Damaged goods?

August 20, 2010

I’ve got so much to tell you!  I am sorry that I didn’t update this last night because I didn’t get home until gone midnight.  Had a great day taking the young offenders to London, but oh my goodness I am tired.  The thing is that they are so unpredictable, and several of them do the unexpected to get attention, so you need to constantly think on your feet.  Photographically, it is such a challenge as you are always ‘on’ – constantly looking and trying to predict what they will do next, and being there.

I quite enjoyed the train journey once they had settled down as we had reserved seats and effectively had half a carriage to ourselves so we were quite contained (apart from Rosary’s ring tone which is a man shouting ‘Shut the f*** up’).  It is interesting, though, to watch how the young people behave when they have more freedom.  Some rise to the challenge and show how good they can be, others revert to type.

The only problem we had on the way down (that I noticed) was that Ting was cat-calling to female passengers who walked past, but I explained to him that I would find that intimidating if I didn’t know him and I walked into a carriage and had comments shouted out at me and he stopped. 

We played a game to guess the total price of the train tickets. There was much discussion and one lad was quite close to the total – but I don’t think that they picked up on the message: you are very lucky to be on this trip.  Sometimes they seem to think that they are owed this.  So many things are done for them to keep them on the straight and narrow that I think they believe they are entitled to special treatment – or maybe they just need that attention.

As soon as we arrived at Kings Cross it was time for a fag-break.  I think all bar one of them smoke.  We then took them to the South Bank centre by underground but it was like herding cats.  You forget how long the tunnels are and how many twists and turns they have but we managed to get them all to the same platform, and more importantly, all in the same carriage.

We had lunch at the South Bank Centre but they are so fussy! Afterwards, they went out to look at the fountains and you can predict what happened next.  Juliet and NewBoy (two offenders joined us for this trip) were soaked to the skin.  We were worried that the theatre wouldn’t let them in if they realised that they were dripping.

The theatre trip (Billy Elliot) was ‘eventful.’ I really loved the performance, but it was marred slightly by the behaviour of a couple of the young people.  It is such a shame, but if I was a paying member of the public I would have been pretty disappointed because there was quite a lot of talking, the odd shout out, and lots of messing about with fizzy drinks.  I thought that they would be captivated, or maybe I just hoped that they would.  There is a lot of swearing  in the show and quite a lot of this is done by young kids, directed at adults.  I thought that this would grab their attention.  They seemed to enjoy it but their attention span is so short that it wasn’t held for long.

Still, half way through, two of them gave it a standing ovation!  I got told off for taking photos inside the theatre (even though I was pointing my camera away from the stage at the kids).  I asked Rosary and Double-Jointed later what they thought of the show and they agreed that it was ‘sh*t’ – as did most of the others.  Part of this is because it isn’t cool to show you enjoyed something, but then I got a layer deeper and it turns out that they just didn’t understand it, they hadn’t heard of the miner’s strike.  Rosary said he even got the film out a couple of days ago but didn’t understand that either.  They did appreciate the huge talent of the boy playing Billy as he sang, danced and knew the lines for a long play, but that was about it.  Double-jointed said he couldn’t see the point as it wasn’t the real Billy Elliot.  I pointed out that if he was a kid in 1984, he would be in his late thirties now so wouldn’t be able to play the part of a kid.  He hadn’t thought of that.  It was also fiction…

We took them to China Town for a meal to round the day off.  We ordered a set menu as it was easy and there would be enough variety for everyone to find something they liked, but it didn’t go down well.  It was ’nuff spicy.’

