C H R I S S I E E D M O N D S
My first volunteer job in which I stayed for more than a year was with Community Service Volunteers in a hostel in London, working with homeless young people aged 16-25. This shaped my future and propelled me into residential social work in hostels with challenging young people. They were from all walks of life that had found themselves homeless through some forced choice options. Many were young care leavers or ‘runaways’ as I found out at that time. I worked in the residential sector for some years before completing my MSW at Nottingham University, England. I worked at the Cotswold Community when 68 hour weeks were considered the norm, and seeing such extreme behaviours lead me into to setting up a criminal justice project working with young offenders with drug problems. So this project took me back into the challenging world of the secure estate, young offenders institutes, secure units, and male and female prisons. I also worked in the fostering and adoption sector with difficult to place young people and treatment services for those with complex addictions.
My journey through the voluntary sector has allowed me into a different realm of shaping social work experience through education, as I am currently a Senior Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University and an Independent Practice Educator.
I chose Teflon because …
… My father is a chemist and has been for 50 years and therefore perhaps this explains my choice in choosing a Teflon coating spray made up of various compounds. My father sparked my curiosity in substances through my childhood; as a locum pharmacist, the garage was full of Victorian style bottles of chemicals. To this day, I am not sure whether they were all legitimately there but it did not matter to me as he made explosions in the garden: the highlight of the year always being fireworks night, say no more. This definitely fuelled my interest into the volatility of substances which I think now must have influenced my journey into working within substance misuse. In the 1960s Dr. Roy Plunkett discovered Teflon. Its four properties are:
- Very low coefficient of friction
- Highly inert
- High melting point
- Wonderful electrical properties
Teflon is almost unbreakable.
1 Very low coefficient of friction – not allowing people to get you too agitated
I think my Teflon coating was first established when I did my placements in a Category B (medium security) male prison, horrified by the extreme brutality present there amongst prisoners as I was allowed to walk amongst the maze of lived-in experience within the walls. Being a female social work trainee I was asked at age 25 if I had come to the prison placement to look for a boyfriend, Teflon coating quickly sprayed on, I couldn’t say any more.
2 Highly inert – not reactive as such
I also worked at a ‘Category D’ (low security) open prison and was asked to work with lifers, with a sense of terror and fear they left me with the most fascinating and complex 27 year old who was detained as a sixteen year old after a sinister prank to get the attention of his mum, ending with tragic consequences. I realised that Teflon coating was also useful when completing groupwork with male armed robbers, but soon realised that they were able to definitely find the inner damaged child and we were really picking up the pieces of their imitation Teflon coating.
3 High melting point – takes a considerable time to melt down
It may be that I have kept the coating on for a long time and, as stated, it has served me well up until this point; however, the other properties of Teflon are relevant to me. I have not been too ruffled by offenders with serious offences and baffling histories. I have not risen to provocation even when put to extreme tests in residential settings with residents trying to jump out of windows and barricading themselves in their rooms for protection.
4 Wonderful electrical properties – can get lively and generate ideas, like a live wire
I hope that my humour and wit, the wonderful electrical properties of Teflon, have kept me on the ground and allowed me to be creative. I have always been able to think on my feet and come up with creative solutions to entrenched problems. However, a note of caution with this object was raised recently by a very insightful student who said do you think that perhaps sometimes this coating and, indeed, your experiences in harsh environments can allow the subtlety to get missed? In suggesting this and causing me to reflect on this coating, it may be time for mine to wear off completely, or a conscious dissolving in another solution. This may be problematic, though, for as I have stated, ‘Teflon is almost unbreakable’. What the wearing of Teflon has done for me has allowed others to not appear too shocking to me and in time, like those armed robbers in the group, peel off their coating and see what lies beneath.