FORGOTTEN by Tasmin Trevorrow-Earl

FORGOTTEN

Like a refugee in his own land
A land that has forgotten him
The care child wanders with no hand…
To hold when it is cold or to stop the blows from an unseen foe that strikes! 

Strikes in the night when curled he lays… on a cardboard box
A box wet and stained with rain and tears in a lonely town on an un-named street

Forgotten

No longer remembered by “the state” his corporate parent!… (who arrived too late) 
To save him

To save him from the monsters in his head 
The monsters who used to join him in his soiled single bed 
When he was young…. 
oh so young!

Too old now
They celebrate!
they can sign him off their books
with an “almost” clean slate
Hurray!
A big fat tick in the corporate box  
(Ofsted regulated!
What a load of nobs!)
(Who regulates Ofsted anyway! He says.
Irony

He is now 21 the “job” is done
He slips into anonymity 
A nameless face in a human sea
Not so many friends

Definitely No family!

The monsters return
No longer under his quilt but still embedded in his
train wrecked head
They would not give therapy when he was 3 
too young they said 
Would not give it when he was 5, 8, 10 
Onto the tablets they said was best for him then.

The tablets that numbed the pain and gave them the excuse to release a sigh
and say…. 
Cured? 
Cured? No, repressed

Repressed by chains of numb and dead
But numb and dead he stayed 
Until the bells of age 21 sang their toll and sealed his fate…. 
Out you go they say
There’s your flat and a ton or two to see you on your merry way

The way to homelessness because he was not equipped to make the perilous journey into “adulthood”

He forgot his pills and the walls caved in 
as the monsters were not gone they were caged within

The chaos unleashed on him like bike chain whips on baby skin 

Where can he go where can he BEGIN?

So instead he curls holding a syringe as his water bottle on his cardboard box 
A box wet with rain and tears in a lonely town on an un named street

 

HAPPY CAFE – a short story by David Anderson

One day, Jamie asked himself what it was he liked about this little café. He wondered why he’d never asked that question of himself before. The first visit had been one of convenience, it was close to his house and it had been raining that day. After that, to go there had become a comfortable habit, like a favourite park bench, but with food, drink and most importantly – he now realised – warmth of a human kind.

It was the steamed windows you had to wipe if you wanted to see out, the plastic chairs that didn’t move and forced him to stay still for a while. Yes, he still fidgeted, but he couldn’t get up and pace around as he would normally do anywhere the seats weren’t bolted to the ground.

Certainly, it was Ethel, the woman who owned the place, who never smiled yet had the most beautiful twinkle in her eyes for those she liked. Her craggy, lined face was etched with a knowledge of pain that told him she understood something of his, and of course, that extra slice of cheap bacon she put in his bread roll each time he bought one.

It too, was the symmetry of the tiles on both the roof and floor, no matter how many times he’d counted those tiles, he knew he would inevitably count them again.  And those wood-chipped walls, somewhat like a hospital or government building, they were painted a glossy ‘institution’ yellow, and on cold days when the place was busy, rivulets of water ran down them to collect in pools along the battered skirting boards.

He felt more at home there than in his own cold and lonely little flat. It wasn’t posh, he knew even his threadbare clothes didn’t look out of place there. Not like those ‘trendy’ cafes in the city-centre with those tattooed ‘weekend rock-star’ waiters and their coiffured hairstyles, which left him feeling as if he didn’t belong, made him want to leave before even ordering.

He even liked the graffiti-scrawled toilet that could never look clean, even if it was scrubbed every day by Angie – the co-owner – who, when mopping the café floor, would jab at his feet with her mop and say,

“c’mon ye big lump, get those plates of meat out of the way.”

All the while laughing a laugh that was half-laugh and half-cough, brought on by years of smoking; outside doors, on her couch, at her kitchen table, and in the Black Watch club on weekends. A place where the smoke would hang in layers so thick it was as if you could cut them into chunks.

All of this he loved. He felt welcome and left alone at the same time. He could watch life pass by the window and feel removed from it all. It was as if life couldn’t touch him as it always seemed to do when he was outside on the streets. Life always seemed to have a finger ready to point at him or a hand reaching out to tap him roughly on the shoulder. Every noise was a potential intrusion, every passing person someone who could hurt him, life was scary and, to his mind, most of it was best avoided.

The thing he liked most, above everything else, was the name, ‘HAPPY CAFE’, written in a semi-circle form around the top-half of a cup of tea with steam coming off it, one sign on each of the two windows. He wondered if it would have cost extra to add a THE in front of the word HAPPY and that it had been thought of as too much of an expense, these are the kind of question that often rattled about his head.

I’ll have to ask Ethel, he had thought.

HAPPY CAFE, a name at odds with the often unsmiling or troubled faces to be found staring out of its large windows, windows that looked out onto the busy road with the grimy busses passing in monotonous regularity, belching out visibly disgusting diesel fumes. So at odds with that seemingly perpetual blanket-grey sky that hung low, as if it was a ceiling of depressed thoughts, intent on keeping out the warmth and care of the sun. So at odds with the down-market retail shops that always seemed on the brink of closure, with their ‘discount’ offers and ‘bargain-basement’ deals, and so at odds with Jamie’s usual demeanour, that purposeful frown, his defence-mechanism, his warning, to ‘stay away’.

HAPPY CAFÉ he would think when he seen the sign, and an involuntary smile would appear, just prior to him entering through the door and scanning the place to check for Junkies or any other potential ‘vulture’, as he called those he thought might want something from him.

Up to that point in his life, Jamie believed friendship always came at a cost, usually money or belongings, but sometimes also something inside his very being, another scar on his battered and battle-scarred heart. It didn’t cost him anything here though, the owners treated him well without ever asking him for anything other than mutual respect. Indeed, they were often kind to him, he truly appreciated their unspoken, yet explicit care.

Jamie was 21, he lived alone, was generally alone, he thought he liked it this way, that it was better to be a loner in life. His existence had been hard thus far, he had endured three years of sexual abuse at the hands of a foster father who was supposed to protect him after he had been removed from his parents, aged five, due to the sexual abuse his father had perpetrated against him.

Following that, he was moved from pillar-to-post in several short-term foster placements, never receiving genuine care. When he reached adolescence, he wasn’t deemed ‘suitable’ for a foster placement and was moved around various children’s homes, those teenage years had been punctuated by episodes of physical and psychological abuse, perpetrated by both the children and adults around him. An understandable mistrust of people in general permeated his interactions, he both desperately needed and hated close relationships. He sometimes felt he was being ripped in half as the unstoppable longing for new relationships collided with the immovable pain he had went through because of previous ones.

Jamie was supported by the Local Authority responsible for his care past the age of 21 only due to the fact they had been held legally responsible for the abuse he had endured at the hands of the foster carers. They were therefore duty-bound to provide for him until he demonstrated an ability to manage his own life. Jamie had been at the court when the ruling was made, he knew that looking after himself too well would see his support cut off, whilst he blamed the Social Work department for what he had endured, he wasn’t willing to lose the only support he had ever known. At times, his behaviour was deliberately risky and self-destructive, just in case they were considering ‘removal of support’, a phrase he had been threatened with on more than one occasion. If there was one thing Jamie wasn’t, it was stupid.

On his 18th birthday, Jamie had been placed in his own accommodation, because the Local Authority no longer wanted to keep him with younger children, ‘just in case’ where the words he’d heard through a closed door one day. His third floor flat overlooked the same busy thoroughfare to the city-centre where the ‘Happy Cafe’ sat. His bathroom window, visible from the road, had a piece of plywood in place from when he’d punched it drunk one night and the thick curtains in his living room were always drawn, he didn’t want anyone to know if he was at home or not, he knew a visible light could send the ‘vultures’ to his door.

