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Her indomitable spirit

A retrospective of 2019

It was a year of challenging the norms, exploring the Arts and Media and pushing some boundaries. It has had its highs and lows with times of difficulty and frustration yet amongst it all there have been moments to celebrate, moments of laughter and new friendships made.

The year began at one of my favourite places, the beach at Aldeburgh on the beautiful Suffolk coast, wrapped up against the elements, a brisk walk with my family and then tea in the warm. Perfect.

My first trip of the year into Westminster was for the APPG on Miscarriages of Justice, at a session entitled: ‘Aftermath of Wrongful Convictions: Addressing the Needs of the Wrongfully Convicted in England and Wales’. We were reminded that half of all victims of miscarriages of justice were homeless within six months of their convictions being overturned.

According to ‘Supporting Exonerees’ a JUSTICE report published 2018, in the last five years only five people have received compensation from the Ministry of the Justice after having their convictions overturned and not a single person in 2018. By contrast, between 1999 and 2004, there were 162 successful applications.

Across the year there were four sessions of the APPG on Miscarriages of Justice, all of which I managed to attend. These were co-chaired by Baroness Stern and Lord Garnier QC, and featured members including: Dame Anne Owers, National Chair of Independent Monitoring Boards; Michelle Nelson QC, Barrister at Red Lion Chambers; Dr Philip Joseph, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist; and Erwin James, Editor-in-Chief of Inside Time.

My sincere hope is that the work performed by this APPG, even though it has no statutory powers, will be effective in some way and not evaporate like a silent conversation that never happened.

It was also a pleasure to attend a joint Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA) and Ministry of Justice event, held at Petty France, London to discuss the aging population in prisons. It’s well known that the level of healthcare and social care within prisons is inconsistent and all too often not fit for purpose.

This was the first of six CJA round tables and meetings I attended and participated in during the year, including their AGM.

Not all my work is in Westminster or even in London. For example, as a part of the Female Leaders at 50 (Twitter: @femaleleaders50), I was able to share part of my story, listen to others and enjoy a fantastic evening reception and dinner in Cambridge. Thank you to Ciara Moore, looking forward to our next gathering this year.

Female Leaders at 50

 

Being recommended for membership of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) was a highlight because it showed that what I am able to contribute to society has value. In fact the letter I received from the RSA included a copy of the statement by the person who recommended me, saying:

“Faith is a very potent voice and commentator on prison issues. Her blog https://faithspear.wordpress.com/ has quite a following. She is an accomplished writer and speaker and has huge respect in prison reform circles.”

In the letter, the RSA said:

“I believe that you have an important contribution to make in supporting our work, and that you will be a valuable addition to our diverse and influential movement of like-minded people committed to building a better society”

I was so delighted and can assure you I’ve already begun to make good use of my membership to this prestigious organisation. Planning, sharing ideas and debriefing after meetings. The RSA provides an excellent space to meet and greet at its venue in central London which is very convenient given the nature of the work I am asked to do.

The Spring season was busy both personally and professionally. Dr Marianne Colbran kindly invited me to attend an LSE media event: ‘Breaking prison narratives’. The event produced interesting conversations, some heated debate, and time for participants to reflect individually on what the day meant for them. It was eye-opening and definitely an event I was pleased not to miss.

Michael Palin

The Executive Ladies lunch with Lady Val Corbett later the same month featured guest speaker Michael Palin. Michael was very engaging to listen to, with anecdotes of his life and adventures. He showed particular patience afterwards as many asked for a memento selfie photo. Networking, raising funds for prison reform and for the Robin Corbett Awards always makes it a working lunch with a clear and meaningful objective. The help, strength, encouragement and inspiration that people derive from these lunches is priceless. And that was exactly how it was when Prue Leith joined us as guest speaker later in the year. What an entertaining and fascinating woman.

Large parts of my work can be challenging and distressing. Sometimes it can be harrowing.

