I have been passionate about justice and justice communications for the last 15 years. It is not punishment that I am interested in, rather the journey of the person with conviction from sentence and captivity to a state of personal liberation. The process of rehabilitation, personal rediscovery and positive reinvention is powerful and inspiring. It has a lot to teach the rest of us who perhaps need to go on a similar psychological journey but are never put in a situation where our failure to do so would put our life and liberty at risk.
Over Christmas, I had time to read and think about why I found this liberation journey so particularly emotionally compelling. I realised it had a lot to do with my own experience and the early trauma and shock of being sent away from home aged 10. With the assumption of compliance, I was sent to a cold and dark boarding school in Sussex, on the other side of the world from my birthplace and family home in Malaysia, which was a warm tropical paradise.
At different times in my life, I have re-experienced that early trauma and it has opened up inside me deep wells of sadness, fear and anger. Psychologists have written about ‘boarding school syndrome’ and the difficult subject of revealing the privileged deprivation it brings about. I have never been to prison and wouldn’t suggest it is equivalent but, in speaking to people who have, I find strong echoes of my past and the feelings which result from having no place of personal privacy and safety and little control over your own timetable.
Confronting my trauma and allowing myself to fully experience my negative feelings has helped to release me from my psychological captivity. And unlike many in the justice system dealing with their traumas, I have had the benefit of having a very supportive home in which to go on this journey.
Now released (from my negative feelings) and less resentful of what happened to me, I have been able to re-engage with my positive feelings of being a child of the tropics. I have been recollecting my memories of nature’s tropical exuberance, from the birdsong in the morning to the humming of the insects in the hot evenings.
Much of the rainforest and its wildlife that used to thrive near my Malaysian home is now under concrete or threat of unsustainable development. This in itself has stirred my interest in environmental issues. But reading about ‘sustainability’ has made me realise what a powerful and joined-up way it is to think about our relationships with each other, nature and the planet earth as a whole.
I find sustainability and its planetary perspective particularly helpful because it allows me to see my past trauma in a bigger context and appreciate the positives and negatives both of my Malaysian tropical birthplace and my British temperate livingspace – rather than artificially polarising them into the source of pleasure on the one hand and pain on the other. It allows you to experience yourself as a global citizen.
Feeling yourself to be a global citizen is very liberating, if you dare to do it, but rapidly brings with it the sense of responsibility and accountability for what is happening on a global scale. Thinking about sustainability makes you become conscious of the global consequences of our seemingly insignificant local and personal actions.
Reflecting on the connection between sustainability and justice, it is not impossible to believe that our current behaviour towards the planet and the consequential loss of life, home and livelihood for many millions of people (and trillions of plants and animals), may yet be the subject of criminal prosecutions a few decades down the road.
But what of the benefit of sustainable thinking to the justice sector in the here and now? Read my blog to see how sustainable thinking might be helpful to policy and practice in justice and rehabilitation.