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Power and Poise
By Violet Wilder
Arnold Schwarzenegger is a controversial figure but you can't keep a good man down. Sorted finds out more.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has never been nervous of talking about his faith, and faith is now a hot word in Hollywood, from the enduring dedication of the Jonas Brothers, to the occasionally wily but always redeemed Justin Bieber.
In recent months, Covid and Black Lives Matter have, in very different ways, asked us to reflect, reacquaint and readjust. And yet, while thanking God and looking to him for guidance has been a staple of many an Academy Award acceptance speech, it’s not always been ‘cool’ to preach the faith, lest stars attract criticism or alienate a chunk of their possible fanbase, particularly in these ‘woke’ times.
For Schwarzenegger, however, alienation was never a fear, for he was an anomaly on the streets of California – the very definition of a ‘legal alien’. Having built up a formidable reputation as a body-builder in Europe – he began lifting weights at 15 and won his first Mr. Universe title at the record-breaking age of 21 – the power-packed self-starter arrived in America with a divine sense of purpose and an unquenchable enthusiasm for his adopted homeland.
‘I was always very hungry, and I believed in the philosophy of staying hungry… as soon as you climb one mountain, go and look for the next mountain and climb that, and then the next mountain. Some people would call it restlessness – I find great joy always in trying to do things that people think are impossible; but I think America is just an extraordinary country because here is someone who came here and saw all those doors of opportunity opening up. These are doors of opportunity that I would not have had in Austria or in Japan or in the Middle East or Africa or anywhere else. It's just this is a very unique place.
‘I came over here to be a body-building champion because of Muscle Beach, and I’ve ended up… well, I’ve done other things,’ he says with perfectly hidden modesty.
With his compass set for California’s Muscle Beach, Arnie inadvertently ended up just a stone’s throw from the heart of Santa Monica, Venice, Hollywood – all the places where ordinary people become stars, apparently.
‘Everyone working out at the gym in one way or another was involved somehow in the movie business – they were extras or agents. My workout routines were more like a very early networking exercise!’
Thanks be to God!
After 60 movies and 50 years in the industry, he has always attributed his success to an external source. ‘I was blessed by God, and for everything that I have achieved in my life and career, I owe a massive amount of gratitude to God.
‘I have been asked to name moments where God has pushed me through to achieve something – my response is that I can’t name any specifically, as that’s not the sort of relationship I have with him … it is more like a presence that always sits in the background of who I am and what I do. I can rely on my faith at all times, and yet I won’t burden it by asking too much of it at once … no matter what we are all doing, we wouldn’t be doing it without God.’
So back to the late Sixties and, starry-eyed, invigorated by the burgeoning opportunities in front of him, and undeterred by a clumsy grasp of English, he set out to cement his status as a record-breaking bodybuilder – he earned the Mr Olympus title a breath-taking seven times – and to become a film star, joining thousands of ambitious wannabes on the streets of Hollywood.
‘Determination in anything in life will see you climb out of a place where you are fighting to get noticed. It doesn’t matter what you do – have a vision, believe in your vision 100 per cent and remove doubt, because if you have a doubt about yourself, how are you going to expect other people to believe in you? Trust you are special – I always believed that from my bodybuilding days; I had this vision of becoming world champion in bodybuilding and everyone told me it couldn’t be done. Then five years later, in London, I became the youngest ever Mr. Universe. I just trained every day like hell and did it.’
In a modern era where the trappings of success, recognition and adoration seem more accessible to the young generation so connected to celebrity culture across television and social media, Schwarzenegger offers caution.
‘We have a problem where everyone is permanently in audition mode,’ he says. ‘You can style your persona to an agent just by recording something in your own bedroom, yet this showreel isn’t authentic. In my day you had to get up and go somewhere! That’s how people knew you were seriously about stuff – you had to physically move!’
Yet despite Arnie’s commitment in relocating some 6,000 miles away from his native Austria, the bigwigs at the Hollywood studios remained unconvinced that such an unconventional character could ever win over global audiences. Not only was his physique much larger and more muscular than that of the average leading man, many were worried his thick Austrian accent would be impenetrable to the average American cinemagoer.
‘I like to think I broke the mould a bit on that one. It was really just a matter of being out there enough to have people hear my voice – that's why I did so many radio interviews where people didn’t see me but heard the voice. Eventually it became so identifiable that directors like John Milius [Conan the Barbarian director, 1982] came out and said, “If we didn't have Schwarzenegger, we would have had to build one!”’
And the dream begins…
So less than two years after arriving on American shores, Arnie landed his first acting role in Hercules. Starring under the rather bland stage name ‘Arnold Strong’ and with his lines over-dubbed in post-production to conceal his accent, it was an underwhelming debut, but set him up for a most unpredictable and astonishing career, where muscle and vocal tone synergised perfectly to form arguably the most formidable influencer of a generation of movie stars.
He gave a superb performance in The Terminator, the sci-fi thriller about an autonomous hitman and the infamous ‘I’ll be back’ line. The accent was synonymous with the persona and this otherworldly presence. Were we to be told that Schwarzenegger really was a machine, some experiment emerging from a Soviet f laboratory somewhere, we would have believed it. The triumphant Total Recall followed, then an unlikely turn as a comic star in Twins opposite Danny DeVito; on into Last Action Hero, Collateral Damage and The Expendables franchise. Schwarzenegger was embraced as a fully-fledged American action hero.
To understand his success, we must look at both his upbringing and the values it instilled in him. Born into a strict Catholic family – his father was the local chief of police and had served in the Second World War – the Kindergarten Cop star was raised in a rigorous environment defined by routine and hard graft, to which he credits his determination.
‘I was brought up by such great parents, with me and my siblings having so much love from my mother and the discipline from my father. My relationship with him was, admittedly, a lot more regimented, and there was strictness in the way he wanted us to approach the world, but there was love there. Our upbringing allowed us to have the structure in our lives and the foundation to start us on our journeys.’
In many ways, that strong work ethic, an expectation to flourish, a sense of endless possibility and the ongoing presence of faith is a sizeable slice of the American way. ‘As I’ve always said, in life, we cannot just rely completely on God. We need to make sure we try our utmost to do the best that we can in life – God gives us the tools to do that.’
Arnie has maintained his iconic status in various ways: he is a businessman, investor, philanthropist, and has even served two terms as the 38th Governor of California (from 2003 until 2011) – perhaps the ultimate playing out of his once astronomical ambitions.
In recent years, so much of the bullishness that accompanied his work in that golden era of the early 1990s has dissipated. Perhaps years of reflection have made him realise how futile the film industry really is; or maybe he is just winding down into a place of peaceful solitude. Certainly, the topic of self-isolation has been prevalent this year in wake of coronavirus. In that typically light-hearted manner that patterns his temperament these days, he released a series of ‘pep talks’ from home, in which he fed carrots to his miniature horse and donkey, and smoked cigars in the hot tub.
There was also the small matter of the $1million donation he made towards face masks. ‘I had emergency heart surgery in 2018, so as much as I really wanted to be a supportive face of this crisis, I knew it could only be from a place of genuine self-isolation; but that didn’t mean I couldn’t still be a force of hope and positivity – that was my intention.’
By his own admission, he is far from perfect. In 2011 he separated from Maria Shriver, his wife of 25 years, after it was revealed that he had fathered a son 14 years previously with Mildred Baena, who was employed in their household. In total, he is the father of five children, four children with Shriver.
Schwarzenegger is not a man to admit defeat. He has resurrected his film career in recent years, notably through Terminator: Genisys, having wisely skipped Terminator Salvation (the Christian Bale film that was widely panned), by virtue of his duties as Governor of California. Across Dark Fate, Kung Fury 2 (currently in post-production) and the recently announced Legend of Conan, there is little to suggest he wants to wind down, even if he is relieved his stint in politics is over.
‘It is a 24/7 job – you can invest absolutely everything but there will always be someone you haven’t served. I never aspired to reach the sort of heights you see some want to get to. It takes a special type of person to go all the way, and not always a good person,’ he says, aiming a shot at old adversary Donald Trump.
Certainly, there appears little regret that his duty to the American public has ultimately been to entertain, rather than serve as a politician. You sense that doing anything else would have been at odds with his faith.