 The social work department tendered out the support package and a local charity dealing with young people in the system deemed ‘hardest to reach’, picked up his case. The social work department would go on paying until the charity said he was capable of living independently. They would do so because if he was left to his own devices and something happened that brought his sorry story to the newspapers, then they would be rightly vilified in public for their part in that horrific story. This charity had a ‘no-rejection policy’, they were in it for the long-haul and provided support workers to attempt almost daily contact for Jamie. They knew the value of relationships and done their best to keep one or two constants in Jamie’s life.

Jamie liked weapons, especially samurai swords, he had a pair of ornamental ones on his living room wall, as well as a selection of smaller knives that he had picked up from various hunting shops and car-boot sales. He preferred ‘dark’ movies, two of his favourites being The Crow with Brandon Lee and The Matrix with Keanu Reeves, he’d even bought a long black leather jacket just like that of the main character in The Matrix and his walls were covered with posters of these and other similar movies. He also had some throwing stars that he launched at a specially made target on his wall, the target was in the form of a winged demon-like creature.

Throughout his house, bags of rubbish and laundry littered the place, the kitchen was always dirty, every available worktop space piled with assorted dishes, cutlery and takeaway cartons encrusted with leftover food. Jamie kept it like this purposefully, it was another layer of protection from anyone staying too long or getting too close. He rarely washed, his skin smelled like some kind of rotten fruit, his feet were so pungent as to provoke gagging in anyone unfortunate enough to be near him if he removed the big black boots he wore on an almost continuous basis, and his breath could curdle milk such was the strength of his halitosis. Much of the abuse had happened in the bath, washing always served as a reminder and the last thing Jamie needed was,

 ‘any more fucking reminders, thank you very much’

as he’d bluntly told one of the many previous social workers who’d kept at him to ‘address his hygiene issue’.

address the hygiene issue, what with? a fucking stamped address envelope’

Jamie had a beautifully blunt way with words, if you were open enough to see the beauty.

Jamie always smiled a voyeur’s smile when a new support worker visited him for the first time, he enjoyed watching their faces as they glanced around his flat. He would watch them closely as they took in its dirty state, as they attempted to hide their discomfort at seeing the giant, dirty cage, housing his two rats, and at the aquarium for his lizard and the accompanying jars for breeding insects to feed it. To complete the scene, there was a car battery with attached wires to power the heat lamp for the reptile, for those times he had no electricity.

He took a perverse pleasure in seeing their discomfort turning to fear and alarm as they registered the collection of weapons on the walls. It was at this point, if he felt especially mean, he’d nonchalantly begin to launch his throwing stars at the target on the wall. The area around the target was a mess of chipped, holed plasterboard, from when he had missed the wooden target. Often, the support worker would quickly ask him if he wanted to go out, if he replied in the negative, they would promptly leave, offering him the next meeting at the office of the support charity. He called this his ‘endurance test’. If they couldn’t survive in his home environment for more than 10 minutes then there was no way that they would be able to build a relationship with him and therefore he would only ever meet with these workers if they promised money or food, preferably both.

One support worker, Lorraine, had known Jamie long-enough for him to accept her as someone good for him, and he generally didn’t mind her visits. Lorraine didn’t bat an eyelid at Jamie’s antics and often blitzed his flat by throwing everything dirty in the bin and spraying the place down with some strong cleaning products. Jamie accepted this with only the odd muttered complaint about an ‘invasion of privacy’, though really, he was glad someone cared enough to clean the place up for him.

 Lorraine would often remove weapons when Jamie wasn’t looking and kept on at him about the dangers of his lifestyle. Lorraine knew the full terrible history of Jamie’s childhood and she cared deeply that he could continue to maintain his own accommodation, she knew if the flat failed then he would end up in a homeless shelter where he would be exploited, and no doubt beaten for the way he was, his coping mechanisms were only understandable to those who care about why a person acts as they do and not the actions themselves. Every behaviour Jamie exhibited was a direct result of his past experiences.  

Lorraine would always accompany a new worker on their first meeting with Jamie. Sometimes, if he had been promised something he wanted, that would mean a meeting at the office, or, if he wasn’t in a sociable mood, as was normally the case, this would entail shouting through his letterbox in the hope of getting him to open his door. It was a tactic of his to try to discourage people from coming to see him, many times he had lain in bed listening to the noise of a support worker chapping at his door and shouting through his letterbox. He judged if someone really wanted him to show himself by the length of time they tried to get him to answer, he called this his ‘doorstep challenge’. Those support workers he thought didn’t care, or really want him to answer, would leave after a minute or so, this served to reinforce his belief that everyone goes away in the end, that no-one really cared about him.

A few individuals, such as Lorraine, wouldn’t give up for a long time and would go to great lengths to get in touch with him, sometimes sitting in their car outside and jumping out in front of him if he passed. These workers he tolerated, even liked at times, he thought their care came from somewhere deep inside and was therefore was real.

This was to be Jamie’s response the day after he’d first truly asked himself why he liked the Happy Cafe. The day he first met George. George was 35, a newly-qualified Social Worker, he’d recently started with the charity and was to work with Jamie as soon as possible due to a lack of male workers and the fact that some female workers felt threatened by Jamie’s apparently aggressive mannerisms, some would only work with him in pairs and that wasn’t financially sustainable for the charity.

Lorraine had met George at the office to brief him on Jamie’s situation, she gave him enough details regarding his past to ensure he was up to speed as to the reasons for his behaviour, though she always retained many details until she knew whether Jamie would accept the worker in the long-term. On the way from the office to Jamie’s flat she gave George a rundown of the likely behaviour Jamie would exhibit on meeting him for the first time, giving warning of the smell and the presence of animals and weapons. George had been around and was someone who had experience of being in a children’s home as a child, he wasn’t easily shocked, he knew that behaviour of this kind was usually the result of some negative experience,

“lord knows, I acted out often enough as an adolescent,” he’d said.

Jamie spent a lot of time in bed, especially if he had run out of money, which, given his inability to budget, was most of the time. His lack of budgeting skills would include not buying any electricity tokens, resulting in him often living in the cold and dark. On the day his unemployment cheque was to be delivered, Lorraine would try to arrive with the postman, so she could march him to the shops, to ensure he bought some basic foodstuffs and a supply of electricity for the two weeks until his next cheque arrived. She would put the electricity tokens in herself after previously realising that he had just kept them in his pocket and later sold them on to a local drug dealer, at half their value, for a small piece of poor-quality hashish.

On arrival at the flat door, Lorraine first checked through the kitchen window to see if she could catch Jamie unawares. However, Jamie had taped a poster to the window. Lorraine then banged hard on the door, after several thumps she began to bellow through the letterbox,

 “Come on Jamie, you know me, I ain’t leaving till you show yourself!”

After two minutes she switched tactics and began to bribe him with offers of food at the local cafe. Eventually, they heard a grunt emanating from inside the flat. Lorraine turned to George and smiled,

“hunger usually gets the better of him when he has no money and he likes going to the happy café down the road, the women there are really good with him.”

George made a mental note of the successful strategy for future use.

The key turned in the lock and Lorraine pushed open the front door, various stuff lay along the wall, an assortment of worthless bits and pieces, some of it broken, all of it fit for the bin. George caught a glimpse of Jamie up ahead as he turned the corner, clad in boxer shorts and black t-shirt, dark hair covering both his head and most of his face. As they entered the house Lorraine shouted up the corridor,

“make yourself decent,”

The smell hit George straight away, it was so strong he almost retreated into the relative fresh air of the piss-stained tenement stairwell. Lorraine headed straight towards the kitchen and opened the window before then heading into the living room, throwing the curtains open and opening both windows wide, the noise of the busy street rushed in with the cold air. George followed and scanned the room, he had known what to expect and therefore didn’t react at the sight of the swords, living creatures, and various other bits and bobs that many a support worker had been visibly affected by.

