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Probation, ‘borderline’ offenders and the need for boundaries

One person in 20 is currently living with a personality disorder and a large proportion of these are women. Symptoms vary but in Stacey’s case she struggled with her emotions and relationships with others. She feels strongly that probation officers need more training to enable them to understand the difficulties of working with people with personality disorders.

The first meeting with my probation officer started off badly. She had read my case notes which said I was ‘high risk’ and made it clear she had reservations about supervising me. I had Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and was known to struggle to manage my emotions. The Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) had refused to help me saying first that there was no treatment for BPD and then, after my arrest, that I was obviously in crisis and so unable to engage, so I was used to knock backs.

Nevertheless, I was a little disappointed with her attitude and the fact that she had pre-judged me. I had never had a probation officer before and didn’t know what to expect. I was 55 years old and this was my first time in prison. I was looking forward to going home to my partner and I was sure that I would not be returning to prison.

After my release I saw my probation officer twice a week. I attended all my appointments and didn’t offend further, so after a couple of months they were cut down to one a week. I wasn’t getting any help from the CMHT but it didn’t seem to matter because I could talk to my probation officer. She’d softened towards me since our initial meeting and I looked forward to seeing her each week.

We spoke about issues I was having but equally, we discussed her and her personal life.

“Enough about you, did I tell you about what I did last weekend?” she’d say.”

I liked talking to her. She was funny, intelligent and interesting. She seemed to care about me. We discussed my issues with attachment, a common symptom of BPO, and she seemed to understand what a serious problem it was for me. The feelings can become so intense that some people become obsessed and even resort to stalking. I hadn’t, but I understood how easy it could be to reach that stage.

We talked about anything and everything, and we laughed, a lot. I was becoming attached to her, and she knew it. She asked if I wanted a different officer; I declined. The best way of curtailing this type of attachment is to have no contact with the subject. However, the one with the attachment will not break the contact because they yearn for that person’s attention.

Half way through my probation period I was told by a senior officer that I would now only need to see my officer every two weeks. I had been doing well and the concerns of supervising me, exhibited at the beginning, seemed to have lessened. This should have been good news. It wasn’t; I was devastated. I started to think of the time when I wouldn’t be able to see her, and I couldn’t bear it. I thought of the railway track and how much I wanted to end my life. I don’t know how I managed the drive home. I felt numb, yet desperate.

Once home, I couldn’t settle. I sent an email to the probation officer, complaining about never getting any help from CMHT. She phoned me, but I didn’t answer. I knew I wouldn’t be able to talk because I was crying so much. She asked the police to carry out a safe and well check, but they refused. Over the weekend, I sent more emails to my probation officer, threatening anyone she might send to my door. I wasn’t serious but I needed to do or say something extreme so that I could calm down. On the Monday I was arrested and charged with malicious communication. I pleaded guilty. The police said they had a statement from my officer to say she was upset at receiving the emails. The magistrate was sympathetic to my feelings but said he couldn’t allow anyone to send vitriolic comments to probation staff. He sentenced me to 6 weeks in prison.

While in the cell awaiting transport, my probation officer came to see me. She told me that her manager had recalled me to prison to serve the rest of my initial sentence, another 6 months. She also said she had not made a statement and was neither angry or upset at my emails. She thought the whole saga was ‘sad’. Despite the fact that I would have to serve another 6 months in prison, I was happy that she wasn’t angry with me.

After my release, despite the emails, and perhaps proving that she had not been upset the same probation officer continued to supervise me for the seven months extended probation I had been given. I was still attached to her and grateful that I would be seeing her every week. Our relationship went back to the way it was before my arrest and one day, she became emotional and apologised for what had happened. Looking back, I don’t know if she had genuinely wanted to help me or had encouraged my attachment. She game me a lot of information about herself but when I then tried to probe further, she said it was inappropriate. Either way, the thought of not seeing her was more than I could bear. I said it was OK, I didn’t blame her, and it was true. How could I blame her for being kind?

I do question however, why probation officers (and possibly police and prison officers) do not have the kind of awareness training that warns them about attachments so that they can set boundaries. Individuals with BPD can be extremely vulnerable and prone to overplay the smallest act of kindness shown to them. I was told that a forensic psychologist was available to give advice to officers at my probation office. Clearly the advice did not cover those with severe attachment issues.

Since leaving prison, I have been working to raise awareness of BPD and associated attachment issues. One in ten people with BPD end their own lives; I was very nearly part of that statistic.

By Stacey  (name changed to protect identity)

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Denied healthcare due to my conviction for assault

Having spent many years in psychiatric units, Michelle is now a published author, motivational speaker and campaigner for better mental health services. From her own experiences, Michelle has discovered that some of the services she’s needed to access have been denied to her as a result of her criminal record.

