Debbie Taussig works for Richmond Probation
‘Everyone has their own reason for coming into probation. What motivates me is trying to help some of the most damaged people in society, be it due to drug and alcohol problems, domestic abuse or a chaotic upbringing.
‘I met a woman this morning who was telling me her life story, how she’d been in and out of prison since she was 17. Growing up in the care system she ran away from 52 different homes. Now she has a child of her own, who’s now also run away from home – it doesn’t take a genius to spot the patterns.
‘But I do get to see good outcomes. I’m working with a 19-year old lad at the moment who has never completed a sentence in his life, but this time he’s responding. He’s reporting to me regularly, and he’s just won a work placement at a hotel in the West End which chose just six ex-offenders out of 20 applications.
‘Mostly I work with people who have drug problems, so I get to see first-hand how nasty a devious people can be in order to get drugs. Addiction is an illness, and to break away from that a massive lifestyle change is needed. But we do have choices, and our lives are dictated by those choices.
‘The first thing I do in a regular supervision meeting is discuss an offender’s drug test results. Sometimes people are drug-free for months, and then fall off the wagon. If they confess to me that they’ve slipped up, I thank them for being honest enough to tell me, and try to be massively encouraging. If it’s a one-off, it’s not a catastrophe so we discuss risks and try to set some new goals.
‘I also work with domestic abusers, sex offenders and shoplifters. Richmond and Kingston is a thief’s paradise given the Bentalls. A lot gets stolen to order – designer clothes, perfumes, even meat.
‘I’m working with one fellow who I thought would be a nightmare as the feedback from the police and his former probation officer was so bad. But he’s now completed a 12-step Narcotics Anonymous course in prison and he’s just written me a letter to tell me what he’s learned.
‘That might not sound like a big thing – if it weren’t for the fact he couldn’t read or write before. He said to me: ‘This time I’m ready.’ So I asked him why now, and he replied: ‘I’m just bored of it.’
‘I count the small victories.’