Who is looking after the people in our prisons?

Today I spoke to a group of third year students on a prison and probation module at university. I spoke of my childhood, my offence and a brief of my experience in prison. I also had the pleasure of hearing from two probation officers who explained the complexity of their job roles and issues that have been faced since the privatisation of probation into NPS and CRC. We also heard from a prison officer. I wont mention names or their place of work, with that being said, the complete lack of preparation, apparent struggle with empathy and compassion and arguably a great deficiency of knowledge about an often complex, traumatised and vulnerable group of people within their ‘care’. I feel this is a very timely and sort after insight into the role of a prisoner officer.
As most, if not all people will know, who take an interest in anything to do with prisons. They are places of terror. Conditions are poor, resources are lacking, self-harm and suicide are at record levels and if I didn’t already thing staffing was poor, that changed today, in probably only 1 minute of a speech. Despite such a challenging environment, one thing that could and in my own experience has, brought calm to a storm, are the staff who are there offering an umbrella.
I can reflect on my own time in prison and probably raise concerns about some of the staff, despite me having personal feelings and opinions, I have to say, within the estate I was in the majority of prison officers were helpful, responsible and the most important thing, respectful. Respect, it really does go a long way. If you have been following my blogs, you may have read me touch upon my relationship with my personal officer. She was great. Supportive throughout my sentence, caring in her nature without being ‘soft’, she asked about my child, she spoke to my mum and sisters on visits and assisted me with most of the issues that I faced within the system. I never heard a disrespectful word leave her mouth for all of the time I was there, whether it be about myself or any other person being help in custody. I am sure she had her bad days, in fact, I know she did, but she never let her personal opinion, bias or prejudices interfere with her role.
So, what is the role of a prison officer?
I can only give an opinion on what traits and abilities I feel are beneficially to the role from my perspective as a former prisoner. I would like to think a lot of what I am about to say is common sense however after seeing what I think is common sense, more than lacking today, I’ll just go ahead with a list: Firstly, humanity. Working in every single job you do which involves interaction with people, be humane. This leads well onto a non-judgemental approach and through ‘common sense’ or professional practice learning, you need the ability to see the whole, not just what is presented before you at that present time, in that circumstance. As we move on from being humane and non-judgemental, we need to have respect. Regardless of our own inner feeling and thoughts on various crimes/offences. Now, I know this isn’t easy however, it is the most important skill in any work we do in a professional ‘care’ capacity. And for gods sake, if you don’t have respect, at least pretend you do when you are talking in that professional capacity. Humanity, the ability to work without judgement and respect for those who are in your ‘care’ I would argue are fundamental traits that make for healthy positive relationships within any work setting. I knew that before I began my degree, furthermore since the beginning of my degree it has been drummed into me every day.
What else? We need prisons to be a place of hope, without that, many people have nothing. With that being said, we need officers to be the driving force of hope when people are entering the system broken. We need officers who assist in facilitating change, who want to help, support and nurture change. I saw my personal officer more than I saw my own child and mother, for two years. Now, she didn’t treat me like a daughter, but she showed compassion to me, knowing I was somebody’s daughter and somebody’s mother.
There are a lot more things that officers need in order to protect, secure and maintain the prison environment as well as meet need for rehabilitation, care and support. I will move on now to probably the most shocking thing I have ever witnessed at any speaking event or conference. Now, I could pick these apart for days, but I don’t have time. I am just getting these out there for people to consider what roles professionals play while working with prisoners inside of and upon release from prison. I’ll call it, what not to do….
“They (prisoners) are a pain in the ass and so needy, don’t ever promise them anything”.
“They get everything they want don’t they, at healthcare, like if they have any problems with their teeth, its all for free”. (here, I should add….prisoners don’t get paid enough to afford dental care)
“we aren’t there to help them, even if we want to, we unlock and bang up”
“We have a Psychiatric wing, its like a nuthouse, they are psychitzo” (they being, one assumes, mental ill patients).
“Being a female officer has its advantages because male prisoners open up more, you can just walk in to him kicking off in his cell and be like ‘oi dickhead it’s me’ and the trouble stops UNLESS they (the prisoner) are from a different race and then they don’t talk to women”
“I’ve seen prisoners cut their ears off, people hanging, dead bodies don’t bother me”.

Hearing this is hurtful, harmful and harrowing. Who is challenging prison officer culture?

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.






Dear Former Prisoner

As 2018 draws closer, many seem to be reflecting on the last 12 months and identifying goals and dreams for the year ahead. I never stick to resolutions, so I won’t even bother to make any. What I am going to do is write a blog today, on New Years Eve. For the moments in the next year that I may need some motivation, because even I feel unmotivated at times. Maybe unmotivated it the wrong word, deflated would suit better.

