Newsletter 17
Summer 2007
Updated on 28Jul2007
Aces, Erks, Backroom Boys
Annual General Meeting
Dunsfold Wings and Wheels
EDO to Project Office
Eric Rubython
F-35 Lightning News
From Ribs to Retirement
Hawk News
Hawker Nimrod Query
Hawker People News
Hunters Still Active
Kingston Aviation Heritage
Racing Gliders
Unlocking Potential
Upper Heyford Recollection
V/STOL Wheel of Misfortune
Why Pay More

Published by the Hawker Association
for the Members.
Contents Hawker Association

    The 5th May turned out to be rather a special day for the Association - we had a speaker who was not going to talk about aircraft. Vernon Lidstone, or rather, the Reverend Vernon Lidstone, was our Commercial Director until he left to join Westinghouse in 1983. He was ordained in the Church of England in 1992 and in 1997 he became a full time Chaplain in the Prison Service, retiring in 2003. He came to tell us about his experiences working with prisoners as a Chaplain in our prison system.
    There are, said Vernon, four categories of prison; from Cat.A, the most secure to Cat.D. Cat.A, typically has two sets of walls and dog handlers. In Cat.B and C prisons there are training opportunities, and Cat.D are the often criticised 'open' prisons. Prisoners with long sentences work their way to Cat.D where they are allowed out into the local community to help them get back in touch with life outside. Long term prisoners have been cut off from normal life for so long that they can find even the normal noises of a city terrifying.
Unlocking Potential

    The prison population has and is growing. While Vernon was at Ley Hill open prison numbers rose from 220 to 503. Overall there are now 80,000 prisoners of which some 4300 are women causing severe problems for Social Services in caring for their children. So, asked Vernon, does prison work? Michael Howard thought so because it protects the general public, but  74% of prisoners re-offend and end up back inside very quickly. So Vernon's answer was "I don't think so!"
    Prisons are horrible places to be in, mainly, say prisoners, because of separation from the people they care about. The advantage that prison gives is that there is time to think and reflect on guilt and forgiveness. However, prisoners are continually reminded by the staff of their offences and that they are 'low life'.
    The aim of the prison Chaplaincy is to provide forgiveness, to engender attitude change and to forget the past. This does not fit with the existing system. Chaplaincy teams now include all faiths: resident Christian, Moslem and Budhist chaplains with visiting Rabbis, Jehova's Witnesses and even Pagan ministers.
    Chaplains have Statutory Duties: induction of prisoners, daily hospital visits, segregation unit visits (made with 3 police officers), and release interviews. The law requires that an Anglican priest must co-ordinate all religious activities which gives problems now that Britain has embraced the multi-faith doctrine. Really what is needed is a non-sectarian religion manager rather than a Co-ordinating Chaplain.
    In closed prisons chapel services are popular with prisoners because it is an opportunity to meet mates, distribute drugs and mobiles etc in spite of there being five officers with radios to stop fighting. In open prisons inmates attend services because they want to. There are three services on Sundays, the evening being open to visiting family members. Attendance is about 10% equating to 40 - 50 prisoners. Semons are, refreshingly, often interrupted with questions. Baptisms are carried out but weddings are not encouraged!
    Prison is a place of great stress where problems are made worse. For example, prisoners can't pay rent so families become homeless. The lowest in the pecking order amongst prisoners are sex offenders, the highest life sentenced murderers. Of the latter most offended at home and do not have long records. Prison officers vary. Some are 'dinosaurs' who bully and never call prisoners by name. Female officers tend to be good with prisoners. The Chaplains try to ensure fair play, provide counselling and also advocacy for the mentally ill.
    In open prisons inmates go out to work as part of the pre-release process and there are courses in the basic skills for living which have been lost in 20 - 30 years' incarceration. Victim awareness courses in which victims describe to prisoners their own feelings about the crime committed against them are very effective, some prisoners even being reduced to tears.
    Vernon had been involved in running 'Kairos' Christian faith courses which ran for 3-4 days with the aims of changing prisoners' attitudes and explaining alternatives to violence. Feedback from prisoners of different faiths showed that Kairos was effective but it is no longer allowed because it is not multi-faith!
    Drugs are a huge problem in all prisons and play a major part in prison life. Of course prisoners need money so any benefits their partners receive get spent on heroin or crack making their plight even worse. Prisoners are generally willing to change but need help.
    The current system needs improving. Prison Officers of a higher calibre are required and at present there are no specific training courses for potential officers; they are recruited from anywhere.
    The release interface is poor, prisoners receiving inadequate assistance to move back into the community often leading to a quick return. More prisons are needed to cope with the growing population which in itself is an indication of the failure of the system.
    Vernon did not completely avoid aviation as he told us about a model aircraft club he set up for prisoners. It  was very popular and did the prisoners a lot of good but a new Governor didn't approve and stamped it out! An example of the blinkered attitude often found in the system.
    The interest aroused by this talk could be judged by the large number of questions from the audience. Afterwards Vernon's old colleague, Les Palmer, gave the vote of thanks for this thought provoking talk.