Damien is working with the CRAE to help improve conditions for young people in custody
I got involved with the Children’s Rights Alliance because of my past experience of being in custody. I wanted to change that experience for people who go through it. I especially want to change how officers treat young people.
I quickly got used to prison and felt comfortable. I got used to people opening doors for me; I felt like my responsibilities were taken away from me and I didn’t have to think about anything or worry about what was happening every day. Some prison officers were alright, but most of them weren’t. No one gets on – there’s really no relationship there. The ones that were OK understood us and what we were going through and they showed us more care, so it was easier to approach them. I think they’d probably had similar unsteady upbringings and would have understood what it was like to be at the bottom.
There is excessive force used and there’s no need for it. When they used extreme force it made me really angry. You don’t want to talk to them again after that – it causes a rift and an atmosphere and I felt like I wasn’t cared for. You have to put in complaints which don’t get you anywhere, so you feel like there’s no point trying.
When I kicked off, in a way I was quite relieved to know I was keeping them away from their home at 10 o’ clock at night. It was a kind of payback. I’ve had heavy-handed prison officers and I’m not frightened, but they’re just unreasonable – there’s just no need for about 12 of them to come at you all suited and using force.
I think we need more CCTV and audio-monitoring to improve the situation and relationships. This is a proposition that’s been put forward with the CRAE, and I feel something should be done about it. I definitely think there should be more done in terms of character checking. We need to check their personal background and know that they’re people who’ve done similar roles before and have worked with young people. This way young people can relate to prison officers more and explain what they’re going through if they’re feeling low or angry, without feeling so judged.
Life now is good and I’m doing well. I’ve never been out of custody for this long. It’s all much more stable – everything’s going well. I’ve had a child and that’s changed everything really. I feel good knowing I can bring my child up to have a better life than I’ve had. I’ve got lots of other things coming up too, and I’m passionate, willing and capable.
It feels good to know that I’m making a difference to young people’s futures.
Taken from Issue 19