We had to rush back to the train, but when we got on all of the seat reservations had been cancelled as there had been a problem with the previous train.  What a nightmare.  We ended up with young offenders dispersing in packed carriages looking for seats.  I ended up on my own in the quiet coach with Rosary, NewBoy and Double-jointed.  They were mad as hell that they couldn’t find a seat and expressed this in the only way they know how – in loud voices and with a lot of swearing.  I tried to calm them down and quieten them down but everyone in the vicinity quickly realised that these were young offenders and I was in charge of them (which I wasn’t!).  NewBoy sat on someone’s suitcase, but the owner wasn’t impressed and came to reclaim it.  NewBoy challenged him saying he wasn’t doing anything wrong but the owner wanted the case back saying that there might be breakable things in it.  NewBoy and Rosary resented this and started on the ‘who does he think he is’ track, with many expletives – and I texted for back-up.  It came quickly and they calmed down after NewBoy was hauled out.  I just felt for the other passengers, including a young girl, who was wide-eyed at the spectacle!

Rosary was asked to put his phone on silent when his ring tone started to offend everyone, and after a couple of stops they found seats.  They must have been passing comments about a man who got off, and a lady asked them to be quiet, stating that the he had been gentleman.  Light touch paper!  One of our staff intervened again.  I was just praying that the lady would stop talking to them.  I think that she felt that she had to say something as her daughter could hear their comments, and they’d enjoyed a long conversation with the man.

When we finally got to Leeds I said my goodbyes, and funnily enough, passed the lady and her daughter at the ticket barriers still talking about how rude our young people had been.

So, what do I think about the trip?  Well, I am in two minds.  We showed them that there is a different world out there.  We opened them up to new experiences:  food, theatre etc.  I think that they will have learned from it as they were coached throughout.  But I have doubts in my mind about whether they deserved or appreciated it, which is a shame.  I haven’t felt like this until now.  Maybe it was a step too far to expose them to so much?  One of the young offenders team explained that they are so damaged by their backgrounds that it is very difficult for them to accept new things and to look forward. 

What do you think?  Should the young offenders be treated to these experiences?

College is closed today so that they staff can review what happened.  We only have one week left in which the whole of the filming needs to be done for the short film.  It is going to be extremely hard.

Ting said ‘I don’t care about the others, I LOVED IT!’

My project is getting a lot of attention in the press, with coverage in:

I am delighted – the project deserves attention.  In the final week, I hope that the kids can show that they are worth it.


Something in common

August 18, 2010

College was a hive of activity today.  There was a moderator on-site and the kids all showed him their books.  It is incredible, but our Summer Arts College is almost a model of best-practice; there is just something about it that ensures that it is so successful.  I think that it is about trust and respect.  We treat the young people well and they return the favour.  We are also very flexible and we notice when things aren’t going right and immediately change either the situation, the combination of people, the location or the activity.

I had an interesting discussion with him about the power of photography to tell a story and to raise awareness of an issue.  I hope that my exhibition will do exactly that.

I am sure that Romeo and Juliet have competition in Loveheart and Ting! 

Romeo and Juliet had the funniest, and yet saddest conversation earlier where they compared convictions and discovered that their first crimes were the same.  People build their relationships on having something in common, but this isn’t what most people have in mind.

I am sure that the college is a breeding ground for germs as one tutor is back off sick-leave but now Sue is feeling ill.  She isn’t sure whether she will be well enough to come on the trip to London tomorrow which would be such a shame.

At the end of the day, I visited ProjectSpace in Leeds and they were very supportive.  They like my work and have offered me exhibition space in for a 4 week period anytime between mid October and December.  I believe that this will give my work, and the project the exposure I think that it deserves.  I am absolutely delighted.

Six degrees of separation

August 17, 2010

Everyone seems a bit hyperactive today.  It is a phenomenon belonging to week 5 – the combination of the pressure to complete the work for awards and to get the short film sorted out.  Moderators are due in soon so the kids need to be coached to get their work in as good a state as possible. 

The film is coming on well, with Loveheart and Romeo taking the lead roles today as Juliet is not in.  The kids come and go when they have appointments, meetings and court appearances so I never know who is going to be in each day.  I am worried about how the final film will be made as it is going to be shot over two days.