I can handle the debris but that disgusting smell, jeezo!’ he thought to himself.

Jamie sat scrunched up on the couch, hugging his knees, he looked at George and said,

“Have you got a cigarette?”

“sorry, I don’t smoke,” said George.

George did smoke occasionally when he socialized, but never in front of someone he worked alongside, not only was it forbidden, he subscribed to the pro-social role modelling theory, act as you wish others to act. Some staff did smoke with young people as a way of gaining acceptance – complicity is not a good strategy thought George.

Lorraine introduced George then fired questions at Jamie as she started to tidy up, she pulled a bin liner and pair of latex gloves from her pocket and began ramming anything she considered to be rubbish into the bin liner,

“Have you got any money left?”

“Has that drug dealer been bothering you again?”

 When did you last see your Social Worker?”

“When was the last time you ate?”

Jamie didn’t reply other than to say he was hungry and wanted a bacon roll. Lorraine bargained that if he washed his face and brushed his teeth she would take him to the cafe. Jamie smiled to himself as he picked up his throwing stars and began launching them at the target on the wall, which just happened to be near where George was standing.

“Jamie, enough of that,” said Lorraine.

 George picked up two of the sharp metal spiked stars and handed them back to Jamie and said in a matter of fact way,

 “You should really learn the correct throwing technique if you want to do it properly, that way you won’t hurt anyone or make such a mess of your wall.”

Jamie put down the stars and headed off to get his clothes on, he was hungry, he hadn’t eaten anything other than Weetabix spread with margarine, washed down with cold tap-water for two days.

Over the next few months, George met with Jamie several times a week, Jamie always tested a new support worker to the max, after meeting with them initially, he would then embark on a mission to get them to disengage with him by displaying oppositional behaviour and emphasising his many repulsive habits, he called this his ‘testing test’.

For his part, George had seen it all before, he had been in various children’s homes from the age of eleven until his sixteenth birthday, he had witnessed and endured several forms of abuse as well as both witnessing and taking part in a range of negative and destructive behaviours, he allowed Jamie to act out his ‘welcome routine’ and turned up regardless.

Slowly, Jamie began to accept George, he appreciated that he didn’t try to tell him what he ‘should’ or ‘must’ do all the time, as did most other workers. George told Jamie he had the right to choose his own path, then went on to explain the options available to him and the potential consequences to each choice, saying which one he would choose himself and why.

Jamie also enjoyed listening to George give examples of ‘someone he knew well’, ‘someone’ who had been involved in a number of situations that had seen him make the wrong choice at the wrong time or indeed the right choice at the right time. Jamie was a sharp individual, he knew George was most likely speaking about himself as well as friends he had had, he felt that this gave them a sense of shared history in some way. Further to this, George always took Jamie to the happy cafe.

George had realised early on that Jamie felt most at ease when sitting in that run-down little place with the dingy toilet and the two down-to-earth women who owned it. The food was basic and low-quality, but they made a right good cup of tea and George was happy enough to down cup after cup as Jamie munched on a bacon roll or two. It wasn’t long before George felt right at home and was on good terms with both Ethel and Angie. He found that if he could get the corner seat beside the window, and if both he and Jamie sat in the two chairs facing the half-frosted pane of glass, so that they could watch the many people and the constant stream of traffic passing by, then Jamie was at his most relaxed and would be open to both talking and listening.

Other than Lorraine, this was more than any other support worker had managed, because Jamie was adept at speaking about some aspect of his life just to the point that he had secured either food or cigarettes and then the monosyllable responses would return. After a few weeks, George would nip into the cafe to give either Angie or Ethel a couple of extra pounds to keep their preferred table free for half an hour, to give him enough time to get Jamie out of his bed and down there.

Their little corner trysts continued for some 18 months or so, during which time Jamie managed to keep his self-destructive and risky behaviour to a minimum, he even got a cleaning job at the Happy Cafe three morning a week. This had been organised by George and paid for by the charity. George had told Ethel and Angie that Jamie had had,

a right bad time as a child,

this was enough for them, they knew it anyway, and had no need for other details. They were caring individuals and helped more than a few poor souls in the area with a free bite to eat or a hot cup of tea every now and again. They agreed to take the time to encourage Jamie to develop some sort of responsibility and routine, the extra twenty pounds per day they received was welcome given the struggle they had keeping the café in profit. After an initial few false starts, for the first time in as long as he could remember, Jamie felt positive and useful, he wondered when it would all go wrong, he’d long ago accepted that all good things come to an end.

It was at this point, George had persuaded Jamie to get involved in helping to train the constant stream of new support workers that came to begin their careers at the charity. He surmised that Jamie could build on the stability he had achieved by taking on this opportunity, that it would be both character-building and therapeutic at the same time. George knew that Jamie was well-placed to give new workers an insight into the job and could benefit himself from explaining what he believed a worker should provide, he laughed to himself,

well, those things other than money for cigarettes.

 There was always an initial induction period for new workers and George suggested to the board of directors that some of the young people supported by the charity could come in to speak with new workers and tell them their thoughts as to what a ‘good’ worker should consist of. The board agreed, and George developed a training day that entailed an initial meet-and greet session, followed by some group work and finishing with a question-and-answer session. At first, Jamie refused to become involved, but George negotiated a daily rate of pay for participants after some of the young people (rightly) pointed out that everyone else involved would be paid. This had been enough to see Jamie agree to commit, for at least one day.

The training days became a monthly event and Jamie revelled in the attention, and in trying to shock the new workers. He had developed a ‘what would you do if…?’ Series of questions, which made George laugh as he watched the new staff try to come up with answers they thought would be acceptable to both the young people and those senior staff observing. 

After three months, he was given the title of ‘senior training assistant’ and seemed to love wearing his badge, he led some of the discussions during the group work and took his role seriously. He had even started to clean himself up for these days, appearing with freshly-ironed clothes and a manicured beard. George then discovered that Ethel had been taking Jamie’s dirty clothes home with her on the Monday, washing and ironing them,  then returning them to him when he came to work on the Friday.

Jamie flourished in the café, he became a real help to Ethel and Angie, he loved to jokingly point out things they had missed and made sure they filled in all the health and safety sheets that they never seemed to remember. He became friendly with some of the regulars and his sense of self-worth markedly improved. It certainly was a happy café for the three of them and he seemed to bring a smile to the faces of some customers due to his idiosyncratic, but ultimately caring, way of being. George would smile on seeing the three of them gently chastise each other about all manner of small things, they were genuinely happy together and it gave him immense pleasure to see this newly-formed ‘family’ interact.

Things continued to improve for Jamie over the next months, he stopped smoking cannabis, this made him less insular and paranoid, he was more able to communicate with people outside of his close circle. The training days continued to go well, and George encouraged him to join a group for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. He also began to write poetry, he was surprised to find that it served as a kind of self-administered therapy, it seemed to help him process his feelings. At times, he still felt angry and sad and there were days when he just couldn’t face the world, but the poetry was a way to channel those feelings without resorting to the self-defeating behaviour of the past. It was at this point that two things happened that would change his life forever.

The first thing was that George announced he was leaving the charity, he’d been offered a senior position in another organization and was moving lock, stock and barrel some 200 miles to begin this new challenge. He announced this news one day as they relaxed and chatted in the Happy Café. There was to be no ‘long goodbye’, George was to leave his job and the city the following month. He had planned it this way, he wanted the end of the way things were to be relatively quick, so Jamie did not dwell on it too long, just in case he reacted by changing his behaviour. He felt a month was enough time for them both to deal with ‘moving on’ and aimed to frame it as the positive development he believed it to be.