‘The vision I had of what I wanted to make of my life, has been a big part of the reason that I have achieved success and the type of success that I wanted. It’s no fluke, and that has been enough. Sure, I was put on this Earth to do something special. I guess if I hadn’t succeeded, then I may have been the type of person my parents wanted me to be; a man who worked on a farm and had an army of kids, like the Von Trapp family from The Sound of Music! I never took myself too seriously, no matter what I did. I see some people in this industry and they look so unhappy all of the time. I want to say to them, “Smile, enjoy it – it could be your last chance!”
‘I guess the only things I took seriously were the issues that I tackled on a social level. So when I became the chairman of the President's Council on Fitness, I went through all the US states and into the schools, to promote the idea of hiring more physical education teachers; I went out to get an extra $500million for after-school programs; I joined the battle in convincing people to get off fossil fuels and into renewable energy, since we have an abundant amount of that. So those issues I took very seriously, but beyond that… not really.’
But doing something mattered…
‘My father always said to me, “Be useful.” To be useful, it's very important to do something that is bigger than you are, but have a good time at the same time. Smile, have a good time, have a positive attitude and see that the glass is half-full rather than half-empty.’
Becoming a grandfather
Half-full certainly describes his relationship with son Joseph (the son he fathered with Baena), despite acrimony with Joseph's mother. He and the lookalike 22-year-old are often seen spending quality time with each other, either at the gym or cycling around the streets of LA. Then of course, there was the recent joyous news that his daughter Katherine is expecting her first child (and his first grandchild) with husband and fellow devout Christian, Chris Pratt.
‘To have God so prevalent in the family fills me with a lot of hope,’ he says. ‘When people you welcome in have good faith, there is instantly a level of comfort and joy, and this has always been the case with me. When this happens, I have the feeling that there is extra power, extra strength coming from elsewhere. You cannot put a price on that!’
Meet the Punching Preacher
How can a ‘man of God’ make a living hurting people? Stuart Weir checks out the boxing pastor Derrick Osaze.
Derrick Osaze has two jobs. He is a professional boxer and an ordained pastor in his church in Nottingham. The ‘Punching Preacher’ has won all ten of his professional fights so far. He says of the name: ‘It’s not a nickname I picked for myself. It’s one I tried to reject at all times. I was ordained last year in March. So I guess I’d embrace the nickname now because it’s the truth, I do punch and I do preach.’ Sorted decided to ask him if he felt there was any conflict between loving his neighbour and punching his lights out. We will return to that later…
Osaze, who grew up in a Roman Catholic home in South London, was often in trouble. He was a sporty kid playing football, rugby and basketball. He takes up the story: ‘I had issues dealing with anger management and I was getting into trouble at school. I had been excluded from school about 16 times and was on the verge of being kicked out permanently. I’d grown up watching boxing and was always open to try new things, and a friend suggested going to the boxing club. Boxing came at just the right time.’
A passion and a lifestyle
He says of boxing: ‘It started as something to keep me out of trouble, became a hobby, then a passion and a lifestyle. The biggest thing I learned from boxing was self-control and self-discipline. It’s about being able to control yourself in sticking to a game plan. Overall, it just made me a calmer individual. All the excess energy that I had, I put into boxing.’
Boxing helped him turn his life around. The boy who was constantly in trouble in school went on to university, where he gained two degrees. He explains that people think you go to a boxing gym to learn how to fight and how to defend yourself, ‘but it’s not always about that. Discipline is the main thing you learn and also self-control – being disciplined in your diet, being disciplined in your training schedule and I think that’s a transferable skill, which helped me in other areas of my life, such as education.’
Osaze had about 20 amateur fights and won a couple of national titles. He was in an England training squad as well as being invited to try to qualify for the 2016 Olympics with Nigeria as he has dual citizenship. An injury and pressure of work for his Master’s made him pass on the opportunity. Then, in 2017, he decided to turn professional. He says of this period: ‘My amateur career was short but a good apprenticeship,’
Despite his parents’ faith and attending a Catholic school, he did not really take faith very seriously. At university, he ‘realized that my faith and going to church was something that I did just because I felt it was the right thing to do. But if you’d asked me why I went to church or why I believed in God, I couldn’t honestly answer. Then one day I realized that an element of my life was missing. So I made a decision to go back to church and take my faith in God seriously.’ This led eventually to him getting involved in and being ordained in God’s Vineyard Church in Nottingham.
The Ultimate Boxxer III
Osaze had his first professional fight in December 2017. After six straight wins, he was invited to take part in the Ultimate Boxxer III, at the O2 in the middleweight division. This was a televised eight man contest with three fights (of three three- f minute rounds) in succession. He won it. It was a significant step forward: ‘Winning the Ultimate Boxxer III is the highlight of my career so far. It is quite a challenge facing three different boxers in one evening. Some of the other boxers had a lot more experience than me; people said it was too early for me. But my coaches had confidence in me. I see that is my greatest achievement because I wasn’t a favourite, but I went in and won it.’
One of the challenges of his life is fitting it all in. He admits ‘the week can be very manic.’ First of all, there is training: ‘They say that if you are a boxer, you become a middle-distance runner. I can clock up 10-20 miles per week. I do a lot of sparring, bag work, pads, a lot of technical work and drills, circuits, conditioning, swimming sometimes. I do two sessions a week with a strength coach. Coming up to a fight, I can be in the gym two or three times a day (even four). Then I have loads of meetings in the church. I am very systematic and organized and I live out of my calendar.’
One man, two guvnors
Another secret is having two sets of understanding bosses: ‘My coaches and the guys at the gym are very understanding about my involvement in the church and what I do. If I can’t make a particular training session and have to make it up later, they understand why. And at the church, there isn’t an expectation for me to be at every meeting because they know the demands of my boxing. So many times the pastor has told me to go home! It’s great to have a support network on both sides’.
After his degree in business management, he did an MSc in sports psychology which is very relevant to his own career. His dissertation was on the extent to which emotions affect the boxer. His findings showed that 47% went into the ring feeling anxious. Osaze describes himself as ‘a happy go lucky person, very chilled out’ and he has noticed that his best performances come when he’s ‘calm, enjoying myself and chilled out. That helps a lot because now I don’t try to force myself to come across in a different way – like being quiet and looking serious.’ He is very ambitious as a boxer but also sees boxing as a way to serve God; ‘I feel that God took me on a journey through boxing and on a journey through my faith as well. Boxing was part of my life and I suppose that the two just met head on. I want to go all the away. Ultimately I want to be world champion. But I feel that God led me to boxing and I feel there’s much more to come out of my career than just boxing achievements.
‘I also want to use my achievements and platform to help the next generation. God is using me to connect up the dots between two very different industries. The church world can be a very closed-off community, sometimes not open to sport. And there’s a lot of people in sport who don’t know the church or who have certain views of the church or of Christianity. So I think it’s amazing be able to link the two.’
So, to return to the earlier question, is punching someone compatible with his Christian faith? ‘I don’t see a conflict. We read in the Bible: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) and “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). Exodus 14:14 says “The LORD will fight for you.” I firmly believe that every time I’m in the ring, I train as hard as I can and I can pray for protection but I also believe that it is God who fights on my behalf. In 1 Corinthians 9:26 Paul used an analogy of boxing: “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.”’
‘Boxing is a martial art and when I go into the ring, my objective is to hit and not be hit – and to win. My objective is not to hurt my opponent. Before I go into the ring – and even before I spar – I pray for myself and for the welfare of my opponent, that we both get out of it safely. It’s not personal. Your intention is not to hurt anyone. No boxer would want an opponent to sustain a serious injury so that they couldn’t box any more or enjoy a certain quality of life. My aim is to win and not to hurt. That is why in boxing you have tactics and game plans,’
That said, though, boxers do die in the ring? ‘Yes, but there are loads of athletes who get killed in other sports. There are risks with everything. Every time I get in my car or on a train or in a plane, that is a risk. Every time I get in the ring, it’s a risk. Every time you go on the football pitch, it’s a risk. We don’t look for the negatives and we don’t think about the worst. Of course, with boxing, because of its nature, when certain tragedies, which are very rare, occur, they are going to be exploited by the media, by people who are calling for sports like boxing to be banned. I think that in the media not enough is said about the positives of boxing.’ Osaze believes that boxing should be part of the PE curriculum because of the way it teaches young men and women self-discipline, respect and how to exercise self-control.
Black Lives Matter
Earlier this summer, Derrick Osaze was very vocal in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign. He explains: ‘I think that a lot of people in the UK and the US. have been oblivious to what has been going on for a number of years, a number of centuries even. Racism still exists and has been packaged in different forms. No one wants to come out as a racist or be accused of being a racist, so it is more undercover these days, but I think that the covert racism that I and other black people have faced is a lot worse.
