Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Desistance - Resistance - Social Value and Redemption

Zarin Sharif 
Start-Up Entrepreneur and Ex-Offender

During the time my head was being burnt out by the council over me setting up a business and trying to work in partnership with them, the Job centre and Probation … I received an email from Olinga about the Social Value Portal.

My initial thought was eh! I read it and thought to myself this is for me. I called Olinga and we had a chat. I don’t think he could believe what he was hearing and we had a laugh about it. From there I thought I’d try to communicate with the council, putting the Social Value Act 2012 in where I can.

I put some representations together in my own words fighting my case to be treated on my own individual merits but the main thing being my social exclusion and my attempts to overcome it. And their obligations in regards to the Social Value Act. And to my amazement it worked and I got a further rent free period. Now I’m on it from every angle.

I like it when they try to dismiss me or palm me off on someone else. It might work with others but not me. Unfortunately. My will to stay out of prison, stop reoffending and lead a law abiding lifestyle is bigger than someone’s efforts trying to mug me off.  As I’m living this experience I can’t believe it’s actually happening. And what worries me is it solely directed at me or is everyone being treated like this? It’s a question nobody wants to answer that’s what makes it all suspect. It’s a horrible feeling.

This is my story. As an offender I achieved a BSc Honours Degree in Social Sciences with Sociology via the Open University. With a couple of years left I wrote a blog for Choice FM for their Peace on the Streets campaign. After my release Choice FM put me in touch with Foundation4Life and I helped them do a few workshops about Gang Culture.

Here’s a few more things I have got up to.  Given a talk at the Centre for Social Justice about my experiences and failings of the criminal justice system. Only ethnic minority drugs representative in the north of England for 18-24 months. Published recently in a Prison Reform Trust and Prison Education Trust consultation Through the Gateway. A Few consultations with Nihal on BBC Asian Network. Since my release I have been trying to engage with my local council’s BME Network and find a way with the local authorities on how I can help. I thought the education I had learnt while studying and experiencing day to day would be of some value. Especially living in a region with high unemployment and crime. Wrong!

My reasons for wanting to work with the BME was because I come from that background and over the years have seen the increase of crime committed from within that group, mainly Pakistani lads. From the off I could see this council guy had an attitude problem and that is where our conflict of interests and personalities started. Mine were and still are for good reasons, I don’t know about him.

Constant rejection and been spoken to like your nothing, isn’t nice, but I put up with it because I know this is what it’s like being an offender. Through the course of time I’ve ended up attending National Treatment Agency substance misuse forums around the northeast of England. Straight away I pointed out there are no ethnic minorities here and the point was picked up. I wasn’t liked there either because of my knowledge and the truth hurts these people when they hear it.

I was sat there amongst the people who used to lock me up and try to govern my life outside in society too and quickly realised how powerful and dangerous in the wrong hands my subject matter expertise I had was. And I become challenging and they couldn’t take it. During my time there I was the most consistent ethnic minority representative there always questioning why there is no BME.

I packed it in when my value to them was £20. And I voluntarily as an ex-offender travelled all around the northeast at a cost to me financially, but never mind my willingness to help, more than anything was it a valuable experience. I got nowhere here but I made a very good attempt to see what was out there. Thinking on my feet I just went for it trying to get on within the framework of the Criminal Justice System. I achieved quite a bit but ultimately I had to find a job. The more I tried I again realised I had too much knowledge but it was the wrong kind.  The truth.

All the time I was trying to make a move on the BME in a positive way because I’m seeing more and more people going to prison from my area and especially amongst the Asians for drugs. Getting nowhere all the time and clearly being discriminated against by prejudices. Every time I tried I’ve walked away wanting to give someone a proper kicking.

And that is how I had my first encounter with local council. My first contact was like a police interview but I knew I could not go to prison for speaking my mind. So we all went for it, them with the formalities of listening and disregarding what you are saying but I was dealing with real facts. Because I’ve been prosecuted quite a few times I know how to build a case and by using my knowledge I quickly got them on the back foot. The problems started after I presented my case and they tried to give the brush off. Quickly I was on the phone quizzing him about his reasons. What a load of crap and I told them not to patronise and lie to me I don’t like it but that didn’t seem to bother them. So as a man they have never encountered before, with my full on rage, I stood up to them and put them on their toes.