Jamie was at first shocked, he hadn’t thought of not seeing George, which was strange given he usually counted the time a relationship with a worker lasted. Though, when he thought about it, he had hardly seen George in the preceding two months. This was also intentional on the part of George, who had started a process of withdrawal some weeks previous. Jamie was doing well and didn’t really need George to be around, he just needed to know he (or someone he trusted) was there should he need them. In recent weeks, he had hit it off with a support worker called Alistair, they had developed their relationship after meeting at one of the training days, so George knew Jamie had someone who would be ‘there’ for him in a professional sense, if he needed them.

 In a frank discussion at the Happy Café, with Ethel and Angie in the background, George told Jamie he would miss him and that he had learned a lot over the last couple of years thanks to their relationship,

“I truly believe you are going to keep on doing well and I’ll always think good things about the times we have shared, especially here. I’m going to miss these cups of tea!”

He turned and beamed a smile at the two women hovering around behind them.

“And anyway, you’ll have my number if you want to phone me up and remind me how great you think I am” he said with a wink.

Smiling, George again looked over his shoulder, he was sure that twinkle in Ethel’s eye had turned into a tear. Jamie turned his head sideways to look at George, narrowed his eyes, smiled, and said,

“don’t you worry, I don’t need you and I’ll easily find someone else to pay for food, Oh, and I’m never going back to the darkness.”

It would turn out that they would never see each other again, though each would think of the other often.

The second major event to happen at that time was that Jamie met a woman and embarked on his first-ever intimate relationship. They had met at the survivors group and he had been starry-eyed ever since their first introduction, though it would take some weeks for him to ask her out and it took some prompting from Alistair to get him to act. It was the hardest thing he had ever done.

Shona had immediately said yes, she had felt protective of Jamie from the outset, she felt his vulnerability, she had wanted to put her coat round him, to keep him close, to protect him. They laughed a lot together. Shona was painfully quiet in front of strangers yet had a great sense of fun and was always teasing Jamie when they were alone, or when she thought no-one was looking. Jamie loved the attention, he clearly adored Shona and admired her for coming through all that she had as a child whilst still managing to remain positive and believe that people were generally good.

Jamie would write her poems, some terrible and romantic, others beautiful and heartfelt, most a mixture of both. Shona loved them all, no-one had ever written her poetry before and she knew millions would go through their lives without ever receiving even one poem written especially for them. Their eyes would shine at the sight of each other and they were soon inseparable. George was fortunate enough to have met Shona before leaving for his new job and he logged it as another protective factor in Jamie maintaining the progress he had made thus far,

even if it eventually fails, at least he is really living, he thought.

One of the last occasions George saw Jamie, he had left him with Shona at the ‘reserved’ table in the happy café, he had turned to look back through the window as the two of them smiled and waved him off. George noticed the bounce in his step as he headed down towards the office,

love conquers all’ he thought and quickly called his wife to tell her he loved her, to catch the moment and share it, to spread the love.

Some months later, Jamie was offered a part-time position with the charity, he had started a social care course at the local college and was managing his studies well. Shona had moved into his flat and the difference was amazing to see, gone were the dark posters and Alistair Crowley books, they had been replaced by bright, cosy furnishings which seemed to reflect the warmth of their relationship. The swords had been banished to the cupboard at the bottom of the corridor, along with his throwing stars and collection of knives. The rats and reptile were still there but in much-improved living conditions, the meter always had electricity and the kitchen was hygienic if not always tidy. It looked like the regular set-up of any young couple.

The biggest step by far, was that Jamie now bathed regularly. When, in the survivors group, Shona had first heard him mention the bath as a place of particularly bad memories relating to his abuse, she immediately understood his aversion to washing. She had then initiated their first shared bath, setting the scene with lots of bubbles, a few candles and their favourite singer – Van Morrison – on the iPod, delivering a heart-felt rendition of into the mystic.

Jamie was panicked at first, however, his desire to please Shona was stronger than his aversion to the bath, and they then shared an hour of such intense intimacy that he could no longer associate the bath with only negative thoughts, the cycle had been broken. They would go on to share many a bath after that, rubbing each other’s feet, washing each other’s hair and having more than the occasional water fight.

After an initial induction period of training (whereby the tables were turned, and Jamie got to feel exactly what it was like to be quizzed by a group of young people), he was to meet his first young person.

Wow, he thought, as he ventured down the path of the children’s home where he was to have the first contact,

 here I am going to meet a kid in in a children’s home, can I actually do this?

He felt the urge to do an about-turn and head back up the driveway, but he knew he had to keep going, he wanted to help other children if he could, he knew exactly how important good support was.

The young person’s name was Billy. Jamie didn’t get a chance to meet him properly that day, on seeing him walking up the driveway, Billy had decided to run out of the home and launch stones in his direction from some distance away. Jamie laughed when this happened, he recalled throwing his CD collection out of a window when he was in a similar-type children’s home, he had barricaded himself in his room and decided to throw them out of the window at the Social Worker in her car below, so she couldn’t get out of it. Jamie spoke with the staff member on duty, saying he would come back the next again day and to let Billy know he would be wearing a helmet next time!

Billy had noticed Jamie laughing when he had thrown the stones at him and this little fact had sparked enough interest for him to want to discover more about this man,

maybe he’ll be ok, or take me bowling or something, he’d thought.

The next day, Billy stood waiting at the door for Jamie, who, when walking up the drive, pulled a bicycle helmet from behind his back and shouted,

Should I put this on to protect my head?

Billy laughed and shook his head. Jamie walked up, introduced himself, and asked,

Do you want to go to a wee café where they sell the best cakes in the whole town.”

Intrigued, Billy had nodded, they said goodbye to the member of staff, then walked off up the drive together. First contact had been achieved.

Jamie had popped into the Happy Cafe earlier that day and asked Ethel to reserve ‘the table’. When they walked in, Ethel’s eyes were twinkling brightly, and Angie had an enormous smile on her face, as they walked towards the counter, Jamie greeted a couple of regular customers, they too were obviously pleased to see him.

“So, Billy, which of these fine cakes would you like and what do you want to drink?”

Billy chose a huge chocolate éclair and a fruit juice. When Jamie went to pay, Ethel refused the money, telling him,

 “get away with you, you’ll never pay for a cake in here again ye big lump.”

As they walked towards the window seat with the ‘reserved’ sign sitting on it, Billy thought to himself,

what is it about this guy that everyone seems to like?

That first experience was enough for the relationship seed to take root and it wasn’t to be the last time they ate cake and watched the world go by in the Happy Cafe. Some negative cycles and patterns of behavior need broken whereas others, the positive ones filled with love, are best continued or passed on to those who may benefit from them.

 

Letters to the Little People

Your Life Your Story is off to Windsor this week to the INTERNATIONAL annual conference of  THE CONSORTIUM FOR THERAPEUTIC COMMUNITIES to deliver a workshop. 

Care experienced poet and activist, Tasmin Trevorrow-Earl, care experienced artist and poet Yusuf McCormack and care experienced poet, artist and qualified social worker, Saira-Jayne Jones will be inviting participants to hold on to their seats, lean in and open their ears, as Your Life Your Story transports them on an emotive, profound and immersive journey into the ‘care’ experience through the decades of their lived experience; using narrative, poetry, verse and spoken word.

 

A Date For Your Diary

Screenshot-2019-11-06-at-09.33.57

19th to 26th NOVEMBER 2019

Proudly announcing the rebranding of the first Your Life Your Story inspired book and BOOK BLOG TOUR organised by  Anne Cater a successful book blogger, and reviewer for some of the largest publishing houses, including Penguin, Harper Collins and Orion as well as smaller independent houses such as Orenda Books, No Exit Press and Arcadia. 