‘I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a level of anger, exhaustion and frustration about the whole situation. I feel I have a platform, albeit quite a small platform, which I need to use to educate, raise awareness and share my point of view, but also to do it in a way that honours and reflects the image of Christ.’
Derrick Osaze is a man with a mission. Don’t be surprised if you hear a lot more about him in the coming days.
What’s Still Pushing Jenson’s Buttons?
Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button is still in the fast lane. Stuart Weir reveals all.
Jenson Button is a member of an exclusive club, one of only 13 men to have been Formula 1 World Champion. In a career lasting 17 years he has driven in 306 Grand Prix, achieving 50 podium finishes and 15 wins. His career started with the Williams team, followed by time with Benetton, Renault, BAR, Honda, Brawn and McLaren. In 2009 he was World Champion. That year Button also finished second to footballer Ryan Giggs in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award.
Like so many F1 drivers, Button started in karting at the age of eight, achieving early success before progressing to car racing in Formula Ford and Formula 3, getting his chance in Formula 1 in 2000 with the Williams team. He was clear from an early age about the direction he wanted his life to take, commenting: ‘My school reports always used to point out that my concentration levels were appalling. I never listened in class because I was always daydreaming about racing. I never thought for a moment about doing anything else. There was no guarantee that I’d make a career in it but I never had any plan B.’
He had to wait 6 years for his first F1 win. Wet conditions made the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix a challenging and tactical race. Kimi Raikkonen, who had started on pole, crashed. This meant a safety car had to lead the drivers round as the debris was removed. Button stayed on the track while others took an opportunity for a pitstop. He found himself in second place. When leader, Fernando Alonso, also crashed, it left Button in the lead, which he held until the end. It was a brilliant race, driving his Honda to victory, after starting14th on the grid. He later said of that period: ‘My time at Honda was amazing. Some of my best times in Formula 1, actually. I might not have won races, just one race, but I had a lot of fun. It is such a special feeling to win a Grand Prix.’ He explained that, later in his career, the fun was rather replaced by pressure: ‘When you’re in a car which can win every race, or fight for a win every race, that is pressure.’
At the end of the 2008 season, when Honda stopped their involvement with F1, Ross Brawn, who had been Team Principal at Honda, led a management buy-out of the team to form Brawn GP for the 2009 season, taking with him both drivers, Button and Rubens Barrichello.
The 2009 season could not have started better for Brawn or Button. He was fastest in practice at both the first two Grand Prix – Australian and Malaysian – converting pole position to victory in the races. Third place in China was followed by four straight Grand Prix victories, in Bahrain, Spain, Monaco and Turkey. Incredibly Jenson Button and new Brawn team had won six of the first seven Grand Prix.
Monaco is the iconic race on the calendar, with the street circuit weaving through Monte Carlo, past the casino, round the hairpin, through the tunnel along the harbour, replete with millionaires’ yachts. Starting on pole, he held the lead on the narrow circuit where overtaking is notoriously difficult.
While Button failed to win another Grand Prix, he was in the points, in the top ten, in all but one of the remaining 2009 races to finish as world champion. Asked about his most satisfying moments in his career, he was in no doubt about where to start: ‘Winning the world championship was my greatest achievement. That was always the dream as a kid. Also winning the European championship in karting – I’m sure that sounds crazy to many but it’s such a competitive level. Being announced as a Formula 1 driver was a very special moment. Frank Williams telling me that I was going to be an F1 driver. It wasn’t a dream, it was reality. My first Grand Prix win in 2006 was great. But to choose one, it was definitely clinching the world title in Brazil in 2009. I could call myself the world champion.’
After the 2009 season, Button surprised everyone by leaving the team with which he had won the world title, to join McLaren. There were rumours that the Brawn Mercedes team wanted to change drivers. Button was said to relish being team-mates with another British driver, Lewis Hamilton. Others felt that it was a strange move as Button, despite being world champion, would find himself playing second fiddle to Hamilton. Button won two of his first four Grand Prix with McLaren (Australia and China) but that was his lot for the 2010 season: Sebastian Vettel became world champion that year, with Lewis Hamilton in fourth and Jenson Button fifth.
In 2011 Vettel retained his World Championship title, while Button won three Grand Prix and finished second in the championship overall. In 2012, Button won the first Grand Prix of the season (Australia) and the last (Brazil) but only one in between. The 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix was to be his final Grand Prix victory.
He had to retire from the race after a collision in the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix, which marked the end of his F1 career, aged 37. He commented recently: ‘With hindsight, I think I could probably have raced in Formula 1 for longer. Luckily, when I wanted to retire in 2014, friends told me I should continue for another year and then think about it. In fact, I did another three years and then retired in 2017. That was the right time to retire because my mind wasn’t in it. I think having a year out of the sport and then going back to see how I felt might have been good. I should probably have given it a go because I had opportunities, but didn’t act on them.’
‘Being an F1 driver might be the best job in the world. If you’re in a winning car, everything’s dandy, but a lot of the time you’re not in a winning car. You can have the stress of getting the best out of yourself and out of the car, and still finish ninth. But it’s an amazing job. Every racing driver wants to achieve in Formula 1 and I’m very lucky to have had that opportunity. I stepped away because it was too intense. I’d been racing for 17 years and I needed a breather. I thought I wanted to retire, but then after three years, I realised I wouldn’t mind jumping back in an F1 car. But then it was too late. Everything had moved on. I was racing in other things and pretty much enjoying that as much as F1 anyway.’
Asked to explain what it is like to drive an F1 car, Button expressed it this way: ‘A lot of people think Formula 1 isn’t a sport because everyone drives a car when they go to work in the morning. But we’re pulling up to six G on a corner or during braking, which is almost like being a fighter pilot. So we have to do a lot of work on our neck muscles.
‘To understand the intensity of driving an F1 car, you have to be in it. When you’re driving a 750hp machine at 320km/h, the noise and the vibrations are incredible. The G-force when you take big corners is like someone trying to rip your head off. You hit the brakes, and it feels as if the skin is being pulled off your body. The fast, flowing parts, the high-speed corners, that’s where a Formula 1 car is at its best – changes of direction, pulling high G-forces left and right.’
He added: ‘To drive an F1 car you have to be a little mad. On the morning of a race, there’s a mix of excitement and fear. If it’s a wet track, then it’s worse as you’re not in control most of the time, which is the thing all drivers fear the most.’
2017 meant retirement from F1 but not from racing. In 2018, Button took part in the Le Mans 24-hour race but was unable to finish it because of electronic problems and engine failure. Asked recently if he still had any unfulfilled ambitions in the sport, he immediately answered: ‘Winning Le Mans… There are some exciting new regulations in the Prototype class, but who knows where we stand right now? Companies are struggling, so you don’t know what deals will be out there. I also want to do more off-roading – Extreme E would be fun.’
We may not have seen the last of Jenson Button in a racing car.
Jenson Button on shoes and fashion
Jenson Button might have moved to LA, but he’s just teamed up with Duke+Dexter on an all-British shoe collaboration.
Duke+Dexter has some great ideas, but they also listened to my ideas. So this was a real collaboration, with motor racing as its inspiration. On the one hand, you’ve got a true British company making shoes in the UK; then you’ve got lots of details from motorsport and my history with it – including my number. It’s great working with a true British shoe brand. It’s always fun doing collaborations because people have great ideas: taking people from two different walks of life and bringing the ideas together to produce something which is fun and which hopefully people will want to wear for every occasion.
My favourite pair in the collaboration is the trainers. Just because I’d wear them more often. But I do like dressing up and, when I do, I tend to wear black. I like the Chelsea boots because they’re black, but they’ve also got a nice bit of detail.
I’ve been in the public eye since I was very young, so I’ve always taken an interest in how I dress. When I’m casual, I’m very casual – white t-shirt and jeans – but when I go to an event, I put on a good suit. It makes a difference and I like to look dapper.
Out of Our Dark Times Must Come Good
By Debra Green OBE
The Black Lives Matter campaign exploded into life in Britain on 7 June, after the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was hurled into the harbour in Bristol by a furious group of protestors. Watching events unfold that day was Marvin Rees, a member of the BAME community and the city’s elected Mayor. And, as he explains, he hopes the controversy will act as an important agent of change.
