A few extracts from prisoners, and a space for comments about prisoners and the book.
If you have been imprisoned, or you know someone who has, or you’ve read the book and want to make a point, then please feel free to leave a comment below or e-mail Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After trial they took me to a high security prison. I’d been to prison before but that was young offenders. The first couple of weeks was settling in, learning the ropes, and it was a bit scary. Everybody’s interested in who you are, what you’ve done and what you’re about, and I’d been all over the papers and news, so people had heard of me. Main wings can be gang or clique orientated. Muslims, blacks and whites tend to stick together. Some of the Muslims tried to convert me, they gave me an English version of the Koran with sections underlined about fighting non-believers. They said Allah would forgive me and kept asking me into cells to discuss religion.
Were you tempted?
Not at all. I think I’m the type of person that does the complete opposite of what someone tells me, that’s probably got me into trouble most my life, and I appreciate discussions on society, but this wasn’t discussion, it was convert or else. I took the or else like I often do. And people do convert in prison, but it’s out of fear, I don’t think they genuinely convert, they look to belong and have back-up and protection. And because I wouldn’t convert the self-proclaimed wing imam put a hit on my life. A couple of guys came to stab me with shanks but were outnumbered so changed their mind. The prison found out about it and moved me down the block.
You don’t know who you’re talking to. There’s probably loads of nonces walking among the general population, trying to get along with things. This lad told everyone he was in for Section 18, blah blah blah, you just believe people. Then one of the lads walked in with a newspaper and showed everyone. He’d got three years because he was on some order and the police knocked on his door and he had a fourteen year old boy locked in his cupboard. The lads walked up to his pad, because he was banged up, and said to his padmate, bash him or we’ll do you. So his padmate brayed him all over.
Prison really was sanctuary. I’d been a carer when I was a kid, and it was the first time in my life someone said to me, what do you want to do? I said, me? I don’t understand. Nobody has ever asked me that before. I went to a Quakers meeting and this lady was so nice I couldn’t understand why. I asked the screw, do you think she wants me to do something for her? And the screw said, people like that do exist you know. That was the first time I realised you could actually trust some people. I went to the meeting a few times. You weren’t preaching to any God, and you did this meditation thing, you had to be quiet for twenty minutes. I thought they’re off their fucking rockers here, but the silence helped, because I had lots of nervous energy I couldn’t control. But then they started bringing fucking nonces in so I left. But they brought arts and crafts into the library and that helped. I did cards for the kids, I made CD’s where I’d change stories and put my kids names in instead. My little girl said she listened to her story every night, because she can’t read or write, and she laughed every night before bed.
HMP prisons are more stable than private ones. It’s more structured in HMP, you can’t get away with the same things, because they’re on more money as wages, and they’re there because they want a career, and there’s more prison officers. Plus, it’s run by the government, so it needs to be hitting certain marks doesn’t it? Whereas private prisons don’t give a fuck, honest, they don’t care. Private prisons are the best thing that’s ever happened to prisoners, one hundred percent. Imagine, when I was fifteen and went to jail, if you’d said to me, in the future, you’ll have Sky television and a phone in your cell, not a mobile, a prison phone you can use twenty-four hours a day as long as you’ve got money on it. You’ll be able to go to the gym once a day, have visits where you can walk in a park with your family. I’d have turned around and asked if you were mad. It’s only private prisons that have done that, and I got those things because it was my right, not because I manipulated anyone. That’s why people in HMP kick off, then go down the block for a bit, just to get themselves into a private nick. It’s worse for prison staff though, because they haven’t the numbers if anything kicks off. I refused to get banged up once, they pressed the bell and Jesus, four officers turned up. I laughed and said, you four? How are you going to get me in my pad? They said, go in your cell and we’ll put a fiver on your phone. I was down the block at the time, and I had a phone and a telly, and they put a fiver on my phone to get me back inside. And they did that because they knew I would have knocked two or three of them out.
No’ one tried anything on with me. If they did, something would have happened to them. There was lesbians having sex, in full view of you, but I wasn’t going to complain. Sex was common. If we were all in one pad, watching TV before lockdown, they’d come in with their hands down each other’s pants, they’re not bothered. And the screws are just sitting in their office all day.
In high security, you’re locked up on your own and you’re only allowed out your cell about six hours a day. Layla worked out that in all the time I spent in prison, and this doesn’t include the twenty-four hour bang-ups down the block, and I did a good few months block, maybe a year block, I did 120,000 hours of solitariness. And my point is, and the bigger question I believe is, what the fuck does society expect to get out of a human being by doing that? If there are psychological implications involved then they should be aware of what psychological damage they could be doing. And I’m lucky, I’m quite a resilient person and I’ve got a lot of armoury, mental armoury, but I was on my fucking knees many times. A lot of weaker men than me are smashing up, killing, attempting suicide, whatever, coming out like wrecks and shells of people. Does the punishment fit the crime? I was in for non-violent crime, I didn’t hurt one person, although yes, there was a lot of money involved.
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