“I was initially very skeptical about coming here, but the welcome from staff and community members has been warm” – Colin, community member
Therapy is not for everyone. For some going through the process, it can be extremely difficult and since pandemic restrictions have been eased, Therapeutic Communities (TCs) are rebuilding and returning to normality. As of June 2022, Warren Hill’s Democratic Therapeutic Community has reverted to the unrestricted model. Full therapy is now in session.
For the inmate to successfully complete intensive therapy, unwavering motivation and true commitment are required. The TC is where behaviors and beliefs are challenged daily by inmates themselves and other members of the community, whether in small groups or within the community. Nick Pellegrotti, Warren Hill’s therapy manager, notes, “If an inmate isn’t anxious about something as intense as this, they haven’t thought about it properly.”
For a “newbie” arriving for the first time at the TC, the calm atmosphere, paradoxically, can be disconcerting, but the staff and inmates are welcoming. Colin has been residing on the unit for a few months, “I am currently awaiting assignment from my core therapy group. I was initially very skeptical about coming here, but the welcome from the staff and community members was warm. Although the atmosphere is calm, the waiting period can be stressful at times, from doing my HCR20 to the smallest detail and not knowing if I made it through group therapy. I think this “induction” process could be accelerated to relieve some anxiety.
Genuine desire for change
The culture of TC encourages inmates to support each other and the therapists and facilitators believe in the process. “I sincerely believe that to function well, and with longevity, you have to love it and believe in it,” says Nick. “The driving force for me is that knowing that the work I do makes a difference.” This belief is evident as most of the staff have been here a long time and share the same philosophy. For Alan, the TC’s most senior officer facilitator, ordinary prison has become demoralizing. “I saw the same faces coming back again and again. I know I would have become jaded and disillusioned with the service if I hadn’t gotten the TC job. It’s enlightening and really satisfying to see things like the coping strategies people adopt to live a different life. Some came to TC after being in the system for a long time and feeling hopeless. Seeing graduates with more hope for themselves progress to Cat D or Approved Premises makes the work I do interesting.
There must be a genuine desire for the person to change. As such, most inmates self-refer to attend therapy through their EMO. Trevor, graduating after 4 years at TC, is approaching parole and is passionately candid about his therapeutic journey. “It was very difficult throughout therapy and it got harder as I became aware of my risks. It was especially difficult to change the “automatic,” or unconscious, defenses that I had developed. These were highlighted by the therapists and group members every time I slipped into them, especially the victim position. It can be so hard to change. If you didn’t want to quit during your therapy journey, you didn’t do it right.
Natalie was an officer in regular wings and worked with juveniles and young offenders before becoming a TC Officer Facilitator for the past 8 years, “The difference between regular wings and TC is that those who choose to come here tend to want to work on their risk and go deeper into their lives and crimes There needs to be a genuine interest and belief in therapy for staff to take on this role It takes patience and I give more of myself -same as I normally would in a traditional wing in order to build trust between me and the prisoner.
Inmates are expected to adhere to the constitution, which consists of the seven pillars of the therapeutic model that form the foundation of CT alongside rules and limits. Individuals take responsibility for boundary breaches and are encouraged to challenge each other when presenting a risk. This is part of the “living and learning environment”. Even staff behaviors can be challenged by inmates and noticed at community meetings. Everyone in the community is confronted with their own emotions. “It’s easy to forget that it’s not personal when I’m challenged at mainstream landings,” says Alan, “but here, like anyone else, I meet it and I manages on a day-to-day basis.In the regular prison this would only happen on the landing, but on the TC it is at the community meeting.
Staff recognize the line between authority and personal responsibility and are ok with being challenged, provided it is approached in a reasonable way. Natalie gives some insight into how that feels for some staff members. “For me, there is a sense of anxiety if a challenge arises in the community hall, a worry about how I might be perceived, for example. Before working on the TC, I would not have responded in the same way. I would rather have an inmate challenge me on the issue than cling to a grievance. Often, it’s not with me that a prisoner has a problem, it’s rather what is happening to him.
Departures and arrivals
Group therapy has now returned to three full sessions per week and the community meets on Monday and Friday mornings to discuss therapeutic or operational matters. “Groups can be emotionally and mentally draining,” adds prisoner and peer support Matt, “especially when they do psychodrama too!” It was worth it, however. It has helped me manage my emotions and form close relationships with people I might not otherwise have. It’s hard to be challenged as a group by peers, especially on top of the guilt and shame I already feel about my offending, but the support here is good from both staff and prisoners. Learning to use the support is always a challenge for me, but I’m getting there.
Warren Hill TC, like other regimes, could not escape COVID restrictions and it was frustrating for staff and prisoners. “It brought anxiety to everyone,” Natalie says. “Prisoners became irritable and agitated with higher emotions. It was the same for us too. It was an emotionally difficult time and we were more nervous, which sometimes created tension. It was frustrating to restrict the therapy. Alan agrees: “With more bang-ups than I wish there had been, and under COVID restrictions, it didn’t feel like a TC – there was less positivity.” The unit also saw departures and new arrivals of prisoners during the period and now requires some rebuilding, relying on senior members and ‘culture bearers’ to work with staff in order to return. to the pre-pandemic therapeutic community model.
As Nick, Therapy Manager, points out, “TC is going through tough times, but we work hard to get it right…it’s a great place for people who are serious about making changes so they don’t relapse. …whatever their beliefs or origins, prisoners here want to change their behavior. »
Therapy isn’t for everyone, and for some it doesn’t work. It’s not a cure, but if it means someone can walk out the door with a good understanding of themselves and their behaviors, hard work and painful sessions will go a long way towards becoming a better person and to live a better life.
Matt and ‘H’ are the editors of Warren Hill Prison Magazine – The Know