What happens when you find yourself before someone who challenges you because their experiences are outside society’s accepted norm of good behaviour?
Do you judge? Do you make a note to keep your distance? Do you politely remove yourself from the conversation because they are not like you?
I invited Harvey to Drawn to a Deeper Story to talk about being in prison. It felt pertinent to understand what it is like and to explore if there is space to practice compassion for prisoners/ex-prisoners.
I knew it would be a good conversation, but what I didn’t expect was an incredibly rich and insightful discussion also about the impact of living with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
Harvey talks personally and candidly about living with undiagnosed ADHD, how it’s shaped his life including ending up in prison. He also eloquently explains why people with ADHD can struggle with work, personal relationships and mental health.
If you’re interested in something with my condition, you can function at a very high level, but the flip side is if it bores you, you cannot function at all. – Harvey
Listening to Harvey will take you to a place that most of us will never have been. He’s insightful, erudite, and invites us all to look at ‘othering’ with new eyes.
In this Episode:
- How the brain of an ADHD person works
- The challenges and benefits that ADHD creates in one’s life
- How to support people with ADHD and grasp what they may be dealing with
- Why many young men end up in prison
- The critical importance of prison education to prisoners’ well-being and more broadly to society
- Why the real punishment of prison is not what we think it is
Follow Cath at Drawn to a Story
- Share the podcast
- Subscribe to the mailing list
Music by Grant McLachlan
Mentioned in the podcast:
NHS ADHD Information and treatments
ADHD Foundation – Health and education service
National Autistic Society – Support, guidance and advice
Ambitious About Autism – For autistic children, young people, their parents and carers
Prisoners’ Families Helpline – Support (England and Wales only)
Partners of Prisoners – Support to family and offenders
Carers UK – Support for carers
Samaritans – FREE Help – Tel: 116 123, E: firstname.lastname@example.org
The British Psychology Society – Find a Psychologist
ADHD Australia – Support groups (States and Territories)
Bars Between – Support organizations in Australia and NZ
Community Restorative Centre – Help to prepare for prison and court dates
Autism Spectrum Australia – National service provider for people on the autism spectrum
Beyond Blue – Mental health support
Headspace – National Youth Mental Health Foundation with support services
The Black Dog Institute – Medical health resources, services and research
SANE Australia – Counselling support, Tel: 1800 187 263 (10am – 10pm)
Autism Society – Information and support
Autism Society of America – Advocacy
National Institute of Mental Health – A range of helplines
American Psychologist Association – Psychologist Finder
OR contact medical services in your country.
This podcast contains conversations about trauma, addiction, death, and other challenging subjects, and maybe sensitive for some listeners. Listener discretion is advised. If you need resources to get help, please see the show notes.
You're listening to Drawn to a Deeper Story. I'm Cath Brew from Drawn to a Story. I'm an artist who illustrates and educates about marginalized experiences for positive change, with a particular interest in identity belonging, an expat life. This podcast is about lives that challenge us and the difficult conversations around them. And it's a place where I want us to be able to listen openly, to absorb people's truths and to learn how to show up differently for the benefit of everyone.
These days, the media, social media, films, TV have become our experience of so many events that we don't actually know about personally, living in a war zone or being an ambulance officer or being homeless. We watch documentaries to find out about these. Experiences. And we will watch a reality TV show and we get a little bit of an insider understanding of what their lives are like, but we turn off the TV and we go back to our own life and we think we understand, but I don't think we do because we don't fully absorb it because it's not our lived experience.
We dip in briefly. We might feel some empathy because we see their work as good. But what about if the person before us challenges us because their experiences are outside, society's accepted norm of good behaviour, whatever that is, whatever culture defines what that is. I
believe in this moment that we 'other' people, we think it's a safe place to be for ourselves, but it's also a blindness and a blindness that denies us from all belonging to ourselves and also to each other. And this is why I've invited today's guest. Now I've known Harvey for about 14, 15 years. And to me, he's someone who has lived a really interesting life. And I always come away with loads more questions and things I want to talk about. Harvey is also someone who has served a prison sentence. He's got that insider experience that can challenge us and that we might choose to ignore because it's uncomfortable for us. But stay with us, stay with me. Now I know at the end of this conversation that you refer changed for the better, and I know I do every time I talk with Harvey, so I'll bring Harvey in. Welcome Harvey. It's lovely to have you with, with me on the show today,
Harvey: Hi Cath.
Cath: As you know, and some of my listeners
will, will be starting to know I'm really keen to be starting to help people see people and actually learn about other people's experiences and the things that we think are outside our sphere. So for the listeners who don't know you, can you tell me a little bit of your backstory and kind of essentially how you ended up serving a prison sentence. because I don't imagine it's something that people set out to, to want to do, particularly.