Q: Do you endorse the statue of Edward Colston being thrown into Bristol harbour, or was it a legitimate form of protest?
I can’t endorse it as a civic leader, because it was criminal damage. I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t want the statue gone years ago, or that I mourn its passing. And I think it was poetic for a statue to be taken down, carried through the streets and thrown into the harbour, from the very quayside where some of his ships would have docked. It’s not just the statue, Colston’s name is all over the city. Colston had a drive to bring civic order to the city at a time when there was quite a bit of turmoil among the working classes within the city. He is seen by some as a founding father and he tried to convince poor people he was working for their interests. But he wasn’t.
Q: How long have you been connected to the city of Bristol?
I was born in 1972 in Bristol, so this is genuinely my city. My background on my mum’s side is white, English-Welsh. I start with that, because that’s an important part of who I am. My dad came over here as a 12-year-old from Jamaica. My mum left school at 14, and had me at 23. Before I was born, the health workers were saying I should be aborted because she was an unmarried white woman with a brown baby on the way, and no money. This was the 1970s. And when I was born, they suggested she should give me up for adoption.
Q: Were you a teenager when you developed your faith?
It was way before that. Before I had the language to express it. I always believed. What I believed, I didn’t necessarily know, but I always had a sense of the infinite, the mysterious. I always felt connected to something that was beyond myself.
Q: Did your mum influence your beliefs?
It would have been in part from my mum. She never taught me about God when I was little but once we started to go to church, I heard more, and then my mum became a Christian when I was eight.
Q: And you became a Christian as well?
They said, ‘You need Jesus in your heart.’ As an eight-year-old, I thought, ‘Of course you do!’ It was logical to me.
So I walked forward to the altar, and, with various degrees of commitment and failure on my part ever since, that’s been my walk.
Q: You went on to achieve well academically, going on to study at Yale
At Yale there is something called the Yale Fellows Program, where they take 15 people from around the world and send them to university and really invest in their leadership. And despite my sense of imposter syndrome when I was there, I got a place on it. It’s incredible to be a part of it. I knew I needed something, right when I was at school. I needed something to help me escape the circumstances of my childhood.
Q: How long have you been passionate about people who live on the margins?
Since my childhood actually. I watched my mum struggle. We lived in a house and we had an electric meter. Probably one of the worst sounds you can hear was the 50 pence dropping in the electric meter, because then your lights went out and sometimes you didn’t have another 50 pence to put in. I have vivid memories of an £88 electric bill coming, before we had the meter, and the turmoil in the house about how are we going to pay this bill? So I grew up worrying about money and I watched my mum struggle, how she was disrespected as a white woman with no money, and a brown baby, born out of wedlock. These feelings of frustration, of inequality and unfairness, are all things I’ve carried since childhood.
Q: You worked with Tearfund, a Christian charity, and with Christian leaders in America who were political activists. What effect did this have on you?
It was all part of me trying to find out, what is Christian politics? How do I mobilise my faith and my life to take these challenges on?
Q: Some Christians say we should keep politics separate from faith. Do you feel the two are really linked?
I don’t understand the argument that Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics. I think our faith should be as abstract and spiritual as the nails that went through the hands of Jesus. If they’re made of real metal, let’s get with the real world. If you can spiritualise the crucifixion, then go for the super-spiritualised Christianity that has nothing to do with the physical world.
How can you say you love someone if you don’t care if they have a home, an education and food? You wouldn’t do that with your children. And if you do care about those things, then at some point you have to get involved in policy.
Doing charitable work after the fact is good. The problem is that charitable works maintain systems of inequality and power, because there is a giver in a position of power over the receiver. That’s not good.
Q: What does it mean to be the Mayor of the city where you grew up?
I feel a rootedness here. Many of the things I’m talking about tackling are things I’ve lived with, in this city. Some of my political opponents talk about how bad it’s been, since I was elected. I say this. I grew up here. I lived under your leadership. Let’s not try to convince me that you were right.
Q: Your mother must be very proud of you?
She’s proud. I think she’s quite relieved as well that we’ve come through what we’ve come through. To me, that’s one of the reasons why we talk about Bristol being a city of hope. And it’s something I carried around for a long time as well.
We don’t despise our sufferings because suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character and character produces hope. I’m not an optimist though. I think optimism is flimsy. Hope grapples with suffering and the idea that we do spend time in the wilderness, and there we find our resilience and our character which underpins a hope of substance.
Q: Bristol has got an amazing reputation: the churches and the different organisations work together; the faith groups with the civic leaders.
Yeah, they do. In terms of the planning, we’ve gone on a process in the city where we’ve tried to move beyond local government to city governance. Local government means a disproportionate focus on the local authority, whereas governance recognizes that what any city is depends on decisions made by a whole suite of organisations: the universities, business, the private sector, faith groups, the voluntary sector, health service and so forth. We’ve got to capture that collective impact, and we have pulled all those groups together to write this plan to take us to 2050. The churches have been a part of that, with other faith groups as well. Now that plan is written, and the churches know what we are trying to get done. The churches and faith groups turn up with people and resources, and we talk and engage.
Q: Does it work in practice?
Covid is a classic example of this actually. When we were looking at excess deaths, we talked to the churches and the other faith groups, we got everyone together and said, we’re anticipating more people dying. We’re anticipating people mourning, more people in social isolation, smaller funerals, and so on, and you can help us get ready as a city. They were there to fulfil that pastoral role and they stepped up for that. Another example is child hunger: 55,000 meals went out for hungry children last year. There was lot of organising within the church to make that happen, but not just the church.
Q: Moving on to the whole Black Lives Matter debate: do you welcome the fact this is now being addressed not just as a hashtag, but something that might bring about long-lasting change?
We’ll see what happens. From a child, I’ve been interested in race equality, for obvious reasons. We want to change the world. Racial hierarchy is a key part of that. It’s one of the big determinants of life chances. People who look like me are born destined to die earlier than others, become sick earlier, and are disproportionately poor and caught up in the criminal justice system and mental health services.
And that’s not genetics, not culture. Social circumstances determine our lives. So when I see people dying at the hands of the police, it is heartbreaking. Worse than that is a system that does not hold anyone to account. I’m pretty dismayed by the church in the United States. And I say church in the broadest sense of the term. I love what Martin Luther King said, ‘I want to be careful about being judgmental here.’ But in his letter from a Birmingham jail, is a very powerful line, he said ‘I’ve walked through your towns and I’ve looked at your steeples and your seminaries and I thought who worships there? Who is their God? Where are your voices?’
I struggle to see how some of what I see in the USA is Christianity. Trump is not the beginning and end of racism. He’s a product and promoter of it. But I struggle to see how some prominent evangelicals can reconcile their position, in outright opposition to Obama, and their seemingly unqualified support of Donald Trump.
Q: Are you hopeful now, because this debate is coming to the fore, that we can have a less segregated community, or do you think there is still a huge battle ahead?
I’m not confident, to be perfectly frank. We’ve had these seminal moments in world history before, when we thought everything was going to change. We had the financial crash of 2008, and we said, let’s change the way finance works. We’ve had the climate protest and warnings. As a species, humanity seems to find a way of just ignoring these challenges. The status quo is incredibly adaptable and resilient, and we get caught up in symbolic and superficial change. That’s very dangerous. And I think the same is probably true about race.
The other thing that worries me is that this debate, this discussion is happening on social media, which I think is one of the most perverted platforms for political debate we have at the moment: no nuance, no graciousness, no space for redemption. It robs people of the opportunity to get involved in real political discussion, with a bit complexity, recognising our own fallenness. I think it is going to be one of the biggest challenges we’ve got, to making any real progress. We’ve got to learn to disagree well. I’ve been saying that as I’ve been managing the city through various events like the Colston statue coming down. I need to try to take us on a journey whereby, if you don’t get what you want, or even if you get what you don’t want, you still know you’ve been respected as a human being.
That does not mean you go at the pace of the slowest, but it does mean you try to bring people with you. And it’s the wisdom of Solomon as to how we walk that tightrope. This is the kind of leadership we need, and a big part of leadership is an intention to have that kind of leadership, rather than leaders playing to what they call their base.
We’re all on this island together with different perspectives, and whether we like it or not, we have to find a way of living together. And that’s not cheap reconciliation and it’s not a fear of conflict. I’m all into conflict. Martin Luther King talked about tension. But he said there are two types: destructive tension and creative tension. We’re not afraid of creative tension. But if you have bad leadership, tensions become destructive very quickly, very easily.