Ann has twenty years experience in the Voluntary Sector and is passionate about the value of volunteering, enabling people to make changes in their communities and having their voice heard.

A Letter to My Corporate Parents

This letter is a typed and author approved copy of the original letter written by Jackie McCartney, a care experienced adult and caregiver, to her corporate parents on 18 July 2018.

WHAT IS A CORPORATE PARENT?

Looking after children and young people is one of the most important jobs the council do. When a child for whatever reason, can’t stay safely at home, it is up to the local authority to step in and give that care, support and stability that they deserve. Being a parent is to look after, take care, raise, rear, nurture, love, discipline, give direction, strictness, be there good and bad, for the whole of their lives. So, Birmingham corporate parent where were you when

At 17 I had my first home (yes homeowner) but suffered domestic violence when I moved in, daily beatings because I had cooked mash and he wanted boiled.

Where was you when…

I cried every day because I was in so much pain from the violence. I got pregnant by him and in one of his rages he pushed me down the stairs and kicked me so many times I lost my child. A parent would of told me to get out, it was unhealthy and no good for me. Yes, I went back because I had nowhere else to go, no one to turn to. After another beating, I walked out. I walked to the only home I had ever known (name removed) I knocked on the door asking for help, only to be told for insurance reasons they couldn’t help.

I was 17 years old and my corporate parents turned me away to be beaten again by that man. I went to Cannon Hill Park and slept there for the weekend. I went to work, very smelly and unkept. A lady there asked me about it, I told her about me and my life. She took me to her home that night and for a short while after until I was back on my feet and so I could heal.

Where were you my corporate parent when…

I got made redundant how was I going to feed myself, pay my rent, searching for jobs. I was lucky yet again to meet a good landlord who said I could walk his dog as payment until I found something but now my landlord was selling his house. Yet again alone, scared, worried. Once more looking for a roof over my head an no one to turn to for help and support. My parent should of been there.

I found another shared house with some girls, but was still alone, they visited family and friends. I had none. I did not trust people, I did not make friends easily. Always on your guard, not letting people in too much. You was a care kid, people still thought you was trouble, that’s why you had been in care. But at 5 what had I done to deserve it and the treatment I had received.

Where were you my corporate parents?

I held down two jobs one in finance and one at a petrol station, just to make ends meet. I made a friend who invited me to her home in Ireland I had nothing to lose no one to care what I was doing.

Where were you my corporate parents when…

I started my life over in Ireland I was there for eight years. During that time, I brought a second home and married. I suffered 4 miscarriages, fertility treatment (paid for myself).

Where were you my corporate parents?

I finally had a child after so much heartache, so happy, so proud, so excited but I was also so scared, how could I be a mom, a good mom. I did not know what that was I had never seen a normal family home. I had only seen children degraded, bad mouthed, humiliated, beaten, abused. Made to sleep in the hallway because we dared speak in bed. If we carried on we would have to stand in the matron’s bedroom all night. I had to make my bed every morning as did the other kids because we would not get breakfast otherwise. If you did not finish a meal you got it at the next mealtime and did not get anything new until your plate was clear. You did not make friends in the home, as it was a sign of weakness and would be used against you at any point. How was that a normal family life? How was that teaching you how a family function.

Where were you my corporate parents?

I loved my son so much, I fed him, kept him clean, he wanted for nothing, but I had no family to share this moment with, no family of my own. I finally realised one day there was something missing, love, cuddles, kisses. Everything I never had. Everyday thereafter I learnt to hug and hold him. But not before going to counselling (paid for myself).

Where were you my corporate parents?

I thought nothing could split me and my husband up after everything we had gone through

Moving country/ miscarriages/fertility/money worries/no family/my breakdown but we did. So once more I was alone no home. I wanted to come back to the UK. I had enough strength to start again for me and my son. As he was born in Southern Ireland, he had to give permission for me to take him. He would only do that if I signed over all we had together. I walked away with my son.

Where were you my corporate parents when…

I went to the local housing office ready to start over. Only to be told I had been out of the country for 5 years I should go back.

Where were you my corporate parents when…

I told them I was not leaving until I had a bed for the night. The joys of a B&B on Hagley Road, not ideal. But beggars can’t be picky. 4 week later with the help of local MP (name removed) we were offered a 3rd floor flat 6 flights of stairs, no lift. Signed, paperwork, got keys. A roof over our heads, no bed, no cooker, no food. I had become at 33 everything you said I would be, on the dole, single, council tenant unwanted yet again.

Where were you my corporate parents?

Slowly me and my son got up on our feet, charity shops, food near sell by dates. I did not realise when I left my husband, I was pregnant. How the hell was I going to do this. I had my baby, a little girl, I was overwhelmed yet again by emotions and feelings.

Where were you my corporate parents?

My lowest night Iay in the bath, an told myself I couldn’t do this anymore I had no fight left. I worked out how to end it all. But not just for me for my children. Because there was no way I was leaving them to the system. To be neglected, physical, emotional abuse or sexual.

Where were you my corporate parents when…

I lay there for hours in the cold water, crying scared and alone. I don’t know what brought me back, but I did not go through with it. I knew my children had not asked for this and I had to better than the life I had, had. From here on in we took each day hour by hour, each day I went to bed was another day I had survived.

Where were you my corporate parents when…

I lied to the health visitor, I said all was okay and on the surface it was. I could not reach out for help. I was a care kid and you the system would take my kids away. I was already 3rd generation care kid. I could not let it happen again. Every day I took a breath got up and did it. So tired, so worn out, so lonely, so scared. No one there for me. But 2 children depending on me to make things good.

Where were you my corporate parent ?

There have been many times I asked “where were you”. But you never came, you never fulfilled your obligations to me and turned up to offer understanding and support. You were never there to replace my biological parents you had removed me from. Sad really after all said and done you are my corporate parents. I never left care you left me.

Even more recently where were you in the good times and bad, for example my concerned parents when…

– my son had a cancer scare

– both my children buying cars outright

– my son passing A levels, his apprenticeship and graduation from National Grid (CADENT) as    an engineer

– my daughter’s cancer scare and sexual assault at school

– my daughter passing her GCSE’s, prom and getting a job offer on the same day

– my 22 year old son buying his own house

Where were you my corporate parents?

There have been so many more, good, happy, sad, emotional days that needed sharing, supporting, caring, you were not there.

I would like to challenge each and every one of you. You can’t change the past but, you can have a positive impact on so many of your children for now and the future.

Are you serious about your parenting role for either your own biological children or these wonderful children who need you to show how much you really and truly care so that their daily lives and futures are happy, carefree and supported and they are able to grow into strong confident adults because of your love, encouragement by having a system that actually does care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FINDING HOME

Finding Home: A feeling not a place.

Reflections on Your Life Your Story 2019

Saira-Jayne Jones

Where to begin? I feel as though I must go back to come forward; so I will! October 2018 I attended my first ever Your Life Your Story event following a chance encounter on twitter and somehow following the remarkable Amanda Knowles MBE. Filled with anxiety, trepidation, nervous apprehension I made my way to Cumbria University. I had only just begun to get to grips with my story, my truth, myself; this felt like a massive dangerous leap into the unknown. All of the ‘what if’s?’ had gone around in my head and I’d ruminated over me as a being, my writing, and if in actuality I was kidding myself; my inner critic resounding and ever present. I was reassured however by knowing that Yusuf McCormack would be attending, and I’d previously visited his art exhibition ‘No Colours for My Coat’ on my stomping ground Chelmsley Wood; and then proceeded to steal 6 hours from him over coffee after stalking him on Twitter. With that in mind I ventured into the unknown and made a commitment to myself that I would not allow myself to be dictated to by fear and leave; a pattern of behaviour all too familiar to me as flight is much easier…safer… than facing what I’m afraid of.