Harvey: I think the background really stems from mental health problems. Um, it looks fairly likely at this point in time in my mid thirties now it looks quite likely that I've always had ADHD and I've always been on the autistic spectrum somewhere, but because of these things in part and there's lots of issues with mental health support. It's easy to fall through the gaps, especially if your condition is one that makes you forget you have appointments for six months or lose your home occasionally or
disappearing around different parts of the country unexpectedly. Um, so I've been seeking mental health support for about 10 years. I think it might be longer than that. And I ended up on here's a box of antidepressants every time and if they don't work, take more of them, which as it turns out with my kind of brain is probably quite a bad idea and makes you probably more impulsive. So, the other background to this is that, uh, I was bought up in a quite unusual background. My parents were part of a very small Christian religious group with local newspaper called a clut on at least one occasion. You know, we didn't have TV or access to media and we didn't really communicate with people outside of the very small group. Um, very much in a kind of Christian back to basics. So I grew up, um, not really feeling like I fitted anywhere. Not really having a lot of time for established authority
or the standard way of doing things, but most importantly, I also grew up having learned to educate myself and getting very into things like climate science. I got into this mindset that the wheels on our current civilizational paradigm are going to fall off at some point. And, uh, it wouldn't be very good if you don't know how to deal with it. So I ended up for years being into, you know, hunting, shooting, and fishing. I made sure I knew how to gather food myself and knew how to live outdoors and the millions of different things. By the time, things really got to the point where I ended up in trouble with the law, I'd spent about 10 years slowly going deeper and deeper down this kind of cognitive rabbit hole. I'd probably convinced myself, um, that laws didn't really apply to me particularly. Um, so I'd also got into a space, pretty obsessed with these ideas, which is an easy thing to get into probably more so
if you're coming from a religious background. I was saying to someone the other day, there's this, um, you can come out of religion and replace... there's the cognition that I have privileged information that you are all going to hell, because I know that this is right. So I, everything I say is right, and I'm right. And everyone, you get very used to that kind of fluffy certainty.
Cath: Well, and it's a comfort, isn't it as well.
Harvey: It's very much a comfort. And the modern world, you don't have certainty. Dogma is a very dangerous double-edged sword because it gives you this fluffy cotton-wool feeling, you are completely right about everything, but it also gives you, makes you trapped in your dogma trapped in decisions that you made because of that, I said, you know, the danger is you replace this idea that you're all going to hell. So I'm the rightest person on the planet. And everything I do is right with you all going to die in a climate apocalypse. Therefore, everything I say is, you know, it's this double trap of dogma.
Cath: It's like what truth are you going to tell yourself.
And you can lead to some very dark places. And in my case, I probably constantly thought about ways to acquire small game in an emergency. You know, one day I end up going to an antique shop where I used to buy old, you know, like bows and fishing rods and stuff. And I was offered a very small antique target pistol. So I bought it for 50 pounds. This was like, oh, I should stick with a brick in my shit and save it till the end times. Being an ADHD inveterate shed tinkerer, what I actually did was manufacture some ammunition and fired it at a dart board. Messed around with it a bit, obviously being in a small village and having ADHD and being on quite a lot of SSRI antidepressant medication, I wasn't covert about this. And eventually the inevitable happened that I got dawn raided by the police with guns and dogs and a hauled off after about six months of going through the legal ins and outs. I wasn't put under any restrictive conditions, even the courts were very much of the opinion, it was a non
intent thing. They didn't recognize the danger of society or anything. I actually have a mapper rating, which is multi-agency public protection, of zero which means basically, you know,
Cath: Yeah, you're not a threat.
Harvey: Which was useful in some ways, I guess but you know, the law is the law. Obviously, I totally understand why we have restrictive firearms laws in this country. And I think if I hadn't spent 10 years on the wrong medication, I might very well have not done, not maybe impulsive choice to fore the thing.
Cath: When the police turned up and all this kind of unravelled were you surprised or was it something that for you was a perfectly ordinary scenario of what you were doing? Like, were you able to see. Outside of yourself and suddenly see what you were doing?
Harvey: Well, there's nothing like being dawn raided by a shed load of police with dogs and guns and stuff to point out the fact that things might've got a little bit off piste, but like, it was really interesting because this kind of [00:09:00] coincided with the point in my life where I finally got to realize that I might have ADHD. So that was interesting.
Cath: Yeah. And I was thinking, as you were talking, I was thinking about your upbringing and then these, this ADHD and autism as well, there's a potential for you to slip through the gaps. And it was like, how do you live in society? Like when you left the organization that you grew up in, how do you start to fit into a society that culturally is so different from where you've come from?
Harvey: Well, honestly, I've never really sussed that out. And I mean, you know, the question is, do I not fit in because I've spent my entire background in a clut as the newspapers called it or do I not fit in because I have a tendency to depression because as seems more likely, I have two fairly major undiagnosed mental health problems as a result of which, I have a very chaotic life and get depressed about that. If your experience is very out of the, no, don't get me wrong. I'm a
white cisgender male living in the UK. It's not like I've got a particularly hard deal here, but it is very hard to establish enough of a kind of touchstone of normality.
Cath: Yeah, where's your base line?