I attended the inquest into the death of a young man, Thomas Kemp. The Suffolk area coroner, Jacqueline Devonish, recording narrative conclusions, said: “Kemp stabbed his wife to death during a psychotic episode when she tried to prevent him from harming himself. He then took his own life.”

The fact that he killed his wife and then himself was widely reported, including in my local media because he worked at the local university. But his full connection with the justice arena was not mentioned. I first met him back in Summer 2017 when visiting the University campus because I was invited to observe training of graduates. Thomas was employed by the University of Suffolk as an administrator. He worked on the Masters programme called ‘Unlocked Graduates’. After his death, his name was rapidly erased from the university’s website and, to the best of my knowledge, no acknowledgement of his tragic death was ever published on the Unlocked Graduates website.

Let’s hope the memory of Thomas Kemp has not been totally erased. Whilst I do not condone what he did, as someone who appeared to have serious mental health issues, it is clear that the system failed him and his wife.

I have subsequently learned that many involved in the teaching of the Unlocked Graduates programme at the University of Suffolk have themselves had to take time off due to stress. For me, there are many questions about Unlocked Graduates which remain unanswered and I know I’m not the only one.

The Creative arts in prisons is an area which interests me greatly. So, this year it was particularly interesting to have visited Snape Maltings for the celebration of their 20-year collaboration with HMP Warren Hill. The day was made up of performances, art exhibition and workshops showcasing the role of music and arts in rehabilitation with their partners Koestler Arts, The Irene Taylor Trust, Clean Break and Fine Cell Work.

Entering the main auditorium, I noticed someone waving at me and was surprised to see it was Dame Anne Owers (Chair of Trustees, Koestler Arts). We sat together to watch the performance; at one point, they handed out percussion instruments and everyone was encouraged to join in with creating improvised music. The whole event was one of inclusion, acceptance, hope and the potential of those currently serving sentences. It was a privilege to speak afterwards with some of the musicians and singers.

From that event came an invitation by Fanny Jacob, Creative Project Leader and Julian Earwaker, Writer in Residence at HMP Warren Hill to an art exhibition and fundraiser. A fascinating afternoon was spent with around 30 guests including the local Mayor. I chose to support the Families In Need (FIND) charity by purchasing one of the works of art.

I wanted to explore a little more about what role the Arts play within the prison estate. For that reason, I attended another Koestler Art exhibition, this time on London’s South Bank entitled “Another Me”.

Erwin James

Some people visit these exhibitions in groups, others in pairs but I prefer to visit alone so that other people’s initial reflections don’t become mine. For me it’s not just the pieces of art that can stop me in my tracks but the titles given to the pieces. For example, this year I discovered works of art called “Stand Alone”, “Consequences”, “Innocent Man” and “Woo Are You Looking At?”.

From matchsticks to J-cloths, from socks to gold leaf, such variety of materials used with such ingenuity.

But the question that stayed in my mind was:

“Are these exhibits examples of escapism or expressionism?”

I took this question forward and developed it when having the opportunity to interview the writer Erwin James. Choosing a venue familiar to me but unfamiliar to Erwin, my motivation was to try to explore the impact on a person who becomes a prisoner of being categorised and given a number and watched by security; just like works of art in galleries. An interesting parallel that I have tried to explore in the past.

This is the amazing feedback from Erwin:

“One of the highlights of my year in 2019 was being interviewed by Faith in the National Portrait Gallery. I’ve been interviewed many times over the years by press, radio and tv – but what I liked about Faith’s approach was that she wanted to introduce art as our common ground as well as our interest in prison reform. I’ve known and admired Faith for a number of years. We haven’t always agreed on prison reform issues, but I’ve always respected her integrity, which shines in her writing, her passionate crusade for a more humane and effective prison system – and above all her indomitable spirit. I’m just glad we’re on the same side…”

Jeremy Paxman

My return visit to the Bernard Jacobson Art Gallery in London was on a warm summers evening. It was the occasion of the bi-annual Contrarian Prize, for which I was pleased to have been nominated in 2017. The gallery was full and I met some real and would-be contrarians. The winner was Katherine Birbalsingh (Twitter: @Miss_Snuffy), founder of Michaela School and the prize was awarded by Jeremy Paxman. Chatting afterwards, Jeremy told me he had heard of me, which was somewhat astonishing. But the conversation with him was good and far from superficial.