Fear Has Lost its Grip on Me
By Ali Hull
Cancer survivor Michael explains why he’s no longer afraid.
When Michael Bushby was first told that his cancer treatment hadn’t worked, and he would need stronger chemotherapy for theincurable stage four cancer in his chest, spleen, neck, bone marrow and stomach, he panicked. After drinking a lot of alcohol, he locked himself in his garage, beer in hand, with a rope – ready to hang himself.
His family saved him. ‘If you don’t open this door, we’ll call the police’ shouted his wife, Maria, and his daughters, Helen and Jennifer, joined in.
‘I was angry with God. But I will never forget hearing the voices of my wife and daughters. I came outside the garage and surrendered my life completely to God. I said to him that whatever life I have left, take it and use it for your glory.’
After three sessions of strong chemotherapy, followed by a week in isolation for an infection, Michael was told his ‘incurable’ cancer was in complete remission. And it has left him unafraid of it returning, because of his faith: ‘God works together for the good of those who love him. I now support others with cancer.’
Michael is a regional director of Christian Vision for Men, involved in chaplaincy work and drives trains for a living. He invites anyone suffering with a serious illness, who wants encouragement, to get in touch with him (email@example.com).
Riding the rails
Q: You work as a train driver – was this a childhood dream?
I’ve been so blessed in my careers because every little boy wants to be a train driver, policeman or fireman. I’ve been able to tick two of these boxes, because during the 1980s I served as a police constable in north London and soon after returning to my home town of Gateshead, I took up a position with a local rail network. Two years later, I applied to become a train driver.
Q: Was that a difficult process?
The training was rock hard and much tougher than the police training I did at Hendon College. It’s important that you remain focused because a lapse in concentration can have a negative impact on performance. There are a multitude of things that can go wrong if you take your eye off the ball, especially when travelling at full line speed.’
Q: Like sailing through a station without stopping, or going into a dangerous situation?
Incidents of this nature can have damaging consequences on a driver’s career and could potentially result in a driver being removed from the role. It takes two years to fully qualify as a train driver and even then, all qualified drivers receive yearly training and assessment so it’s important for a driver to take responsibility for maintaining competencies.’
Q: And is being a train driver all it is cracked up to be?
I love what I do because I get to travel through towns, cities, coast and rural areas. I always tell my mates I have the best view from my office window because I am surrounded by God’s beauty and creation. I see the seasons change, dawn break, the sunset. I observe nature and wildlife. I see birds, rabbits , squirrels and other species. Railway embankments seem to be great places for foxes because you don’t have to travel too far before you stumble across a group.
Q: It isn’t all wildlife watching though…
Getting behind the controls during rush hour is a big responsibility because packed trains can easily hold over five hundred commuters. I always pray for God to lead me when I get behind the controls. I also drive engineering trains, works locomotives. When I’m not driving trains, I put on my other cap of traincrew instructor and assessor.
Q: What about when you are not at work?
Serving as a city centre chaplain in Newcastle is very special. I don’t preach, I simply take the good news with me . There is so much need out there in the workplace. I can get alongside and stand with people by being available to listen and support. I find most people just need to release their troubles to a confidential listening ear, that’s why God gave us two ears and one mouth because we’re supposed to listen twice as much as we talk!
Q: Have you had training in helping with their mental health?
I have made good use of my spare time, through completing a mental health awareness training course, which has been put together by world leading academics and GPs to consider ways to look after your mental health and support others in need. The training covers strategies to optimise mental wellbeing, boost resilience and increase productivity, spot the warning signs of poor mental health, help others who are struggling and what to do in a mental health crisis.
Q: Lockdown has brought its own challenges to men?
I have noticed that the pandemic has had a bad effect on men’s mental health. Unemployment and social isolation, combined with ingrained ideas about masculinity, can cause difficulty for men, who tend to hang on to their emotions and are the least likely to speak up and seek help. The strain of living under lockdown is putting people at higher risk of suicide, which is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45. In recent years, roughly 75 per cent of all suicides in the UK were men. I receive regular phone calls from men , who tell me they have been feeling low and anxious during lockdown and some of these blokes aren’t your typical candidates for depression. I so desperately want to tell these men that they can find hope in Jesus.
Finding the Silver Lining in Lockdown
By Samantha Rea
Ollie Ollerton reflects on time well spent.
Matthew ‘Ollie’ Ollerton is a former Special Forces operative whose missions included hostage rescue, counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism and homeland security. His autobiography Break Point is a Sunday Times best-seller, and he’s best known for putting contestants through their paces on Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins.
Q: How have you been coping in lockdown?
A bit too easily! Anyone who’s been in the military will have coped more easily in lockdown, but I relate to what people are going through because when you leave the military, you lose the structure of your working week, and the framework of your everyday. You’re no longer connected to your support network of friends, and you’re left with a void. That’s exactly what people have been going through.
I actually put myself into isolation, in my own bootcamp, in 2015. I had no money and a lot of issues, so I could’ve gone, ‘Oh, my life’s terrible,’ and been a victim, but instead I went, ‘This is amazing! I’ve got the opportunity to sit here for two and a half months, with no distractions, and focus on myself!’ It’s about finding the silver lining. That’s the position people have been in with lockdown. What’s important is not to dwell on the things you can’t control, but to focus on what you can control: and that’s you.
There’ll be people who’ve spent lockdown hitting the snooze button all morning, allowing life to pass them by, but it’s important to have structure in place, so you are in control of the day, rather than the day controlling you.
The systems I put in place during that isolation bootcamp changed my life – that’s why I put it into words in my book Battle Ready so everyone can learn from it.
Q: What military techniques are useful for coping with lockdown?
Goal setting. It could be related to work, fitness, a relationship: anything, but it should make you think: ‘I don’t know if I can do that!’ Then you break it down into smaller goals that equate to the bigger goal.
Some people think, ‘I don’t have any goals: I’m happy.’ But your subconscious is a goal-getting machine and it will focus on your dominant thoughts, so if you haven’t set a goal, and you’re constantly thinking negatively, you’ll be attracted to exactly that.
In the military, the mission is the goal, and regardless of what happened on the journey to the goal, the goal always overwhelmed our circumstances. So when something went wrong, we didn’t focus on that – we always focused on achieving our goal. If you don’t have a goal, you become a victim of your circumstances and that’s where people are currently at. They haven’t got a goal beyond their circumstances, so they’re caught in their current situation.
It’s important to project forward – to think about where you want to be and make the best of the circumstances. The beauty of a Special Forces soldier is that regardless of the circumstances, we get to where we are, we appreciate where we’re at, and then we look for the opportunities. And that’s what people have to do in these circumstances as well.
Q: What inspired you to join the Marines?
I was attacked by a chimp when I was nine, and I’ve recently questioned whether I’d have joined the military if it hadn’t been for that attack, because it set me off on a path of destruction and mayhem. I lost interest in school at 14 and made the decision to join the Marines because they’re one of the hardest military units in the UK. I wanted the hardest challenge, but when I got there, I felt it wasn’t enough for me, so I went into the Special Forces. For me, it was never about learning a trade – it was about fighting. I felt at ease in stressful situations and I wanted to be in danger. I chased death all over the world.
Q: How was being in the Special Forces different to being in the Marines?
When I was in the Royal Marines, I felt I was cannon fodder. I was just a number – but in the Special Forces you have more specialist skills. The training is more complex, you have more responsibility, and anything you do is more dangerous. I was one of five out of 350 that passed the Special Forces course and that self-kudos is phenomenal. You feel invincible, and special – and when the pass rate is that low, you rightly should.
Q: What was most rewarding about your time in the Special Forces?
You’re so highly trained that the most satisfying thing was carrying out successful missions, because you’re seeing it all come together, with the camaraderie and the teamwork. My first mission stands out because it meant doing the job for real. I was on the counter terrorism team in the SBS [Special Boat Service] and my pager went off. I saw from the code that it was real, rather than a drill, and I had 30 minutes to get back to camp. Shortly afterwards, we were in helicopters going to smash a target just off the British coastline. It was a drug ship coming into British waters and we attacked at dawn, just as the sun was coming up. I felt like, ‘Wow, now I feel like I’m a Special Forces soldier.’ I thrived off doing the job – I wanted to be on the front line, day in and day out, so the hardest times for me were when I wasn’t on operations. I couldn’t handle peace time soldiering – that was mentally challenging for me.
