The UK is renowned for being a soft touch, with re offenders spending a vast amount of their adult lives in the clink. I personally know a couple of such offenders whom I went to school with. But I’m going to focus on one particular. Chris.
Chris had a somewhat inconsistent start in life, surrounding by poverty, gangs, drugs and being abandoned along with his sister and mother by his father when he was very young. His mother, although she tried her hardest, Chris well and truly went off the rails ‘like a switch had been turned on’. At 11, he was smoking cannabis, had a list of misdemeanours as long as my arm, was on first name terms with his local police force, and essentially feral.
Then he was sent to the same school I attended, a specialist boarding school dealing with self-destructive behaviour and Emotional Behavioural Difficulties. Predominantly run by ex military staff, old school teachers and former social workers who were sick of the red tape and bureaucracy in central government, stripping them of powers more and more with each government, the school, and its houses (for the most part) ran like clockwork.
This was no simple feat, we had to have a fine balance of rough and tumble, and to feel safe – a very fine balance indeed when you have 10 houses of hormonal, emotionally damaged teenage boys. But once teething problems with each individual were worked out – it worked.
I went on to leave with the highest GCSE results the school had seen in a decade, while Chris scraped by with 3 GCSEs all at C or below. This isn’t to say he was thick, anything but infact, he just wasn’t academically minded. Give him a car engine, and he can strip it down and rebuild it without having to read the manual.
Chris got into heavier crime, serving time for shoplifting (never home burglary), affray, drugs offenses, ABH, rioting and so on. I never spoke to him until recently, however, he’s changed his ways, managing to secure a job and go back to college to do advanced car mechanics. Which got me thinking, I wonder if the problem with the rehabilitation system is that they aren’t learning new skills to aid them in finding more worthwhile employment on the outside.
So teaching a load of cons to bake may sound ludicrous to some people, but catering is very therapeutic, to take a load of raw ingredients, and then turn them into something beautiful instils quite a sense of pride. The idea of a hardened criminal icing a Barbie cake (complete with butter cream swirls and a spun sugar sash) may conjure up some interesting images, but if it keeps them on the straight and narrow, and out of prison, it’s certainly not a bad thing. Especially when they’ll be paying into funding the very system that helped to rehabilitate them.