HMP Birmingham

Today is one of those days where lots of people are making lots of comments on something they know nothing about. Winson Green, a category B prison in Birmingham has been on lockdown since this morning when prisoners started rioting. At this point, all anyone can rely on is media coverage which as we all know, isn’t always the most accurate of information. Did the keys get taken from a prison officer? Are prisoners spraying staff with paint? Are the pictures emerging even from today?
Many people are quick to start talking about the prisoners rioting because they don’t have a play station for Christmas and “what do they expect?” but this is NOT what this is about. These prisoners have had their freedom taken away from them and I am not saying that they shouldn’t have, they are all in there for a reason at the end of the day, but an event like today makes people sit up and listen so whilst people may say this will get them nowhere – actually, it already has. It’s in the news. People are listening. Maybe a majority of people will sit up, listen, and judge them on the basis of incorrect information and prejudices. However, there will also be some people who will sit up, listen, and realise that actually there is the need for prison reform because something isn’t working and to the prisoners, maybe that will make all this worth it. Sure, there will be those innmates who jump on the bandwagon of a riot without knowing why they are even rioting like with any other riot, but some will also be doing this because it’s the only way they feel they can have a voice.

This is not about a lack of play station or ‘fun’. This is about being treated humanely. There are many flaws with prisons and the whole prison system (as there is with most things) and this is about those flaws. The poor treatment by staff. The lack of access to the gym and library which some may see as a luxury they don’t deserve but wouldn’t you need some kind of outlet if you were locked up for 23 hours a day? If someone wants to progress in terms of learning and fitness – they should not be deprived of this. This is about much more than prisoners wanting luxury items. Prisons are supposed to be about rehabilitation. Being treated like shit for no reason by a prison guard and being denied access to the library does nothing in terms of rehabilitation.

And yes these people ARE prisoners, they HAVE done something wrong but don’t forget this is a category B prison. When talking of prisoners people often think of rapists and murderers and whilst I’m sure there are some of those offenders in there, there will also be those with drug possession charges and ABH charges for example. And don’t we all know someone who does drugs? Don’t we all know someone who has been in a fight? We all make mistakes and we should all be given the chance to change.

Whilst this ongoing riot has brought out the usual commentators who have no knowledge of what the prison system is like and those with closed minded views, it has also emphasised the need for change. It has shown that something needs to be done. Rehabilitation is what prevents future offending. Rehabilitation is not happening.

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Something we know all too well but others may not

It is very easy (and comforting) to assume that those who commit crimes go to prison and those who don’t carry on their lives on the outside. Unfortunately, it has been acknowledged that actually, eye witness testimonies are fairly inaccurate. Additionally, police and others involved in the process have been found to be no better than the average person at detecting who is lying and who is telling the truth – often using stereotypes to make decisions. Lie detector tests are also fairly unreliable and so at the minute there are very limited resources to pin point who has done what when it comes to crime. 

This means that people who shouldn’t be in prison sometimes are and people who should be sometimes aren’t. Your average person is unlikely to know the facts and shocking statistics surrounded this issue and so will often laugh if you talk of innocent men and women being locked up – people don’t think it happens. Whilst a majority of those in prisons are there because they have reason to be, statistically there must also be some innocent people amongst them. I have heard many stories myself and whilst it might be small numbers in comparison to the success rate of imprisoning the correct people, that small minority will have their lives potentially ruined. 

It is something that is an issue and more people should be made aware.

The Secret Life Of Prisoners

For those of you with loved ones in prison I imagine everything you saw on this channel 4 documentary wasn’t all that surprising. Some of it was hard to watch but through first had experience and through the stories I hear at visits, none of what I saw took me by surprise. 

I was interested to see other people’s opinions though, from those who have a limited knowledge of what goes on in prisons in the UK. As soon as the programme finished my dad made a comment about not understanding why people re-offend. I tried to explain that whilst I am not making excuses for people, I think if you have spent a lot of your life in prison, coming out is a massive culture shock. Often people come out to nothing. No home, no job, no money, perhaps no friends and family. In my opinion, I can quite clearly see why people fall straight back into the habit of re-offending. My dad: “why don’t they just ask for help?” One thing I felt that the documentary had attempted to demonstrate was the lack of help available, even when asked. I reiterated this to my dad whose final argument was “well they should just help themselves.” Right, sure, you tell that to all the addicts and those with a whole lot of different shit going on -just help yourself. 

Unfortunately, whilst Channel 4 may have successfully shown shocking footage that gripped people’s attention, their motto is “changing perceptions with documentaries on 4” but I don’t think they achieved that. I feel that there should have been more emphasis on the prisoners WANTING to change but not being given the chance or resources to. There should have been a wider emphasis on WHY people take drugs, WHY people re-offend and what changes can be made in terms of staffing, education, support etc and less emphasis on the drug taking itself.

I don’t think perceptions towards inmates were changed at all unfortunately. My boyfriend is an innate in one of those prisons many will have watched from the comfort of their homes last night. He is living it. I don’t think anyone should judge a situation unless they have been in it themselves, and being in prison is no different. My dad can go around saying if he went to prison he would never take drugs, but sat on his sofa surrounded by his family that is very easy to say. Locked up for 23 hours a day in that environment with just your own thoughts and no freedom and I think we would all act very differently to how we act at home.

The hard days – just a moan

On the whole I am a very positive person. Yes my boyfriend being in prison sucks, but being sad about it won’t change anything and so I just get on with it and look forward to the day he gets out. 
Sometimes though, it all gets too much. Today is one of those days. My life at the minute is pretty intense and lots of little things have been building up today and got on top of me. I’m struggling, but no one knows how to make me feel better. My family and friends are making me feel worse because they don’t know how to make me laugh or how to deal with me when I’m unhappy. He does, but he’s not here. Not only is he not here but I don’t even know when I’ll next hear from him or see him. 

All I need right now is to climb into bed with him and for him to make everything OK. I have a long wait until I can have that. When I feel like this, his release date feels like an eternity away and no one in my life understands that.

Most of the time, I’m OK and this prison sentence is just something temporary that we have to deal with but tonight it is not OK and I am not OK.

I am not single

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Why is is that some people hear “I have a boyfriend who is in prison” as “I’m single”. Just because he isn’t around does not mean that I am looking for a replacement or someone to keep me occupied until he is out. He might not be there physically but, at risk of sounded massively soppy, he is always in my heart and so to me, he IS always there.

I am fairly private regarding who I tell about my boyfriend being in prison, I know people are quick to judge and I have learnt from experience that they WILL judge (whether that’s to your face or not is another matter), and quite frankly I don’t want their opinion and so I keep myself to myself when it comes to my love life. Don’t get me wrong, it is by no means out of embarrassment of where he is or what he has done, I am proud to call him my boyfriend. If anything, it is because I feel very overprotective over him and our relationship.

So when I DO tell somebody about my other half being in prison for whatever reason – it really winds me up when they prove my point and deal with it in the complete wrong way. I don’t expect people to understand and that’s OK. I won’t pretend that I understood before I was in the situation myself and having an opinion on other people’es lives is just something we naturally do as humans and so I don’t expect people to “get it”, but what I do expect is respect.

Unfortunately, there have been multiple occasions where a man has asked me where my boyfriend is and upon telling them, they respond with something along the lines of “so you’re single then?” No, no I’m not single. “But he’s not around?” And they completely fail to comprehend that I could be in a happy relationship with someone who is behind bars.

Has anyone else experienced this?