Lets go out into the community and gather the facts. And what is a joke as the Freedom of Information manager he tried to tell me the evidence I provided was not credible. When I said it would be good enough in front of a judge, he was wounded. I was on him like a rash telling what is credible evidence and he couldn’t deny it. I’m still waiting for him to reply to my email about it. He knew I was too much for him so he tried palming me off on to his boss and he tried the same. He got a more tailored response but ultimately they are in a corner because I’m dealing in the facts from a broad range of the community and they are relying on what they have been told and know to be a waste of tax payer’s money.

One thing I did notice throughout this experience was the similarities in their attitudes as to what I come across and other inmates too.  The way they think they can talk to you and get away with it. It’s the one thing I always question and nobody seems to answer. Is it me you talk to like this or is it everyone else too? Straight on from that I’ve got other targets to meet and that is me getting off this unemployment lark.

Multi agency. But the brains behind it are the Job Centre/DWP and NOMS (National Offender Management Service).  In situation like this it is easy to see why it’s just easier to offend or carry on reoffending. It’s the way the abuse of power by the system is bullying you into submission and the way it makes you feel.  Knowledge is power in this experience and I keep a record by sending emails and keeping my offender manager informed. All the time people think they can brush me off but is this happening to other people?

I’m always out and about and am quizzing people and they too are experiencing this. Is this for real? I’m going to give you another example. I’m currently starting a small business. Between Probation and the Job Centre they put me in touch with a local charity. Since the beginning of the year I’ve put together a model of a sustainable business using most of my skills and references supplied by some well known business men in the area. The support given to me by my family, friends, associates and others has been more than appreciated. The time had come last week for me to hand in and get the help needed to finish the business plan for consideration. I was excited, buzzing and all that.

Then the guy working for the charity went into this rant about this personal grievance at work and that I should not submit my business plan through his works but somewhere else. My phone went off and it was one of the local colleges wanting to work with me on a project to help enhance the employment chances of students. I’m trying to tell him I need to put this in the plan too but somehow he’s on the phone to a secretary at work trying to somehow get some sort of message across to me. I walked off.

And again find myself in another complaint process asking is it me or everyone else too. Now I’ve got the Job Centre and Probation trying to distance themselves from this latest scenario. Leading me down the garden path and clearly in some cases being discriminatory because of my past. But their biggest fear my knowledge about my civil rights.

And again I have to do business with the council and they have already got their own perceptions about me. But they are not viewing me for my individual merits for individual situations. They have already painted a picture of me. But when I’m trying to do some good it hurts so I just stand up for myself and challenge when I have to.

I’m learning fast and am putting up a good fight to the opposition. About 4-6 weeks ago I was appointed some sort of business help from my Council. Have gone through the lip service and know there is nothing down for me really. But let’s go for it. The council official lets say trying to work with only works part time, 3 hours a week. How am I or anybody else supposed to work with in my experience with an answer machine, emails around working hours, support, advice and so on. And her holidays. I end up going down there and speak to her boss and caught him out straight away. I took a McKenzie witness with me. The guy was wounded but it didn’t stop him from trying it on.

I’ve come at a bad time, everyone is on holiday and unfortunately blah blah blah. Then starts telling me about hard done by he is and has only had 7 days holiday this year. I jumped up and said to him “do I look like a f*****g agony aunt to you?”. The witness started laughing, he didn’t know what to say.

What I can’t get my head around now is what is this 3 hour a week person who spends more time on holiday than at work is bringing to the citizens of the city? The cost to my life is more than what they can contemplate or are prepared to consider. Their proven lazy attitude towards everything I’ve tried is relentlessly a daily battle. But if this is how they are treating the whole of this community it seriously needs questioning. The consequences to this which I have pointed out to the Job Centre, probation, charity and not the council yet because I’m doing that through the Social Value Portal.

Here is the consequences of their actions. Crime, offending and reoffending. Substance misuse. Drugs misuse. Domestic violence. Further unemployment. Homelessness. Divorce. Suicide. These are some of the battles people are forced into or even choose as the way out. I don’t know what the numbers are involved, it happens. Is this how cheap some of us are and is it right for it to be normal practice because I’m proving it. Help!