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,
2. Education and skills
3. Governance – Trust in how the country we live in is run
4. Personal finance
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.