Rehabilitation must not start with fear of reprisal
Because of an erroneous label attached to me of being guilty of a schedule 1 offence when I was first convicted, lifted 6 months into my sentence, (I was guilty ultimately of assisting to keep a child away from its lawful keeper, the state, this offence does not translate into a criminal charge outside of conspiracy to abduct) life in HMP was fraught with difficulties that I will not go into. However what I can say is that it meant being pushed around the estate. I was moved 5 times during the 8 months I served as a direct result of this and my ‘campaigning’ for prisoners rights. I chalked that up to experience and now have a better understanding of what happens to people who are falsely imprisoned for alleged sex offences.
I had a truly unique experience of prison because of my background , my own nature, because of the circumstances that led to my incarceration and the events that followed as a direct result. In particular, movement between three very different establishments. With my last 3 months spent being shuffled backwards and forwards between HMP Drake & HMP Foston Hall as a direct result of official failings and coercive behaviour by HMP to attempt to get me to comply and stop talking/writing about what I had experienced and witnessed.
I specifically want to detail what happened in HMP Foston Hall Derbyshire. Which from the outside looks like what it is, an old stately home. Very pretty. Not so pretty a regime however, but that’s where the con starts (excuse the pun).
Upon arrival at Foston Hall, no matter what you came in with, I was an enhanced prisoner, (more visits etc) I was made to start again on basic. This prison would not accept any prior good behaviour, albeit it did accept prior bad behaviour. This was the first red flag. “We control you, you have to prove to us that you are good, we are not intersected in how well you did in other prisons”
As with most prisons you are inducted into the regime of that establishment. Foston Hall has chalets in its grounds. Those chalets contain single cells with your own toilet and shower. Sounds fantastic doesn’t it? You want one of those cells, sharing toilets and showers with others is not a pleasant experience. It invades your privacy amongst other things.
Back to induction, you enter the prison, in my case after a long drive in a sweat box from Durham in which I ran the gauntlet of being cuffed with a chain and escorted to a toilet at a motorway station on the way down, drawing the inevitable stares from everyone. I do object to a PO’s being inside the toilets with you .. Control thing again. Any way, upon arrival at Foston Hall, despite being stripped searched upon leaving Durham and being in the sweat box cell and being cuffed when I went to the toilet, I was yet again strip searched upon arrival at Foston. To this day I am unable to process that procedure as being anything other than another means of control. What was the need? Where could I have obtained contraband outside of from the escorting officers? I did my usual spin, pirouette style as my own form of exerting some independence over my body and was sent to where I was going to be inducted. A very old damp building in which the cells held from 6 inmates down to two. 6 for the newbies and then you had to work your way up to the two person cells, by … yes … being ‘good’. Privacy is currency they can use too.
I had been in a single cell in Durham, so this came as a bit of a surprise. Even more surprising was the fact that I was told from the outset that only exemplary behaviour would get me out of the induction wing and into the nice chalets, so I’d best be good. Believe me when you are stuck in a cell with five other woman, sharing a toilet that carrot becomes more attractive by the day. The induction wing and the chalets were like night and day. You become obsessed with getting out of there and that’s the point. This is the difference between rehabilitation and coercive control. There was no rehabilitation, there was however a reward for being good. In fact the entire prison system is based upon rewards. Good behaviour gets you more privileges. In particular visits. The very big carrot. Enhanced status means a visit a week.
I did what I was told to do, not to get the cell with the shower, to get my visits up to four a month. It was hard going though. I was in with people who had committed quite appalling crimes and were violent with it. (Pretty much no categorisation in the female estate unless you have committed a high profile crime involving children, then it’s off to Durham Low Newton) I was in with some who were extremely mentally ill. One of whom was a real danger to all of us in my opinion. She suffered from amphetamine psychosis and was convinced we were all trying to kill her, as such she spent her time crafting weapons out of various things. Weapons I would then find and destroy, we took it in turns to watch her through the night it was that bad. There was no point telling anyone, it fell on deaf ears. Really not great for your own personal psyche to feel so unsafe.
