Words matter. Time or Space?

Time is only a luxury when you perceive yourself to be time poor. People with fast lives and rich tastes can often be heard bemoaning their lack of time. For others, time can drag. Time plays tricks in the way it bends and slows.

This fact hits home most powerfully when I visit prison. My work regularly takes me inside prisons to meet young men who have been unlucky enough to find themselves on the wrong side of the law. There is a distinct absence of watches and clocks inside prison. Prisoners perceive time according to the establishment’s regime. Wake up, shower, medication, work, association, visits, meal time, bang up. These events punctuate the day, and provide the assuring rhythm that time is indeed passing. When I walk through a prison, whether on the landings, wings or yards, it is not unusual to be asked, “What time is it, sir?”. It is clear that they are hoping it is later than it really is.

The concept of time for people serving a custodial sentence is stark. The very word is the punishment. The courts give them ‘TIME’ and that is what they must ‘serve’. When I coach professionals, executives, and any range of other busy people, the coaching session is often seen as a gift of time. An opportunity to slow down. To reflect and breathe and take stock. The last thing anyone serving a prison term wants is ‘more time’, and they certainly don’t want time to go any slower.

I have learned that what people in prison appreciate more is ‘SPACE’. Space is expansive. Space gives us room to breathe and room to think. Prisoners become good at making what little space they have as big as possible. Often sharing a cell, they have extremely limited personal space, but, they use what they have to personalise their area, store their essentials, and use their bed as a living space by day. So, while the last thing they want is more time, they can always do with more space. So, rather than positioning coaching sessions as ‘time’ to think, they provide ‘space’ for reflecting and expansion. They are opportunities for people to grow, develop and change.

Words matter. What’s more important to you, time or space?


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