Thursday, 21 April 2011

Hackney Central.

With Level 3 students Kadeem, Steph and Danny to The John Howard centre in Hackney and a chance to have a look around the Millfields Unit, a medium secure personality disorder unit. Steph in particular is keen to use the drama skills she's developed over the past three years to work in help those with mental health problems.

We were met by Dr Celia Taylor, who explained the aims of the unit and then took us on a brief tour. All of the twenty men who live in the unit are serving lengthy prison terms and most will spend two or three years in Millfields, before returning to complete their sentences. The criteria for selection is mostly based on the willingness of the individual to engage in the therapy offered.

Each morning both staff and inmates meet to plan the day ahead. This is followed by smaller group meetings where any potential problems, disputes or tensions can be addressed.

B has been in the unit for just three weeks. He transferred from a prison on the Isle of Wight and was struggling with the freedom (patients have access to a TV room, kitchen, a lounge, a gym and library.) We sat with him as he watched a heavy metal DVD with the volume turned up to a maximum level.

'It's hard,' he told us 'in prison I was locked up for 22 hours a day. I had an hour to do my job, which was emptying the bins, and then an hour of exercise. It's very frightening to have to make decisions. If I could I'd be locked up for 24 hours a day.'

'You haven't made it to the small group sessions yet have you?' asked Celia gently. 'I think that's the next thing to aim for. Maybe when you've had a little more time to settle.'

Next up was K, who showed us his room - a shrine to Elvis and God.

'I'm not sure who I believe in,' he said 'maybe they're the same person! Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to see if B wants to play a video game with me.I think he's finding it tough here.

Celia was keen that we develop some links with the centre. She talked about the importance of getting the balance right between stimulating activities and non stimulating environments. The Comedy School already deliver some programmes with the centre and it's hoped we might contribute placements in the future. Can Drama help these men prepare for safe rehabilitation and independence?

As we were leaving we watched a H, accompanied by a nurse, go off to buy a paper. He was very anxious about the temporary discharge, the first real freedom he'd had for many years, but had agreed to try and stay out for at least fifteen minutes. Fists clenched, jaw set, he crossed the road and headed purposefully for the newsagent. The first steps of a very long journey.


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