I bit the bullet…The next couple of hours getting familiar with my surroundings, wondering how on earth students live in those tiny cells without being creatively oppressed; and smoking where I shouldn’t – some things never change! The event encapsulated the kind of energy where I instantly felt connection. Met with smiles, laughter, friendly banter and the kind of dark humour that I am very much accustomed to; I figure it must be hardwired into our survival. Throughout a full and thought provoking programme voices were shared, the power of our truths unleashed and relationships developed as if we had somehow been there for much longer. The space we held for each other felt safe, honest, un-questioning, non-judgemental and like you were never no more than an arm’s length away from people who just ‘got it’, the facts were unimportant and the connection came through feeling, knowing and the shared threads of existence. We all became more than we were before we arrived, taking away not only the practical writing skills we had been developing but a sense of being in it together.

Leaving and returning back to my reality evoked a mixture of feelings and in the days following my return I felt like I was processing thoughts at warp speed. I was elated at how successful the event had been in terms of learning, that id managed to stay, write, read a loud and that my anxiety hadn’t prevented me from being sociable. However this was coupled with a feeling of being bereft, that something was missing and it conjured up little connections with the past of feeling lost and alone. Luckily once I had given myself time to process all of this and talk it through I realised it was normal to feel that way when you have been somewhere that you have felt truly accepted, connected, where there are no judgements, unrealistic expectations or conditions and I wrote this extract; which now resonates even further following my return from Your Life Your Story 2019.

Your Life Your Story 2018

So now we jump forwards twelve months which is a relatively short space of time in the grand scheme of things, but time in which I have spent generating ideas, exhibiting artwork, creating more pieces, attending Wrexham University and The National Diversity Awards with Your Life Your Story; and ultimately making decisions meaning that Yusuf and I would build upon our connection and work towards developing an arts based training and consultancy project – Artifacts.

October 2019 and this time around things were a little different. My second Your Life Your Story Event, and back to the beautiful Cumbria University with its Harry Potter esc buildings and tree lined grounds. Notwithstanding the sense of familiarity in the surroundings, I was still very much filled with anxiety and nervous apprehension however, this time as we’d been given the honour of delivering our first workshop as Artifacts ‘Reclaiming Our Narrative’; and despite us planning with military precision and having an entire car full of goodies, the incessant and unremitting internal critical monologue was omnipresent throughout the journey. Seeing familiar faces and catching up was incredibly reassuring and knowing that I had connected and stayed in touch with many of the group via social media meant that there was very little ice to break once we’d come together.

Naturally food was the first item on the agenda after all not feeding Yusuf and Dave the fudge termites and Taz the human seagull could only go one way, and would most certainly result in a mini riot!! Soon the sound of our group filled the canteen, with banter and chatter steadily building in eagerness of the opening gathering where we would all join together for the first time.

The bringing together of this year’s group was most eloquently facilitated by none other than our beautiful Dame Longstocking A.K.A Rosie Canning; no address would have been complete without the obligatory headwear to bring regal definition to proceedings!! With her opening remarks in full swing and the gift of a fabulous journal from Amanda the group very quickly began to develop its own energy which felt welcoming and surprisingly familiar; considering this was the first meeting for many of those in the room. After handing out literary quotes to inspire and softening us up with the lovely gift of a sprouting seed pencil we were off with our first little challenge. I’m certain Rosie could be a headmistress in disguise, and Mr Jackson is very adept at story telling managing to involve half the room in his tale of plane flying international smugglers. Time was spent laughing, chatting through the weekend’s program, getting to know one another and the room was filled with the buzz of anticipation for the new day.

Now how do you even begin to introduce the undeniably compelling force that is Mr David Jackson…the answer is you don’t… He does!! The group were treated to a writing structure master class in which Dave explored a very clear and simple yet effective structure with which to approach the task of writing. Dave’s no nonsense approach injected with sound advice and humour made for a productive and interesting workshop and set the tone for a positive, creative and accomplished morning. Tips were shared for breaking down the task of writing into manageable chunks, and an overview given of techniques that were successful when writing his published book Oi. Dave’s approach is incredibly accessible making the daunting task of writing a whole book seem far more achievable for other individuals who have very little literary experience. Dave alluded to the importance of the role that music plays in his writing journey and swiftly gave a rendition of a song that he finds uplifting when he is having a break from being immersed in the writing process. Dave’s workshop demonstrated that although we feel we might not have the time to fit in writing, if we break things down we can find space to write. It was also acknowledged that the writing process can be tough especially when recounting personal histories, and to ensure there is a positive network of people who ‘Get it’ to seek support from, reflecting the importance of relationship building and connection; and it became clear from the feeling in the room that our Your Life Your Story network had already begun further developing. Overall the workshop was a resounding success and gave many of the group food for thought on going forward with their own writing journey, with methods shared that can be easily adapted and combined with other writing tips and techniques.

Whilst absorbed in engaging with Dave’s workshop my mind had been distracted from the reality that we were next, so when the group broke for refreshments the realisation struck me; all that myself and Yusuf had planned for over the previous weeks and months was now upon us; that, and we had to unpack the trolleys of treasure for the first part of our workshop. My tummy was doing somersaults and my legs had begun to shake a little, but then the group embraced us with their reassurances. The familiarity of beautiful Mel and her supportive smile, Amanda with an encouraging nod, Dave who’s heartening humour cut though the nervousness I was feeling, the entire group Taz, Chris, Jamie, Katrina, Ian, Nickie, Jane, Angie, Davie, Rosie and my Fairy Godmother Jacquie all inspired the confidence that it would be okay, we could speak freely and share our truth together, reclaim our narrative together, no-one was judging or giving the side eye because we were amongst our people; our tribe. I also knew that Yusuf my brother from another mother and I had each other’s back and his presence provided the encouragement needed that even if I was liken to a blancmange at points, we could do this together; and the sweets on the table were a tactical move that were sure to go down well and help things along.

Stood listening to Yusuf delivering his Narrative piece and verse, the group sat intently, emotion washing over them as recollections of the shared threads of our histories struck chords. Our shared knowledge and experience of injustice apparent through the resonance of Yusuf’s words, that lingered in the air in juxta position with the man he has become; a powerful demonstration that the narrative others ascribe to us as care experienced individuals is their version of our narrative, their perception, their interpretation of events…We have our own, and it’s about taking that back ‘Reclaiming our Narrative’, and working to remove the power of the labels and stigma we were branded with by the words of others, turning the negativity into positivity, being defined by self and not others; a thread that very much continued through the delivery of my own narrative and verse.

Nerves still ever present but suppressed by the supportive positive energy that had created an aura of absolute acceptance within the room. I could not have imagined being in this position twelve months previous as id sat and watched Taz so confidently deliver her spoken word piece with such conviction. My delivery no comparison to others, unpolished and gathered up from the handout clutched in my trembling grip; for me…enormous…like climbing Kilimanjaro in stilettos…blindfolded!! I can’t comment on the delivery of my narrative or the verse Different & One which I had written following my first encounter with Your Life Your Story. I experience incredible anxiety when I am in the metaphorical spotlight which meant my reading became a bit of a blur, I’d done it…and this time I didn’t need a chair to hold me up!! With creativity on the other side of the blur like a beacon I’d spoken my truth and was looking forward to seeing others unlock their imaginative, creative, free selves with our activities.