Dear Former Prisoner,
Are we ever ‘former’? I don’t think so, I don’t feel like my sentence is over. I don’t feel like my punishment is over. When I committed an offence at the age of 19 and now, as a 27-year-old woman, jobs can be snatched away from me with no back lash, I can’t attend school trips with my daughter because I have an unspent conviction and I have to spend time explaining to people why I am at University at the age of 27 because I am outraged and hurt by the way our prison system attempts to break us down and then send us on our way. Over and over again. All in the name of justice?
Its funny how a not so educated view believes that when someone is released from prison, their punishment is over. Surprisingly, I would guess that the people who say this, really believe that it is right for that to happen also. Of course it is right, but it does not happen. We then go on to live a life treading on egg shells, worried, nervous. We get used to hearing no, used to being ignored, if we had the courage to try and move on in the first place.
For every door that is shut in your face, I hope you knock again. If you can’t knock again, do everything you can to build your own door and when someone in need comes knocking, be sure you let them in.
For every ‘NO’ you hear, go home and add it to your list of ‘NO – one will stop me’. Cry if you need to, have a few days in bed being miserable, when you feel like all of this trying will never pay off, when you almost accept that this is now your life, a life you didn’t have a chance to choose, a life the system tried to force upon you. Cry it out, get up and go back for more.
For everyone judging you, drop down at their feet and praise them for being angels on earth and never making a mistake in their life. Or not. Never become that person, pity them. Challenge them. Never become them. Other people’s opinions about YOUR life, do not affect YOUR life, unless you let them. Find the strength to let them carry on, while talking your truth because regardless of other people, you have every right to do so.
For every idea that you have, that didn’t quite turn out how you imagined it to, never stop dreaming. Idea’s keep your mind active, one might pay off one day. Possibly the only think no-one can ever take off you, are the idea’s you create and possess in your mind. Keep them, work on them and if they don’t work, have some more.
For every time you wake up and think ‘I just can’t do this anymore’. Take a break. Look after yourself. To give your best, you have to be your best. Remember, when you thought you couldn’t do it, every single day, for two years in prison. Guess what, you did it. You keep doing it, and you will do it.
For all of the moments you are consumed with fear, breath. Use that fear to fuel your fire. Be scared but keep going. Please, keep going. Fear is what they want, it’s what they need. I lived in fear through-out my childhood, fear of being alone at night, fear of finding my parents dead, fear of people finding out who my parents were. I then lived in fear, in prison, every single day, and then I was released. Nothing at all was changed in a positive way, from the day I entered to the day I left. Nothing. That is a system, that does not work. Now, I fear that I may be destined to endure failure and failure. I hope not.
Dear former prisoner, for a life that has tried to break you, many times. There ain’t a single tear, ruining your make-up. My only wish for you, in 2018 is to live without fear.




Society, Well-being and Prison.

I wasn’t going to blog until 2018. Today I have attempted to work on my social policy assignment while looking after my 10year old. That wasn’t going to happen, although I didn’t manage to type I did manage to read and whilst I don’t have the required attention at present to put my reading to academic assignment writing, I can blog on what I figure to be food for thought. I don’t think at present I have attempted a conclusion to what I am going to write however I still feel that the content for me, is worth consideration.
Firstly, I want to start by touching on well-being. Individual and societal. Each community, each person and each group of people will of course all have different views on what well-being means to them personally and for the society that they live in. Even in this first statement, the worry surfaces when we think about the people in power who make policy to look after our well-being.
While I can not speak to anybody apart from myself, I would hope to think that all round well-being for individuals would incorporate the following,
1. Health
2. Education and skills
3. Governance – Trust in how the country we live in is run
4. Personal finance
5. Relationships
6. What we do/employment
7. Housing and location

Here, I should state the obvious. All of the above, which are in no particular order are interactive and overlap. Now, in true Michaela style, I am going to break these down and explain how personal experience of prison is so detrimental to each component of personal well-being if we consider the above to be of importance.
Health – This would encompass physical and mental health. The very act of imprisoning a person and locking them in a cell for long periods, over a duration of time is harmful to one’s mental health. With limited resources available and time constraints on using facilities such as the library and the gym, sitting in a cell being entertained by only soap operas or music, if you have any, is how many a days are spent inside. During my two years in prison I was sent books, writing equipment and music. Apparently, it takes three weeks to process a parcel with a pad and a pen into the establishment.
If inmate after inmate after inmate is being processed into prison with issues relating to health, its all well and good providing doctor’s appointment and medication but for all the good that may achieve, if it actually happens, it is undone but the structure and regime of a prison system so incompetent in building people up on a day to day basis. Food that lacks any nutrition that is needed for health reasons, long delays in access to any kind of productive pass time, daily negative reinforcement from staff, self-harm from prisoners and from a selfish point of view, witnessing self-harm and/or the aftermath. Having arrived into the system with no mental health problems and having never even considered self-harm, for me the two vivid memories that I have from my stay at HMP and memories that will never leave me are the two where I witnessed the aftermath of self-harm and the night I stayed up all night pressing the panic alarm for officers to come and check on my neighbour who’s body was scarred from her knee’s to her neck in scars. For me, seeing this young girl emerge from her cell with self-inflicted wounds, all up her arm, pissing with blood all over the floor, was the worst thing I have ever seen in my life. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when the nurse came onto the wing, bandaged her up and then she was locked up again. I simply can not imagine how that feels. The thought of it almost brings me to tears and infuriates me.

