How is it episode 12 of Blondy’s People! And there are so many pukka people yet to come…..
Y.O.S (youth offending service), like prison, has been part of my life in one way or another. It’s something that I have always been linked to in some way both in my personal life and through work. I have to be honest; I have some very negative views of Y.O.S over the years.
For a long time, Y.O.S to me was somewhere you went for further punishment. Like an addition to your sentence where someone sat and told you off for an hour. Told you what you should and should not be doing and then you wouldn’t hear from them again until the next week or month.
As I got older my understanding of YOS changed, or more I started to understand why we had YOS workers.
Like in any practice, you get good and bad professionals. The ones that come to get paid and the ones that come to change lives.
I had a boy that I was working with who had to attend YOS. Now this boy…. he had been written off by everyone. It seemed like he had burnt his bridges with most people.
Now let’s be very clear before we go any further. This boy had been part of a serious crime. Someone had almost lost their life. People had been sentenced for a looooong time for their involvement. One of them involved was my boy. Let’s call him Child F. Now, Child F …he came with his own baggage way before the incident happened. Child F was 12 when I first met him. A sloppy smile and an even sloppier walk made me drawn to him. He walked with such swagger that I stopped what I was doing the first time he walked past me…like I stopped in my tracks…and watched this young bwoy swagger past, Bandana round his head, through the school reception like he was a gangster.
I quickly found out he walked like that because he was. Not a gangster. But a boy involved with gangs.
Me and Child F hit it off straight away. Kind of. We had a length battle for about an hour over the bandana which I removed. He threatened to have this done to me and that done to me if I did not give it back. I just walked to my office with him raging behind me. When I got to my office, I opened the door and shut it, so we were separated. He threw the door open making a big bang and carried on ranting away. We had a conversation that hour that will stick with me a long time. And I kept the bandana.
The next day we started a journey together that took us all the way through to “The incident”. I am not going to dwell on what happened. This blog is not about that. What I will tell you however is that after that evening no one looked at him the same. Well…. almost no one. He was arrested and charged. People got angry. I was angry. People didn’t want him back in school and I got that. They wanted him in a PRU. They demanded he was placed in a PRU.
He was assigned solely to me. The words “On your head be it” were said as I stood and argued for him.
Child F had a story. A history. He was more than his crime. Just in the same way his victim had a story, He was more than his attack.
But most people had decided that Child F no longer deserved an acknowledgement of his journey. He was now just “That kid” who did “That thing”. Even his mum could not look at him.
So, when it was time for his first visit to YOS, aged 14 year of age, it was my door he came to.
He no longer had the sloppy smile. Or the walk. All gone. He avoided eye contact. He stood in my office doorway rubbing his hand over his hair (That needed shaping so bad). He was neglecting himself. Or…. was it that he didn’t know how to care for himself in that way? I said his name. I said it again….so he would look at me. And he did.
“Ms…I need you to do something init” he said looking at his feet. I asked him what. He lent forward and gave me a letter. A few months before he would enter my room and come behind me, hugging my neck. Nicking sweets from my desk. Now he was too scared to get to close to anyone. He knew people didn’t want a boy like him near them. So, he gave me the letter and stepped back to the doorway. I didn’t ask him to sit. He wouldn’t. I had asked him a million times. It was like he no longer felt worthy of even that simple act of kindness. He was almost dehumanised. Worn down by everyone telling him or showing him that what he had done was disgusting. And it was.
I told him, one sunny afternoon siting on Clapham common, after “The incident” that if there had been a sexual element in his attack, I would not be able to work with him. I told him that I can forgive many things, but I have some hard boundaries on certain things. I also told him that not everyone thought like that. I told him that I did not like what he had done. I told him that I did not understand why he had done it, and then I told him I was disappointed in him.
He looked at me from under the peak of his cap that day and we never said a word about the crime again. Ever.
Anyway…I looked at the letter he had just passed me. It was from YOT telling him about his first meeting with them. I read the letter out to him…the first time I just read aloud. The second time I broke it down in parts.
Oh wait…did I not mention…Child F is dyslexic and spent so much time out of school due to his behaviour he could/can barley read. I still have the books in my loft I used to teach him to read. Biff and Chip. Child F could not read the letter and not many were willing to read it for him.