Harvey: You start looking at what might be reason you're so far out of whack and indeed find some support for it. These days. I haven't taken mental health medication since I was actually arrested. And I'm probably a lot better and more functional as a result. I basically, these days I kind of eat and I sleep and smoke the occasional roll up. I might maybe drink a beer every three weeks and I work very hard and I raised my children and I, you know, I'm by no means, you know, like at the top of the achieving tree, but, uh, I seem to be managing for a fashion.
Cath: Yeah but I, I would question that because I think given your upbringing and what you are living with from a mental health perspective, I think
even though all these things have happened, you are an image of success because you're living a life as you say, you're raising your children. You're, you're working. You're bringing money in all. All of that stuff. It brings me back to what is success and what is achievement? Does it matter that there's, uh, an external idea of success if, if you're living well and doing all these things compared to where you've come from?
Harvey: Of course the nice thing about having this little family unit and small people who wake up and need things doing all the time is as long as no one's actually covered in poo or crying, you reckon you're winning, you know, um, I think having a family makes a big difference, but really the only reason I'm able to do this is because I have an incredibly supportive wife. She's very nice and very together. He forgives me for things, like forgetting the thing she told me to do 14 seconds ago,
and then coming in and asking her if she wants me to do anything.
It's one thing that someone just forgets what it is. It's like, can you put the washing out? Yes, dear, of course I will. Disappears for 10 minutes. Comes back. Can I do anything for you? Have you put the washing out? Noooo...
Cath: I'm just interested in that space between what's where's the, the extremes of normality? What I hate that word, normal/ normality, but there's one boundary where there's the law. You were saying to step outside of the law and you got punished for that. And then there's like these other, other side of what we accept as normal or not normal. And I'm interested in that space that the diversity that comes with that, and actually can we just continue to keep pushing that bandwidth out so that we just see more people and that whatever normal is, is much more expansive and there's a place for everybody rather than having these really tight edges of, of like good, bad, difficult, easy, like whatever. I don't know, that's not really
even a question. It's just a thought.
Harvey: From the point of view of like someone who's got one of these conditions or someone who has to live with someone who has these conditions. And I mean, I've done a lot of reading over the past five years and trust me, you know, like having a partner, who's got my condition or being someone who's got my condition, can lead to some pretty heavy stuff, you know, like it's, it's very bad for things like earning money or functioning in the real world, or having, having a sense of all quiet, normal life. You know, there's a lot of real suffering people go through both from being in relationships or being parented by people like this. So from the point of view of someone who's living with or affected by these conditions, the definition of whether it's a problem or or not,is whether you can function. If something really grabs your attention, you can actually focus harder and longer than most normal people, which means that if you play to your strengths, you can achieve at quite a high level. Partly as a result of growing up with no
TV, I speed read. My wife watched was watching me the other day. She was watching my eyes. And apparently what I do is I read each page three times in about two seconds. And what I do. I realized I do. I read all the big words and then I go back and read all the filler words. Then I go back and read all the other stuff, and then it goes kind of 'bing!' and I've got the whole thing, like a scanned PDF in my frontal cortex.
Cath: That's incredible. I mean, that skill for, for certain jobs and certain things to do in life is incredible.
Harvey: It's very good if I want to learn things in a hurry. It's been very good for stuff like that. Um, and it's, uh, it's very good for reading for pleasure. If you're interested in something with my condition, you can function at very high level, but the flip side is if it bores you, you cannot function at all. So I had an interesting thing a few years ago. I was on leave in prison. I worked for a company called Timpson in the UK, which have a really revolutionary thing about, they employ a lot of
prison leavers and they have them running their shops, but very high level of autonomy and responsibility, and they get all sorts of awards for this. Um, And for the first three years when I was learning every one of 15 different disciplines from shoe repair to repairing expensive watches, I was functioning at quite a high level. And then I realized I had learned everything and immediately turned into a piece of wet cotton wool and had to quit and go back into the building trade for a couple of years. It turned out what I was really interested in was engineering, where you have to achieve high precision things in the real world. So I've now got an entry level job at an engineering firm where they let me play with all the kit, which for me it means I've got at least five to 10 years ahead of me where I won't run out of things to learn and therefore be able to continue functioning at quite a high level whilst earning money.
Cath: And that must feel like a really stabilizing influence in that you know, that that's there and that is something that you can, you
know, you're going to stick to and gives you that stability.
Harvey: Yeah. It really is and everyone at work can't quite understand why I'm enjoying it so much and why I'm so excited about all the minutia, because it's this joy of having a big subject in front of me. Um, problem is with, this is if you are a normal adult and you're trying to go through your career curve. You get to a level that's reasonable master of your subject and then you completely crash. So then you have to find something else. So you do that for three years and you completely crash and you end up, you know, like 10 or 20 years into your career, or maybe after a whole lifetime, still at this kind of three-year entry level, it's incredibly tormenting and depressing. And it's, you know, that's why you end up with depression because you've put a huge amount of effort. Still back where you were when you were 21 years old and the world is not kind to that. I feel like you get bypassed by all of your peers and you feel like you're not good enough. And particularly when you are
trying to raise a family and provide and stuff, that's a big problem.
