Posts Tagged ‘crime’

Random memory no. 137

June 6, 2013 Leave a comment

I was watching TV last night, a crime thriller, and there was some dialogue that reminded me of something that happened probably 25 years ago.

The plot involved someone visiting a prison and coming out saying ‘I’ve met my first murderer’. But 25 years ago I was occasionally involved in taking groups of students on prison visits. I can’t remember which prison we’d been to, but it held some lifers and we had a group discussion with some of them.

When we left after the session one of the students said exactly that to me: ‘So now I’ve met my first murderer.’

And my response was ‘How would you know that?’.

Because logically speaking, all she could say was that she’d met her first convicted and incarcerated murderer.

At some point I may use that as a detail in a story, when I get enough of my ‘day job’ writing done that I can get back into writing fiction.


We need more Elmores!

July 3, 2010 Leave a comment

In the last week I’ve found out a great deal more about homelessness that I was hoping ever to have to know. This came about because the son of a friend of mine has just become homeless, having lost his private rented flat.

There’s a complex history to this, as you might expect. It revolves around this guy being ADHD, short attention span, bored, lonely, needing social interaction and not having much day-to-day support. In a nutshell he was ‘spotted’ by a bunch of drifters who realised he had something they could make use of – his flat. He was gullible enough to invite them home, they were manipulative enough to use it as a drinking den and then ran riot. When he ran into trouble with the landlord and tried to get them out, the vindictiveness started – burglary, smashed windows, people breaking in and refusing to leave, etc.

The landlord hasn’t been much help either. It’s not a ‘social landlord’ so they don’t have obligations to support tenants, and as best I can tell there’s been a certain amount of chicanery in terms of trying to get him to move out without actually issuing an eviction notice.

The result has been meetings with the local authority housing people, welfare rights, etc. etc. trying to negotiate a housing maze that revolves around whether he is ‘voluntarily’ homeless (I’d say the police incident numbers prove not) or otherwise. If he is, he can’t access locally authority controlled housing or hostels. Not that there are many places available anyway, and a long queue for them (and some of the people who caused the trouble in them…). However ‘supported’ accommodation is outwith the control of the local authority waiting lists so he’s potentially eligible – but even finding the trusts that run such places, checking their eligibility criteria, and sorting out applications is a huge job.

He has complex needs, which essentially amount to day-to-day support and patient, wise people who know how to get him motivated and arrange access to the services that can address at least some of his problems.

And this is where the Elmore thing comes in. In 1988-9, I was asked to be an in-house researcher to evaluate a then-new voluntary sector project in Oxford. Named for a local notable who had the original inspiration, the idea was for a small team of people who would deal with those who fell through the ‘cracks’ between agencies.

For example, it would arrange shared-care between two hostels, when people were challenging and regularly blew out their accommodation. If you could find two hostels and two people who were problematic, you could get an agreement to give each one a couple of weeks in one hostel and swap them over before they blew it. The new situation would help them remain stable and certainly give the staff in both places a respite.

When homeless mentally-disordered people were arrested and charged, the team would try to find temporary accommodation for them so they could be bailed, some attempt made to deal with their needs, and if necessary a worker dispatched to bring them to court so they didn’t forget the court date and wouldn’t then have an arrest warrant issued for non-appearance.

They were able to connect people to an outreach health team (which at that time ran out of a Portakabin on a night shelter car park, if I remember rightly) that dealt with underlying health issues – many of the homeless had, probably still have, conditions ranging from shingles to scabies to TB that often impaired their ability to even think straight – and also had a community psychiatric nurse who was experienced in locating homeless mentally ill people and getting them to take their medication so they wouldn’t end up doing stupid things that got them into court.

The bottom line was that the team didn’t itself offer much in the way of services but did enable people with complex needs and difficult problems to connect with agencies – it put together, jigsaw fashion, care packages in which each of a number of agencies agreed to take on a defined role in relation to part of the problem, against the assurance that other agencies were addressing other parts of the whole situation. It was person-orientated rather than agency orientated, and that was its strength.

And it worked.

But it was in Oxford, and my friend’s son isn’t.

I did the evaluation in 1988-9, on a short term contract, and then moved on. But I’ve just caught up with the Elmore thing again. It’s grown into Elmore Community Services (yes, that’s a link) and has expanded to deal with a much wider range of problems than it could tackle when it first started, such as antisocial behaviour and parenthood problems.

The original report I wrote (I still have a copy somewhere) clearly hasn’t survived the transition from print to online publishing, but obviously is just a little outdated now anyway. However there are several worthwhile and recent publications available on the website.

This whole experience with my friend’s son, and my memory of the early Elmore work, leaves me with this thought. We proved the Elmore concept worked, twenty years ago. It’s still there and still working. It must save all the agencies involved significant amounts of money by ensuring that people with complex needs actually get them addressed, don’t fall through gaps in service provision, don’t end up receiving unco-ordinated and ineffective care that breaks down every two minutes, and don’t end up going through the revolving door syndrome of repeated short prison sentences for stupid things they do when care breaks down.

So if it’s good for the people with these needs and arguably cost effective in the long run for all the agencies involved, why on earth isn’t there an Elmore type service in every city?

Fertile but febrile

May 12, 2010 Leave a comment

So how have I been these last couple of days?

Fertile to the point of being febrile would be a good description. I’ve had a few days where almost anything that happens – dreams, books I read, snatches of TV, overheard conversations, even the bloody pencil on my desk, spark off trains of thought that could be either new stories or elements within stories i want to write. I have a working file of notes – i.e. one-liners, a sentence or two of description, a couple of sentences from a TV or radio news item or book quote, each of which captures an idea I want to use at some point. And the file is 13000 words.