I asked him if he understood the letter and he said yes. SO, I folded it and gave it back. Turned back to my computer.
I looked back at him. I knew what he wanted. I just did not want to have to do it with him.
“Do you need me to come” I said gently. He nodded. Big tears filling his big brown sad eyes. He was scared. He knew YOT was big time. He also heard others around him talk about how harsh it was. If you didn’t comply you would go back to prison and such. I nodded. “of course, I will come bwoy” I said. Had always called him that….” Bwoy”.
We went to the YOT office a few days later and I had never seen him so shook. I was worried as well. I was worried that the YOT officer may not “Get” him. Buy I also knew that this child needed YOT to get back on track.
We were called in. We were greeted by a beautiful woman with long dreadlocks. She looked stern. She asked him his name and then asked me who I was as it was clear we were not related. She nodded as I said my role.
We sat. She went through his crime with him and spoke of consequences. As she spoke of the crime Child F kept looking sideways at me. To see how I reacted If I would flinch. I did not. Because my Bwoy was not this crime. It was something he did, but it was not who he was. So, I reached out and put my hand on his, and we listened together. My hand tightly gripping his. The same hands that had caused the injuries she spoke off… the same had that had held the knife she spoke of. The same hand that had been covered with his victims’ blood. I held his hand and I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks about that…. because that hand did indeed cause a lot of hurt and pain. But that same hand had played cards in my room….had shared lunch with me…and spudded my own sons hand…so I held it until she finished talking about “The incident” because that’s what he needed. Do I condone what he did…. never. Did I need to be there for him in that moment….yes.
She looked at him and said “So…. what do you wanna be when you grow up” He didn’t look up and shrugged. “Young man” she said so loudly that we both jumped “In this room you will learn to grow. You will not be judged. That has happened and that is why you are here. In this room the crime is no interest to me….I don’t care who you was…I care about who you intend to be from this point on” we both just looked at her…both our months slightly open….she then turned to me and said “And don’t you think your young man needs a haircut” and then she smiled the most beautiful smile.
She then went on to do some of the most outstanding work I have ever seen with a young person. I went back with him a few times. Now he walked in and greeted her with a smile and a handshake. They sat and chatted about life…. about ambition. When his YOT order finished she invited us both in. We sat in the same two chairs as we had the day, we arrived but the boy sitting next to me now…7 months later…this boy sat tall, confident. He was smiling. The YOT worker explained what would happen now and that her involvement was done. He looked sad and she tutted and said, “Hush now”. She said that he was a fine young man and that she was proud of him and everything he was.
She hen turned to me and said…. “He has something to say” gesturing with her head to Child F. He looked bashful and then…just at that moment…I say a glimpse of the sloppy smile of the little boy I once knew. He got out his phone and started reading something from it
“Dear Ms, thank you for not hating me. Thank you for coming to YOS with me. Thank you for getting my hair cut. Thank you for telling me you cared. Thank you for letting me in your room. Thank you for not giving up on me”.
Then I cried like a bitch. Not just because he had written that for me. Because he had grown. He changed. He was more than his crime and this angel from YOS had guided him through that….
Todays guest is Kate Littler. I’m connected to Kate in a couple of ways…. we met through a podcast called Bird…But you will have to find out about that on a future blog. Kate works for YOS. I asked her once what YOS was really like and she offered to write me a blog called“This is YOT” And it blew people away. I read it and had something in my eye so had to read it again later….
YOS can be a life changing experience for a young person. It can save lives. YOS is one of those areas that lots of people hear about but know very little about. Twice now Kate has given us an amazing insight.
Kate is one of Blondy’s people now because she is here to save lives. Change lives. Create a future. She does this both in her main job and in with Bird podcast.
But…if she had been part of Blondy’s life as a child, to have someone who saw past your crimes, I wonder what life would have been like for Blondy not just in that moment, but also growing up blaming herself for …well…everything…because most people had told her that most things were her fault.
Kate Littler is one of Blondy’s people …in fact…she is so good; she gets to be in two videos….
Follow Kate on Twitter HERE