Clean them up, lock them up and when they do again, greet them with “Oh for God’s sake not again”. This is the treatment I saw, first hand when officers were attending to a girl (19) who had self-harmed again. Following the night this happened, the girl was taken down the block for supervision. The cells were bars and only had a bed and toilet where officers can see in 24/7. Apart from limiting access to objects that can be used to inflict injury to ones self, what bloody good will this segregation and punishment do to a young girl who is a prolific self-harmer. None, and it doesn’t take a mental health professional to work that out, or a prison officer for that matter. Its intrusive, no doubt embarrassing and more punishment on an individual for a fault of the system not being able to meet the needs of vulnerable people within its care. Utterly shocking, heart breaking and horrific to witness.
Much more can be said on health care within our prisons, but I will move on.
Education and skills – Now, without going over old ground because I have already dedicated a whole blog on educational opportunities I had in prison, I will touch on this once more. There is no such thing as equality in prisons. There is not equal access to anything. Cleaning a wing is a job in prison to teach skills….. mopping floors, emptying bins, with no certificate or qualification at the end of it and for something stupid like £9 a week. Exploiting prisoners to work all week for shit money and nothing to show at the end of it. Forcing ‘jobs’ upon prisoners and punishing them when they refuse. Some people wake up in prison is a bad state, maybe bad news from home, anxiety, homesick, fear of release, and guess what, if we don’t go and sign in for our wing cleaning job we get an I.E.P warning, or worse. The only skill I learnt in prison was how to plait hair, from a fellow prisoner. There were months and months waiting lists for every course in prison, with you sentence plan that is made FOR you by someone who hardly knows you playing a part in if you can a course, considering the length of your sentence, you release date and a lot more in between.
Governance – Lets talk about trust in a system that has a duty of care. Its hard, if not impossible for me to have any faith in a system that I have seen cause so much heart ache, pain and suffering to so many. Now, I am not saying that everybody within the system who is at fault, and thankfully I had a great relationship with my personal officer who at least gave me a bit of faith in humanity. A system that favours punishment instead of rehabilitation, corrupt staff, bullying, favouritism and in my opinion, a system that builds prisoners, I can see why not many prisoners have any faith or trust in the system and establishments that hold them.
Personal finance – The best paid job in prison was Mon-Fri 8.45am until 4.45pm, DHL and £25 a week. Not many are given the opportunity of working outside of the prison for a proper wage and then its release with £46 and months to wait for benefits and knock back after knock back if applying for jobs. Fantastic for well-being, wouldn’t you say?
Relationships – I was given one free letter a week, extortionate rates to call home if you are lucky enough to have someone sending you money because the job wages are so poor. Maintaining contact with family was never greatly encouraged, parcels sent it took so long to process, family days were almost non-existent, visits were spent with my sisters telling me how rude the staff were, money was lost, paid into other prisoner’s accounts taking almost two months to rectify with my sister having to call every single day.
What we do & employment – A job, a passion, some stability that provides a suitable income is the reason most of us get out of bed in the morning. Prisoner’s do not have this opportunity. As stated previously with the wing cleaning job and the best job being £25 a week with DHL. They are being used to work to line the pockets of people making money out of their unfortunate and often predictable situation. With no benefit to their self.
Housing and location – I was sent to a prison 2 hours away from where my child lives, and that is relatively close compared to some of the women, with children, who I met there. Visits on a good day with no traffic was 7 hours out of my 4 year old daughters day. 7 hours, every Sunday for two years. Plastic covered mattress, plastic covered pillow, cold room, dirty graffitied walls, blood stained floors. This was my home, concerned with my well-being.
This blog and description is very brief, I would be here for days going into the depths of how a prison system accommodates for, enables and actively works towards improving  prisoners well-being. Many prisoners have entered the system from a disadvantaged life, the cycle of deprivation is maintained and intensified within the prison system and then at the point of release, many are in a worse state than how they arrived. This, I fear is no accident.
Just what is prison providing? The outcome of the system is re-offending rates, recall rates and a prison population far greater than is needed. Deaths and self-harm through the roof and guess what, charities and volunteers picking up the pieces of far too many lives shattered, unnecessarily.



As I sit in this very cold kitchen with a steaming coffee and consider my last blog of 2017, I don’t know where to start. This isn’t a blog about prison or about life after. The words for those blogs come easy to me. While I reflect on my journey over the past year I feel immense pride. This pride isn’t selfish or personal. Granted, I have achieved a lot this year down to my own hard work and perseverance, with that being said, none of it would have been possible without many people who have believed in me, support me and help me along the way, and for that I want to express my gratitude.


Here I should name names. But I won’t! I don’t have time to seek permission to name individuals and I would like to keep this as a collective.


Through-out the year I have been supported by organisations and individuals. I have received emails from families of serving prisoners and feedback from my blogs has come in thick and fast from academics, people working in the Criminal Justice sector, Child Protection workers and many former prisoners. My writing has been criticised, challenged and praised. All is ok because ultimately, nobody has lived my life so I don’t expect everybody to understand, agree or even like what I have to say.

Ill say it anyway.


When I left my full time job and swapped it for a part time role elsewhere it was a massive risk. It provided me with time to volunteer with various organisations, using my skills and experiences to help others. My summer was spent doing various mentor training courses and applying for University. We are now in December and I had the pleasure of winning an award for Volunteer of the year and to date, my assignments from University have come back with a B and a B-. Not bad for a girl who left education at 16.


My course leader at University is amazing. From the day I met her she has been a great help. No problem is too big or too small. I feel at ease within my group to talk openly about my experiences and I am able to do so. I can already notice changes in my behaviour, my thinking and my general well-being brought on from my university experience so far. It really is the best thing I was brave enough to do. Its challenging, hard, enjoyable and the best opportunity I received this year. I hope the three years goes very slowly so I can enjoy it and work at it for as long as possible.


A special mention to my mentor, who undoubtedly is another amazing woman. Her facetime calls when I am in a state of sheer stress, sat at the table with my laptop, coffee and an assignment to bang out, provide me with reassurance that I am ok, doing well and she is an unquestionable source of support guidance and advice, if and when I need it. This woman has so much faith in my ability and a brilliant way of making me question and understand my own life and how to move on from my past. For another person to want success for me and help me achieve it, is new to me. Its so lovely and I cant thank her enough for everything she has done and continues to do for me. Actually, I was thinking about texting her after the completion of this blog, then my phoned beeped and she had text me. The law of attraction is some powerful force.


When I first started my blogs, I had no idea what I wanted to do with them. All I knew was that I had an insight into a system that so many people do not understand, do not care about and do not challenge. Little did I know, I would meet and be supported by so many people who do understand, who do care and who do challenge. What is so brilliant is that I have seen these people come from all walks of life. Its heart warming to see compassion, empathy and people going above and beyond their professional role, to help and support many people caught in a cycle and a system where they are written off.


Many of the people who have and who are supported my journey I have never even met. Emails, texts, letters through the post that get sent to me, with kinds words, motivation and humanity are just the nicest things to receive. Words from strangers, wishing me well and rooting for my success.


For all of you who read this, who have taken the time to contact me, help me with work, comment on my blogs, offer me opportunities to write or talk, offered me paid work, advice, support, a listening ear, a chance to help change a failing system, I owe you a lot. A simple thank you, I know most of you will say I don’t need to give anyway, but I am thankful.


I am thankful that you listen to my story, share my story and help me ultimately help others with a story. I am thankful that I get to see passion, dedication and resilience, day to day. Thankful to still be able to dream, to work hard, to live and now enjoy life.


This will be my last blog of 2017 and I begin my new job in the start of the new year. 2018 is looking like it will be even more crazy than this one, but I am ready to battle through it, as I have done for 27 years. Stopping isn’t an option when you have a mini me watching your every move.


