In a nutshell, desistance from crime is long-term abstinence from criminal behaviour, engaging in crime whatsoever.
Although that’s just a word, and what particularly annoys me these days is that everyone’s using desistance as this new buzz term. This new sort of - we found this new term that’s going to help everyone sort of stop committing crime - and it doesn’t mean anything. I mean desistance is a process. It’s a very hard process. As someone like myself who has been to prison and engaged in criminal activity for quite a long time before “I changed my life around” - whatever that does mean - but you know we just throw this word about.
Especially now in terms of policy, the government and all that, Ministry of Justice, NOMS - National Offender Management Service, talk about desistance as it’s like this new cure. And actually, it’s a very difficult process that needs a lot of investment from not only the individual, but the people around that individual as well. For me, education really made me realise that actually there’s different things that I can achieve in my life apart from - you know, I was a successful roofer, I earned a lot of money from it - earned a lot of money from crime. That’s the environment I came from. I did an Access course when I was waiting for my court trial to come up.
I wasn’t in a great head space there anyway. At that point in time I got hunger for knowledge, and for learning, and for education. And then my court trial came up. I got found guilty and I went to prison. But I continued with education and it was so important in prison. Because in prison, right, you’ve got two choices really. You could - well obviously you’ve got a few. You can sit in your cell and take drugs, and just get out of your head all the time. You can go to education or you can go and work. And for me it was education and it was so significant. Desistance is not only a process, it’s a maintenance process.
And in my view it’s similar to - OK, I’m a smoker - and I have this love affair with cigarettes. I hate cigarettes but I love cigarettes. And I stop for a year, then I’ll start, then I’ll stop for two years. And it’s all about - in terms of just using that as analogy, or using a recovering alcoholic as an analogy, using that in terms of desistance - it is a maintenance process. There was an element of rationality there. I did sort of think to myself, you know what, I want to change my life. But just making that decision is one thing, right? And actually seeing it through is a totally different ball game.
I think support systems are very significant for people. So using my own experience, OK - yeah, right - I’ve made this decision to change. I actually made the decision to change when I was seeing the therapist, right? So I said - when I got caught - I got caught with drugs, right, coke. Quite a lot of coke. You know, I’d been in prison on remand for a few weeks, so actually prison, mmm not that nice. Obviously I’d been arrested in non-custodial convictions before that. And I went and saw a therapist and that, and he was the one that sort of through therapy, made me think that I could get into education while I was in prison.
To use the time sort of positively or whatever. So, you know, that was the initial point. But having my then partner - she’s my wife now - that sort of support, sending me my college work to do. You know, the support from the tutors on the Access course. One of them came in and said I’m going to set - you know, all those supports - the Head of Education at Pentonville where I was in prison. All those external support systems at the early stages of desistance. In the later stages of desistance, you’re out of that environment. I’m not going to go sell drugs now, am I? I work in an academic institution.
I don’t even - why would I go and sell drugs? We could always do with a lot more money, right? But even on academic salaries, which I guess are, in comparison to the rest of the population, are quite good. You can always do with more money. I’m not going go and sell drugs, or get a few of my dodgy mates who get hold of whatever, dodgy this or dodgy that. I’m not going to do that. You’re in a different environment. You’ve got your - you take on these different roles and there’s certain behaviours that go with their roles. And you’re aware of the consequences of your actions. Actually, if I went out and had a fight, I could lose everything.
If I got into a fight on the street and done over someone bad, I could lose absolutely everything. My wife, my kids, my job, everything. For what? So I think those pro-social attitudes, behaviours, different roles, different environment, mixing with different people - in addition to the - they work together. This notion of desistance being an internal change or down to social processes, in my view absolute rubbish. Right? It’s very complex and these two things work together and they facilitate each other. And they evolve together. That’s how it works.