I think, I think you'll find a lot of male adult suicide is because they don't feel like they're providing enough.
Cath: I've often thought that men need a movement like feminism, but for men.
Harvey: I would totally agree with you.
Cath: I really think they do. And if you then look at, I mean, when we've spoken before, you've talked about the, the level of deprivation that you came across in the prison system. And I heard on the radio a few weeks ago on radio Four, someone talking about that as a society, uh, it was he the next prisoner actually saying that they wouldn't need to rehabilitate, if people weren't debilitated in the first place.
Harvey: And that's very true.
Cath: And I was just thinking about men, particularly. I think a lot of men are, are struggling to find their identities and that something like this would really help. I was just very interested in what your view of that would be, particularly in relation to the depth of deprivation that you encountered in prison.
I’m speaking to someone at the moment who had an awful, awful upbringing, utterly tragic. He really never had a chance. Most of the people I've met really have very little choice to try anything else? Acquisitive crime is for survival when you don't have an education or anywhere thing and the normal and no one you've ever known none of your parents or extended family, have they ever had a straight job or anything like that, you feel like that's not open to you and it's just plain isn't open to you because, realistically, if you don't have qualifications and can't present yourself in a certain way, people end up in terrible states. Maybe they have the criminal record that makes them a lot worse.
Cath: Because we have this year utopian idea often that you like you do the crime, you're punished and you come out of prison and you reintegrate into life on the outside, but it's not that simple and it's like, you can't reintegrate into society, if you've never really been part of it in the first place,
Reintegration, even for me was very, very difficult. It's hard to describe. I for several years after I left prison, I could not go out at night because partly because I'd spent a long time locked up with people who went out one night and as a result of that for probably really not much fault of their own ended up with 10 or 15 year prison sentence, destroyed their life. I know someone who was someone tried to rob him at knife point and he took the knife off them, threw it in the river and punched them in the head. And as a result, they got brain damage and he got 12 years.
Cath: Yeah, wow. Life. That's just another whole avenue of life that you weren't expecting. Isn't it?
Harvey: No, and in that case, if your sentence is over four and a half years, which mine was, it was a five-year mandatory minimum is certainly was that's never spent, that's never off your record. You permanently can't travel to most countries in the world, you know, they're a huge, lifelong thing. You just cannot put back right after that. And the other thing you realize
is because you've met people, who you know, we're a 16 year old in a street gang, and we're trying to keep up with, with the big guys that then they knifed someone on the street, not because they even really wanted to, but you suddenly realized that walking about when people are drunk is really dangerous .
Cath: You've seen the other side.
Harvey: The skinny little guy at the back might knife, cause he wants to fit in and then have his life destroyed, but you'd be dead. So, you know....
Cath: So, how was that transition for you going from your childhood to then like obviously having some adult life and then that transition of going inside and starting to be aware of other people's lives and their experiences. How do you how'd you cope with that?
Harvey: What was surprising to me was the, before I went away, you know, you have this image in your head, there'll be some huge tattooed, guy down the end or whatever, you know, is still your biscuits and knife you. And what you realize is actually those aren't the dangerous people. The dangerous people are
the little skinny ones who look like they're really having a tough time of it because they're the ones who might actually kill someone for five quid. They need five quid to get through the day psychologically. The real danger is in the broken people or the people who are permanently undernourished. It's like Hannah Arendt's thing, the banality of evil, you know, you see all this thing about, you know, is a big, scary looking Satanist. That isn't where evil and harm tends to come in the world. It tends to come from someone who's just feels small and weak has no self-esteem is just desperately trying to claw their way through another 24 hours. And maybe they freak out and do you know, but the things that you see happening, you know, I knew one guy. This is really one of the least pleasant people I met in the whole system, but he was involved in drugs and he used to torture people and sometimes kill them. Very clearly from his point of view, that was a good way to spend his time.
And yet he you know, he was involved in drug dealing in the prison, and I have to share a cell with this guy for some time. It was horrible, all the worst people in the entire, you know, it was a huge range of people in it, but all the worst people were in the cell, the whole time, it would be phones that are kept in horribly unpleasant places. I'd have to listen to these people abusing their families at home to get money for drugs. It was horrible. The most ghastly human experience I've ever had. But do you know what he was doing that for? He'd make maybe a grand or so a year over this and he'd send it to his parents so they could have a holiday.
Cath: Wow. Really? That's interesting. Isn't it? Oh, that's given me goosebumps. There's a strange duality in that isn't there?
Harvey: All these horrible, horrible things. These drug- based acquisitive crimes, these torturings, these murderings, people walk by a large doing just so they could buy their mom a bunch of
flowers, just so they could get a little bit closer to what they thought were normal life was like.