I’ll try to be brief but it’s important that you get an idea of my past. I have various convictions and an extensive psychiatric history. I received my first conviction in 2006 before I’d been properly diagnosed with a mental health condition.

On that day, I’d taken a knife to my secondary school and stood at the school gates saying that I was going to kill myself. I was then sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

During the time I spent in mental health institutions, I was subjected to sexual abuse which has led to PTSD and given me my borderline personality disorder diagnosis. On release from these places, I was given very little support, something I still struggle with today as I don’t have a close family network.

Despite the above, I’m a really driven, motivated person and I’m currently studying with the Open University for a BA (Hons) in English Literature. However, due to my criminal record, I’m finding it difficult to get work; not even a voluntary role. I’ll be honest, my thoughts have in the past turned to crime, simply to be able to feed myself – that’s what the system does to people.

Recently, I’ve been denied therapy due to an assault which took place last year. At that time, I’d taken an overdose and gone to hospital. After treatment I was asked to leave the A & E department but I tried to explain that I needed to stay as I didn’t feel that my mental health was that great and I believed there was every chance that I could harm myself if I was home on my own. When the Consultant threatened to call security I became even more upset and punched him as I just didn’t feel I was being listened to.

Earlier this year, I went through a spate of contacting the NHS Mental Health Line for help. Sadly, it was felt that my call’s weren’t ‘genuine’ enough and I was dragged off to court again. Imagine being taken to court by the very people who were being paid to prevent people like me killing themselves – welcome to the ‘mental health service’.

As a result of the above, I’ve become an active mental health campaigner, hoping to change the system for the better.

By Michelle


Watch Michelle’s video

Find Michelle on her YouTube channel and read her blog here.


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Improving your mental health

This is a short information page about improving your mental health. It’s for information only.  We are unable to provide advice on this.  For reasons why, click here.


People with convictions often feel unhappy, depressed, stressed or anxious. How we feel about ourselves affects the way we behave and how we cope with the worries of everyday life and the tougher times that we sometimes face.

The first step towards self-help is to admit that you are struggling. This does not mean you are “mentally ill” and many issues can be managed without the help of a GP by using the variety of self-help resources now available.

If you do need professional help, there is a wide range of support and services available to help you take back control of your life.

What is mental health and why is it important?

Mental health is a state of emotional and psychological well-being. It affects the way we think, feel and act. Good mental health enables us to meet the challenges of day-to-day life and allows us to feel joy and comfort.

Mental health disorders can also affect physical health leading to significant tiredness, sleeping problems, stomach pain, back pain, headaches, other forms of chronic pain, weight gain, diminished sexual desire and a weakened immune function.

Just like issues with physical health, problems with mental health can incapacitate us and prevent us from successfully managing our daily life. Mental disorders can make it difficult to find and keep a job and to get suitable housing. They can also lead to other serious drawbacks; people with convictions who have mental health illnesses are at an elevated risk of re-arrest and re-incarceration.

Caring for your mental health can improve your life and lead to fewer problems and struggles.

Who suffers from mental health problems?

Just like with physical health, anybody can suffer from mental health problems irrespective of their age, gender and background. About 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year.

Certain factors can increase the risk of developing mental health problems:-

  • Having a blood relative (a parent or a sibling) with a mental illness
  • Stressful life situations such as financial struggles, a loved one’s death or a divorce
  • Brain damage as a result of a serious injury (traumatic brain injury) such as a violent blow to the head
  • Traumatic experiences such as military combat, assault or sexual abuse
  • Being abused or neglected as a child
  • Use of alcohol or recreational drugs
  • Having few friends or few healthy relationships

Do people with convictions have an elevated risk of mental health difficulties?

People with convictions are often exposed to several risk factors at the same time. This can be a reason why mental health problems are common among people with convictions. Around 70% of men and women in prison have two or more mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Many have a history to attempted suicide and self-harm, while significant numbers have on-going illnesses such as schizophrenia and personality disorders.

Are mental health problems treatable?

Most mental health disorders – especially common ones such as anxiety and depression – are treatable. Some people recover completely, others learn to manage the problem effectively. There are a number of specialist services that provide various treatments, including counselling and other talking treatments. Crisis and home treatment teams can help in an emergency and provide help in your own home. Most people recover from mental health disorders without needing to go into hospital.

