Well I have now visited Cat A, B, C, D and a YOI just leaving women’s estate which is on the agenda and an IRC.
Cat B yesterday, I must say it was not what I expected, Razor wire yes, heightened security yes, but not what I would call a “typical” prison environment.
I accompanied an actor and an ex-prisoner who campaigns for prison reform; Derek Martin an Eastenders actor and Jonathan Robinson, who I nick-named the “Dynamic Duo”.
My reason for visiting this prison was that after hearing good things about staff and their attitude towards prisoners with encouragement and motivation, I wanted to see for myself and not rely on the accounts of others.
This planned event started around 12.30, where the three of us met in the prison car park. I had met Jonathan before at various events but it was a first with Derek who came across as such a likeable character I was sure it was going to be a memorable afternoon!
On the inside
Fast tracked through security we waited in a through room for our host the Librarian and Learning Leader. Wow was he tall (well most people are tall to me)
Our first port of call was the library, what a vibrant organised room, a place where you would just want to learn in. Education was encouraged. There were colourful posters covering the walls, some of which showed previous guest appearances and reading schemes. You might say “a library is a library” what’s so special about a library?
But this was in a Cat B prison! I would have been quite happy to curl up on their sofa with a good book for a couple of hours.
I then expected just to go to the room for the talk given by Derek, instead we had a cuppa in the visits hall, a large bright modern room, laid out in small seating areas, well stocked kids play area and a purpose built coffee bar. Although I didn’t see it, the staff raved about the new baby unit just off the main hall.
It was good to chat with staff about the ways that families are supported with one member in prison. There was such a relaxed atmosphere which reflected the staff’s willingness to engage with the inmates. I believe maintaining family ties are such an important element in the rehabilitation programme. They even had incentives to enable inmates to earn extra time with their loved ones.
Our visit included Tesco express well the store for prisoner’s canteen, a wing, cell, laundry and the impressive gym. I started talking with a very enthusiastic member of staff who I immediately warmed to. Her determination to work with the prisoners to achieve was remarkable. As with my work, I meet many in prison that have never achieved anything positive in their lives. This was not something that this staff member was going to accept, she explained when faced with barriers there was always a solution even to the point of condensing courses, providing material in Braille and help with dyslexia.
Yet again education was encouraged at what ever age and what ever ability.
Sure, the celebrity guest was Derek, but we all were treated so well. Walking towards the multi-faith room. cheers went up from inmates and staff alike as they recognised Charlie (Derek).
On finally reaching the room, Derek and Jonathan sat at the front and Derek addressed the audience. Then the entertainment began with Derek’s sense of humour being displayed as he recounted story after story. Then it was time for the questions from “where can you buy pie and mash?” to “how can you be an extra on a television show?”
I enjoyed the chatting afterwards with the inmates; many wanted a signed poster from Derek or a copy of Jonathan’s book IN_IT.
So what effect did the day have on me?
Today I have been going over and over in my mind the experiences of yesterday:
- I met inspirational staff who enjoyed their job
- I saw respect from staff and inmates
- There was no heaviness in the air that I have experienced at other prisons
- There was a hunger to learn
- At no point did I feel vulnerable
- There was a sense that the staff were all singing from the same hymn sheet
- Rehabilitation in prison can and should start from day one
- Even short sentences can be filled with purposeful activity
- Prisoners taking responsibility
- Education is a key to rehabilitation
Now I’m not saying this prison is perfect, there are issues facing the whole of the prison estate. But good practice needs to be shared.
We cannot sit by and see wasted lives within a prison environment, rehabilitation is the key to breaking the cycle of reoffending and yet its not about money, its more about attitude.