There aren’t that many days in prison that you can genuinely describe as being happy, but family days are always a nice escape from prison life. For those of you who don’t know, family days are days run at some prisons where prisoners can have an extended visit with family. They vary from place to place but usually they are four hours long (double the length of visits) and include the chance to eat lunch with your family. I’ve been on a few over the years and recently I had my first one here at Wakefield.
The first one I ever had, I was in juvenile prison. Prior to the one I got on prisoners had even been allowed to relax in their cells with their family. Unfortunately, a few guys had used this as an opportunity to smuggle in phones and drugs and at the next one, the one I got on, family were allowed to visit the cells, but only under supervision. Still, this was far better than a normal visit and I still remember my ex-girlfriend’s face when she sat on my bed for the first time and simply said “You sleep on bricks!”
She had come with my mum on that occasion but later she also came on a family day on her own. By then it had been decided not to let family in the cells at all but one prisoner was so determined to spend time alone with his girlfriend that he glued bits of paper in the lock of one of the cleaning cupboards so that it could not be locked on the day. Needless to say, he and his girlfriend weren’t the only ones to take advantage of the room.
When I transferred from juvenile to young offenders the family days were run slightly differently. There were no lunches there and the majority of the four hours visit took place in the normal visits hall, with half an hour half way through where families walked over to the wings and could see your cell. Again this was supervised, but it was still nice to be able to show my mum and my brother how comfortable I had made my surroundings and it must have been nice for them to see that it wasn’t just a dark and dingy dungeon too.
In the adult estate I had a family day with my mum at Frankland. There was a buffet lunch but I didn’t personally like the look of it so I didn’t eat. What was good about Frankland was that although the entire four hours was spent in the normal visits room, they let you take some of your work, such as art work, over to visits to show your family what you have been doing. Here at Wakefield I have been trying to get on a family day for some time. I applied for one back in Autumn 2013 and my application was successful but the organisation of the day was so bad that they didn’t actually notify my mum (in London) that she was on the list until a few days before the event when it was far too late to arrange travel. We had to cancel. I then applied for the spring 2014 day, but this application was refused on “security grounds” as I had just been accused of involvement in the incident I have written about here before, and which is still ongoing. I tried for the Autumn 2014 day too, but again, this was refused because the incident had not yet been resolved.
And then, despite the fact that the same incident has not been resolved even now, my application for the spring 2015 day was successful! The day was good, with a nice, relaxed atmosphere. And although the entire day was spent in the normal visits hall, we were allowed to get up and walk around, and to sit where we wanted rather than at designated tables (as you do on a standard visit). There was also a buffet lunch which I did eat this time though I wish I hadn’t. The meat looked fine, and I’m told it was the best food of a family day for quite some time, but personally I found the vegetarian options to be even worse than standard prison grub. That said, it was really nice to be able to spend some time with my mum and one member of staff even brought across a Scrabble set, so we had a couple of games of that too.
Anything which breaks through the daily frustrations of prison life is a welcome escape and family days are unique in that they allow you to almost feel human for a while. All in all, family days are a great initiative and I only hope that even more prisons start running them in the future.