It was also a genuine pleasure to catch up with my friend Ali Miraj, founder of the Contrarian Prize.

Being met in the entrance hall at the Lebanese Embassy by His Excellency the Ambassador for Lebanon to the United Kingdom, Rami Mortada, was an unexpected and memorable moment. Having received an invitation from Dr Lewis Owens the evening reception was arranged for former hostages Terry Waite and John McCarthy to meet on Lebanese soil together for the first time since their kidnap. It was a proud moment for me to meet them both, Dr Waite for the second time, and to have the opportunity for a short conversation. The ordeal of these remarkable men, imprisoned against their will, provides us all huge lessons about incarceration.

Terry Waite and John McCarthy

This year it has once again been a pleasure to be an associate member of The Corbett Network. It’s founder Lady Val is an inspirational woman, who I am pleased to call a friend. Her determination to promote reintegration and to support those released from prison into meaningful employment is exemplary. She has gathered around her a group of people who share this vision. Among them is Jo Apparicio, Business Management Director at The Chrysalis Programme, with whom I share the same passions and sense of humour, and to whom I leave the last words of this blog.

Thank you for reading.

“I was first introduced to Faith in May 2017 at a Networking event. I was immediately struck by Faith’s absolute passion, drive grace & unconquerable spirit in ensuring that individuals caught up in our judicial system are listened to, given a voice opportunity & support to reintegrate back into their families & communities in a positive & sustainable way with dignity as returning citizens to our society. Working with Faith over the past couple years in this environment sharing many common goals & thoughts I am in constant awe of Faith’s passion & drive and feel a great privilege to call her a dear friend. Faith is indeed a rare lady & a real woman of substance & I have no doubt that with her drive & passion she will be instrumental in the future in helping change the judicial system & prison reform for the better supporting individuals both in the prison system & also on release reintegrate and return to our society in a positive way”

 

In the context of a blog like this, it’s possible to only mention a fraction of the workload, time and miles covered. For obvious reasons you will appreciate I’m unable to share the full extent of everyone I have met or all that has been done.

~

An interview on a Summer’s day

How/why did your involvement in the CJS come about?

I turned down my place to study for a degree and instead moved from Lincolnshire to Essex at the age of 19. My first “proper” job was in admin with NACRO in Colchester. I worked primarily in wages and finance. At that point NACRO provided 6 months work placements in painting and decorating or in gardening teams etc for those who had just come out of prison. I heard amazing stories from those men and some brought newspaper cuttings to show me of their various escapades, including a headline “Most wanted man in Britain” They made me laugh and some made me shed a few tears. But for me I had many questions that were never answered.

What happens after 6 months?

What about their families, how can they support them financially?

Was this really a way for integration back into society?

Why is only manual labour available?

I helped set up and train staff for a new branch of NACRO and then moved on to work in Finance for the NHS. However, I believe a seed was planted all those years ago.

Fast forward 25 years, I was accepted into University. I became a full-time student studying Criminology with 2 kids at school, 1 at college, a part time job and my husband working full time and studying also, I embarked on a very busy 3 years of multi-tasking!

For my first presentation I chose to speak on Women in prison and the Corston report, I researched thoroughly but was marked down because no one was interested in prisons and especially not women in prison, it was deemed not an exciting enough subject. Great start. My next presentation was about Restorative Justice and yet again I was questioned as to why I was interested, one lecturer even said, “What’s that?”. A pattern was emerging of my interest into those within the CJS and those that had been released increased. I was not put off and in my 3rd year the title for my dissertation was: Restorative Justice: Is it delivering strategic change in England and Wales or just a cost cutting exercise by the Government?