We began with a literary exercise and writing a positive and affirming acrostic poem. In hindsight we could have unpicked this task much further if we’d of had the luxury of having more time, not only exploring the acrostic as a writing prompt but also a vehicle for expressing ones inner voice, the things we think but do not say, words we have held on to through shame, fear and pain and channelling this by writing powerful pieces of poetry using words that resonate deeply with us and our truths. It’s also important to acknowledge that we do not have to be writing for a particular reason or purpose, just to see the words held there upon the paper, even if never shared beyond this and your pen; there is something incredibly cathartic and empowering about being the master of your own truth. The break quickly approached as we wrapped up part one and we eagerly encouraged everyone off to lunch so we could transform the tables and festoon them with the treasures from our trolleys, beads, glitter, glue, markers wires and ribbon. Visual artwork was on display around the room and all the pieces for a planned collaborative installation were in place; to add colour, fun and creativity to the graveyard shift after lunch.

Following a promptly issued public service announcement from Dave regarding the consumption of His and only his Black Jacks; everyone was on to further reclaiming our narrative by reflecting on how we define ourselves and how we should reframe or reject the labels used by others to define us. Now for all of us this will be a lifelong process, in some cases some words travel deep, some labels become so engrained within us we look at ourselves as through we are a stick of rock. The purpose of the shredding of the dead wood and the negative labels that represent this dead wood that prevents us from growing to our full potential is symbolic of the continuous effort we have to make in flipping the perspective and looking for the positives even when things seem incredibly bleak and negative. With the power of positive words in mind we were on to creatively speaking our truth, creating the collaborative piece of art the ‘Positivitree’ and individual personal talking sticks that were a visual representation of assertiveness and courage in sharing our experiences, telling our stories and speaking our truth out loud.

We could have almost predicted from the beginning that Rosie and Mel would be like two five year olds as they clambered for glitter and sparklyness; anyone would of thought that we had magpies at the table as the power struggle for pink pearl glitter ensued. In all good humour materials were shared around and discussion developed around the messages shared on the branches of truth. Each individual branch a celebration of the person it represented from Angie’s playful sombreros, to Nickie’s threads that danced around her branch, Katrina’s flash of gold reminiscent of the superhero inside us, Jacquie’s bright green beads of hope and messages of being enough, Rosie’s beautiful glitter adorned wand, Mel’s shiny moon on a stick Amanda’s hearts and unwavering belief, Dave even had a go wrapping ribbon and copper and joined in; although it’s debateable he was only there for the Bostik. We had expressions in threads feather’s ribbons and powerful words from Jane, Ian and Taz, Davie and his creative expression in copper emblazoned in authenticity. As the ‘Positivitree’ came together a vision of our collective creativity, adorned with the positive labels, and expressions of the self, our tribe felt united. You could feel positivity in the room, creative energy flowing and smiles and laughter abound. The realisation that we don’t lose our creativity even if we’ve stuffed it to the back of a dusty cupboard inside our adult self; we just need to make the time and provide the opportunities and space both physically and emotionally to be creative. That art and creativity doesn’t have to be perfect as it’s an extension and expression of the creator; and none of us are perfect….we are perfectly imperfect…Different & One.

To draw a close to the day the final workshop would be delivered by the remarkably powerful Taz Trevorrow who expresses her words with such passion, sincerity and absolute conviction, with reflections on addiction, exploitation and loss being felt throughout the room. Taz shared helpful techniques in prompting the writing process which may be useful to move past creative blocks; kick starting the imagination by using tangible objects to create a piece of writing or to build a character. We looked at putting the self and others into a piece of writing, and using existing pieces and images to aid the writing process. The mixture of laughter and tears in the room indicative of the power of words and language and demonstrating the value of being able to express your inner world creatively; with the exercises opening up new avenues of exploration for people to test out along their own writing journey. As the weekend had progressed it had revealed new opportunities for people to explore their creativity, in a safe, supportive and nurturing environment; with realisations being made that actually we might just not be kidding ourselves and that we can share our truth our way!! And more importantly with the unwavering support of others who just ‘get it’. Going back to the point that the connection is made and relationships built on feeling and shared understanding of those feelings and not facts and the minutiae of experience or circumstance.

On to our final full day and warm up writing exercises before the eagerly awaited master class with Joelle. We’d had pieces preformed to music, been gobsmacked by the bravery and courage taken by Chris in his vocal expression of feeling to the group and the laughter and tears had continued whilst sharing our insights, reflections and experiences through our creative pieces, and whilst developing our writing. Despite the fact that by this point Rosie had to leave us her ‘All writing is rewriting’ was a phrase that was never too far from our ears, like recounting the words of a much favoured teacher; a comforting reminder that nothing we do is complete rubbish as we always have the opportunity to make edits, improvements and redefine the ‘dodgy’ bits; just as we do with ourselves on our own journeys…mistake, modify, master.

So after a full morning and the first Sunday roast of the day, we had the incredible opportunity not only to hear but feel the incredible force and awesomeness of Joelle Taylor slam poet extraordinaire and genuinely ‘sick as fuck’ human. Joelle shared some great tips and techniques for using imagery, metaphor and visualisation in our writing; with our visualisation being Ian delivering his second horizontal soliloquy. There were individuals in the group who had expressed they could not write and then delivered a deep, meaningful, heartfelt piece of incredibly personal writing. Again the workshop developed its own energy as it was very clear that it was a safe creative environment where things could be said without question, we were all together in supporting each other; with Joelle becoming embraced by the group immediately as the threads of familiarity were woven through all of our truths. Joelle who between sharing her wisdom throughout a fantastic master class, stunned the entire room with her raw, emotive, evocative, powerful truth. Soon time for the second roast of the day and with everyone feeling like they have never eaten so much in their lives we de-camped to the pub; does anyone else get the impression that Amanda is a bit of a feeder…

After food and a little fruit infused lubrication we were back in the room for an absolutely stunning performance from the wonderful Joelle, her words reverberating and resonating throughout the room. All sat in complete awe of how she had commanded control of the power of language in tackling the complexity, horror and injustice of lived experience; developing a war cry, a call to arms against the abusive forces that have had significance in our histories. Joelle delivered powerful words reflecting loss of self and others, of adversity, of harnessing the strength of rage, injustice and experience through poetry and spoken word; speaking our truths out loud and un-ashamed. My words cannot do her words justice, it is a case of having to not only hear them but feel them to understand their significance and power; I’d urge anyone to witness this incredible woman in action. I only needed to take a glance around the room to see the impact that feeling those words had for all present. The intensity and passion with which the pieces were delivered is telling of the personal emotion and raw, honest feeling behind them. It was an absolute privilege to witness. And with the power of Joelle’s words resounding through our beings it brought about a certain unquestioning confidence that we can share our truth however the fuck we like, we don’t need permission from anyone; because it’s ours.

So to our final day with Dr George, A.K.A Picasso and a self care session as a big hug to wrap up the weekend. We had experienced laughter, honesty, raw emotions, hugs, tears, truths, full tummies, signing from both Dave and Chris, interpretative dance from Mel and Taz, powerful spoken word and poetry from all, poetry delivered from the floor…Ian again on the floor!! There was conversation, connection and an abundance of tissues, talent and tremendous creativity. We heard the power in the voices of our new tribe members Angie, Davie, Nickie, Katrina, Ian, Jane, Jackie and Jamie and we learnt more about each other and the power of our feelings in self expression through the arts. The room was noticeably emptier now as Rosie, Ian and Katrina were no longer with us, and conversation drifted in the direction of the event coming to a close.