Ting excelled today.  For his apprenticeship he wanted to show the others how to do a ‘piano roll.’  This meant downloading some software and concentrating for the WHOLE day to create a tune so that he could demonstrate how it was built up.  He hasn’t had a laptop for a year as his broke.  When he had added the drum & bass to the melody, it was described as ‘sick!’

He only creates music for himself though.  I asked him why he doesn’t contact a producer, and he said he doesn’t know anyone.  I told him about the six degrees of separation.

His work was so good that Sue has asked him to create a tune for the opening of the film.

Juggling balls

August 16, 2010

Phew, what a scorcher.  It was hot, hot, hot in Leeds and the young people were desk-bound most of the day.  Usually a recipe for disaster, but their studies are getting more serious.  They are trying to get their silver awards and today this meant planning a lesson for someone else, and getting their feedback.

They all worked really hard, and they taught each other how to do a football trick, how to MC, algebra, and how to juggle today.  Great work by the kids and lots of listening by the rest. 

Photographically, it wasn’t until the end of the day that I realised that I had shot in colour.  It was a subconscious choice – they were all engaged and working well, using their imaginations and achieving something.  Didn’t feel like a black & white day.  It will be interesting to review all of the shots at the end and to shape the exhibition: colour or b/w?

Had an interesting debate the other day about being ‘too involved.’  The fact is that I care about every one of these young people now.  After being with them for three weeks, seeing their highs and lows, frustrations and achievements, I don’t see how you couldn’t.  Yes, they have done some terrible things, but yes, for the most part I think they want to put this behind them and have a chance of a decent life.  As a photographer, I am not sure how you can photograph something that you aren’t involved in.  How else can you understand your subject and reflect that in your shots.  The argument is that you should be more objective and photograph everything – whereas I have occasionally put the camera down when I felt that it would be wrong to continue.  Perhaps they were the shots I should have got?  But I think that you get more respect from your subject, and more of a chance to get closer in the long-run, if you show that you are not a threat early on.  We’ll see.

Today’s shot is of a juggling lesson

Glass half full

August 13, 2010

We took the kids to the Kings Street Workshops in Pateley Bridge today.  Strange experience.  They arrived and were starving so we decamped to a little tea shop (and filled it!).  They were each allowed £6 so chose carefully off the menu.  They asked what Wensleydale, Ciabatta and Brie were – reminders that they may not have travelled far from home.

I sat with MC and Loveheart and had strange conversations about being in court and being sentenced.  There seemed to be a bit of a badge of honour about the crimed that had been committed, but also a definite desire for better things, namely a car and their own business.

They all behaved very well in the cafe.  Ting even offered his chair to an elderly man.

We went around the workshops afterwards, but there weren’t many open.  The day was saved by Sanders & Wallace, however, and their glass-blowing.  The kids thought this was ‘peng.’

Ting was captivated and narrated throughout the creation of a vase.  Juliet asked them lots of questions about how they set up their business!

I heard today that ProjectSpace in Leeds are interested in talking to me about exhibiting my photography alongside the young peoples’ artwork and also screening their short film.  I am so excited!  I am going to go and have a chat with them on Wednesday…

Name calling

August 12, 2010

I haven’t been sure how to approach the use of the young offenders’ names in this blog.  I got permission from the YOTS leader to use their Christian names, but I don’t feel comfortable with that any more.  Now that I know them better, I feel like it would be some kind of betrayal to write about them on my blog, so I have given them all pseudonyms (loosely based on things that I associate them with!)  If the young people themselves come to read this, they will know who they are.  I have gone through previous posts and renamed them if their names were mentioned.  Seems like a better solution than either using ‘one lad’ or ‘one girl.’  To continue…

We started where we left off yesterday, with the addition of Pastel and Loveheart who missed yesterday’s class.  They were all shown how to put the lead around their glass pieces to make a complete panel.  It was extremely difficult and caused a lot of frustration. 

