Probation is incredibly hard to represent visually in that the essence of what we do is by nature unseen and intangible. The picture represents something that has taken root in the toughest of environments, it has been neglected and survived. Sometimes we think that we sow seeds of hope, but I wonder if it’s more about identifying what is already present and marvelling at how someone has been able to flourish or survive in those conditions. Of course, the other side is that not everyone does flourish, plenty of people have all sorts of valid reasons as to why they are not able to ‘make good’. The ‘effectiveness’ of probation is measured by reoffending rates ultimately, something that feels way beyond it’s responsibility and a societal issue that we can never solve alone or take credit for when it’s going well. I wonder if the plant also represents the probation service, that has somehow survived despite a hostile operating environment, but would benefit from some more friendly soil to develop deeper roots?

This book is the reason I became a Probation Officer.  I stumbled across it in Keele University library in 1996 during my first undergraduate semester studying criminology and psychology.  I can remember reading the first couple of pages standing between the shelves, and then lost a whole afternoon engrossed despite having an essay to write!  I remember feeling deeply moved at the account of how somebody can become ensnared within a criminal lifestyle, the damaging impact of prison on identity but ultimately the strength that can be found to affect change with the right levels of belief, support and opportunity.  It is only on reflection that I now realise that I was reading about a journey towards desistance. I now recommend it to my undergraduate students in the hope that it might inspire them too.