When you go from spending the best part of your life feeling isolated, rejected, lost, misunderstood and always on the periphery, to feeling like you have found your people, it is an overwhelmingly liberating feeling. Knowing that you are not the only one who thinks and feels a certain way and that there are people like you out there that get it…it brings about a sense of unity and connection. Knowing that it is possible that you will no longer be on your own in the world, this is the power of genuine authentic relationships, relationships where there is a feeling of belonging, that you can find the missing pieces of the puzzle, that there are people who can relate to you unquestioningly because you have at some point in your journey felt the same hurts, lived the same pain, anger and disappointment; knowing those shared feelings from lived experience and being willing to hold space for others and support them through. So with a commitment to keeping the network alive and being the difference for each other, the event was bought to a close until next year. However, each person leaving knowing that over this very short but significant time they had each become more than they were before they came…not just facts…but feelings; finding home in ourselves and others.

The sociological and psychological barriers to care leavers in career guidance – An autoethnographic perspective from Katrina Goodman

First published in Career Matters June 2019 / Issue 7.3

Autoethnography – a form of self-reflection and writing that explores the researcher’s personal experiences and connects this autobiographical story to a wider cultural, political, social meaning and understanding.

“There are far too many negative statistics, outcomes and there are 1000s of care-experienced professionals who defy these as I do.”

It’s been 25 years this July since I was officially ‘relinquished’ from care. I didn’t ‘leave’, it wasn’t a choice, but I have always striven to make a difference despite the issues that predisposed my life as a care leaver.

The lived experience

Now writing as a care-experienced academic/researcher, I want to write my story from the inside; to inform, make an impact, change perception and contribute to research policy legislation and guidance practice. I also want to raise awareness of the complexities and barriers faced by career development professionals working with this group. Writing from my own personal experience and perspective is known as the ‘lived experience’.

When I started my MA on ‘The sociological and psychological barriers to care leavers in career guidance’, I wanted to encapsulate and consolidate my employment background and gain a qualification that reflected this professionally. This followed years of short-term contracts in welfare to work and advisory capacities, redundancies, private renting moves and single parent responsibilities. Having suffered a mental breakdown in 2015 and a diagnosis of ‘complex post-traumatic stress disorder’ CPTSD) in 2018, this qualification enabled me to have a focus in my recovery. My MA dissertation now forms a cathartic facet in which I am able to articulate the sociological and psychological barriers that have affected my life and career history.

Background

I was born in the West Midlands, the youngest of five siblings. I was fostered 13 times before I was adopted at 18 months old. My adoptive mother passed away when I was 11 and I was then returned to care age 14 as a result of a broken down placement. My transition to adulthood and independence did not include career guidance. Having passed four GCSEs with a disrupted year and change of schools, my first role was on YTS as a travel agent. My foster placement ended within that time,

and I was placed in supported lodgings, and then into independent living. I attended college until I was 19 whilst working part-time in retail and catering. I found it difficult to mix with my peer group at college as they all went home to their families. I went home to a flat and felt isolated so this affected my attendance. I moved to Birmingham at 19 working as a residential support worker at a children’s home, had my daughter at 22 and returned to work when she was 18 months. She is now 20 with a career in property management and lives away from home.

Our children, their future

In September 2000 I delivered a speech at a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference; ‘Our children, their future’. I delivered my manifesto as a young person supported by a Barnardo’s project. The statistics for care leavers I quoted were that they were:

  • 50 times more likely to go to prison
  • 60 times more likely to experience homelessness
  • 88 times more likely to abuse drugs.

In my speech I highlighted the need for basic support resources for issues such as mental health, poverty, and housing, isolation from peers, securing childcare, networks, guidance and information. All of this was drawn from my own experiences. I do not feel that my voice had been heard nor my contribution valued. At the time these statistics made me determined to prove people wrong. The most recent figures provided by DfE (2014):

  • In 2010 25% of those who were homeless had been care at some point in their lives
  • In 2008 49% of young men under the age of 21 who had met with the criminal justice system had care experience
  • Only 6% of care leavers are in higher education.

These are not inclusive of mortality rates, mental health issues, benefit sanctions and the day-to-day challenges faced by young people currently leaving the care system. There are far too many negative statistics, outcomes and there are 1000s of care-experienced professionals who defy these as I do.

I attended the Care-Experienced Conference in Liverpool in April 2019. This was the first of its kind for care-experienced professionals to meet and network. Care-experienced professionals in every profession trade and occupation you could name were represented. The age range was from 17-65 and proved that the decades of negative statistics, did not speak for the successful achievements of care-experienced adults including myself. This event has also motivated me to complete my MA and continue further to PhD study in the future.

Positive statistic

I want to represent a positive statistic and contribute to wider research for care leavers. When I began to investigate the data from 20 years ago, there was little or none to represent the careers of care leavers, yet I have discovered care-experienced academics from UK and international universities. Since I attended this event, I have become part of this huge community and network. I have always helped others, fought for others, striven for better quality services and treatment of others,

advocated for others, motivated others, inspired others, and used my negative experiences into positive realities with myself as evidence in my roles. When it was suggested that I use autoethnography as a methodology, it became an ideal opportunity to write my ‘lived’ experiences into my research.

As a qualified careers guidance practitioner, I am able to use my experiences to relate to and motivate others and have a positive enthusiasm for the careers and futures of those I work with. Young people are motivated by role models, people who defy odds against adversity, real life experiences, and I am a good example of this. I enjoy identifying the potential in every person I interview, showing people how to turn disadvantage into opportunity, and I make a difference. Despite everything

I have encountered in my life, I am still determined to make a positive difference to the lives of others. I have never been ashamed of my background or my upbringing. I am learning to be proud of the obstacles I have overcome, I am not defined by statistics, I refuse to be stigmatised or stereotyped. For me this qualification is a continuing journey of self-recognition, development and learning.

A Caregivers Lament

Care fails too many it is true

Fob off letters prove

Words on barren wasteland fell

Policy dictated

Wrong, doing remains unrepented

The system failed me too

 

Amanda Knowles MBE

The Not Normal Normal by David Anderson

Fuck you’ he screamed

Is that right son,’ replied the man sardonically

Fucking right it’s right, you ugly fat bastard’

the (now) angry man shouted, ‘Restraint

Two other men promptly arrived

Pumped up and aware of the audience

They grabbed the small boy

Whose parents had just cancelled another visit

Who needed love and understanding

Even if he would reject it with teeth and nails

 

They wrestled his wriggling body to the floor

Face down, he struggled violently

The largest of the three men sat on his back

The other two sat down upon wildly kicking legs

Struggling for air, he screamed, ‘Get the fuck off me’

He told them he couldn’t breathe,

‘I can’t fucking breathe’

We’ll get off when you calm down’, panted the overweight man on his back

he repeated it several times, ‘I can’t fucking breathe’ I can’t breathe’ I can’t…’

‘When you calm down’ he repeated, with added spittle and sweat

A final panic-induced struggle left his body

He went limp before our eyes

Transfixed we watched through the window

Restraint was commonplace and compelling

It had happened to all of us

It happened every day

 

One staff member mentioned he’d turned a funny colour

The men stood up and looked at each other

They looked weak, visibly smaller, somehow older, haggard even

As if they wore a life-time’s wrong-doing on their faces

Dorian Gray paintings momentarily come to life

One left the corridor to call an ambulance

They falsified the report

Didn’t mention his final cries for breath

They were sympathetically questioned

No-one asked us, the real witnesses

 

We kicked-off later that night

The storm after the lull

Breaking things, fighting each other

When they restrained me I tried to replay the scene,

I screamed, kicked wildly, went limp,

I couldn’t die

 

Wee Tommy was really funny,

He pulled mental goofy faces,

 Was good at climbing onto roofs,

He always ate his chips with brown sauce

and hated sleeping with the light off.

Tommy never got the chance to look back on it all

To say, ‘what was that all about, it wasn’t normal after all?’