Q: Why did you leave the Special Forces?
I’d had enough. The wages weren’t great and I knew there was more money to be earned in the big wide world. From looking at other people who’d been in the job longer, I could see my path – and I wanted to create my own path.
There was something missing, and I didn’t know what it was, but I left, thinking that would be the answer. When you’re in the military, you feel invincible, and you think, ‘I’m going to go out on civilian street and I’m going to smash it!’ But when I came out, there was a massive void. I started drinking heavily, and I ended up doing a six week on, six week off routine in and out of Baghdad as a contractor, for six years, which isn’t good for your mental state.
Q: What was missing?
A purpose. I’d been chasing this dream of being a Special Forces soldier – but it was the image I was chasing. At the time, I didn’t know what was wrong, and I was looking externally for something to make me happy, when I had to look within. Once I started to invest in myself, in my health, my fitness, my life, my mind, I stumbled over something amazing – and that was rescuing kids from slavery and prostitution in Thailand. That’s when I found purpose – in helping others. It’s so rewarding and that’s the backbone of how I started Break-Point. Now my purpose is helping veterans. All the money I earn from books and my TV career goes into Break-Point Academy (break-point.co.uk/theacademy) which is a career transition facility for veterans. We offer training, then line up jobs with external companies. The power of helping other people is phenomenal.
Q: As a society, it’s only recently that we’ve started talking about mental health, but I think many men in particular are suffering silently. You’ve talked about the importance of mental health – what would you say to men who are struggling to admit they’re having problems coping?
Everyone is living in the shadow of someone they think they’re supposed to be. There’s this concept that we have to be alpha males, looking hard, and not showing emotion. When I was in the military, if you showed any kind of emotion, it was seen as weakness, and it was extinguished with stern language, a load of beer, or both. Many men link emotion with weakness, but they’re not connected. When the lads off SAS: Who Dares Wins show it’s OK to show emotions, and it’s OK to talk, I think that gets noticed across the whole of society.
We have a duty of care, a responsibility, and a voice – and it needs to echo the sentiment that it’s OK to show emotion. Someone who’s pretending to the outside world to be someone they’re not will end up with serious mental health issues and that’s no help to anyone. If you bottle it up and think you can hide it away and be the person you think everyone else is expecting you to be, you’ll be less reliable and end up self-imploding – it’s like a pressure cooker. The stigma is slowly coming down, and the more people talk about it, the better.
Q: Will your fitness app Battle Ready 360 get us all Special Forces fit?
Absolutely! Me and Foxy [Ollie’s SAS: Who Dares Wins co-star Jason Fox] do all the workouts. It covers mind, body and nutrition – you need to cover all three to get results, otherwise you’ll keep going on the same old rollercoaster. It’s unique because we have a character assessment tool based on neuroscience, so you know your strengths and weaknesses, what you’ll struggle with and what you won’t, and that helps you prepare for the journey ahead.
Q: You’ve set out to make your Break-Point events the most realistic Special Forces simulation in the country. If someone wants to get a taste of the training you’ve done, and experience the benefits of that kind of teamwork, can they get that from going on one of your weekends?
Yes, people come to Break-Point as individuals, and they meet people who become a new family. They do things they’d never have expected themselves to do, because we break down internal limitations. It’s about the state of mind we put people into. We take them outside their comfort zones, and that’s where you start to build camaraderie and character, because that’s where the ego walks out. When people are faced with an uncomfortablecircumstance, and they’re asked to do something they wouldn’t normally choose to do, their feelings, actions, reactions and emotions become extremely organic. It’s the first time they’ve seen their true character in a long time, and it’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s life changing.
Road to Somewhere
In his time he’s donned military uniform for the Queen and served a prison sentence for theft. Now Paul Cowley’s life has taken a very different path.
Paul Cowley's CV really is that short: thief, prisoner, soldier, priest. After a difficult childhood, he fell into crime, but in his case, his criminal career was short…
Q: What made such a difference?
The army saved my life. If the army hadn’t given me the opportunity of joining up, I think I would have ended up dead or in prison again. The army is an institution and I like institutions: you know where you are with them. They have boundaries, rules, and I needed that in my life. But it couldn’t really prepare me for normal life, so in some ways, (when I left), I was back where I was before, except I was fitter, stronger, more determined and, looking back, quite angry. What I never gained from my military service was a moral code. Morally, I was a nightmare.
Q: But God intervened…
My first encounter with the God stuff was when my mother died. When I was sorting her stuff out, I found a Bible. It had a number in it, so I rang it, and a lady answered… she told me my mother had become a Christian and the Bible was given to her on her baptism.
Q: In your book, Thief, Prisoner, Soldier, Priest, you talk about a particular army instructor you really disliked,
Eric Martin. And yet you met him again and he had changed?
He was a completely different man, almost unrecognisable. I hated him in the army; he was crazy, a nightmare. He was a boxer and you never knew what he would do next, if you annoyed him. He had an encounter with God and it completely changed him.
Q: And he gave you a scary Bible verse?
Matthew chapter 22, verse 13, is not a Scripture I would really give anyone. But it worked for me. I needed something to shake me. I was a drowning man, not interested in anyone except myself. I would just use people to get what I wanted, then dump them. I was afraid of nothing and cared for nothing. In my experience of being a Christian and a priest now, I realise that God knows us so well, and really knows how to get our attention. Because of the love He has for us, He will use any way He can to rescue us.
Q: When you left prison, you said ‘I’m never coming back here.’ And you didn’t, but most prisoners do. What can be done about the constant cycle of reoffending, and how bad is it?
There are nearly 93,000 people in our UK prisons, and only 3 per cent will never be released due to the horrendous nature of their crimes. So 97 per cent will be released at some point … and within one year, approximately 65 per cent of those released will be back in prison.
Q: You pinpoint six main areas of concern in your book – what are they?
The formative years; the political situation; the physical state of our prisons; more training for all prison staff; mental health issues; and spiritual input.
Q: Surely it is too easy to say ‘It was my parents’ fault…’
There are no excuses for crime, but there are many reasons for it; criminal behaviour can be established early within a child’s mindset, birthed in low self-esteem, trauma or copied behaviour. At the time of writing, the largest group of prisoners in the UK are white males, making up 74.3 per cent of the prison population. Statistically they come from broken homes, are poorly educated and have drug or alcohol dependency, and a high percentage are dealing with some level of mental illness.
Q: So we need to start preventing crime early on?
I believe focussing on the family and schooling is paramount in preventing crime. If the statement released by the Bromley Briefings (Autumn 2015) is true, that ‘three-quarters (76%) of children in custody said they had an absent father and a third had an absent mother’, and ‘39% had been on the child protection register or had experienced neglect or abuse’, then we have to take the information and translate that into radical care earlier on.
Q: Constantly changing ministers doesn’t help?
Since 1997 I have met with over ten ministers of state for prisons, shortly after their appointment, advising them on reoffending issues. Productive conversations have taken place, only for them to be moved, in a matter of months, to another role within the government. Each minister comes up with interesting ideas which are often changed by the next minister. When Rory Stewart took over from Liz Truss, he developed the ‘10 Prison Project’ which highlighted ten prisons to serve as models of excellence for the rest of the prison estate and this has proven to be a success.
Q: Don’t governments think that most of the electorate don’t care so it doesn’t matter?
Governments are reluctant to spend huge amounts of money on prisons as they would appear to be a lower priority. But the changes needed by the prison system demand long-term solutions and therefore have to become part of cross-party policies, otherwise we will keep going over the same ground.
Q: What is wrong with our prisons?
Many of our prisons are in a diabolical state. Most need to be renovated or rebuilt and many need repositioning. In the UK there are ninety Victorian prisons and they are simply not fit for purpose.
Q: And their staff?
With an increase in staff sickness levels and lack of adequately trained staff, the prison system is under huge strain. Prison Officers’ Entry Level Training (POELT) takes ten weeks from application to working on the wings. Having spoken to various prison officers recently, I was told that they are highly stressed because they don’t know how to cope with the inmates’ level of mental illness, especially the violent prisoners and self-harmers.
Q: Do other countries do a better job?