Cath: Yeah and that brings me back to like the whole purpose of this podcast about actually seeing people and, and despite the horrific things that people might do, there's reasons that people end up how they end up and that there is still in most circumstances, there's still this, this human person inside, that's actually trying to get on with life and trying to live.Those kinds of extreme circumstances for you, on coming out of prison. Would you say that you're better or worse for having been inside?
Harvey: I think I'm much better for is what prison is, is something you can't actually afford in real life unless you are very wealthy, which is to have full room and board and a lot of time to do whatever you
want, as long as you can do that in a small room for fairly edgy people. You know, in my case that was writing a music and art, and I did rather than lots of that, but also I've, I've been an artist and a musician. Try doing various things like this, my whole life bubbles, I had to hold down a job and survive. Average means you get maybe a couple of hours a week to do that as opposed to 40 to 80 hours a week. And what I got, what I found was that in a stable environment where you get up at the same time every day and everything is the same all the time, my condition is much more manageable and I can actually achieve at quite a high level. Now there's no way on earth. I could have ever created those conditions for myself, short of winning the lottery. What it enabled me to see was maybe I don't need medication. Maybe I just need a very, very boring life
Cath: Yeah, a routine that that you know, where you are and what is going on.
Harvey: Which I should very much stress to anyone listening, who has issues with, you know, these kinds of conditions is, it's
amazing what a stable background and set up will do for you, you know, if you ever, you, the constant tendency as a human is to be like, ah, I'm not doing well enough. It's not big and fast and shiny enough. I must throw it all away and try something else. But that's the exact thing that destroys you because you need a sense of group and you need support structures and routines to function and give you a lot of meaning as a human. Um, and every time you try and make a big break to catch up with your idea of what the societal norm or achievement should be, you fall further down the ladder until eventually, you know, I've been homeless for long periods of time. We're not talking begging on the street. We're talking, living in a survival hammock was working full time. You know, I've done that by choice for more than a year of my life at various points. Um, but that takes you that little bit further down the ladder. Suddenly all you have is a survival hammock um, and then it's very hard to get back to normality. In every case I've been, I've had
family support my, my wife as well, the last 10 years, I've always had hell to get back to something approaching normal for a few months to the point where I can then go back to functioning, like a normal human being. So many people don't have that.
Cath: So you'd say that's the critical thing for you is that you did have, absolutely had support. And, and that normality is, is what puts you back and, and healthy I guess.
Harvey: Don't get me wrong, nothing's a silver bullet and, you know, I still struggle on a daily basis with a wide variety of functional issues, but, um, yeah, it turns out having a boring life is very, very good for me.
Cath: You kind of joked before about your level of achievement and what you're doing, but that brings me back to me talking about how we judge ourselves about what is success or not success. So for you, that sounds like that's a really incredible insight and thing that, that your better for, for having like, and you can live this
stable life, that actually that is successful to me. I mean, how do you feel about?
Harvey: In this paradigm where I'm living in the real world and I'm not in a prison, I don't need to achieve some kind of ivory tower thing to keep myself vaguely okay with myself. But what's interesting is when I was in prison and believe me, like the problem with prison, isn't the environment or the people. The problem is knowing 24 hours a day that you have destroyed the lives of everyone else in your family, and it's your fault. And you can do nothing about it. And that gets really bad when like a family member dies or your partner has a miscarriage, or has a child and you can't help them. That is the punishment of prison.
I don't want to limit this. People talk about, oh, you've got a nice, I saw a thing on Facebook the other day about prisons have it better than pensioners. You know, they get bigger rooms and a play station and all this. The punishment of knowing that you have screwed over
everyone in your life and for the next four years, you can't do anything to fix it.And you've just got to watch them suffer through a grill mesh. You know, that is a very extreme punishment. No one talks about it, even in prison, even though you not, you never discuss it, but everyone can see it behind everyone else's eyes. And it is like acid dripping on your soul. It is a indescribably horrible thing. A lot of the people where they say they're not in here to be punished being here is your punishment. Don't get me wrong, prison can be very bad as well, you know, fighting and drugging and you know, it's not a pleasant place to be in, but the real damage is the fact that your family suffers because of you.
Cath: I was thinking earlier about the kind of victimless crime concept and admittedly uh, like depending on what someone does that ends up with them getting inside, is there really ever a victimless crime then?
No because there's your family. Possibly a crime in which you don't get caught for. But if you get punished for a crime, everyone else suffers whether you're suffering or not that your family still suffer because they think you might be suffering. Um, you know, and that, that is corrosive. It's, it's impossible for me to put into words how extreme that suffering is for everyone. So what I'd like to make a point about here, when we're talking about success, one of the ways I was able to survive several years of that is through prison education. For example, an incredibly inspirational arts teacher, and they have a project called the Koestler Prize. It's the Koestler Trust and the Koestler Prize.
And this is a national institution that holds competitions annually for prison art, um, in many, many disciplines and they exhibited at the Southbank Centre. For me that was survival for over a year and a half, a big sculpture project and I won the thing.