And actually this is a bit of a problem because what I’m trying to do at the moment is (a) write a story that’s already mapped out in my head, (b) rewrite a rejected story that’s a bit too Dennis Wheatley-ish in tone and feel so it’s more gritty and urban, and most importantly (c) carry on working through writing a distance learning module – currently this involves an overview and discussion of the occasionally complex links between ethics and law, which will enable students to make sense of the readings they’ll be required to on the topic. Being fertile and febrile is not a good state of mind for this, it’s too distracting.

While I think about it, I’ll also mention that as part of the distracted state I also wrote 1000 words last night diarising some conversations I had with a friend of mine who’s having a very hard time. Looking back at the things that have happened to him in the last month, it reads more like a horror story.

Sample (these relate to April: there’s more from May I have yet to write up):
– Some low-value items including a jar of loose change was stolen from his flat by visitors.
– Was assaulted coming out of a nightclub resulting in a short hospital stay for bruising, laceration and suspected concussion. He’d been at the club with a friend who tried to make out with another guy’s girlfriend; the guy initially attacked his friend and then him. This was caputered on CCTV, the offender arrested but later cautioned.
– As a result of stress (including threats made against him by dickhead lowlifes for fairly trivial reasons) had an episode in which he lost the plot and self-harmed resulting in outpatient treatment for severe cuts to a finger.
– Was threatened with eviction due primarily to complaints about noise from his flat, which admittedly has been an ongoing thing. He’s had a long-standing problem with some people he does know coming round with people he doesn’t, who know he’s easy to bully and want to use his place as a drinking den. Some of the disturbance was them; some of it was him trying to prevent them busting into his flat.
– Had a toothache which he refused to see a dentist about (he has a longstanding phobia of dentists). Eventually he went to the dental department at the local hospital which confirmed three abcesses, prescribed DF118s for the pain and told him to return next day for treatment. Instead he drank (why do young people always think they’re immortal?) which was an extremely bad idea due to the interaction between DF118s and alcohol. As I understand it he want into a kind of manic state during which he threw a bottle through the window of the people he believed had stolen from him. For this he was arrested and cautioned, and missed the hospital appointment.
– His flat was burgled a few days later. Not much stolen, because he doesn’t have much. But a window was smashed for entry and some other damage done.

The bottom line seems to be that if you live in a not-so-good area and don’t choose your friends with care, you end up in a situation where others try to exploit you; stuff that happened a while back can haunt you; small problems can turn into huge problems; you don’t have the resources to cope with small problems when they’re small, let alone when they become big; stress kicks in and you make bad choices; and you’re much more vulnerable to random bad stuff when you’re stressed. That’s not to deny that mixing DF118s and alcohol is an extremely bad idea, of course, not least because it could have been life-threatening and in that sense he was lucky. But there’s also the existentialist side of it – in some situations hell really is other people.

So maybe my own issue with getting distracted isn’t such a major thing after all…

Advice to someone I know

April 26, 2010 Leave a comment

I recently read Boxy an Star by Daren King. I picked it up in a charity shop, incidentally, and it’s marked as withdrawn stock from a prison library. There’s a scene in it where the two main characters, both chronic pillheads, decide to write rules for how to live their life – like ‘open the curtains when it is light and close them when it is dark’.

Below is my version of advice to a young man I know who, to put it mildly, has a troubled life and a great deal of difficulty coping with it… written in a way that is maybe familiar to the kind of person who might want to live by these rules? For US readers (if I have any!) where it says ‘mobile’ read ‘cellphone’, and ‘pissed’ means drunk not angry (though could equally well mean both…).

If anyone thinks it’s useful (or even amusing) feel free to print, distribute, repost (preferably with an attribution) etc etc.!

Rools for how to live and b safe

Get up when it is day go 2 bed when it is nite. That way u can go to shops and doctor and stuff wen they are OPEN.

Remember wot day it is. Doctors and drugs workers and stuff dont open satdays and sundays.

Dont spliff up during the day u will never get any thing dun.

Take the pillz wot the doctor give u and NOT other pillz. REMEMBER where u put them MAKE SURE u no how many and when u take them. ALSO DONT DRINK wen youre taking pillz NOT EVEN DOCTOR PILLZ cos last time u did that u went mental and got arrested and coud of ended up in hospital dead.

Wen u get a problem like tooth ache SORT IT OUT cos if u dont u end up in pain and raving and then u drink and evry thing turns to shit. AND u still hav the problem. AND if u got arrested u got more problems.

Dont spend any money till u have payed rent and bills and put lectric on the meter and stuff other wise u will not b able to pay the rent and get thrown out. Or else u will get cut off or get a summons and bad shit happen.

Dont let nob heds in your place they reck it and use it as a doss house and steel yor stuff.

Dont let nob heds no where u live they will cum round and brake yor winders wen theyre pissed or high.

If nob heds steel stuff dont go round there place brake there winders fite them cos u get arrested 4 it. And they get to keep wot they stole.

If sumwun thinks they are yor best frend after 5 mins and u were pissed or stoned wen u met them – theyre a NOB HED.

If sumwun cums round yor place and u didnt invite them or tell them where u live and may be u dont remember meeting them – theyre a NOB HED.

Dont go to clubs and stuff cos then u drink and get pissed and get into fights even if u dont start them other peeple do and u end up in hospital or arrested.

Always no where yor mobile is AND have credit on it AND dont thro it around and brake it cos then u cant call anyone 4 help and they cant call u 2 help.

Letters in the post means offishul stuff wot needs to be opened and kept safe and take it to yor counsler to xplane wot it meens and deel with it.

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