To understand the significance of Restorative Justice I arranged interviews with experts in the UK, NZ and USA, even Howard Zehr widely regarded as the Grandfather of RJ agreed to help. I consumed document after document on RJ and was a frequent visitor at the Cambridge University Library, floor 6 (those stairs almost killed me!) and the Institute of Criminology Library.

I graduated with an honours degree in Criminology and looked for my next step.

I joined the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay and in just three years became the Chair.

I wrote about the things I saw and heard but what I didn’t expect was what happened next. I was confronted with a prejudicial character assassination brought against me, a fight to clear my name, being investigated twice by the Ministry of Justice, called in front of a disciplinary hearing in Petty France and the involvement of not one but two Prison Ministers. I felt that I was on my own against a bastion of chauvinism. Not the last bastion of their kind I would come across. Welcome to the IMB!

Laurence Cawley 12072017

My continuing journey can be found in my blog: The Criminal Justice Blog www.faithspear.wordpress.com

Because my story is fairly unique it has been covered by BBC News, Channel 4 News, BBC Radio Oxford, BBC Radio Suffolk, 5Live, LBC as well as National and Local newspapers, law journals and online publications etc.

Religion is clearly important to you, what role does God play in your life?

I remember going to Chapel with my grandparents as a young child and hearing my Dad and Grandfather sing the old hymns with deep sincerity. Christianity has always been part of my life. My faith in God has often been tested.

How do you balance work and life responsibilities?

I often say I’m a Mum first, always have been always will be. My husband and my kids are the most important people in my life, I have a great relationship with them all. They understand who I am and what motivates me to do what I do. They understand the bigger picture and that for me it is a cause and not merely a job. That in itself I realise is exceptional and I find I am continually grateful because I know that the level of family support I have is sadly not available to everyone. I can’t do this stuff on my own. They are also aware of the work I do behind the scenes and the many hours of support I give freely.

What role, if any, has luck played in your life?

Things happens for a reason, we don’t always know or understand the reason why. We all have issues to face and hurdles to climb and times of joy and celebration. Luck doesn’t fit in my life at all.

Not only have you been a source of inspiration to me in certain areas, I have also seen you inspire others and would like to know who inspired, or inspires you and why?

lady constance lytton

A few years ago, I wrote a journal article with a friend of mine, Dr David Scott about a remarkable woman, Lady Constance Lytton, commemorating 100 years since her book Prisons and Prisoners was published. In it she presented one of the most significant challenges to 20th Century anti-suffrage politics. Her book is a harrowing personal account of her four prison sentences as a militant suffragette. It is also a compelling insight into the mind of a young woman consumed by a cause which would prove to be instrumental in prison reform and votes for women, as well as tragically being a contributory factor to her death. My inspiration, which comes from her being consumed by a cause, makes me wonder if that is still possible. This wasn’t a phase she was going through or a pastime, it was a lifestyle.

I admire her courage and determination. I see this in so few people but when I find it, it is unmistakable. Let me give you an example, Tracy Edwards MBE. At the age of 26 she was the skipper for the first all-female crew for the Whitbread Round the World Race. It is not so much the fact that she sailed around the world, although that in itself is remarkable, but it is the reason why that I find compelling. She said “First time in my life I stood up for something I believed in” I have met and chatted with Tracy, she is an inspiration to me without a doubt.

What would you say is your greatest accomplishment and/or achievement is?

I think that my greatest accomplishment is staying true to myself, maintaining integrity and not bowing to pressure to conform.

In terms of my greatest achievement let me give you a couple of examples. First, being nominated for the Contrarian prize 2017 especially when you realise the key criteria that the judges look for are Independence, Courage and Sacrifice.

With Ali Miraj

Ali Miraj and Faith Spear

Second, last year I was deeply moved and excited to learn that I had been counted as one of the 100 inspirational Suffolk women alongside people such as Dame Millicent Fawcett.