That gave me a purpose and the way of defining myself, it wasn't purely about the negative. That was absolutely transformative. After that, I then got into music and teaching music. I taught this guy music from scratch, and we had the band together and recorded an album that was transformative for both of us. It keeps you surviving. And I met many, many people in there who had done the same thing. The cost of prison education is pretty low considering it costs more than a thousand pounds a week to keep someone inside and maybe prison education might cost a few thousand pounds per person per year. But the transformative effect is huge. I knew people in particular the context with people doing life sentences. Oh, I met a lot of, I ended up in a D Cat prison, which is, um, you know, the one where you can walk around outside. You know, they they're relatively relaxed. I met a lot of people who were finishing life sentences
there, that these are people who by and large have killed someone.
Pretty generally sounds very weird. I know, but they're generally quite easy to get along with. They've had 15 years to do nothing but work on redefining themselves. It cuts both ways somewhere, but some of the most enlightened people I've met are people finishing off life sentences. They were people who may be in their late teens have been in a terrible lifetime, whole and been serious drug issues and have for whatever reason, during a mental health breakdown, snap, and killed someone and then had had 15 years educating themselves and they were going back into the world. Really, you know, the criminal justice system is a blunt instrument. It has to be by its very nature. The world is complex and laws have to be binary. It cannot be a perfect tool in every case. One thing I learned, I really came out of it. It's pretty good. It's a pretty good tool for doing what is required to do. [00:32:00] And it might be keeping people out of society when they're not safe to be in it. It might be giving people a couple of years of a structured environment so they can realize what they could be. For that to work there has to be really transformative and illuminating education. Can you think of someone who maybe they've been an addict their whole life? Maybe they have a habit that costs 50k a year. They're going to go and commit crime to fund that habit, say they go and steal, break into someone's house and steal a TV. That TV might be worth three or 4,000 pounds and probably get 50 quid for it. So they'll have to do 500,000 pounds worth of damage and crime to fund that 50khabit. And that hits everyone's premiums. That hits people's lifestyles. The cost to society of someone being left in that pit to just live with their habit is huge. Everyone pays for it anyway. For the sake of maybe 10,000 pounds intervention on a form of education, that would allow them to
redefine themselves as a writer, as an engineer, I've seen this happen in hundreds of cases.
Cath: Completely life-changing.
Harvey: And what it means is that person then goes on to pay tax. You will never get a hundred percent success rate, but the cost of intervention it's so small and the benefit of the intervention is so large. It really feels like we're missing a trick here.
Cath: I wonder how families who have been on the end of, uh, someone's crime and it has completely changed their lives, I wonder how they would feel about someone getting that second chance, all that chance to, to educate themselves and have a life. I've often thought that if, if I was that person that something happened to, would I be wanting someone to, to kind of have a really horrible experience in prison or would I want them to be, have these opportunities? And I honestly can't, I mean, you never know
until you're there. Right?
Harvey: What I would say is that you may rest assured they will have a horrible time in prison, even if they didn't have these opportunities.
Cath: I think that's the thing that I'm the way I am is that I do firmly believe, that if like you've just said, if you can actually have a chance and, uh, learn some new skills and get educated and then potentially reintegrate you, then actually, if you have kids, your, if it's a habitual thing that's happened in within generations of your family, there's a chance for that to be broken and actually start to change the pattern of behaviour. So I, I'm kind of, I kind of see it both ways.
Harvey: I can't speak to how one would feel if someone, if you, in a position where you needed someone to be punished because of how it impacted you. But what I would say is that there is a big perception that, ah, prisoners are sitting there on their three meals a day and everything.
We're social animals, you know, there's a wonderful writer called Steve Peters, um, who wrote the Chimp Paradox, which is the, you know, kind of modelling of our behaviour as primates and what our social needs are. We are social animals and we need to feel one of our biggest, you know, saying this when you talk about otherness as well, one of our biggest metrics for "Is everything okay? Am I okay?" Is where are we fitting in our now group? Our town and, you know, family? What, what I said earlier about the experience of prison being corrosive it is a permanent very real reminder that you are not okay. You are not a good part of the human race. Um, and there is, there's a huge amount of psychic pain from that. And it doesn't matter whether you're going to the gym every day, or you have a PlayStation in your room or you get to eat food. Those things are much lower down the scale
of human, even in prison, no one, no one speaks about why prison is bad. You'd all go. You all just go and top yourselves. So obviously if in prison, no one speaks about it, I've got friends who I speak very openly about, even we didn't ever shouldn't quite how soul crushing it was to each other. And these are people I talk about literally, every subject, under the sun, through my sentence and after my sentence I think the issue from the outsider's view is if even prisoners in a cell together for a year, don't mention why it hurts being there, the chances, the general public ever, ever hearing about it, a slim to nil.
