I went to prison, voluntarily, as a visitor.
Not to attend visitation hours to see an inmate, rather to take a tour of the facility. To say the least, it was interesting; and not exactly what I had initially anticipated.
The notion of prison is often faded and blurred. It’s not as simple as a black and white function or state but rather this huge grey area of the criminal justice system that we, as outsiders, do not see. To be invited behind the doors, was insightful.
It’s coming clearer to me that crime is a popular topic to discuss and engage in. Like several people, I take a keen interest in the CJS; although, a lot of interests feed off onto crime related documentaries. I could sit for hours watching series on murders or serial killers. I don’t know why. Some people watch animal planet, I watch documentaries concerning human welfare, crime and safety. It’s just interesting for me. Though – if you’re somewhat like me, you can’t always settle for less. Not when something has sparked an interest and lit a fire that you can’t – or don’t want to – put out. I always want to know more, engage more and absorb more – that too not just from behind a computer screen or sitting in a lecture theatre.
I took the opportunity to take my inquisitiveness a step further, as I often try to do. I was invited through the Howard League society which I’m a member of. Last month they had organised a talk from a convicted murderer. Needless to say, once again, I was grasped by the notion of being part of that conversation. As a 15-year-old who had (once) aspired to be a lawyer, the teenager in me would have concluded to naive judgements and unnecessary labels.
However as a now 19-year-old social policy student, I’ve gained the knowledge and courage, to attempt to ascertain the details surrounding an event/matter before drawing to rash judgements. I remain aware; to openness and open-mindedness.
I tried to pay as much attention to my surroundings as I possibly could. That too, without appearing rude, whilst the guard leading the tour filled in the gaps of information. The general atmosphere within prison fluctuates. From what I experienced, it’s not as serious and as aggressive as what the majority assume. And what the media may portray. Not this one, on this particular day anyways. The facility I attended was a Category B, all male prison in Bristol. Despite the testosterone fuelled environment, they behave like average men. Difference is, they’ve committed some incredibly terrible crimes and are serving their time.
We took a three hour tour, covering the general Wings (A, B, C, D, E, F and G). We also went over and visited the segregation unit where the more challenging or sometimes, vulnerable inmates were held. Through open dialogue from the guards, it came to my knowledge that 3 inmates had ended their lives within this particular facility within the past 3 months. This is worrying from the perspective of the criminal justice system, as it raises questions as to whether their mental health and emotional needs are being met accordingly. Through brief discussions, we did attend a section of a wing where Samaritans trained listeners were located. It’s simply insightful that there is this programme in place, and more importantly, that these men are encouraged to take a sympathetic view towards fellow inmates who may be more vulnerable than themselves.
More than anything, this visit has made me want to take a more direct, active approach to addressing matters which interest me.
I’ve watched Orange Is The New Black and Prison Break. (big fan of Prison Break). Though clearly for entertainment purposes, the prison lifestyle is often exaggerated through the portrayal of bold characters and intimidating atmospheres. I’m wise enough to not hold validity to fictional programmes, however even many documentaries convey similar attributes. Once again, I do understand the uncertain nature of prison(ers). I’m sure there are days where hell breaks loose. Though, this wasn’t the form of presence I was receiving. In fact, many, if not all we’re more than happy to engage politely without any direct disturbance.
It was almost impossible not to recognised the ‘prison banter’ which accumulated during the visit. I thought this was rather amusing to be around. It’s humanising to observe, as we often tick off those who have committed crimes are indefinitely bad people. Some are. Some have just made really bad decisions.
Quick note: if you’ve read this far, you may also be interested in reading an article regarding a prisoner who escaped Bristol Prison and spent a few hours in the company of university students. See the link for external source: http://thetab.com/uk/bristol/2016/11/25/tab-exclusive-night-broke-bread-fugitive-27531
I’m incredibly curious to engage in more events. What we learn within classrooms and lecture theatres are a foundation – more like a stepping stone. Education takes place outside and what we do to take steps towards it is fundamental for learning.