Arriving at Prison – From people who have been there.

So, I was in the library today doing some research for a current Social Policy assignment when I stumbled upon this .  Now, to the ordinary eye, it may not cause a grunt of huge frustration however to somebody that has arrived at prison as a prisoner, whether it be for the first time or tenth, we certainly know from first hand experience that what is written within this publication from Gov.uk about prison life is utter crap. I laughed out loud when I found it but after thinking about it for a few minutes I soon realised it is not funny at all. According to the page in question, when someone arrives at prison they have at least one interview and assessment so they:

  1. understand prison rules and procedures
  2. know what their rights are
  3. are told of courses available
  4. get the right healthcare

It also states, prisoners get issued with a prison number and their property is recorded and put in storage until they are released.

Obviously, the person who wrote this has never step foot in a prison reception area, but I have….

November 25th 2011. After spending around two hours in a holding cell below the courts in a state of shock, and travelling for a further one and a half hours in a prison van, I arrived at HMP Eastwood Park at around 7pm – 8pm. It was dark, freezing and raining. I was in shock, in tears, in physical pain. I had a ringing in my ears and an echo resounding in head, reminding me I had just been sentenced to ‘Years, Years, Years’.  There were 3, maybe four other women who got off the prison van and were awaiting to be processed into the prison.

I had a blouse on with a black blazer and high heels. I wasn’t expecting to be going to prison so I had dressed extremely inappropriately and had nothing at all with me apart from the clothes I stood in. I was asked by a prison officer to state my name, which I did and then he asked me “do you understand what’s happened today?”. I don’t recall my answer exactly but I mumbled something along the lines of yes, I think so. I must have looked exhausted, blood shot eyes, make up stained face, tired and in pain. Me mumbling that I ‘think’ I understand what has happened today, was good enough for the officer to then take me to a holding room, which was occupied by a few other woman and two prisoners who were working as reception orderlies. These two young girls were dishing out all the prison advice, asking all of the questions and telling absolute horror stories about the prison, what wings to avoid, what wings were good, what murders were there….. I would rather give birth a million times over than endure the ‘first time’ arriving at prison.

After about 40 minutes I was taken out of the room and back to the desk. I was asked by a prison officer my weight, my height and did I have any tattoos, was I pregnant, did I feel suicidal or like self harming? I wasn’t pregnant, I wasn’t feeling suicidal and I didn’t feel like self harming. I was also asked if I smoked, had I consumed drugs or alcohol in the last 24 hours and was I on any medication. Finally I was asked if I had children, to which I replied no, out of fear of social services going and swopping my child fro where ever she was at that time, because I had no idea of what was happening and what would happen to my to child. I was three days after I had been there that I told a female officer that I did have a child and she was with my mum.  After answering all of those questions, a female office took me a few steps away to issue me with the good old prison greys, and some flip flops, the only shoes I had were heels. After I had got changed I was put back in the holding room and the next woman was up to be processed. I did get to make a phone call.

After all of the other girls had been up to the desk and did what ever they needed to do, we were all taken to the induction wing and I was put in a cell with an alcoholic who had been in and out of prison for many years.

I didn’t see a nurse at all on the first night or even the next day for that matter. I wasn’t given soap, toothpaste, sanitary products. Thankfully, I wasn’t on my period but no-body asked me and I obviously was in no state to be thinking about all of the things I was going to need at that moment in time.

The officer who booked me into the prison certainly never told me ANY rules or procedures. The officer who took me to get clothes also never told me any rules or procedures. It dawned on my many months later that the prison ‘rules’ and ‘procedures’ and negotiable, discriminatory and dependant on who is enforcing them that day.

Apparently, according to the page in question, upon entry to prison, the prisoner is told their rights…… No prison officer, no Governor, no NOBODY who worked in the prison, through-out my whole two year sentence EVER told me what my ‘rights’ were.

It goes on to say we are informed of what courses are available. It took over a week for me to find out what courses were available. Not that there were many, but it certainly wasn’t information given willingly by officers at their earliest convenience.

After 6 weeks I was transferred to HMP Drake hall, the prison van could not fit all of us being transferred and all of our property. They assured us that the property would follow us in a different van. I was naïve and not wanting to kick off so early on, needless to say upon arrival to HMP Drake hall, again only with the clothes I had on. My property didn’t arrive until the following day. So, again I woke up to  no underwear, no toothpaste, no toothbrush.

Finally, it says that all prisoners upon entry ‘get the right healthcare’. COME ON……. prisoners are leaving with addictions, dying from suicide, living with vermin in their dirty cells and this is trying to tell us that at the first point possible, they are offering the right health care…. OK. I personally had no health problems, so to speak, so maybe I didn’t need to see a health care professional, but I find it HIGHLY unlikely that prisoners being processed into prison on a Friday night, are given the right health care…..having served a sentence of two years and knowing full well that the process to see a doctor via the app system took days if not weeks, I simply do not believe this.

Following my twitter post today, I have been sent various messages by prison officers, former prison officers and former prisons, below are some responses,

“Stripped of all dignity more like, this has never been my experience and I’ve been in more than once”. Former Prisoner.

“I arrived on a Friday evening of a bank holiday weekend, had nothing to my name, no induction until the Tuesday. No phone pin. I had to beg and borrow from a neighbour”. Amanda –  former prisoner.

“My son was in HMP Leeds almost two weeks before he was given an induction or his prison number. It took almost two months to get his siblings onto his visitors list and when transferred his property was somehow lost”.   Susan – Serving prisoners mother.

“More like a strip search and then kicked down a wing. I was taken from a holding room to a little cubical, strip searched and given some prison scrubs, as I watched the last of ‘me’ being packed into a box. With no real induction to prison life, it was trial and error. You’re thrown in to a situation that is unfamiliar and told to ‘man up’. Its not easy”.  Joel – Former prisoner.

“I was in prison for 14 years and I didn’t know all of the rules and regulations, most of the staff, some of whom had worked for the service for nearly 30 years don’t know all of the rules and regulations”. Former Prisoner.

“Since 2014 when they got rid of 10,000 screws we don’t stand a chance of getting anything right. The senior officers are stuck in offices, loads of new staff”. David – Prison officer.

“Arrival at HMP Chelmsford. The screw could see I was terrified and he told me, ‘If you don’t take that earring out, ill get an inmate to rip it out’. Former prisoner.

“When I arrived at the prison I had already been identified as being a vulnerable prisoner. No-one explained anything about what was happening or due to happen that evening. I was lead of the bus first. I saw a nurse who wouldn’t allow me any anti-depressants because I hadn’t brought any in with me, I was told id have to make a medical appointment but I wasn’t told how to do it. The following day, I hadn’t been in prison to put in my food order, there was no food for me, not even spares. Either that or someone totally forgot me. No-one came to bring me lunch or dinner that first day and I wasn’t unlocked and told to go an collect any. Thankfully, I wasn’t very hungry”. David – Former prisoner.

“When I got to HMP Bronzefield I was given a couple of bits and left to cry. There was a girl crying more than me so I comforted her instead of worrying about me. It is left to the neighbours to tell you what’s what”. Claire – Former prisoner.

“When I arrived at HMP Send, they had an insider system, they scared the shit out of us and left quite a few of us in tears”. Claire – Former prisoner.

“I have no memory of such things…..at any of the FIVE prisons I went to”. Ben – Former prisoner (See fonesavvy.co.uk).

This is the reality of entry in to the system for many. Many shocked, traumatised, vulnerable and heart broken people.

 

 

 

 

 

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