by Giulia Mattei 17/08/2015
I sat at a table in the office where Circles meetings happen, nervously drinking a cup of instant coffee and munching on the 69p biscuits I'd brought- cheap food, that'll help with first impressions. Chris walked in, and then I saw Mike. I stood up, and he timidly looked at me and put his arm forward for a handshake. He smiled and said 'Nice to meet you'. I looked at him, sitting in front of me with his cap on. He's just a boy. He's probably younger than me. I start telling him about the film, which he already knows about as the volunteers and Chris have told him quite a bit. He tells me straight away that he's up for it, but he'd rather have an actor read over his interviews. And I completely understand that. We'll find an actor.
We start talking about ways in which I can film one of the Circles group meeting keeping him out of the shots, and he has loads of ideas. He tells me he's interested in film, and does a little bit of photography as well. We keep chatting and I mention something about composition, and how I believe once you get an eye for that it's all pretty much the same, film, photography, even painting... He laughs and gets his phone out. 'I actually do a bit of that as well'. He shows me these photos of beautiful paintings. Chris and I look at them and ask if he's the hand behind this artwork. 'Yeah, I started in prison'. Turns out he spent a lot of time taking art classes during the years of his prison sentence. He tells me he'd love to get back into it but that the kits are very expensive and he can't afford them at the moment, 'Hopefully soon' he adds. There's a smile on his face. The same smile he's had throughout the whole time we've been sat in this room. It feels like the smile of someone who is apologising, someone who has made mistakes and is now trying to make amends.
It all starts falling into place, what the volunteers told me about him, all the things Chris and I spoke about before I met Mike. It's true that you forget what he's done when you're talking to him. It's true that, to quote Will 'he's just this... nice guy'. And most importantly, to me, he's just a boy. I'm sitting in front of him and it's only when he mentions prison, or his probation period, that I remember why he's in Circles.
Mike is doing one of the toughest things in the world, he's trying to start over after committing a crime that is by nature one of the hardest to forgive, and for that he has my respect. The program has helped him through all of this, and you can tell how thankful he is to be a part of it. Chris tells me that Mike represents exactly what a successful Circle should be. He shows up every week for their meetings, he's fully committed to not reoffend, he's looking for a job, he keeps up with the tasks the volunteers give him every week (for example this week he has to create a Linkedin profile for future job applications) and he's doing all he can to re-enter the community in a functional way. Meeting him made me understand fully how a Circle works. All I can hope for now is to be able to represent his story, and the story of his Circle, in a way that will do it justice.