Thanks to my daughter, who teaches me discipline every single day. Doing what you know needs to be done, even when you may not feel like doing it. My childhood was far from the norm and then I went to prison and damaged my own child’s chances. For that, every day I promise her I will get up and work so damn hard. Ill have sleepless nights of worry, early mornings of work and never quit, so she can see her mum is not one to quit on. While I worry about Christmas because this year I am not in full time employment, and worry about life as I am busy doing uni work and loads more, she tells me not to worry because I am doing this for her and other people and that it is important that I do well. I will be with my daughter on Christmas day, and she will open a present. Regardless of what we have or don’t have, we are together and happy and that is more than enough for me.


Mum, I know I don’t need to do anything to make you proud. You love me unconditionally, and I offer you the same. To see you happy makes me happy. There are times I haven’t understood our lives and that made for a troublesome few years. Look at your daughters now. We couldn’t do it without you.


This year, I have cried, laughed, I’ve been hurt, disappointed, elated, there are too many describing words I could use so I won’t bore you, it’s been a rollercoaster. Its been amazing, thank you to everyone who has been there along the way. Enjoy Christmas and lets spare a thought for the many who are separated from loved ones at this time of year.


 See you in 2018. 






How Much More, Much Worse.


What I want you to know, what I want you to remember and what you need to read when you are feeling at your worst, with nobody there, only the awful thoughts inside your head. Michaela, you dream, you fight, you love and you care.
When you first arrived to HMP Eastwood park, with only the clothes on your back, tears in your eyes and pain in your heart. Remember that pain, keep that as your absolute driving force for every single thing you do. Do not be consumed by this pain. Pain is power, your bible is power and you also love Tommy from Power!
The first morning when you awoke, in a prison cell. When you absolutely broke down, lay in that bed, with a stranger opposite you, already smoking and drinking from a blue plastic cup. You finally felt ready to face what was coming, then you got out of that bed and put on some prison issue knickers, because you had nothing. Then you broke down again. You had no idea what was going on and how much more, much worse, you would have to endure.
Remember, in a time of such distress, you saw a woman walking with a prison officer. Bandaged from ankle to neck. Even in your own darkest hour, you cried for that lady and thought about how could she possibly have been in a prison. That memory haunts you, I know. The corridor, the smell, the glazed over eyes and dribble on her chin. That was a moment, a realisation that everybody around you didn’t see that as a problem, or if they did, they didn’t mention it.
Christmas came and you had to call home, except, that wasn’t your home anymore. When your daughter asked you “Mummy, why aren’t you here?”. You lost your breath, your voice and your heart, in that very instance. In that second, you would have chosen a knife in the heart than to hear those words of your daughter. The phone was thrown down, you made it back to your cell, and remained there. As nothing. A number, in a cell, with a stranger.
A mother’s cry. The absolute worst. Hearing you mother cry when she had always been your ultimate strength. Soul destroying. In the words of your daughter and the tears of your mother, you stood there. Cold, empty, hopeless. As nothing. A number.
Gramps, he apologised in every letter, blaming his arthritis. When he walked into the visits hall, trying to hide his heartbreak at seeing you, in prison. It was visible, every single time. His girls were his life.
The naked truth, of humiliation. When you stood in a room, naked. With a prison officer holding your knickers, with her blue gloves on, or sitting on the loo, with a cup to piss in because your name was randomly generated for a drug test.
You got used to seeing broken hearted girls, you got used to things. Sounds, smells, eyes that hid a thousand stories and eyes that hid nothing. Blank. Empty. In your darkest hour, you were strong enough to pull through into the next day, the next week, the next year. You heard stories worse than any horror film you ever saw, you cried yourself to sleep, woke up in tears and you still got through the day.
Michaela, for every single tear that you cried, you matched them with laughter. You met your best friends in that hell hole. For every problem that presented, you fought and you bloody won. For all of the people that reminded you of how many people return, you didn’t. For every sight that broke a piece of your heart, you still have one. For every person that tried to quiet your voice, its powerful. For every person who ever hurt you, Michaela, they helped you. Be thankful.
Today, I need you to know how strong you are and remind you of times you have proven it. Strength is waking up daily, knowing its going to be a battle. But you wake up anyway. Strength, is leaving someone you love with the pieces of your heart that you have left, because they don’t love you. Strength is the guilt you feel for leaving for work at 7am and not returning until 7pm, because you miss your daughter, but you go to work anyway. Strength is not knowing where you are going, but travelling anyway.
You are allowed to wobble, to worry and to be weakened. You are allowed to start, stop and then start again.
Remember this. You are more than nothing and how amazing is it, that the only number you can associate with now, is your university student number. Hold the pain close, as a memory not a burden. No-body knows you, like you know you. Girl, you got this, I know you.


Building me into a prisoner.

