The shadow of penal supervision

Episode 6: A strangely appealing assembly…

You may remember that a few posts back, I left the supervision short story on a ‘cliff-hanger’ and asked for help with the next episode. The scenario was that Pauline (the probation officer) was worried about Joe (the probationer) seeming to slip into depression and social isolation, and — at the end of a home visit — something had triggered an idea about how they might tackle that. So, with thanks especially to Hannah and Kirstin for their plot suggestions, here is the next (and penultimate) episode…


VI        A strangely appealing assembly

Joe couldn’t quite get his head around this place or these people. In fact, he felt a bit dazed. Or maybe dazzled. The meeting room was bristling with energy. The people were like fireflies alight with friction; sparks looking for tinder. He wasn’t sure whether to be excited or just plain terrified. Probably both.

Pauline had introduced Joe to Petra the week before, describing her as the convenor of the ‘Conviction Collective’. Petra said the collective as “part self-help group, part social movement” (though Joe thought it sounded more like a 70s folk-rock super-group). The only membership qualifications, she said, were a criminal conviction and a personal conviction, born of experience, that the justice system needed to change. Most of the fireflies in the room had both kinds of conviction but they welcomed a few ‘associates’ – community activists, social workers, students and academics – who could boast only the second sort.

To be honest, Joe was sold on neither self-help nor social movements (nor 70s folk-rock super-groups), but Petra wasn’t the sort of person to take ‘no’ for an answer, and their initial conversation had piqued his curiosity. When she told him her own story – and the story of the group’s genesis — it made him realise that he had been so busy trying to cope with his own spectacular and self-propelled fall from grace, that he hadn’t really stopped to think that there were other people in his situation, also subject to the vagaries of the ‘system’ in which he found himself entangled.

Petra had spoken so passionately and so practically about the obstacles put in the way of re-building a life during and after punishment, and how things could and should be done better, that – for the first time since the incident — Joe felt the stirrings of interest in something beyond his personal troubles.

So, he had agreed to come to the meeting… and now he wondered if he regretted it. He felt uncomfortable, uncertain and ill-at-ease; the incessant din of chatter and laughter was giving him a headache. It had been a while since he had been around so many people. They could certainly be described as a motley crew, but they were also a strangely appealing assembly of diverse characters, perhaps held together only by their shared convictions. A little like a church without religion, Joe thought, still figuring out its doctrine and its rituals; a fellowship connected by a common hope for change.

Petra looked across at him and smiled encouragingly. Joe felt the same unnerving sensation that he often experienced with Pauline; they both made him feel as if his thoughts were appearing as subtitles on his forehead.

A little later, as they tidied up the room, Petra asked:

“So, what do you reckon, Joe? I know that it can be a bit of a brain-melt, but if this collective is going to achieve anything, we’re going to need a fund-raiser and a treasurer. You’ve got the skills and qualifications – and Pauline says you need a project if you’re ever going to get your head out of your arse. As someone once said, ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need’. What do you say? You up for it?”


The next episode will be the last, though I think I may write two versions of it — one dystopian and one utopian. So, do get in touch if you have ideas for sad or happy endings!