What with starting my new job (yes, that’s right, I’m back in the working world, people!) I have been a little lax lately with my blogging, but I am hoping to start picking it up again as I really do enjoy it when I get down to it. It’s not even that I’ve not had the ideas of what to blog about, oh no, every day I have at least one thought of ‘I could write a blog about this’ but well, I haven’t, I’ve just been too busy. So what have I been up to?
We’ve finished decorating the spare room; we’ve been busy in the garden and even bought a pizza oven the other day – so have been having some fun with that (read: the pizza’s so far have been disastrous but we’re learning…slowly); I’ve been editing my first three novel chapters for the 2034th time, but who’s counting; we’ve been seeing friends and family; we sadly lost a beloved pet (the gorgeous Tashii who got me over my fear of animals – simply by existing in my life); and, oh yes, I started my new job, which is what I want to talk about today.
I’m working for a healthcare company and have been there for two weeks now but last week I had to make my first visit to one of my services. My first visit being to a prison… I had never been to a prison and the thought of going, was pretty scary.
Luckily I had my boss by my side (she wasn’t supposed to come but last minute changes meant she could) so I didn’t have to go there alone. Pulling up the drive, you wouldn’t even really know it was a prison with all the trees and countryside around but when you get to the building itself and you see the high fence and barbed wire, then it becomes real.
We went to the reception and got signed in, then we were taken through to the security check point where I had my first ‘pat down’ of my life. ‘Is that one of those FitBit things on your arm?’, yes it was, ‘You can’t take that, your phone, or anything else inside with you. You’ll have to store it all inside the lockers.’ So that’s what I did.
Whilst we waited to be collected from the security check point, we had time to have a good old chat with the guard. Being female, we asked her what it was like being a female guard in a male prison (it was a male prison btw) which later on we realised there’s loads of women guards around so it was a silly question really. But she told us about her eight years at this prison, what she’s seen and what she thinks of the system; it was a great insight.
We even spoke about how school kids should be taken to see a prison, to help them make the right choices as they get older – because it was scary as hell! She completely agreed and said that when kids come to visit someone in the prison, she can generally get an idea of whether their future is destined to end up the same way. Some kids go once and never want to go back again, and some, sadly, get used to it and don’t find it a scary prospect. What’s the incentive then to keep on the straight and narrow if the punishment isn’t daunting to them?
Collected by the head of healthcare (also a woman, go equality!), she took us to the front garden area and explained to us all that goes on there and the prison system itself. She has worked at that particular prison for 19 years and seen it change with the types of prisoners they look after around four times, and even closed down once. She said that when she applied for the job initially, she had no idea it was for a prison, the advert just said, ‘Are you good with people? Do you want to work in healthcare?’ which she did and, although a little put off when she was given the address of where the interview was to be held, she went for it anyway and hasn’t looked back since.
Her understanding and explanation of the way the system works, made me see it in a whole new light. I think I’ve really been one of those that say ‘people in prison don’t deserve luxuries, they’re bad people and should be treated as such.’ But seeing the way it’s run with my own two eyes, has shown me this is a completely ignorant view to have (now, I know I’m not going to be able to explain my change of view properly, so just bear with me). If you treat people in prison badly, then what other possible view of themselves could they have to encourage them to think that they can change and can still have a bright future? Respect goes both ways. Obviously there are some bad people out there, but sometimes, it was just a mistake that they can’t take back and want to prove that they’re sorry, and can be a functioning member of society.
I’m not here to change anyone else’s mind on the matter, all I’m saying is I can now see a different side. I know this isn’t optional for many out there, but if you ever get the opportunity to visit a prison, do it. It’ll open your eyes.
We were then taken for a tour of the healthcare block and also one of the prison wings…which meant we were among the prisoners. The odd thing that struck me when we met our first few prisoners was, ‘they all look so normal’, but then what did I expect to see? Bulky men with shaved heads, covered in tattoos? I’m not sure, but part of me went straight to thinking, I could walk past any of these men in the street and never know that they had been in prison. How many people do I walk past that have served time?
I didn’t think I knew anyone who had been to prison, but after a couple of chats with people about my experience, it turns out there are people I know who have done time, and some I even knew about it – but chose to forget it. Weird huh.
We were warned though on entering the wing that as we were two new females, we may get a bit of attention.You know, with it being an all male prison and all. Understatement. It was like exactly when you watch TV shows set in prison and someone new walks through and all the attention is right there on them. We were being watched and followed from the moment we went in there. We were taken to a cell to see what the living quarters are like, and when we came out the amount of people stood out there was a little scary (have I used scary too much? I was fine, it was just a new experience is all) ‘YES, THEY’RE FEMALES! NOW GET BACK TO WHAT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING’, another female guard who was not to be messed with, those guys left us straight away.
The cell was as you’d expect really, size wise, although we were just shown a single living space, there are sharing rooms too which we didn’t see. We were shut in to see what it was like, and it actually wasn’t bad, it wasn’t good, but I can see that you’d be glad to have some space to call your own in there.
No area or room could be entered or existed without a heavy duty key for the heavy duty locks on the heavy duty doors; which that fact alone was quite hard hitting. The transition that a prisoner makes from having to basically ask permission to go anywhere or do anything – even go to the toilet – to being set free, must be a daunting prospect to know you’ll have to fend for yourself after so long of being told what to do and where to be all the time.
As I said, the whole experience has made me see prison, the justice system, and prisoners in a much more rounded and real way; and if you get the chance to go to a prison. Do it.
Although not quite the same, Reading Prison are putting on an exhibition of art and writing at the moment until Sunday 30 October 2016, and though there aren’t prisoners there anymore, you can still go look around and get a sense of what it must have been like for them. I, for one, will definitely be going to have a look.
Until next time. x
Photo by Robert Hickerson via Unsplash