I have been pondering a blog for a few days now, wondering whether I have enough content and if the things that have been on my mind are even worth talking about, the fact that I havn’t stopped thinking about it tells me I need to write about it to get it off my shoulders.
We had a lecture on Crime, Mental Health and Substance Abuse. I have been in prison, witnessed hardcore substance abuse for 16 years and also endured the absolute torture of living with, loving and supporting my mum with mental health issues, I think its fair to say that what I am about to write, doesn’t come from an inexperienced, naïve view point.
A single word was mentioned in lecture, this word hasn’t left the back on my mind since I heard it. ‘Unsettling’. In context, the word was used in a sentence while discussing anxiety and depression. The fear of something unsettling the routine of daily living. I am no mental health expert and I do not have personal experience of any mental health problems, believe it or not. What I do have is a concern, when I think about the word ‘unsettling’ and while I consider the context I have been able to apply this to a part of my life that has only been recognisable and apparent since my release from prison.
Prior to giving examples of time where I have been unsettled, I have to say, they are not things I am proud of and writing this and admitting it, is hard.
Firstly, ill talk briefly once again about prison life, for me. Actually, It may be worth a brief, pre-prison first, to understand the change. Prior to prison I had a routine and structure, in general. This being, working at set hours, living with my daughter in our own apartment, socialising at certain times, even down to simpler things such as getting up and going to sleep around the same time each day. Such things that happened during the day that were not planned but equally not scary, happened. Things like unsaved and unknown numbers calling my phone, bumping into people at the shop or around town, hearing of arguments or disagreements between friends and friends of friends etc…These things happened, they still do. I have no reaction or thought to these situations being anything other than part and parcel of life, prior to prison. When my phone rang with calls I wasn’t expecting, I answered. With no such thought as, what are they ringing me for, what have I done/missed? When someone knocked on my door, I answered with little hesitation. I opened my curtains in the morning, I agreed to go out and do things with little thought and my ability to make quick decisions were not deflated.
Then I went to prison, my house was a cell, my family became prisoners and my jobs were not chosen but forced upon me. Settling into prison was somewhat easy, a forced routine with nothing productive. 8am, roll call outside my cell door. Off to work, then lunch, then work, dinner, gym, 8pm roll call, bed. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Of course, things at times disrupted my routine but accepting I was in prison with no choice and no control, these unsettling phases were somewhat not unsettling, more like an inconvenience. In prison I had no decisions to make, maybe the living conditions were so unsettling I began to feel a sort of protection from a regime that ran from day to day, the same. I got used to seeing the same faces, I went to the gym with the same people, ate with the same people, slept and awoke with the same people.
There was a whole office in Drake Hall, full of staff sat at desks being paid to work in the office that was named ‘resettlement’. I can say from personal experience, they did no such thing. Maybe, they would be better renaming to ‘unsettlement’ and start preparing prison leavers for an unsettling life, at least they would then be doing exactly what they say on the tin. With no resettlement and no unsettlement, this is where I had a problem with the word ‘unsettling’. A regime and environment that doesn’t prepare you for release after forcing on you a period of your life where they are in command, is even unsettling to think about, but it is happening, and it happened to me.
I thought about 3 things, within 5 minutes of hearing the word ‘unsettling’. These situations, would have never had such an effect on me, had I not endured two years of decisions being made for me, not with me, about my own life.
1) Two years ago, around this time in December. I had worked from 8am until 8pm in a very busy retail shop, with less than a twenty-minute break. The shop was busy all day and by 8pm I was knackered. I needed to get home, make dinner, shower, sleep and be back to work for 8am the following morning. As I was walking from the shop to my car in freezing weather and almost pitch black, I noticed an old woman in front of me who had dropped her handbag, with the content of her bag and purse falling all over the ground. This lady was very old, frail and obviously freezing cold and not many people were around. I just walked straight passed her. I thought about stopping to help but because I didn’t anticipate this happening, I just panicked and walked off. After about 15/20 steps I looked around at her, kneeling to the ground and thought to myself, bloody hell Michaela, go and help her. I had an iphone with a torch, I was a lot more capable and able to be on the floor collecting this lady’s things. I turned around and walked back, as I got a few steps away from where the lady was, on the floor, she looked up at me, put her arm around her things on the floor as if to drag them all to her quickly and she looked terrified, shaking her head at me. That pissed me off. I was thinking, did she think I was going back to rob her? Does she know I was in prison? I know it shouldn’t of and I should have just said, ill help you collect your things. But, the look on her face after I had beaten my own battle in my head to go and help, was quite upsetting for me. Had this of happened before prison, I would have stopped to help, if the lady didn’t want help I would have left with no real irritation and I probably would have forgotten about the incident after two years. This one, stays with me.

2) Last year, I had dropped off my car for an MOT. I walked to my mum’s house over a railway crossing which lead to a field. Over the other side of the railway track, in my path on the way to my mums, was one of her neighbours who was on the floor after slipping and falling on some stones at the bottom of the crossing. I looked at her and saw her in pain with a swollen ankle but she didn’t see me before I saw her, so I looked at her, looked away and carried on walking. Nobody else was around and even as I was walking away I was screaming at myself in my head, ‘Go and fucking help her Michaela, she can’t bloody walk’. After walking for a minute or two, I turned around and walked back. I asked her is she was ok, helped her up and assisted in getting her home, she lived two bloody doors away from my mum. I still can’t believe I didn’t just stop straight away but this is how anything ‘unsettling’ to a planned routine now affects me.

3) In more recent times, I was at home pottering around the house after a visit from my mum. She had left and I was then home alone. After about twenty minutes I heard a knock on the front door. I ignored it, thinking my sisters were at work and my mum had just left. My curtains are closed indefinitely since my release from prison, so nobody could see in. I stood in the kitchen listening to the knocks. Finally, after a few minutes they went. About half an hour later, I realised my mum had left her phone, so I took it to her house and she told me she came back around and knew I was home but knew I wouldn’t answer the door if I didn’t know who it was, and she didn’t have her phone to call me as it was in my house and that is why she came back.

Now, I don’t know if little things like this affect people who have no mental health problems, who haven’t been to prison? I simply doubt it, I could be wrong. If we consider the amount of women who are in prison today, at least 45% of these women will have been assessed as suffering from anxiety. Personally, I don’t fear or feel anxious about situations that may present themselves, I simply lose my ability to act within seconds of seeing something that unsettles me. My quick decision making to act somewhat lacks in times when situations that present are unexpected. This I know, wasn’t a problem prior to prison.

Now I feel completely unsettled, knowing the resettlement office when I was in Drake Hall, wasn’t fit for purpose, knowing that I was settled prior to prison and now I live, not in fear but with an inability to make quick decisions in life’s unforeseen situations. I mean no harm by this and I know that what I am doing, when I do it, is not the right thing to do, that is why I have always gone back within minutes, however it is something that stays with me.

