You’ll have noticed that I took a break over Christmas. I find it’s a strange time of year for prisoners, and not just for the reasons you might think. Sure, we all miss our families, but what’s new there? What seems to bother prisoners even more at Christmas is how their routines are upset.
Prisoners have so little control over their lives that we react by building strong routines so that, even if we can’t control it, at least we know where we stand. Here at Wakefield we get unlocked for association at twenty to five, and get banged up again at twenty-five past six; we work from Monday morning through to Friday morning but get Friday afternoons off; we get gym three times a week on set days, depending on your wing; and we select our meals from a four-week menu cycle. If for any reason we are unlocked late for association, not unlocked for work, dropped off the gym list, or given a meal we didn’t order, it can be a really big deal. Not because we particularly care, but because we’ve built up a psychological reliance on knowing where we stand and what to expect. Upset the routine in any way, and you’re really upsetting the entire mental balance.
Christmas is the epitome of that effect. It’s a Wednesday but we’re not at work; the association times have changed and we’re getting unlocked late; the gym staff are off and the session’s cancelled; and don’t get me started on the meals. When the Daily Mail et al say we get a turkey dinner with all the trimmings they don’t mention that the turkey is two slices of cold cuts whilst the trimmings consist of three burnt potatoes and five grey sprouts.
Upset prisoners routines that much and you’re asking for trouble. That’s why the screws hate change even more than we do. They know that times of change are times of discontent. In fact, the only thing worse than when things change is when they stay the same! Boredom can be even more dangerous.