In light of Prisoners Abroad being shortlisted for the London Homelessness Awards, Cass has written a blog about her work and a typical day in the Resettlement team…

By Resettlement Officer, Cass

I have worked within the community, with children, young people and adults for around ten years now. Having worked with young women in Holloway prison, where I co-developed and facilitated self-development sessions, I am more than aware that with care, consideration and support, people can change which is what inspires me to help people find their voices and make the decisions to impact positive change. Having most recently worked with ex-offenders in the probation’s service, I was keen to take on a role which involved more one-to-one contact with a focus on well-being work, being a Resettlement Officer for Prisoners Abroad is the perfect avenue for me to do this.

I have been working with ex-offenders who have returned to the UK after serving a prison sentence overseas, for a year now. The majority of people that need our support are those who have lived abroad for a number of years, often decades, and returned to an unfamiliar society. My role is to support their integration into the community. I help each person to overcome barriers by assisting with practical things like housing and employment and equally important I also provide emotional support which is often needed.

So a typical day…I get into the office and work through any paperwork from the previous day that needs finishing off. I then read up on my casework notes for the day ahead and prepare for the meetings I have with people. If I am meeting someone for the first time the key things I need to establish before meeting them is their background, and what their immediate needs and requirements are. I get all the paperwork together and when the person arrives we sit down in one of the rooms in our resettlement space to start their first session. One of the first things I ask is how someone is feeling; the reality of being back in the UK, talking about their experiences and their current situation is often overwhelming. We then make short term plans in relation to emergency accommodation, money for travel and food and I offer clothes and toiletries if they are needed. I would then attend to any other meetings booked throughout the day, of varying levels of support. A service user’s second session with me would involve longer term planning – I ask them what their goals are and we put together an action plan of how to start achieving these goals. This would include starting the benefits application process, discussing their long term goals, setting short term goals and for most enrolling them on the PA Work Preparation Programme where they can get help and guidance on education, training and employment. I remind people to pace themselves as it is very important to build a foundation when they first arrive back in the UK; to understand their surroundings and re-establish how they socialise with people. I may also refer someone to Crisis as there are useful courses and a good social networking space there. For some people where their health concerns/condition requires urgent attention I provide a support letter to get them registered at the medical centre PA works with. This helps with knowing whether a person’s current health may affect them from working right now and ascertains whether they will need employment support allowance for example. The next stage of process is more in-depth – we sit down and I ask about their mental, physical and emotional well-being, then if necessary I signpost to relevant organisations that can assist.

At any one time I work can work with up to 15 people, who I interact with on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Generally half are ‘long-arm’ service users who I support from the London office but are based all over the UK, and the other half are London based so they come into the office to attend meetings with me. In Resettlement we have a team meeting every Friday and we use this time to discuss upcoming cases, service user needs and potential areas of concern.

A fascinating part of my job is learning about the wealth of information and talent of our service users. A lot of people have discovered talents whilst they have been incarcerated and they tell me these talents were their ‘way out’ – a way to deal with the challenges of imprisonment. People talk to me about finding hope and using this to deal with the situation they were in – enabling them to be free in their mind even though they were not physically free. On returning to the UK, the trials and tribulations that emanate from reintegration are often used by people as fuel to persevere. I observe people’s resilience and it is extraordinary; a lot of people see their deportation as a new beginning, they see a second chance and I am proud to be able to support them to make that new beginning.

It is rare, however, at times I am not always able to hide the emotion I feel for my clients, especially at times when one has lost a loved one and or expressing how they feel about not being able to see or access communication with their families and/or children. I do feel the pain and difficulty faced by the service users that I support, and on occasion the façade that I so confidently create can be wavered; barriers can always be shaken when the situation is profound.