A system that creates, generates and thrives on the socially awkward, the system that disables you to make decisions, and the system that then sends you on your way, into a big unsettling world, I hate you sometimes, for the person you have made of me. In the moment when I walked away from a woman who was in pain and in need of help, I was too afraid to stop and help because you built a girl to survive in an environment that was hostile, harmful and to routine. You did that by instilling in me that my decisions were wrong, that I needed to think before I act and that wrong choices are so massively punishable. Do you even consider unforeseen events, such as a former prisoner seeing someone in need of help…..do you consider that prisoners, would actually stop and help someone in need, and if so, how is enforcing so many decisions on a person’s life considerate of a time, this person may need to make a quick decision to actually help someone. When you told me to think about my actions and to take time to make decisions, were you thinking about me walking passed an old woman in the dark who dropped her bag all across the floor, and needed help. How long would you have suggested I thought about how I should act? What programmes do you run for prisoners, to prepare them for life on the outside, apart from the course where you asked me had I even considered having sex with an animal, because I can honestly tell you now, that really didn’t help me at all in real life. What was the role of my probation officer in my transition from prison to returning home, apart from the threat of recall should I be late and miss an appointment, for the numerous times she did exactly that with no consequences. Are you taking away our minds, brains and abilities to act and live, in the hope that we return, to be another number on your treatment programmes that fail miserably?

To the system, in my own way to adapt and react to the environment you forced up on me, I fear that the damage you have done will be forever present. Habits learnt and thinking skills I needed to survive in prison, with no resettlement or help to reintegrate, have left me with a dysfunctional mindset which to the average person who hasn’t lived with that I have, doesn’t have.

Prison should have been the punishment, the resettlement office staff who are being paid, should have done their job and instead of giving me treatment with questions asking about sex with animals, when I was in prison for a single fight in a nightclub, as a teenager, you should have been more concerned with my release and preparing me, than you were for building me into a prisoner.

Not only a childhood of stolen dreams.

Following the lecture on Safeguarding children and my sub-sequential blog, I am here again to talk about a safe guarding vulnerable adults lecture. Again, this one hit me and at one point I almost had to take a break as my eyes were welling up (I am a big baby at times, I know). We had a guest speaker who works for a homeless day centre near me. He spoke about his work and the people he comes into contact with, what he also said was somewhat shocking and heart breaking, furthermore completely unacceptable. The man spoke of a career in teaching before working with the homeless, mentioning that a number of people who now access the homeless centre services, he knew from children at around age 8 and based on their upbringing and family circumstance, he could predict where they would be as adults. When will this prediction and aftermath stop, when will diversions, support, money and safe guarding be put into practice to STOP these children becoming “oh, its them I knew this would happen”. Like it can’t be stopped. It can be stopped, if people don’t sit back and accept that the fate of children has already been decided. If you are seeing a child in trouble, act. The hardest thing to do, the scariest thing to do and often, I am sure, the most ‘looked’ down on thing to in a professional environment is to say, ‘actually, this is not right, I can foresee a problem so I am going to do something about it’. What you may actually be doing, is enabling a vulnerable child to not become a vulnerable adult living a life of destruction, ultimately a period of criminality thus taking away the victim narrative as soon as the criminal label comes into play.
I don’t want this blog to be about children again but that is somewhat hard when I consider adults, from my own experience as a child and now an adult and for the women I spent two years in prison with. My last point I will make about children is this…. For anybody in a profession working with children who may from time to time suspect trouble and be nervous on how to respond, that is fine, it isn’t meant to be easy but I want you to consider this, if the child you see displays actions or behaviours that concern you, imagine for a minute that child is yours, in that moment in time you have a responsibility to protect that child and how would you feel if that was your child, and the school or whatever environment they were in were ignoring these signs. If your own child came home from school with bruises or a story of being bullied, I can hazard a guess that you would be at the school at the earliest possible opportunity to find out what had happened. Please do this for all children, not just your own. Bare in mind, children will come home from school and tell all of their days stories, if they have a safe and enabling environment to do so. Not all children have the luxury of this. Many children who are victims do not even know it. When abuse, neglect, harm and survival are normal, they will not tell you because to them, that is life. It’s embarrassing, it’s shameful and I would have rather suffered alone in silence than to speak a word of what was going on in my house.
It’s not surprising that children who suffer like this for years and years end up in prison. Who has taught them how to love and be loved, self-care, self-confidence. Who has taught them right from wrong, nurtured their talents, pursued their dreams, taught them how to take pride in their appearance, to be clean, to be healthy. In order to have a dream, ambition and find a talent, you need to have a chance to do so. Living in a house fuelled with hopelessness, waiting for giro day, shop lifting dinner, wearing dirty clothes and full of smoke and spoons with needles around, I didn’t have dreams, I didn’t even know what It meant to go out to work because I never saw it happen.
Now, I am not saying that other people’s behaviours are the reason I ended up in prison. That was my own doing. I was 19 and capable of understanding consequences. That wasn’t because I was taught in a stable environment. Here it may be worth adding, my first real experience of understanding consequences. I was about 6 and a family friend was buying and selling large amounts of heroin from a gang in Birmingham, using her profit to fund her own addiction. I lived in the house that this was happening in. Now, the ins and outs of this scenario are somewhat unclear because I was so young however I get the gist of what happened. The Birmingham gang arrived to the house to pick up some money and drop off some more drugs. I was there and so were 3 or 4 other kids. The adults went upstairs to do business. I recall some screaming and crying and the family friend running down the stairs screaming ‘they have robbed us’ I am having chills just writing this as I can remember it so clearly. A few people jumped in cars outside and attempted to follow the thief! Ironic if I say so myself. Upstairs there were the family friend, the gang from Birmingham and some other drug acquaintances who were always at the house using. Two of these people decided to steal the drugs and the money. I don’t know how they did it (thank god). After the commotion dies down we went to bed. Two weeks later, the house was the victim of an arson attack. That is how I leant consequences to actions. This family friend found herself in prison, she was the victim on addiction, a victim of serious domestic abuse and committed suicide on her release leaving behind two young girls. The father of these girls is in the tight grips of addiction still, 20 + years. In previous blogs I have mentioned visiting him in prison and having to take my knickers off so his young daughter could wear them.
While is it all well and good to say if you can’t do the time don’t do the crime but let’s consider a life with no love, no chances, no help and no direction. The women who I served a prison sentence with, were victims. I was a victim. Guess what happens when you enter the criminal justice system, if you can’t afford a barrister that Lavinia Woodward could afford. Your victim narrative is ripped up and put in the bin, you are no longer a victim of abuse, you are a criminal. This is you, now, forever. Who is being held to account for the protection failings I endured as a child? No body, because as soon as I was sentenced to a prison term, with no pre-sentence report to consider my back ground, my life or my circumstances leading up to my offence, my victim narrative was taken and replaced with criminal. Once again, leaving me with minimal opportunity, minimal hope and not only a childhood of stolen dreams, but an adult life aswell.