Having spent two days visiting Norway’s maximum security Halden Prison, I saw with my own eyes a radically different institution from the ones I am used to. Hoidal, the prison governor, said, ‘I want the inmates to be calm and peaceful, not angry and violent.’ During my time there I saw officers interacting with inmates, eating together, playing sports together; they talked to them and motivated them. Hoidal calls it ‘dynamic security’, reminding me, ‘We don’t have life sentences here, so we are releasing your neighbour.’ However, in Halden Prison it costs £98,000 per person per year to house a prisoner, compared to between £40,000 and £50,000 in the UK. It takes two years to train their officers but they do have one of the lowest reoffending rates in the world.
Q: What about mental health issues?
Inmates with serious mental health issues should not be in our standard prisons because they not only impact the prison staff, they also impact other inmates. And prison staff are not trained to deal with them; they need to be in specialist care. The criminally insane need to be in secure mental institutions like Broadmoor, a high-security psychiatric hospital run by the NHS. But we only have three in the UK: Broadmoor, Ashworth Hospital near Liverpool and Rampton Secure Hospital in Nottingham, and these are at capacity. Suicide watch (an officer sitting outside a prisoner’s cell door, checking an inmate’s behaviour every fifteen minutes) is costly and time consuming, and needs to be dealt with by people far more experienced. It is unfair to put the weight of severe mental health issues on often young, inexperienced officers who are not trained.
Q: You believe spiritual input matters – why?
Interestingly, crime was recorded at its lowest in the UK between 1880 and 1920, and it is not a coincidence that this was also when the largest number of children under fifteen years old attended Sunday school. Sunday school helped children to read and write and taught them a moral code based on the Ten Commandments. In More God, Less Crime, renowned criminologist Byron R. Johnson states: ‘Religion is a powerful antidote to crime . . . faith-motivated individuals, faith-based organisations, and the transforming power of faith itself are proven keys in reducing crime and improving the effectiveness of our criminal justice system.’
Q: What else do chaplains offer?
Pastoral care is very important. During the induction process it is carried out by the chaplaincy team who ask how an inmate feels and what their concerns are. This can make a big difference at the point when they have lost their freedom. A chaplain can bring a sense of shalom (peace) even just for that short period of time. I often think back to my time in Risley. If someone in authority had said, ‘Come and sit down, son; have a cup of tea. Things will get better’, it would have meant the world to me.
Q: What are your solutions?
I put ‘repentance’ first because, in my opinion, it is the most important. However, repentance often comes about due to an inmate having attended a course for rehabilitation, so they often go hand in hand. Repentance is crucial for change. For an offender to recognise their part in a crime and having a heart to repent and change will result in them taking responsibility and acknowledging the consequences.
Often when I visit men and women in prison, they tell me they are innocent, and they believe it, even when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Admittedly, there are occasional miscarriages of justice, but generally it takes a while for them really to embrace their part in a crime: what they did and whom they hurt. But when that revelation comes it can be a real release and also devastating at the same time, because suddenly the burden for their crime rests on them. Once you get a conscience and start to have empathy for your victims, change can truly start to happen. Saying sorry, or repenting, is a hugely powerful act. It should be encouraged and facilitated as much as possible, and if you find yourself in prison, it’s a good place to start.
Q: What about rehabilitation?
Prison is never a neutral experience. Prisons will either school an inmate in new forms of criminal behaviour, or hopefully set them on a road to change. Rehabilitation is the key to unlocking the prisons but also to making society safer. Most offenders will be released one day. Do we want them to be rehabilitated and transformed as human beings contributing to society, or do we just want them to stay on the treadmill of reoffending?
Q: What can a mentor add?
The average person has to make 2,000 decisions in a day, yet an inmate will make 200. You can give a person a house or a flat to live in but if they are not ready, they will sabotage it. You can give someone employment but if they are not ready, they will leave. A person can find a partner, get their kids out of care; but if they are not ready, they will self-destruct. If they have a mentor, however, someone to talk to, a potential nightmare situation can be averted. Coming out of prison is often a huge adjustment for an offender to make and having someone walk with them through it can be greatly comforting and empowering.
Q: How would you sum this up?
We have to think differently about the men and women in our prison system as they need more, not less, investment. Identifying and encouraging what works in reforming lives and character is an urgent matter for the public good. This is my passion not just because I’m a Christian, a priest or a social reformer, but because I’m a husband and father, and I want our streets safer for my own family and yours.
Journey’s End – Across the Sahel
By Reza Pakravan
Ethiopia: Abuna Yamata Guh – Sky Church
Abuna Yamata Guh is a place that I will never forget. Hidden in the remote mountains of Gheralta in northern Ethiopia, Abuna Yamata is a monolithic church built on top of rocks and carved into the side of a cliff above a staggering 250 metre drop.
The road to the church snakes through the epic Gheralta Mountains. The scenery was beyond description and the mountains featured the most incredible rock formations. We got to the foothills. The road stopped. The climb started. The mountains were epic and magnificent. A Coptic Christian priest makes an incredible journey there every day, climbing sheer, steep cliffs barefoot and without a rope.
We started the challenging climb and after 45 minutes we made it to the cliff. Although I was a bit under the weather, the incredible scenery, fresh mountain weather and a surge of adrenalin perked me up. While climbing, I was thinking to myself: what must go through someone’s mind to compel them to build a church in the side of a cliff?
When we reached the cliff, I was asked if I wanted to climb with a harness or not. I opted for the harness. A hair-raising vertical free solo climb was not for me.
I started climbing with guidance from the locals, before the priest arrived and waited while I climbed. Since I was taking so long to climb, he decided that he was not having any of it and started to climb up to me, using foot holds. He was unbelievably fast, reminding me of Alex Honnold freeclimbing a sheer cliff. He overtook me with laughter. Without safety equipment, he climbed so quickly. It was no wonder – he had been doing this climb for 40 years.
‘You have to put your feet in exactly the place I am telling you and grip where I am pointing,’ my guide said.
With a bit of a guidance, I finally climbed the first wall. The second one followed, which was a bit easier. But then, thinking I was done with the scary parts, I had to endure a ledge on the cliff-face above a 300 metre (980 foot) sheer drop. It was so nerve-wracking that I could hardly breathe.
I finally made it to the church and met the smiling priest. The church was richly decorated with amazing murals that depicted the lives of the nine saints. Well-preserved scriptures from the 6th century written on goatskin (with the cover made of cow-skin) were kept in perfect condition, thanks to the low humidity and the shelter from sunlight.
As the sun began to set, I sat on top of the cliff overlooking this incredible landscape, thinking about the experience of this hidden gem in Ethiopia.
I left Ethiopia for the last country of my journey: the Republic of Somaliland…
Mountains of Somaliland
The Republic of Somaliland is a self-declared independent state, though internationally considered only as an autonomous region of Somalia. Most of the country is sparsely vegetated – typical of its semi-arid landscape – and the last thing I expected to see was the mountain range that rose between me and my destination, the Red Sea.
My climbing started from the town of Sheikh, a small mountain town at an elevation of 1,470 metres, which features the ruins of a British Army base. As I started my trek through the Sheikh mountains, the wildlife – including tortoises, warthogs and beautiful birds – was hard to miss. The temperature, hot at first, dropped significantly as I ascended. Sporadic Somali nomad settlements appeared in the lower elevations, with livestock in abundance. My only way to refill my water supply was to rely on the nomads. Despite their rather strict culture, nomads nonetheless invited me to spend a night in their tent with their families.
The following morning was fresh. For the first time on the whole journey, I considered wearing a second layer of clothing. I climbed, and as I gained altitude, the landscape became greener and the mountains more scenic. I realized that I had never been so far away from the company of humans since arriving in Africa. Up in the mountains, there was no one to talk to, nor even any paths to follow, only the gentle wind which carried occasional birdsong. On either side of me, sheer drops, hundreds of metres deep, plunged down to the shallow rivers below. As I walked along the edge of the mountain, I could smell the sea in the distance and, with it, the end of my journey. It inspired excitement, generated adrenalin, and I knew it was time to descend, down to the desert which would lead me to the sea, to finish my 5,000-mile journey across the African continent with a welcome swim in the Red Sea.
While the world’s media tends to focus on war and conflict in the Sahel, my aim was to tell its untold stories, of people and traditions that have stood the test of time. An alternative narrative. Mother Africa might be complicated, often difficult, but there is nowhere else on Earth like it. I had seen the most incredible things there but, more importantly, I had met the most incredible people. They came from a plethora of different races, religions and ethnicities. And yet, despite that, I overwhelmingly experienced a common thread connecting us all. That thread was humanity, kindness. We live in an age where we are told to fear difference. But, in the Sahel, I found few things which divided us, and found far more which connected us.