As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?

On one of my visits to the House of Parliament I took time to seek out one of the most outspoken MP’s known for saying it as it is. I sat down next to Dennis Skinner and asked him a very simple question. I asked, “How do you get heard in this place?”. Mr Skinner looked me straight in the eye and offered me advice I will never forget. With his characteristic directness, he said, “You have to be seen to be heard”. I’ve taken his advice and applied it to all I do. This has not come naturally to me as people who know me will tell you.

Everybody wants to have their say and everyone has an opinion. But there is a big difference between those who say their piece ad nauseum and those who have something to say.

In one sense all that people have heard from me so far is simply learning to overcome the barriers of not being heard. When I have learned enough then I am sure I will have gained the clarity with what I have to say.

If you were given the prisons and probation ministers role, what changes would you make?

I would scrap the titan prison building programme and instead invest in smaller local units, making families more accessible and start to break down the barriers between those in prison and those on the outside.

I would encourage industry to step out of their comfort zone and give more people with convictions a second chance. To remove the stigma of a criminal record so that it is not forever hanging around people’s necks. We are a deeply divided and hurt society that is full of prejudges.

I would ban all industries within prisons that do not provide purposeful activities and a decent wage. People need to be work ready on release with housing and job options already in place. Families should be able to stay together and be supported, children should be prioritised.

I would make sure everyone working within the CJS were trained sufficiently for their roles and supported in their jobs.

As a prisons minister you can only change what is in your field of influence to change. In other words, you need to be precise, you need be pragmatic and you need to learn whose advice you can trust. Then act on it.

One of my priorities as Prisons Minister would be to take advice to demonstrate better things to invest in. Diversion, or Restorative Justice or Community.

Put money into early years, into youth etc.

We have to stop this madness of believing that we can change people and their behaviour by banging them up in warehouse conditions with little to do and not enough to eat and sanitation from a previous century.

As Prisons Minister I would initiate change that would lead to every prison Governor carrying personal accountability for the way they run the prisons they are responsible for. It’s not their prison, its ours and they must run it properly, giving people in their care decent conditions and personal dignity regardless of what crime the courts have sent them to prison for. The moment Governors carry that personal accountability is the moment you will see astonishing changes in HMPPS.

I will ensure under performing Governors leave the service and are not continually rotated around the prison estate or promoted to more senior positions. They have to know the weight of the accountability they carry.

Finally, what are you hopes and aspirations for the future of the criminal justice, and also for you?

Transparency and Accountability should underline every decision made. No more carpets where issues are swept under. No more excuses for the crisis within the system. We talk too much, we deliberate too much and have too many committees. There are too many roundtable events, conferences, discussions where everyone is saying they are experts yet so much remains the same. We produce too many reports, reviews and paperwork that gets filed away. Now is the time for action, for investment in people and for priorities to change. Lets just get on with it and stop competing and instead work toward a common objective, such as drastically reducing the prison population

In the next five years, I will continue to speak up truthfully and will add my voice to the very many voices calling for change. I will support policies introduced by the current Prisons and Probation Minister or by their successor where those policies do bring about real change. However, I shall not hesitate in bringing a strong critique where those policies gloss over the hard questions or where they shirk the implementation of measures for real reform. I will finish on this:

Vision is often personal, but a cause is bigger than any one individual

People don’t generally die for a vision, but they will die for a cause

Vision is something you possess, a cause possess you

Vision doesn’t eliminate the options; a cause leaves you without any options

A good vision may out live you, but a cause is eternal

Vision will generate excitement, but a cause generates power

[Adapted from Houston (2001)]

Whistle while you work

Is whistleblowing a band wagon to jump onto?

Usually you don’t suddenly wake up in the morning and say, “Today I’m going to be a whistle-blower”. The negative connotations surrounding whistleblowing such as being an informant, betrayer, or even a backstabber is not something to aspire to.