The Justice System!


Safeguarding in practice?

Today I had a three-hour lecture on safeguarding children. It was hard, emotional and thought provoking. A three-hour lecture hardly makes me an expert, I know. Nevertheless, it has enabled me to broaden my thinking, my questioning and my understanding of safeguarding, what it means in practice and times in my life that it has failed. We hear of child protection scandals, when cases like Baby P are publicised widely in the media, and rightly so. What we don’t hear about is how so many agencies miss so many issues and for what reasons and how as a society we have so many systems that should have child safeguarding at the forefront of their work, but don’t. From personal experience, this is my take on it….
We touched on interventions from local authorities for children in need. When I was born, I was a child in need. My parents were heavily drug dependant. I left the hospital, with them, with no intervention. I can’t remember a lot about my early years however it doesn’t take a genius to realise that with parents addicted to heroin, I wasn’t going to be adequately cared for without the possibility of significant harm. I assume I came into contact as a baby with various healthcare professionals, my parents encountered the criminal justice system and other agencies were involved around the drug issues. No protection, safeguarding or child welfare concerns from any of these people so far? None of these professionals considered that the children living in this environment were at risk of harm?
Let’s move on to Michaela, age 4. At this point in my life I started primary school. Often being the last child to be collected at the end of the day, often not doing homework, not bringing in the right books or P.E kit, not fitting in with the other kids, being tired, withdrawn, protective of my sisters. Bruised, late, problematic at times, phases of bedwetting and little to no parent interaction with the school. I don’t recall a single parent’s evening that my parents attended at primary school. None of these professionals who saw me on a daily basis at school thought that I was a child at risk of significate harm? They thought I had dyslexia, yes. I didn’t. They thought I slept heavy because I had phases of bed wetting, ok. But none of them raised any concerns over my welfare, my development or my safety? Through 5 or 6 years of this kind of behaviour in primary school, not one teacher considered the possibility that I was a child being abused, neglected or harmed?
Age 11-12 I started high school, often late, truanting, not doing homework, disruptive, tired. I don’t recall a single teacher throughout any time in my school days, asking me what was going on at home? I of course wouldn’t just tell them of my own back, because as far as I was concerned, my life was normal. At the age of 11,12,13 and so on, we don’t consider how our environment or circumstance will affect us in life. I was merely trying to survive. I remember going to the doctors and having a thyroid check around age 14, to see if that explained why I was always tired, my thyroids were fine they said, offering no other communication, asking no other questions or no other explanation as to why I was always tired. I was probably tired of life. Probably because I was a child experiencing significant harm to my development, wellbeing and safety, that every single teacher and doctor couldn’t see? Every professional that I came into contact with, missed?
I was often skiving school because I was so tired, I remember once leaving school to go to the common where I fell asleep for a few hours. I can remember now, waking up and thinking oh my god, have I really just fell asleep on the common? I had numerous detentions for skiving, nobody asked me why I was doing it, why was I so tired, what was going on?
In my later school years, I was going out clubbing, underage, often bumping in to teachers, I could probably name 5 straight of the top of my head. None of them raised any concerns as to why a 14-15yr old girl was out on a school night, drunk in a night club at 1-2am? I had my first tattoo, age 14. I remember showing it off around school, even to teachers. None of them raised any concerns as to why a 14yr old girl had come into school with a tattoo? By no means am I blaming anybody for my behaviour however if I look back at so many people seeing me on a daily basis and none of them even attempted any intervention of any kind, it’s sad. Sad for me on a personal level but utterly disgraceful in terms of child safeguarding policy. I was a vulnerable CHILD. A young girl living in hell, not only at risk of but actually experiencing harm, abuse and neglect EVERY SINGLE FUCKING DAY and guess what, not one of these professionals raised any concern that I was a child at risk of harm?
When I was 16 I was constantly ringing, turning up to the office of my mum’s drug worker, expressing concerns over mental health issues, providing evidence, explaining risk concerns. No one listened, no concern still, over my own wellbeing or safety. I was 16 and a child, being ignored when expressing serious, heart breaking concern of my mother.
Is in not the case, that all of the professionals knew I was at risk, knew I was experiencing these things, knew I was in need but chose to ignore it? Labelling me as a teenage rebel, a naughty girl, the black sheep was easier that recognising I was a CHILD, easier than flagging up a situation of a child at risk of harm and easier than dealing with a very troubled and traumatised young child.
As I look back on my life as a 27 year old woman, it’s becoming easier for me to recognise and understand how my experience, my life choices, my mistakes and my successes have built me into the person I am. I am happy, I am driven, I am pursuing education and opening up new paths for my future all of the time and I hate to look back on my life and think, What If? So, I won’t.
Maybe I am hoping, through this brief story of safeguarding, a professional may consider viewing these ‘rebels’ these ‘black sheep’ these ‘troubled teens’ as CHILDREN. Vulnerable, traumatised, exploited, neglected CHILDREN. Who don’t cry out for help, who don’t open up, who don’t seek support because they are merely trying to survive and are not considering how their experiences as children will shape their lives.
A lot of people could have, should have, and I am sure did, realise I was a child at risk of harm. None of them did anything, at all to intervene, to support or help me.
When I was sentenced to a prison term with no pre-sentence report, as the sole carer of my daughter, the judge had no consideration for the safeguarding, welfare or potential risk of harm to my child. When will this cycle stop?


My Contribution to the Westminster Legal Policy Forum.

I could come here and tell you story after story, from my own personal experience of being under the supervision of a probation officer, who time after time did everything she could to ensure through out my prison sentence I endured set back after set back, more trauma, more frustration and ultimately, no support, encouragement or rehabilitation what so ever, from the so called systems that took me in, owed a duty of care to me and for the two years I was in prison, the only thing they did for me was house me, feed me, have me take part in thinking skills programmes, that I didn’t need to do and ultimately, release me with £46 and my licence conditions in hand. On this, were 6 general conditions. I am going to read you the 6th.

