Rosie Martin and the Just Time Program – Circle of Security International

Rosie Martin and the Just Time Program

Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

I’m totally enamoured of working with the Circle of Security Parenting program. It scales mountains. Not of the earth, but most surely of the earthy stuff of which people are formed. It reveals the possible heights.

I started using COSP in the prison in my city, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, in 2014 in a program we called Just Time. I had already been volunteering at the prison, teaching men to read. This was wonderful work, and it led to the development of trusting relationships with key workers there. In informal conversation and connection within these relationships, I suggested trialling the COSP in the women’s prison. Donating my time, the Family Reintegration Officer and I did this – with eight participant women.

We all loved it. The creative insights of the women about what they needed in their lives to help them use the parenting approaches they were learning, were amazing. We didn’t need to run a community consultation to extract these insights, they just came pouring out of them: “I want to do this with my mum”, “Can dads do this too?”, “Maybe if we are ‘good’ we could get longer visits with our kids. Then we can learn to be good mums on the inside”.

I had no idea where this activity would lead. I just knew I had a wonderful tool in my hands – the COSP – and that it should be used, not left languishing. I had seen how fabulously the women in prison engaged with it. I had seen what a leveller it was. The differences in our backgrounds just blurred out like the background of a professional portrait – we were all just mums in the room.

I’d like to say I had a plan, but I didn’t really. Well, I had enough of a plan that I’d started a charity as a vehicle through which to donate a number of aspects of my work as a speech pathologist. But I didn’t have a ‘fundraising strategy’ or a ‘strategic plan’. I had the beginnings of a great Board – and I had passion about my work as a speech pathologist. Passion to bring what I knew how to do, to men and women whose lives had little of the privilege I had enjoyed. And whose lives, for most, had been devastated by factors outside their control from when they were just soft-cheeked children themselves! And this names-up the whole purpose. It is exactly what COSP has potency to scale and re-form. COSP can nourishingly help the participants themselves and it can span the generations to put a circuit-breaker on the transmission of the destructive variables.

The Struggles

I did not know where my offerings of COSP in prison would lead, and looking back, I realise I didn’t even burden myself with that question. I knew it was worthy work in its own right, drawing on skills I had. I felt just to offer what was in my power to give.

In hindsight, I also think this helped me, quite simply, to just not see, or at least not heed, the possible barriers. I just talked about the work to the people I met – the staff in the prison, the politicians (I went and met with them (I’d never done this before)), people at my dinner parties, I asked to go on air and chat on breakfast radio. I tried to be nice. I tried to never be impatient. There was nothing to be gained by getting cranky. I tried to be mindful about the work and my motivations. I was enjoying the relationships that were growing – with the men and women living in prison, with the staff, and with the many other enablers. It was fun. And an enormous privilege. I didn’t feel like I was trying to ‘bag a peak’ – I felt more like I was enjoying a hike.

One day I was walking through security and ran into one of the prison psychologists. She thanked me for being committed and staying around for so long. I reminded her that it was only about two years that I’d been coming in weekly (I still felt like a newbie!) and queried whether this could really be said to be a long time for volunteers to be around. I received an emphatic response of ‘Oh yeah! Most volunteers are only around for two or three months!’ I was so surprised! Looking back, I can see that I’d come through a major potential struggle without realising it. I didn’t have expectations of the system yielding to me but felt gratitude at having permission to do the work there – I can now see that this helped open doors.

The Supports

I can also see that this attitude was itself a support to me. At the time, the inner me was a bit embarrassed and I felt some shame at not being perfectly organised and not knowing all the ‘corporate-ese’ that I heard teams in other NGOs using. Now I realise that my amateur profile in these things was probably a help. I can see that I wasted my mental energy on that shame. Yet in the end that energy returned to me cleaned-up and full of enabling value.

Key people supported because of – well guess what – relationship. One of the most personally meaningful compliments I have received about this work wasn’t actually directed to me – it appeared in a 2019 external evaluation of Just Time by the University of Tasmania. It made me feel that I’d really been seen. On behalf of the Board and the delivery team that has assembled since 2014, I have much gratitude for this. A reintegration officer had said this to the evaluators:

I think…one of the things that’s worked well is the organisation that are doing it, and the level of commitment that they have to it. In that…they’re obviously committed to the principles of the program, they want to be doing it…they’re committed to their organisation succeeding and the way they do that is to get funding, so…to get funding you’ve got to run a program. But I find that, this is my personal opinion, but I think [program manager 1 is] actually very much committed to wanting to succeed in this area for the purposes of the children and the parents rather than the continuation of Connect42 as an organisation…so their commitment to the program, their commitment to their client group…the children and the parents here in prison… (Interview, TPS IOM Staff 1) p52

Some early serendipity also happened. After the first Just Time program that I had run as a volunteer, I had coffee with a distant colleague (about a different matter). I knew she was a wonderful person, but I did not know she was an heiress. I enthused with her about what I’d just witnessed delivering the COSP in prison. And then she invited me to write a couple of paragraphs that she could take to her sisters – she thought that the family might like to help. They did. (And have continued to do so.) And this led to two more iterations of COSP in the prison. Which led to two more. Then eight more. We also began to offer the program in the men’s prison. Then I received an award for teaching prisoners to read. And this work, together with the COSP activity, was picked up by a wonderful, justice-minded journalist on a national current affairs show. This publicity, along with all that had gone before, led to a new generous donor assisting us, as well as government funding to run the COSP in back-to-back cycles within each of three areas of the prison – women’s, men’s minimum security and men’s medium security – that’s 15 cycles per year. Incredible! And also… essential.

There have been a lot of meetings, emails and phone calls, cocktail parties, coffee conversations and interviews, and lots of writing of stories and submissions to get to this point. But these are not barriers. These are the mechanisms for support. I also went back to university and did a criminology degree. This led to an injection of support from professors and academic staff – and in turn gave them new insights. The people who have supported this work have done so because they heard a story that moved their hearts. Then their hearts moved their minds and their hands. So it is important to keep up the talk. To tell the stories. And… well of course it is important to reflect.

For me, somewhere between the coffee date with my chum and the current affairs segment, I had been moved a bit more too. Toward more intentionally bagging peaks. Peaks of justice, enablement, fairness, equity, hope, full-potential, love. These are each an Everest. But they’re there. Aligning with Edmund Hillary, this is reason enough to climb. Clambering on these peaks is thrilling and worth the work – I don’t say ‘hard’ work, but I do say ‘effortful’, and I also say ‘sustainedly effortful’.

It happened that I was formed from a bunch of genes that wired up my brain to learn language easily. Language is the raft that harnesses the power of rivers of knowledge. I was born to a family that gave me ‘good enough’ nurture. And into a lucky country at a time in history when opportunities flowed thick and fast and I got to catch the rapids of a bunch of them. Why should I be so lucky and not that woman? Why me, but not that guy?

To whom much is given much also is required. I feel.

I also feel, without burden, that what is required of me is to do my bit to make the mountains and fast rivers accessible to others to also enjoy. I’ve seen prison. You wouldn’t want to live there. And most who are living there should not be and would not be if we would all just help each other on the mountains.

In the following video, Rosie and Rich Martin discuss their work with the Just Time Program which is nested within their non-profit, Connect 42. For more about their remarkable work, visit: https://connect42.org. If you are interested in the external evaluation of the work with COSP in prisons, you can find the report here.