Most released prisoners can expect to be accommodated in what used to be called ‘hostels’ and are now called Approved Premises, or APs. When I was released in 2013 after 12 years banged up I arrived at Bristol AP, Bridge House, in the grip of joy and resentment in about equal measure. The resentment was because I wasn’t really free. I had no choice but to report to the AP and to suffer what I was certain would be a whole set of petty rules and provocations designed to trigger recall.
Looking back, I remember how quickly I realised I couldn’t have been more wrong. The reasons why I was wrong fall into two categories, the personal and the institutional.
First, I was wrong about myself. I thought I could just slip back into ‘freedom’ as easily as changing from one set of clothes to another. I had no idea how overwhelmed I would be by the impact of being out. The space, the speed, the complexity, the invisibility, the sense of smallness in a city contrasting with the familiar ‘presence’ that one had on the landings – all emotions I was unprepared for – but perhaps the most surprising was how being ‘out’ brought with it an almost debilitating insight of regret for the waste that was prison.
Within hours of being out I knew I needed people I never expected to need. And those people were there for me in the AP. None of the people who staffed Bridge House were the petty tyrannical jobsworths that I expected to meet. From the manager, who greeted me with a respect I had forgotten existed, to my Key Worker with whom I developed a rewarding rapport, to the cook and housekeeper who cheerfully served up the best food I’d had in years, and other staff making up a team happy to help with so many things that in an ideal world would have been sorted before I left prison. Things like my bus pass and pension and identity documents, driving licence, passport, and registering with a GP, all the practical issues that would have been far more difficult to resolve had I at the same time been trying to find somewhere to live.
I cannot speak of other APs, but my experience of Bridge House suggests strongly that the horror stories of whimsical recalls that are the currency of many an exercise yard deserve more than a pinch of sceptical salt.
Sadly, my recall was my responsibility and had no reflection on the A.P. They went above and beyond to help me a couple of times. However, I wasn’t ready and with all the help and support in the world is not going to keep you out of prison, if you yourself are not ready to stay out. After completing another 5 year sentence and after another spell in Bridge House I finally made a conscious decision that I was ready to make a real go at life. Thankfully, I completed my licence and now live a free from chaos or/and mayhem. I live on a farm and am actually giving back to society what I had previously taken out.