A Simple Idea for Complex Lives

Published 24/09/2021
Author(s) Rob Turner

The Beginning of a Conversation:

The following explores a proposal once made by a Probation service-user but fundamentally asks how the Future of Probation can adapt to facilitate and advocate such voices from those with Lived Experience.


Time is important but of the essence. In 2016, I was convicted for ‘the-possession-of-indecent-images-of-young-people’. I received myriad sentences/restrictions, 5-years engagement with the Public-Protection-Unit (PPU) of the police, and 3-year Community Order supervision under Probation – the Horizon’s Programme (Northumbria-Sexual-Offenders-Group (NSOG) and Better-Lives). This is brute ‘black-and-white’ of conviction. It doesn’t begin explaining the other 99% of identity, nor the array of reasons why one commits these crimes. That is a different article and time altogether.

However, very early on, I was keen to hold myself to account, attempting to navigate supporting others, enabling unique perspective, through Lived Experience, that Probation (one can argue only partly, from a singular, potentially biased, criminal’s perspective – with labelling problematic itself) was, and still is, flawed.


Probation provided an internal and external rhetoric to debate, a processing of thoughts, feelings and behaviours. But I was desperate to catalyse my own rehabilitation to help inform and develop Probation’s practice, advocating more sustainable rehabilitation (beyond confines of law-bound necessity), educating greater skill-sets (promoting/valuing wider social rehabilitation) and placing offenders at the centre of their Lived Experience, using their ‘expertise’ to guide their journeys.

So, I wrote a proposal with a view to setting up a ‘Simple-Idea-for-Complex-Lives’. This mentoring scheme would allow participants to learn core creative skills (confidence/communication/collaboration/identity/leadership), graduate to become volunteering or funded mentors for future groups, developing roles in shaping and enriching wider rehabilitative pathways, elevating and empowering valuable Lived Experience. The beginning of a conversation, asking for just 10 minutes within NSOG sessions for kinaesthetic, service-user-led activities – inspired by ideas from Michel Foucault, Paulo Freire, amongst many others.

The following quote surmises these ideas: “the fear that many (prisoners) have of the power of their home environment to damage their best intentions to change, needs to be reframed by offering them the skills and confidence to change that environment. Whilst this might seem a daunting task…even an engagement with the process of social change would provide a context for personal change to be sustained.” (J. Thompson, 1999, p.37-38).

I sent this proposal to my Probation-Officer, PPU-Officer, Universal-Credit-Work-Coach, facilitators of the NSOG course, along with my fellow participants. I received a comment of thanks and… nothing else. It was as if it was written in a different language.


We can argue the merits and detail of this proposal and, in being afforded an ever-more platforms for Lived Experience voice, I would gladly do so.

But remember, this was the beginning of a conversation, at a time when Probation’s ethos was one of promoting mentoring opportunities (specifically encouraged by staff to express ideas, although the HMIP wouldn’t publish “Service-User-Involvement-in-the-Review-and-Improvement-of-Probation-Services” until 2019). To be ignored, practically silenced, was symptomatic of my experience in emphasising transferrable and newly-learned skills to travail the hurdles of my conviction, champion authentic alternatives, housing a sense of purpose again, to be courageous when no element of my life was allowed to be, to see all of myself and not be afraid. I was met with fear.


So, has Probation changed? Will it ever change?

There have been recent adjustments to the Active-Risk-Management-System (ARMS) process to shift the balance from protecting/safeguarding the public and how criminals pose varying harm towards how offenders can re-contribute to society and limit reoffending through proactive means. Probation/PPU use these newly-framed tools to assess, but both are still challenged by bureaucracy and public opinion. There is no time, money or impetus for how these organisations can apply this apparently encouraged re-contribution into valuing Lived Experience voice towards sustainable, multi-disciplinary rehabilitation.

Perhaps it’s unfair to say, perhaps improvements are afoot but my experience as a Probation/PPU service-user recognises limitation in voice, drive and advocation of a better system from within. Yes, I experienced examples of kindness and what felt like tokenistic emboldening but venturing change for those with Lived Experience was largely met with bafflement and suspicion.

So, would this not so simple idea be given more credit now?

The Future of Probation and its wider impact on society, lies in its ability to shift perspectives, stepping away from past top-down methodology into a future bottom-up ethos. For staff to have more funding, training and belief in its system and participants, former staff and wider networks informing practice, collaborative and holistic approaches to sustainable rehabilitation/desistance. But, fundamentally, a seat at this table must be reserved for service-user’s themselves. If not the head of said table then at least a valued, bespoke voice for their own and other’s rehabilitative journeys.

What’s so complex about that?


This is the beginning of a conversation. The Future of Probation needs to hear it!