This portrait is part of a project I’ve been working on with suicide respite house Maytree. Maytree provides befriending support for people experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings in a non-clinical and unique space. The project is comprised of portraits and interviews with volunteers exploring their own experiences with mental health and how they came to be at Maytree. Some of whom have previously been guests at the house. Click here to read all the posts from this project.
My dad worked as a prison officer. I think he was a good prison officer because he had a really good caring side and a good understanding of what brought people to where they were in life. He always looked beyond the prisoner to how they had arrived at committing a crime.
After my mum died I actually went to work with my Dad in the prison. It was the sixties. There were two prisoners who worked with him there, making tea for visitors and things like that. I spent a lot of time with these two prisoners. They were lovely and so caring to me. Because my mum had died we used to go for Sunday lunch in the officer’s mess. I think that’s where I developed my interest in people. I realised that people get labeled but there’s so much more of a story than that. There’s so much to know about a person.
I left home at 17 and got accepted to start training as a psychiatric nurse whilst I was underage. I started working in a really old psychiatric hospital. The place was terrible. The treatment of the patients was disgusting. It was awful and really stressful for me. I left after a year.
I’m very drawn to people who have been in similar situations, who I feel somehow speak the same language as me and we can understand each other. That’s what I love about Maytree. I think of all the guests and volunteers that I’ve met there’s only been three that I couldn’t get a rapport with, simply because they didn’t speak.
Usually I feel there’s an immediate understanding. It’s like people are completely stripped back. A lot of people arrive there and they haven’t had a chance to talk, ever, and it’s just very raw and very open and very honest. And I feel that’s the sort of relationship I can best deal with. Maytree often feels like the most important thing that I do. I feel extremely useful there and worthwhile. It’s something that I can do and that I’m good at.