Hero Simon Battles On
By Samantha Rea
In the first half of a two-part interview for Sorted, Simon Weston talks about losing friends, forgiving enemies and battling on.
Q: You’ve received an OBE, a CBE and an honorary doctorate – to name just a few of your awards and honours! Which ones mean the most to you?
As a soldier, I saw my fair share of aggression and roughness and I was a part of some of it as well, but what left a mark on my heart more than anything was kindness, decency and humanity. Moments of heroism, moments of courage – moments of sheer terror, and people doing it anyway. That’s what stays with me more than anything else. That’s why the awards mean so much to me, because it’s a recognition of my efforts. It’s really kind that somebody nominated me and I always feel thrilled.
All the awards are immensely emotive, and each one is special in its own way – particularly the ones voted for by the general public.
The Freedom of the City of Liverpool was special because Liverpool took me to their hearts. I was supposed to get the f award on 11 September 2001, but as I was putting my tie on, in my mother-in-law’s back bedroom in the Wirral, I was looking at the TV and I saw the aeroplane flying into the Twin Towers. I knew I wouldn’t be getting the award that day – instead, it took place in the New Year and it was wonderful. My mother-in-law had her leg in a cast and people see these things as disastrous, but all her family are mickey takers and it was funny!
I got the Freedom of the City in Nelson, New Zealand – and I’m from a little village called Nelson in the south of Wales. They took me to a rugby match and put on a spectacular ceremony. I’d been living in a tent for four months, so I didn’t even have a tie, let alone a suit. But I was in my mid-20s and although I may have looked odd, all puckered and burnt, I was having a ball!
The university awards are huge. I had one in Portsmouth where my speech got a standing ovation – they’d never seen that before. When I look at the medals I’ve got, the ones that mean the most to me, but which I emotionally dislike the most, are where I served in different combat zones and people died. They mean the most to me because they remind me of my friends. But they’re also like teardrops on my chest, because they were achieved by someone else’s suffering. And by my suffering as well, but losing friends is one of the hardest things. You love your family, but your friends choose to be your friends – and that’s a choice about compassion, kindness, laughter, humanity, comradeship and loyalty, and a bond that hopefully nothing can shake. That’s what the medals mean to me. They make me feel proud, but they make me feel sad at the same time.
I’m always shocked when I’m awarded something because I don’t set out for an award. It’s not like running a marathon where you expect a medal to say you took part. I do the things I do because I genuinely want to make a difference.
Q: You’ve become friends with Carlos Cachon, the Argentine pilot who dropped the bomb that caused your injuries. How did that come about?
I was offered the chance to meet Carlos for the first TV documentary being made about me. I’d always wanted to meet him because I had terrible nightmares about this black jet, and this hooded spectre with demonic blazing red eyes. This would happen almost every night, at two or three o’clock in the morning. My wife would wake up and I’d be in a bath of sweat – it must have been terrifying for her.
I flew to Argentina, and when the day came to meet Carlos, I was so nervous. I stood waiting in this opulent apartment in Buenos Aries, and when Carlos came in the door, we had this very cold stand-off. He was looking at me and I was looking at him. I’m only 5ft 10 and he’s a little bit shorter, and I felt hugely powerful because I felt this surge of adrenaline go through me. I went through the whole gamut of emotions, but worst of all was wondering: ‘Is he a nice guy? Is he a horrible guy?’ But he took my game away from me – he came closer, caught me by my upper arms and kissed me on both cheeks.
Carlos and I spent time chatting and it was the most cathartic experience. I achieved so much mentally and got so much out of it, that when I had a chance to meet him again, I didn’t want to, because I was worried it would disrupt that. So I sat in the car and he came out and spoke to me.
When we met another time, he said: ‘Come with me, jump in the car, we’ll drive in my car.’ I thought, OK, another chance to get to know him better. So I jumped in the passenger seat, and he said: ‘I’m not too sure of my way around Buenos Aires completely, so go in the glove box and get out the map.’ I opened the glovebox and there was this great big 45 calibre pistol! I thought: ‘God, he’s come back for another go!’
When you look at the Afghan war, and the Iraqi war, they won’t get the chance to meet these people and befriend them. I was involved in the last conventional conflict that Britain was in, in that the other side wore uniform, they took a position and we took a position and we did what we did – although the tactics and weapons were different.
I’ve since met Carlos in London and at home in Wales. He’s turned out to be an incredibly decent human being and it would be lovely to meet him in Argentina again, without the glare of cameras. War makes strange bedfellows of people, because we’re both doing our country’s bidding. It’s not our individual desire to hurt the other – when you’re in war, you’re in war.
Q: How easy was it to forgive Carlos?
I never really had hard feelings towards him. I understand other people that do, but he’d joined the Argentine air force many years before, and he’d been training for years to do what he did. We had been in exactly the same situation.
Although Carlos was responsible for the bombing, there are people who carry a greater weight of culpability for what happened to us. We were forced to set sail late, because there was a problem with the Sir Galahad, the ship we were on. A 500lb bomb had hit her two days previously, and it was still lodged in the toilets, near where I was. They were removing that when we got on board. They dropped it into the San Carlos Water, then they were welding up the hole. That delayed us eight hours, which put us on a sunny morning that made it easy for Carlos and the rest of his flight to find us. Then, because we didn’t have any boats to get us off it, we were sitting ducks.
I know who carries responsibility for what happened to us, but I’ve never spent time looking for retribution. We live in a blame culture, but I’ve never looked for anybody to blame.
Q: How have you coped in lockdown?
There have been times during this lockdown that I’ve been in tears. Not because of me, but listening to other people’s stories. You think: ‘My God, I feel so sorry for you!’ I’ve also witnessed many acts of human kindness – it’s heart-warming.
I had a touch of Covid back in January. For nearly four days it was painful to move – every bit of me was aching and my cough was so painful. I sat in the chair, because I breathe better sitting up, and that’s where I stayed for four days. My wife ran around after me, thankfully, but it worked its way through the family. My mother had it too, and she’s 80 with underlying health problems. She had almost no oxygen getting to her, and she didn’t get rid of her cough for two months. But we didn’t know about Covid at the time, so we’re only just putting it together that we had it.
During lockdown I’ve been training in the garage. I’ve got gym equipment in there, and my wife, my daughter and myself have FaceTime coaching from a friend. He tells us what to do with weights and bands. We get sweaty, tired, and drink a lot of water – then thank him for the privilege of him telling us to beat ourselves up.
My wife cut my hair because it was depressing me something terrible. I’ve got no hair down the back of my head, but it’s down the sides and on the top, and it was blinking awful. It looked like rat tails and it was annoying me, blowing in what little bit of ears I’ve got left. My son’s a barber, so he was on FaceTime from Amsterdam, tutoring my wife, while my daughter held the phone so he could see what my wife was doing. My wife did a brilliant job and my son was rightfully thrilled with his tutoring. I understand why people feel bad about being unable to groom themselves in lockdown, but it’s like last night’s curry – this too will pass!
Q: You’re held up as an inspiration for your resilience and your courage – is it a lot of pressure to live up to that? Would you feel able to admit it if you weren’t feeling 100% buoyant?
Do I find that being in the public eye there’s a pressure that you can’t admit you’re human? No. I, like everybody else, am only human. If I’m feeling down or having a crappy day, I don’t have a problem telling people. Maybe they’ll say something funny and snap me out of it. Everybody goes through that. I’m sure the Queen gets up in the morning, and thinks, ‘Oh, what’s the point?’ but that just makes the Queen human.
We all have good days and bad days. On the whole, when you have a crappy day, you’ll get over it. And even if you’re having a bad week, you’ll probably have 51 really good weeks for the rest of the year.
It’s normal to not feel normal, and it’s important to remember that having a bad day doesn’t mean you’re having a mental health episode. There are days when you get up feeling good about yourself, then you drop a cup, stub your toe, and everything you do turns to crap. It could be that you’re not eating or sleeping properly, or you’ve fallen out with somebody. But don’t think you’re having a mental health episode – there are people who need intervention, and people who need chemical intervention, and that’s something different.
If people only realised it’s OK to feel crappy. I wish people wouldn’t beat themselves up over it and make themselves feel so awful about the way they feel. Sometimes you just need to stay in bed and have a duvet day, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Read the second part of Simon Weston’s interview in the November/December issue of Sorted magazine.
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