Monday, May 09, 2011

On The Inside Looking Out

ITV1 tonight showed the first of three parts of a documentary series about Strangeways Prison in Manchester. Try to catch up on the ITV Player if you get the chance, as it was very interesting.
The public knows very little about the reality of prison life, and majority opinion is probably that the whole business is too soft, and like the proverbial holiday camp. Of course it's silly to generalise about prisons and prisoners. At one end of the spectrum you have the revolving-door losers that magistrates see on a regular basis, often mentally ill, or addicted. They do their few weeks or months, perhaps in Cat C or even an open prison, emerging to a meaningless life and an almost inevitable reconviction. The prison service has a point when it says that short sentences allow for little more than warehousing since there is not enough time for any useful rehabilitative programmes. At the other end are the Cat A hard men for whom escape must be made out of the question, because of the menace they present to the public. Their life inside is often one of continual violence and bullying, even for the real tough guys, because one day someone even bigger and even harder will arrive on their landing.
The programme shows a man going off to be sentenced for his part in a drug conspiracy, receiving 15 years, double what he had expected. I have been in quite a few prisons, most recently a heavy-duty Cat A establishment in London, and I seriously wonder how I would cope with the thought of such a large chunk of the prime of my life being taken away irrevocably.
I am perfectly comfortable with the need to keep violent men locked up for as long as necessary to protect society; I am no bleeding heart in that respect, but I sometimes can't help wondering just how some of those men feel during the long dark nights after bang-up.
It was probably no coincidence that The Shawshank Redemption was on later.

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