Finally, after 7 weeks of psychologically harmful events in the induction wing, I was transferred over to the chalets. Woo hoo I thought, finally my own space, my own toilet etc. I didn’t factor into that weekend bang up. 4.30 PM until 8 AM Saturday and Sunday. As a busy parent prior to incarceration, with a large family, being on my own for hours on end was OK for the first weekend. It became increasingly depressing after that. I was lonely, I wanted people to talk to. I wanted human contact. So did the others. I found that my migraines had increased ten fold making me quite ill at times, I found myself writing what can only now be described as extremely dark poetry. I was, I now know, becoming increasingly depressed. I did however manage to get my enhanced status back by threatening legal action under the HRA, depriving me of seeing my children when I had not done anything wrong, was and is barbaric. My children were innocents in all of this. My mental state was not helped by the fact the 20/52’s were also housed in my chalet A Wing and pretty much every night there would be wailing, panic alarms going off and officer’s running up and down the corridors – little sleep. Sleep deprivation exacerbates and heightens anxiety …
OK I thought, I need to raise my concerns about how it was we were being kept (that’s how it felt, like a human zoo) and where the rehabilitation was, outside of “if you don’t comply there will be a punishment” which does not translate into changing somebody’s life for the better. So off I trot to the resident govs office with a list of concerns, not just about me but other inmates about whom I had serious concerns, in particular the escalation of self harming I witnessed from induction to increased solitude. She nodded her head and listened, or so I thought, ha ha, lesson 1, don’t rock the boat. That night (well early hours of the following day) without any indication that it was going to happen, my cell door was opened and my room was spun, everything was thrown on the floor. I was told that it would be in my best interests not to say anything more about what was going on and certainly not to say anything to anyone on the out and that if I wanted to keep my enhanced status I had best shut up. Unfortunately for me, this is a red rag to a bull. I don’t and never have liked bullying and I have never in my life given into it.
Having done this to me, I decided to box clever and gather evidence of wrongdoing by the PO’s tasked to ensure we were rehabilitated and look after us. I got evidence of officer’s, female, having affairs with inmates and showering them with gifts for sex, the same inmates who had been sexually abused as children and were prostitutes to feed drug habits outside. I gathered evidence on a male officer coercing inmates to have sex with him under threat of planting drugs in their rooms if they did not comply etc. So much easier to commit these offences in those nice chalet style single cells, with a shower and toilet behind a door within those cells, no witnesses! That carrot was beginning to look rottent to me by now.
I then presented the evidence, having copied it and handed it to a visiting lawyer for safe keeping. I got the investigations under way, suspensions of officers etc and then, lo and behold, I come back from education one day and find my cell packed up and I am told I am leaving, surprise surprise. Ghosted out. Despite years of trying to find out the end result of what I reported I have never been able to bottom it out, other than to get confirmation of the fact that the officers I reported continued to work, just not at Foston Hall.
Everything I have detailed above would now be a criminal offence if it was somebody outside putting another person through this under Coercive Control.. I know that threats of punishment controlled my every move. Not once was I asked to address my ‘crime’. It was all about keeping the population under control.
The above is a very small part of what I experienced in one prison. There was nothing I experienced during incarceration that amounts to anything like rehabilitation. A good prisoner is not necessarily a reformed prisoner. A good prisoner can also be somebody who is being controlled, with visits, canteen, extra time out cell, all being used to coerce them into compliance. Or a ‘good’ prisoner can be somebody who has worked out how to play the system (there are many of those) with that in mind, if this is what HMP was like for me, what happens to the person who has been controlled and not rehabilitated upon release? Does this regime, coercive control, itself become part of the causes of recidivism? Is HMP creating monsters by further abusing through coercive control so many who have already been abused?
I am not qualified to answer that question, my personal experiences of living 24/7 with damaged individuals gives me a unique insight though.