On Positive Reinforcement      
A letter from Bobby Cummines,
Deputy Executive Director, UNLOCK

 

UNLOCK
National Association of Ex-Offenders
35a High Street
Snodland, Kent  ME6 5AG 

5th March 2002 

Dear Bruce,

It was good to speak to you yesterday and I thank you for the positive feedback you gave on our part in the discussion after your excellent play ‘VOICES’.

I felt the performance was outstanding.  The whole play was a huge success in my view and the actors were so professional that the entire show became real for me.  I go to see many various types of plays, but the performance of VOICES touched my very soul.  Please convey my best wishes and compliments to all those involved in the production. 

What you are doing in prisons is so very important.  Drama frees the prisoner not only from the jail, but from the prison of his or her mind or circumstances; namely the prison of his/her mind and the darkness that incarcerates the very soul. 

It also allows the inmate to explore their full potential and give them the confidence and self-esteem that most truly lack.  It educates them in literacy which, unfortunately, the large percentage lack.  It helps them develop communication skills and inter-personal skills that prison actively takes away from them. 

I cannot express strongly enough just how indispensable the work you are doing in prisons is.  I can speak from experience.  I served thirteen out of a twenty year sentence. 

You will probably wonder why the dramatist relates so well to the prisoner.  It is because we all know about tragedy, heartache, love and the loss of it, and the silence of the nightmares we all have to live with.   

I was once on a TV programme and told the presenter that my realities began where most people’s nightmares ended.  That was true.  However, the positive element hidden in the art of drama in prisons is that it frees the inmates to share those nightmares for themselves within the safety of a play and, correspondingly, to not feel the loneliness.  This may very well save the inmate from suicide.  Ask anyone in a prison if they would sooner see an inmate doing drama or hanging from his own bed sheet and all but the sick in mind would choose the drama. 

You have my full support and that of my charity in what you are doing and if we can assist you in any way, we will be happy to do so. 

Can you please thank all of the members of your team for an excellent performance and for the enormous pleasure of their company after the show during our discussion. 

My sincere best wishes to you and all.  Keep up the good work. 

Yours sincerely,

Bobby Cummines
Deputy Chief Executive

 

Robert Cummines - A Brief History! 

Reflection

I grew up as the youngest of eight children in a North London environment where criminal activity was considered a normal way of life, and an accepted way of obtaining status and respect. I was convicted for my first offence at the age of sixteen. From then on it was a downward spiral of increasingly serious offences. I served a seven and a half year sentence which took me from a Y.P. prison into an adult prison. Some years later I served a 12 year sentence. I have served in most of the control units, I was subject to continual ghosting, I was involved in prison strikes and riots and labeled a subversive I spent more time in solitary than some people do as a jail sentence. I was released from prison on 1st June 1988 and have been establishing a new way of life ever since. 

It has been a huge step for me over the last decade to establish a new way of life and a place and identity in my community. This journey has been fraught with hurdles and challenging learning experiences for me. I have experienced prejudice because of my background. I believe that I am able to draw on both my professional expertise and my life experience to support others who may face similar obstacles to the ones which I have been able to overcome. 

I was released from Maidstone Prison after serving 8yrs 6mths of a 12 year sentence. I chose to resettle in Maidstone rather than to return to my home ground of North London. I managed to get employment within a couple of months, my first job was a night shelf stacker in Tescos, a far cry from my days as a blagger. I moved from there to other companies improving my job status up to a management post with a multi national company, I really thought I had it made! A year later I was made redundant. For the next two years I held a succession of brief jobs lasting a few weeks, or offering commission only or offering only a few hours of work. I was really hard up with a young family, mortgage and a criminal record that would make any employer run a mile. The only certainty in my mind was that I would not resort to crime.

After a period of reflection I met with Dick Whitfield the chief probation officer of Kent to discuss how I might draw on my life experience in a positive way to support others. He suggested I work as a volunteer for SOVA, which I did for a number of years. As a volunteer I began working for Stonham Housing Association, later as a part - time and eventually as a full - time employee.

I have found that my own life experience gives me an insight and a way of helping others that can sometimes offer a different approach to the standard social work training, not better, just different.

I now work with homeless ex-offenders, people with mental health difficulties and people that are affected by substance misuse. I am now in my third year of a B.Sc. Housing Studies degree for which I am studying part - time at University.

Whilst volunteering I also undertook a range of training including CRUSE Bereavement Counselling, and Suicide Management run by the Medway Health Authority. 

I also held the position of MSF union representative for Kent for two years. More than twenty years in prison teaches you a great deal about fighting for your rights, being a union rep enabled me to fight for the rights of others.

I have participated in some television programes concerning aspects of crime

I have not yet written a book, I'm too busy being a dad and doing DIY! But when I do it will be worth the wait!!

Contact me at my web page at UNLOCK or by telephone on 01622 664423 or by post to UNLOCK , PO BOX 565, Maidstone, ME14 3PB

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