“You must be well behaved. You must not commit any further offences or do anything that would ruin your chances of rebuilding your life and cause you to be sent back to prison”.

With all of the well known and well documented failing of the probation service maybe we all need to realise, that probation for the most part, is where a sentence is beginning to come to an end. In my case, after a custodial sentence. By the time a person is leaving prison, they should have been equipped with the resources they need, to enable them to adhere to the 6th condition on their licence. I don’t need to stand here and tell you that almost every prisoner being released from the absolute chaos of our prisons today, has not been rehabilitated, they have not been supported to change, the resources are simply not there for people, in the worst times of their life, to access.

I would be brave enough today, and stand here in front of you and say, before people even come into contact with the probation services, they have already been massively failed by many other services and systems that claim to have been put into place to protect, care and support people with serious vulnerability in society. This simply is not happening. With the probation service being under massive scrutiny I think we really need to consider and act on the failings that happen prior to a person coming into contact with The Probation Service. We need to ask ourselves, why are the courts sending women to prison, with no pre-sentence report, knowing she is the sole carer of a child. Why has the use of community sentences for women dropped by almost 50% in the past ten years? In 2016, 8447 women were sent to prison. 70% of these women were serving a sentence of 6 months or less. That is only enough time to lose a family home, to lose their caring responsibility of their children and cause more harm that what ever good prison could possibly offer which in a sentence of 6 months or less is no good what so ever. If we consider why so many women are committing petty crime like theft, we need to understand their life in poverty, with drug addictions and the majority with mental health problems. And then, judges need to realise that prisons are not places that can treat addiction or mental health problems, so this would completely disregard the supposed ‘rehabilitation’ aspect of a prison sentence, it would also completely disregard the supposed ‘public protection’ aspect of prison.

So, what are we using prison for? If a woman goes to prison for theft, for less than 6 months, there is no concern over public protection and there is no chance of rehabilitation, so why are so many women in prison now?

I see and hear, every day of budget cuts and no funding for services to help and support the rehabilitation of offenders. I also see and hear of government plans to build new super prisons and spend so much money on recruiting prison staff. The prison and probation service are collapsing right in front of us. People who work in the prison and probation sector go home at the end of their working day. They have a choice as to where they live, where they eat, when they eat, and what they do for a job. The men and women who are being ‘cared’ for and ‘rehabilitated’ in those failing systems, have no choice as to what happened to them. We are putting the lives of real people, with real problems, in the hands of prison and probation staff who have more concern over ticking boxes on various risk assessment forms, concern over personal safety in prison due to the massive staff shortage and volatile environment and more concern over managing high risk offenders at 139% capacity with 15 minutes, per week per offender, including paperwork. The concern for rehabilitation, for housing, for health care, for personal well being and development and for the end of what in many cases is a revolving door, in my opinion is non existent in our current justice system.

When people are being released from prison in a much worse state than how they entered, we have to ask ourself, what is our prison system doing? Instead of giving people the chances, opportunities and resources needed to be able to live in the community without reoffending, we are enabling the constant and overuse of prison, we are taking away service after service which supports rehabilitation and we are exploiting vulnerable, broken and unstable lives.

If courts are abusing their power, if the prison system is neglecting its duty of care and replacing rehabilitation with ignorance, punishment and an ineffective regime , it is no wonder the probation service simply cannot cope with the amount of chaotic lives they have to attempt to manage in the community.

We are incarcerating too many people, who don’t need to be in prison. We aren’t releasing people from prison, who could be, should be but won’t be released any time soon. We have over 3000 IPP prisoners, still in our prisons today, with no end in sight. Despite IPP sentences being abolished in 2012, we still have over 500 prisoners, who were given a tariff of less than two years, still in prison today, with over 250 of them having served 8 years over their original tariff. We have the highest rate in Europe, for prisoners serving Indeterminate sentences, and recently the media brought to attention the case of James Ward, who was given a 10 month IPP tariff far arson, with mental health problems, self harming and really struggling to cope in prison, why on earth was this young man in still in prison still 2017. Through interaction with men serving IPP sentences, we hear of reports put to a parole board stating things such as, concerns over managing the person in the community. Truth be told, the probation service today are struggling to manage every single offender in the community. If we have sentenced people to a prison term with no release date, they rightly so adapt to a life in prison, with the assumption that following and obeying the rules of the system with speed up the process of them retuning home, to the people who love them and will support them in the community. For a system for force a man to accept life in prison with a no date to ever return home, and then state in a report that they can’t be managed in the community is utterly ridiculous. We have given these men no hope, they do what they need to do on a daily basis to survive in a prison, which is their home and this really needs to be addressed.

The majority of services we have in this country for anybody involved in the justice system are not fit for purpose and are failing massively with drastic consequences. We need to stop using prisoners for profit. We need to invest in community sentences, houses, health care, education training and employment for people leaving prison. We need to support new initiatives from people with lived experience of the system failing and we need to stop blaming the probation service who are the last point of call for offenders who have probably been failed their whole life by services not working.

The Former prisoners, who have been released and rehabilitated through their own sheer determination not to be broken by a system so forcefully and vigorously hindering our progress, the former prisoners who are able to and want to offer support, encourage change and enable these things to happen, should be offered the opportunity to work alongside the prison and probation service, in paid mentor roles, to ease the current stain and pressure that the services are under. I see every day, former prisoners, with so much talent, potential and motivation to change the system for the better, for everyone. I don’t see, the prison or probation service, reaching out for any help or support from us, unless unpaid. We aren’t here, advocating for change, critiquing the system and addressing failings we have witnessed, just to pass the time. We want change, we need change and I am sure I say this on behalf of many former prisons who are on the same journey as me, we won’t stop until we achieve this change. For our own rehabilitation, for our communities and for the greater good of everybody who is somehow involved in the any part of the criminal justice system.