A chat with Keeley Taverner
Listing Oprah and Nas as sources of inspiration and labelling herself as a “human-potential ambassador”, Keeley Taverner is one-of-a-kind. Probation officer at HMP Wormwood Scrubs, psychotherapist, mentor trainer and rapper, Keeley lead the second of our befriender training workshops and here gives us a quick snapshot of her fascinating mind.
FR: You’re both a probation officer and a qualified psychotherapist – what came first, and why do you think you chose this vocation (or did it choose you)?
KT: I believe the profession chose me. I am one of those fortunate people who has found my calling in life. I am very blessed. From a young age I was aware that I had a caring, sensitive nature. I would often go the extra mile to show consideration and had a heightened sensitivity towards others. My grandfather’s house backed on to the Scrubs and I can recall looking at the tall barbwire and thinking, I would love to go in there. So it could be fate!
By my late teens, I was a checkout operative at the local Ikea store. I lacked ambition and left school with no GCSE’s. My caring nature, found its way into an unhealthy abusive relationship. By 2002, my two daughters and I were living in a women’s refuge, and I was baffled that being kind and loving, had landed me in a desperate, lonely and isolated place. I was dumbfounded, and burdened by taunts of ‘I told you so’.
Inspired by Oprah, I picked up my first self-help book and began the painful process of taking responsibility for my behaviour and predicament. In the course of reading, which was to change my life, I found no judgement, ridicule or mockery, but rather explanation. The journey was far from easy and I fully respect that self-examination is not for everyone. But I was determined not to become bitter and angry. I knew the consequences would have been disastrous for my daughters and naturally I wanted a better future for them than mine. For me, understanding that the underlying causes of my selfless behaviour, was steeped in my history, was helpful; and the more I read, the more my behaviour began to make sense.
In 2003, I started my undergraduate psychology degree. I had no clear idea of the specific career path I wanted to pursue. All I knew was I wanted off the checkout line. My course of action at University was to follow my passion. My degree required that I undertook 6 months work experience. I was instantly drawn to a volunteer position at HMP Wormwood Scrubs – my visceral senses screamed at me, I had to go for it, but then again, maybe it was all a part of my destiny?
The HMP work experience was invaluable and gave me much needed access into the world of forensic psychology and professionals in the field. When the time came to look for full time work, I sought opportunities in the prison. I secured a role as a drug worker, but intuitively, I knew that I had to continue studying, in order to have a job that I felt made a real difference. I completed my Masters degree at the Metanoia Institute in the summer of 2012, while working full time as a probation service officer. I started my private practice Key 4 Change, in the autumn of the same year and my vision is to build my practise into an empire for human potentiality. This vision will enable me to work more eclectically with a broader range of humanity and on terms that are more in-keeping with my humanistic views. But in the meantime, I hold the two roles and appreciate the breadth of people I meet and the unique personal circumstances that enables our paths to cross.
FR: Juggling these two energy intensive careers can’t be easy – where do you find your strength and inspiration?
KT: Firstly, I am a woman of faith, I would not be where I am today without it. The odds were stacked against me and it was blind faith that has got me where I am today – denial of this fact is futile.
Secondly, and as weird as it may seem, I see myself as a human-potential ambassador. My role requires that I work in a variety of contexts and those contexts demand that I work in a variety of different ways. Those contexts also give me different names, such as ‘probation officer’ or ‘psychotherapist’, ‘trainer’ or ‘mentor’. Above all, I endeavour to highlight discrepancy, inspire and encourage.
FR: If you had to pick out a high point of your career so far, however big or small, what would it be?
KT: Graduation ceremonies, the completion of my 4 year Masters programme, handing in laboured dissertations or even launching my private practice all served as great anti-climax occasions – bizarrely enough. I often have fleeting high-points, rare unpredictable moments when I sit back and nod my head in full appreciation of where I have come from and where I am today. High points are when my daughters reveal their ambitious futures or when I get a hint of their high self-esteem. Or the days when I am feeling low and my daughter’s pick me up by giving me words of encouragement or quoting something that I have told them. It is in moments like these that I experience my high points. Unpredictable times that are incredibly spirit-lifting. It is in moments like these, that I know that the sacrifice has been worth it.