When you come out into the world, you tell the funny anecdotes. So I've got a good prison story. It's like, yeah, you do not have, I've worked with someone recently. Yeah. I had also gone through a similar experience many years ago. And we
were saying you cannot communicate to another human being who has not gone through that. Why is it's traumatic. I still don't think I've asked, actually mentioned in the out loud why it was traumatic. Um, uh, Uh, this is another issue with climatizing to posts sentence life. No, you do not speak the truth about it. You do not communicate that. There's no one who you could communicate to. So obviously, no one's going to want to hear, oh, I went to prison. It was a really bad time. Like you're whining about you doing something bad. There's no space in which you can talk about.
Cath: How do you deal with that then? What, what do you do with that?
Harvey: You try not to think about it in the great English tradition or the English masculine tradition. Yeah, but it does occasionally catch you by surprise. One of the recurring nightmares I have is the time in prison and there is, for some reason someone's put contraband in my cell and as a result, I'm not going to be able to see my family again. And I would
probably still qualify myself as somewhat traumatized by the experience. I only spent two and a half years actually in prisons. and two and half years on probation, but that definitely left a mark.
Cath: I think that's the thing about compassion for people as well. The punishment side of things is that we, something happens to us or to someone and society's thing is that you punish that person. They go to prison, but what we don't see as the broader society is the reality of what that is within you, when you're coming out, it is like your mental health issues with ADHD and autism and things like that, because we can't see it, we don't think a person's being punished, but it's, it's almost like you're your own punishment to yourself because like, we don't see what your dealing with.
Harvey: You know, the guy who he hit for what maybe he was trying to be robbed at knife point at the time. He still hit the guy and the guy still got brain damage and that guy has family. And,
you know, I'm sure they would want the guy to be punished severely for causing brain damage to someone. But, there's this very prevalent idea that prisoners have it easy. And to be honest, prisoners will tell you that, you know, prisoners will tell you all. I'm living it large. I've got the Xbox. So I saved all my noodles up and made an Indian meal out of it. It's bravado. It's because they cannot bring themselves to speak honestly, about the damage it does to you. If we're talking about otherness and we're talking about the fact that that implies that feeling othered is a cause of suffering psychologically, you don't get no more othered than being locked up, and having the government spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on making you have a bad time because you're not good enough to be out in the real world.
Cath: Absolutely. And then that's compounded because when you get out, you're not able to talk about it cause people don't understand unless it's someone else who's experienced it.
Harvey: Whether that's right or wrong I don't, I don't know. I would probably make the point that
prison's definitely an unpleasant thing to go through and I very much doubt anyone else is going to run around flying that flag at the moment now.
Cath: No, no, exactly. Exactly. I wanted to ask you, um, as we've been talking about kind of other othering and compassion, things like that. One of the things that I do a lot and talk a lot about in my work with Drawn to a Story is about identity and belonging, and truly seeing people so that we all kind of belong a bit better and not even fit because fit implies that you have to change belonging is to me that it allows you to be you in a broader context. So what would you say to people who might judge you for your experiences, who may see you or who think that you're a bad person or think that because you've been in prison, you're this, or you're that like, what would you actually say?
Harvey: Let's be real here. There's no strong evidence that I'm not a bad person. My wife would say I'm probably a clinical
narcissist amongst other things. Um, and I have made many mistakes and done many bad, but you know, I'm not, I'm not looking to be like, I'm a wonderful person who just made some bad shit happen. I'm probably quite a crappy person, you know, the final analysis here. Um, but what concerns me is there's this, there's this narrative. There's two narratives about prison. There's one that it's all, you know, generally on the left, that is, it's a cruel and unusual punishment and, you know, it's totally inhumane and there is some truth in that. And there's the one more on the right and in the tabloids that, you know, prisoners got all their food and they've got their PlayStations, the life of Riley, and it doesn't make any difference. Both of those are very wrong in a great variety of ways. There is a lot of good about the UK's criminal justice system. It's an imperfect system. We've only been trying to do it for a few hundred years. It takes 30 years to change public policy. So we're only talking to, you know, like
double-digit generation's of iterative improvement on an abstract concept of justice. You know, you don't go out and pick out a lump of justice out of the ground and shave a bit off it. Justice is an abstract idea that we've been trying as humans to gradually get to, and what I would say is that the UK criminal justice system is, considering that's the case, pretty damn effective. Like it ain't perfect. It's definitely not perfect. There is abuse is at both ends of the systems. You know, there, there are some guards who abused prisoners. There are many prisoners who abuse the system, but it's pretty impressive. And, we shouldn't be throwing the baby out with the bath water, but at the same time, anyone who says prison is not a punishment or the prisoners have easy, is deeply wrong as well. Don't get me wrong. There are a few people who literally just identify themselves. I am a criminal. I'm going to get up and do some crime and got to go to prison for a bit. It's like the boys club hanging out with, they were criminals.
I am prepared to admit it might be a one, 2% of people that go through prison. It's just like a couple of years, put your feet up time, but we live in an imperfect world and neither of those two extremes. The received wisdom about it are true. So I suppose that's what I'd say to people.