When to look for help

It is worth seeking help when:-

  • You experience distress (including sadness, anger, irritability, fear, anxiety, helplessness, confusion and embarrassment) for more than just a few hours at a time, or the distress lasts for longer periods of time such as weeks and months
  • You find that distress interferes with your everyday life
  • You’ve experienced an excruciating situation and you can’t seem to stop thinking about it
  • The distress you feel leads to risky thoughts and behaviour, such as considering suicide or harming yourself to alleviate painful feelings
  • You feel distressed frequently and you do not really know why
  • You continue feeling bad even when good things happen to you
  • You feel a need to use alcohol or drugs in order to feel better
  • You’ve lost someone or something important to you
  • A friend or family member tells you he or she is worried about you

How to find out what is wrong

The first step would be to make an appointment with your GP. They can refer you to Community Health Services to find out what is happening with you and how to best deal with the problem. Community mental health teams aim to provide the day-to-day support needed to allow a person with mental health problems to live in the community.

If you prefer not to go to your GP, you might be able to access support through a range of other services in the voluntary sector. Many of these will have websites or helplines that you can contact.

Unlock staff and volunteers are not experts on mental health issues, and we cannot offer specific help or advice, but the following is a summary of the websites that we found to be helpful.



Simply talking about your feelings can help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled.  Read more at the Mental Health Foundation website.


The Mental Health Foundation offers a number of free audio podcasts that can help you relax and improve your sense of wellbeing. They are designed to fit around your lifestyle and provide an introduction to the skills and techniques that can help you live a mentally healthier life.

NHS Moodzone

NHS Choices has a very useful page called Moodzone. The content is “sub-clinical”, which means it deals with feelings, mood and common life problems that are not clinical diagnoses. It is helpful if you have been feeling down for a few days, or you are having a stressful time which is causing you to feel worried and anxious. A good starting point is the online mood assessment quiz, which takes about 10 minutes to complete and offers useful information, interactive tools and videos to support you on your way to feeling better.

Professional services


You should make an appointment to see your GP if you feel depressed or if you feel sad, hopeless and lose interest in things you used to enjoy. Mental health services are free on the NHS, but you will usually need a referral from your GP to access them.

Mental Health Services

If you want to talk to someone right away, or if you are in a crisis or emergency situation, the NHS Choices website has a list of mental health helplines and emergency telephone numbers.

Other help and advice

There is a huge range of organisations that can offer help and advice. Click here for further information.

For organisations that can provide counselling services click here.

More information

  1. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  2. Questions – If you have any questions about this you can contact our helpline.



Walk for Forgiveness

Frankie Owens

My name is Frankie Owens I was prisoner A1443CA at Her Majesty’s Pleasure until 2nd August 2011. I suffered from a Bipolar disorder and it was this untreated illness that led to me going to prison. As a first time offender I had no idea how the system or a prison worked. I was clueless to it all, and it was hard for me going in and frightening for the family and loved ones I left behind. To save my sanity and give me something positive to focus on I began writing about the process I was going through, it felt like self help. As the days progressed it occurred to me that the ‘Little Book of Prison: A Beginner’s Guide’ would prove useful to first time offenders and their families and help them get through what is surely one of the most difficult times in their lives. After being a prisoner and losing everything I am now an awardwinning writer with 30 articles published to date, and counting. I have been welcomed by The Huffington Post, Sabotage Times, The Guardian, Works for Freedom, The Justice Gap and The Royal Society of Arts. Numerous universities have invited me to speak, with local newspapers and radio stations running articles and interviews…a fantastic response. However, when it came to my local book launch and local newspapers, the focus was on my negative past instead of my positive future work. The book launch was cancelled as someone went into the shop and threatened that there would be trouble. The local newspaper ran the story of my convictions and not the one about the award-winning book that helps people.

Although they did choose to use the photo I had sent for the book story they did not mention my mental illness! I decided that I would do something to highlight Forgiveness, and how imperative it is to ex-offenders in order for them to re-integrate into society and focus on a positive future and not fall into social isolation or reoffending (the product of focusing on the negative past). Society must contemplate forgiveness and take the opportunity to recognise all the reasons the criminal committed the crime, then they can make an informed decision.

I came across The Forgiveness Project and its wonderful work and the dye was cast. My challenge is to walk from John O’ Groats to Land’s End, visiting towns and cities along the way. Each destination will include visits to prisons, probation trusts, youth offender groups, universities, and charities that work to help promote understanding, rehabilitation and re-integration of ex-offenders. The walk begins 1 September in Scotland, walking for 60 days until arriving at Land’s End on 31 October.

The target is to raise £10,000 for The Forgiveness Project, and raise awareness of the concept of forgiveness in our society. There are two ways to donate or sponsor me. Either a one-off donation, or to sponsor me for each completed leg of the journey. We welcome your support in any way you can. If you can’t help financially, please help us spread the message of the great work The Little Book of Prison and The Forgiveness Project does to help victims, offenders and their families.

I’d also love to invite readers of theRecord to walk with me, either for The Forgiveness Project or for a charity of your choice.


Article taken from issue 13 of theRecord.

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