FR: You’re now running your own practice called Key 4 Change – what have your main aims been for this business and why do you think they set you apart?
KT: Key 4 Change is a Human Potential Movement that places human beings and human needs first. 21st century living is placing unprecedented pressure on the individual, family and society as a whole. Human beings are rapidly becoming human doings. As we increasingly connect to our technological devices, we invariably disconnect from each other, our communities and ultimately ourselves.
Sadly, loneliness, depression and despair are becoming a part of everyday living, the tragic irony of what is described as ‘progression’. Key 4 Change is counter to this trend. Through psychotherapy, group encounters and bespoke creative training packages, Key 4 Change develops real relationships, real rapport and real connection in contemporary, traditional and creative ways.
Central to Key 4 Change is the ethos of ‘Triumph Over Adversity’. This philosophy underpins the nature of all the work I undertake and is shaped by my experience of overcoming the adversity, of a basic education, low self-esteem and social deprivation. I have steadily risen from an unskilled checkout operative to a contemporary, socially relevant human–potential ambassador. Key 4 Change represents an exciting amalgamation of my professional, personal and academic experiences; and offers an unparalleled service, that unleashes human potential, in invigorating and inspiring ways. It is my belief, that it is all of the above that sets me apart.
KT: Prep’in for Prison, is a practical 4-hour workshop that offers key tips and advice for individuals ‘destined’ for the prison environment. The idea spun out of my experience of encountering many from my housing estate in prison. Interestingly, when incarcerated these men are highly motivated to address their personal issues; and make passionate demands for a whole raft of support from housing, job opportunities and offender programme interventions. Above all, I receive genuine heart-felt requests for counselling and I am disturbed that help is being sought, when backs are firmly against the wall and the chips are definitely down. This high demand for my support is in stark contrast from the one of rejection I experience in the community, where I am often told ‘You have read too many books,’ ‘You are too deep’ or ‘man don’t have no problems – I’m nice’!
Over the years, I have become profoundly saddened by such instances, as I go about the prison wings, I witness firsthand wasted potential, shame-filled stares and a frightening reactive stance to significant problems, that individuals were well aware of prior to custody. Prison appears to break down barriers, exposing vulnerabilities; but my position means I am able to offer little assistance. The best I can do is offer advice.
Sadly, and I do not delight in the idea of Prep’in 4 Prison, the workshop is about an acceptance, that many from the community out of which I came will go through prison gates. I often find that individuals are uninspired by preventative methods in the community; and events that target the problem of criminality, tend to be filled with worried mothers, professionals and not the people who may benefit the most.
Prep’in 4 Prison is not about convincing people to change. In my experience the motivation to change appears as a glimmer behind bars. So rather than fight fate, Preparin 4 Prison embraces these sad facts and ultimately accepts a reactive stance to problem-solving. In this workshop we encourage individuals to consider the practical aspects of their incarceration, such as:
- The process of making friends in prison, knowing your friend from your enemy
- Develop memory skills: remembering significant phone numbers & DOBs
- Coping strategies when you lose a loved one while serving time
- Getting through Christmas, birthdays & special occasions
- The VO process, which girlfriend do you chose?
- Exploring ‘double-bubble’ – the prison economy
- Inspirational material no cell should be without
- Selecting a religion and what are the benefits
- Addressing the ‘bust’ case syndrome
- Ticking the boxes
FR: And finally, if you were made a prison governor tomorrow what would you change?
KT: I would remove all the crime books (the most popular section of the library) and fill it from ceiling to floor with self-help books. I would have a TV channel dedicated solely to inspiration material. I would fill every wall with quotes and beautiful images of humans achieving their greatest potential. I would provide staff with inspirational talks and incentives that allows them to feel valued and gives them a safe space for introspection and reflection too. Our ethos and mission statement would change from:
“Her Majesty’s Prison Service serves the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts. Our duty is to look after them with humanity and help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release.”
“Love is the cause and the love is the only cure!”
A huge thanks to Keeley for taking the time to give us such a valuable insight into her world. Do take a moment to check out her practice Key 4 Change here.
*The lyrics featured above were composed by Finding Rhythms participants at HMP Wormwood Scrubs.