when I deal with fatalities. I explained that I do, because as a mother of three children, I can empathise with their parents. Some of them seemed concerned by this and very kindly asked if I received counselling.
After we have finished the main talk I enjoy a more informal chat with them and we often end up laughing about all sorts of different things. As they leave the room they all come and shake my hand and say ‘Thank you Miss’.