Yet, these descriptions cannot truly explain why there are those in the minority that will put their head above the parapet, will risk their reputation and often lose their job through speaking out.

So, have we become largely a society that will cower rather than stand up, do we lack courage or integrity or both?

Fear of reprisals can cause us to retreat, to stay silent but in so doing are we not being true to ourselves. It takes more than just determination to be vocal about issues you are passionate about. Unfortunately, when living in such a punitive society, the norm is to shut people down rather than to listen.

Having sat at an employment tribunal  with an experienced Prison Officer listening to their case of dismissal, my thoughts were not that they wanted revenge, not at all. I saw passion, I heard a very determined individual with a story that has affected not only their work, their life but possibly their health too.

It’s too easy for society to ignore the reality in our prisons in England and Wales, where violence, instability and a lack of investment over decades has reduced them to warehouses of the vulnerable. Numerous are inhumane and on the point of crisis.

Equally, let’s not point the finger at those that want transparency in the Criminal Justice System, instead we should push for accountability and not lose sight that one day those in prison may be a loved one or will become our neighbour.

Time to stop shooting the messenger 

Recently I met Michael Woodford, the inaugural winner of the Contrarian Prize and former CEO of Olympus who exposed a $1.7 billion fraud at the heart of Olympus and was sacked for doing so. He had more than most to lose by speaking out.

faith spear with michael woodford at contrarian prize lecture in london 450px

Faith Spear and Michael Woodford

According to: https://www.gov.uk/whistleblowing

“As a whistleblower you’re protected by law – you should not be treated unfairly or lose your job because you ‘blow the whistle’.

You can raise your concern at any time about an incident that happened in the past, is happening now, or you believe will happen in the near future”

But is this really so?

It also states:

“You’re a whistleblower if you’re a worker and you report certain types of wrongdoing”

But what if you are a volunteer?

Yes, you work and often very hard, but where is the protection mechanism?

In my experience, being a volunteer for many years offers little protection especially when dealing with the Ministry of Justice. Even going through the “normal” channels produces little response. Suddenly people become hard of hearing, blind to what is happening all around them and stick their heads in the sand.

I’m not like that, I am very aware of many untold stories and issues within the justice system.

I put my head above the parapet once, I have no regrets even now still living with the consequences.

I would do it again.

And plan to do shortly!

Contrarian Prize 2017 nominee

I feel proud to have been nominated for the Contrarian Prize for 2017 and thank you to Ali Miraj and the judges for considering me for this prestigious prize. My congratulations go to Professor Patrick Minford for winning the Contrarian Prize 2017.

Ali Miraj with Faith Spear 0544 lev1 600px

Ali Miraj with Faith Spear

This is the Mission statement for her Majesty’s Prison Service for England and Wales:

“Her Majesty’s Prison Service serves the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts. Our duty is to look after them with humanity and help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release”

 

I’m sorry but this is nonsense

 

  • The reality is that on average there is a suicide in prison every 3 days
  • Violence is on the increase
  • Self-harm is on the increase
  • Drugs are everywhere.
  • Prisons are overpopulated and under staffed.
  • Many prisoners are locked in their cell for up to 23 hours per day with little to do and little to eat.

 

Our prisons are in crisis but reform is taking too long. It has become a humanitarian issue.

 

Yet, for speaking the truth to those in power for prison reform I was bullied, ostracised, suspended and investigated by the MoJ for misconduct.

Despite a prejudicial character assassination against me, continuing to speak out for prison reform and for speaking to the press was, according to the MoJ, gross misconduct so the Prisons Minister dismissed me from the Independent Monitoring Board for 5 years.

 

I haven’t finished yet I’m just getting started. I assure you this I am not shutting up and I am not going away. I will put this nomination to work immediately by using my voice as a Contrarian to assure reform in the Criminal Justice System.

 

I’m not here to join the debate I’m here to change the debate…that’s what Contrarians do!