4 of them stuck at it with lots of support and encouragement.  They even stayed behind to complete their panels.  MC’s musical note design was really tricky and he had had enough when he was just 4 pieces away from finishing, but I told him he wasn’t giving up.  I put my camera down and we worked together to finish the whole thing.  He stretched out his hand and shook mine when we finished.  I could have hugged him I was so proud!  I said ‘Well done, mate’ and he then ribbed me for the rest of the day, calling me ‘mate!’

Juliet discovered a real talent for soldering and finished MC’s and Ting’s off for them – real, unprompted teamwork.  Romeo did a complicated design which involved mirror inserts between each piece of glass.  After witnessing such bad behaviour that resulted in (albeit temporary) exclusion, I was amazed that he could create something beautiful – and see it through to the end.

We talked briefly about the Celebration.  On 23rd September, there will be a celebration evening where the kids’ artwork will all be displayed at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, and their film will be screened.   It is just for one night, and the young people will be able to invite their families.  Juliet asked Murray if he could ‘make it good because we’re really proud of what we’ve done.’  Sue and I were filling up.

Walking on broken glass

August 11, 2010

We met at the Lawrence Batley Theatre today.  I think I have picked up the Summer Arts College lurgy which is doing the rounds as I felt terrible, but the show must go on…

Murray Forrest ran a workshop for the young people on making stained glass panels.  It was pretty terrifying as they dived in, picking up pieces of broken glass to smash.  Three people cut their hands and shards of glass were flying everywhere. 

I have to admit to being really confused when Romeo arrived.  Not only was he back early, but the kids didn’t seem to know about his return, so the last they would have heard was the fact that he was being excluded so that they could work better…One lad challenged this but was told to end the conversation straight away.  I understand that we are trying to support these kids in every possible way, but what about protecting those offenders he has offended?

Ting did really well in the first half hour and said ‘I have finally found something that I am good at.’  It is really hard to score the glass and to break it along these lines.  When we moved on to coloured glass instead of colourless it was much harder and he couldn’t get it right.  Frustration got the better of him until he seemed to totally reject the exercise.  It was such a shame as he seemed really engaged at the beginning.  I hope that he can get back into it tomorrow.

Romeo totally surprised me.  He knuckled down producing carefully considered shapes.  Rosary designed a crucifix like the one on the rosary beads that got broken.


August 10, 2010

Yo Kirsteen doin’ your ting
Taking pictures of everything

Strange day today.  I think that everyone was shell-shocked from yesterday.  The kids worked really hard on their write-ups from Bradford and the film rehearsals.  One lad finished quite quickly and helped another.

The kids were told at lunchtime that Romeo wouldn’t be returning.  They reacted in different ways.  Some were quieter, others wanted the show to continue and were still hyper.

We did more film rehearsals in the afternoon but the energy was quite flat.  In the afternoon, Romeo walked in!  It was a very strange moment as many of us thought that he had come to cause trouble, but he’d come to apologise and begged to return.  Amazing.  Perhaps it took him taking it to the limit to find out where the boundaries were?  He’ll return on Monday.  I am worried about the impact that this will have on the group.

We are all going to the Lawrence Batley Theatre tomorrow to do a glass-blowing workshop.  I think that the change of scene will do everyone good.

Lost another

August 9, 2010

Well, I guess that the good news couldn’t continue for ever.  One lad didn’t come today as he has been suspected of burglary.  He was with his mother at the time so he couldn’t have done it, but he had to go through an identity parade.  It must be hard to leave your reputation behind you.

We struggled at the beginning of the day as we were out of food.  We usually share a breakfast together, so we ended up with a lot of irate, hungry kids.  They are working towards their silver award but they have to show that they can work independently.  Until now, they have been helped with reading, writing, general prompts and cajoling.  Today, they worked in groups and had to consider a question, provide answers and work out how to present these back to the group and engage them.

They worked well, and came up with the idea of passing a football, and if you got it off someone you had to provide a new and different answer to the question.  They needed to do this outside so they willingly did a risk assessment, which was interesting as it was like pulling teeth when we had to do Health and Safety for the Liverpool trip. 