Cath: No, I think that that's really interesting. And that's what I'd hoped that this conversation would bring out is to be able to actually challenge some of our biases, challenge some of our things that we want to believe that actually might not be true. And I know, like I said, in the beginning, I've I always enjoy talking to you, because there's always perspectives that you make me think about and things that I might not necessarily even want to hear, but, but it's not my lived experience. So I can't, um, I can have an opinion, but I can't comment on the reality of that. And that's why I wanted this conversation with you to, to get that reality and to, to try and
help spread compassion a bit more, really to everybody and understand what, what real life really is for a lot of people. As we sum up this, finish up this podcast, any words of wisdom or advice or
Harvey: I don't know about wisdom, but my advice to someone who maybe has family in the system or in the system themselves, Lord knows there's quite a chance, someone's able to listen to this on a phone, that's been stuck in an orifice for the last couple of days somewhere. Um, my advice would be to take the opportunity of the time because you're never going to get that much time to learn and create and do things you wouldn't be able to have the time to do a normal life. My advice to people who are outside of the system and want to learn more about it, um, would probably be to look because there's a lot of great research and there's a lot of, you know, there's a lot of people speaking out about things,
but also to take people's accounts or their experience with a grain of salt, because people, aren't going to be honest about how unpleasant it is, so they're not going to be honest about the bits where your soul will seems to drip down the walls in the middle of the night, at the ceiling for four years you know, like, because that's very internal and men talk about that anyway.
Cath: If that's something that's a deep inner experience, then there's no reason any more that you should share that than someone who hasn't been in prison like that that's stuff that people dealing with. And that, that can remain personal.
Harvey: This is what you're trying to do, I know, but just most of people's communication day-to-day is about what they think they should say. You know, it's like, Aw, my car's broken down. I spend a lot of time in a very male environment. So I've watched a lot of people communicate with all their friends for months and months and months without saying a single thing they actually truly mean, or is actually true to them, just because they're living in the paradigm of we're men, we talk about, you know, we talk about things, we talk about cars and sport, you know, it's like anyway, you see all this a lot.
And I know, cause I normally end up for some reason, I'm the kind of weird that people feel comfortable talking to me and I might know perfectly well that person's actually their entire life is about this one huge issue that they don't tell anyone about. And I watched them and they're sat there talking about cars. I know this isn't what's really going on with you guys could all talk about what was actually going on with you and get some catharsis out of it.
Cath: It's and it's, I think it's a big, I think it's one of the problems with the world at the moment is that people aren't, they're not brave enough to be vulnerable and actually, if you are vulnerable, it often allows someone else to be. And that, that the magic kind of happens. If those kinds of conversations where people start to connect to each other properly, rather than living at this surface level where they're not actually engaging properly.
Harvey: You know, there's this big, very fractured thing at the moment where people are drawing up ever tighter and higher lines around, you know, you left or are you right? Are you, you're rich, you're poor. You know what? This debate is
polarizing. And that does come a huge risk where human interaction, which is really the currency of our species becomes meaningless. When that happens, how can you make decisions?
Cath: Absolutely. Um, and in othering, we, we dehumanize people as well and you see this all over the world at the moment and that polarity
Harvey: and dehumanizing, and Hannah Arendt and a history of the 21st century, it doesn't end up in a good place does it?
Cath: No. And that, I think that's part as I keep coming back, this is absolutely why I'm doing this and want to do this is to just try and fill in a few of those gaps that we just connect and we give each other permission to be vulnerable and to give compassion to people and we just start to understand people to allow... it's like, we it's almost like giving people permission to fail, to not be perfect. I don't really believe in failure. It's not, to me, it's all about
life lessons and teachings and learnings, but it's, there is something in there that we don't allow ourselves to acknowledge, um, and to go into that space. And I think the more we did that, the better off we'd be personally.
Harvey: You talk about that in a space about compassion and vulnerability and people's feelings, but I suppose based on the last couple of sentences, what, what occurs to me more is this might be a move towards greater honesty, might be a very serious survival indicator for our species, for our species' ability to get stuff done or make meaningful decisions. And I don't want to sound like a very kind of post-survivist whack job here, but I probably am. Let's face it. Lots of melty, burny things going on in the world these days. Um, but like that could be a pretty handy thing. You know, like making good decisions and having sensible discussions could be a useful thing, right. Maybe that what you're doing is what we'd need.
Cath: Thanks for your vote of confidence with any
luck we'll we can, uh, start to have, uh, have the positive impact that I'm, I'm hoping to have. We're going to have to wrap it up now. So I wanted to say thank you Harvey so much for your time and your, your willingness to be, be honest and talk and be open and share experiences that I know have been painful for you and the people that you love. And I just wanted to thank you for your time, because time is incredibly precious and I'm so grateful to have the chance to have spoken with you. So thank you very much.
Harvey: Just one more thing. If I can shout out to my family and to my wife and my extended family and all the people who have tolerated and supported me, if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here and neither would our family. Um, I want to make that very clear to everyone who might be listening.
Cath: Yeah, that's lovely. That's really lovely. Thank you. It's a perfect way to finish that off.
Thank you very much.
Harvey: Thank you so much.