They had a great kickabout, and, for a minute, they were just kids again.

When we got back, we shared a curry meal made from vegetables donated to the centre yesterday.  There were 3 different ones which increased in heat and were absolutely gorgeous, though some kids wouldn’t even try them. 

The tension seemed to rise and rise from that point onwards.  One lad had taunted another in the morning and this resulted in the boy disengaging completely.  He then turned his attention to one of the girls who took the bait and a slanging match followed.  He also passed lies around about one of the girls, and this filtered through to the staff who weren’t impressed.  He turned on Sue, making personal comments.  It was as if he was trying to find everyone’s Achilles heel.

Suddenly, the front door opened, and two girls appeared.  Sue immediately told them that they couldn’t come in, which I thought was strange, but then one of our girls flew out of the door after them and it looked as though a fight was going to break out.  It turned out that these girls were previous ‘attendees’ and had been exchanging insults with our girl on facebook.  The lad who had been causing trouble all day tried to fan the flames, but the girls were kept apart.

We were very proud of our girl for not lashing out, but she seemed disappointed in herself for not doing so.  Perhaps she loses face by not living up to her reputation?

All of the kids were sent home an hour early as everything had got so out of hand.  After a meeting, the lad was expelled. 

This is absolutely the right decision for the group as they can all calm down.  It is a relief in some way as I had taken it upon myself to keep an eye on him during the Bradford trip – a London trip with him would have sent me over the edge.  But, I feel very sad because the idea is that we nurture these kids,  release their potential and see them flourish.  Is it possible that a kid can be beyond our help?

Cracking the code

August 8, 2010

Sorry, I didn’t manage to update my blog on Friday because I went camping straight from work.  I had a wonderful, if slightly damp weekend.  I personally hate camping (why would you spend your down-time somewhere without a cafe and bubblebath?) but I’ll do it for my kids.  It is great to simplify your life every once in a while; no TV, no technology, no choice of food when supplies run low – valuable life experiences for small kids with high expectations.  Of course, my thoughts turned to the young offenders – have they been camping with their families?

On Friday, we took them to Bradford.  Just the thought of it made me nervous, particularly the two train journeys each way.  At Batley station, we had kids sitting dangling their legs over the platform edge, and one standing balancing with his feet half way over the edge (verbal warning issued, and one year off my life expectancy!)  One lad was a bit ‘excitable’ and pressed the emergency stop button on the escalator at Leeds station.  I found myself behaving like a mother, constantly counting heads and feeling like I needed them all to be under my wings.

We took them to the Impressions gallery first, where they saw films of hermits played in three small sheds.  These were supposed to make us question our consumer lifestyles by looking at those who had rejected them.  This was, somewhat ironically, followed by a trip to McDonalds!  The kids were told that it was OK if they didn’t like the exhibition as long as they could explain why.  The questions that the kids asked were somewhat unexpected: 1) who made the sheds? 2) why do they smell?

In the afternoon, they were taken to see Toy Story 3 in 3D at the iMax in the National Media Museum.  It was strange to be sat in the dark with them for so long, but their behaviour was exemplary; no swearing or shouting (just a fair bit of texting!).

There were no incidents on the return trip, thankfully – I think that we were all tired.  Their conversations were fascinating; anything from how many people they have slept with to whether they had been on a plane.  I am beginning to understand some of the language that they use.  Here’s a rough translation:

‘two’s’ = do you want to share a cigarette with me?

‘bare’ = very (?) as in ‘it was bare cold!’

‘bits’ = pounds

‘peng’ = good

‘crow’ = ugly, as in ‘she was crow’

‘vexed’ = stressed (but with an implied threat), as in ‘I am getting vexed (so you’d better sort it out before I lose it)’

‘safe’ = thanks

I am looking forward to the review tomorrow to hear what they thought about each experience.  The trip was a dry-run for 19th August when we are taking them to London.  I will need valium.