What property a prisoner is allowed to have in possession is subject to strict security limitations, as you would expect, but there have been a number of times during my sentence when the logic used to decide what is and is not allowed is completely beyond comprehension. However, such decisions can be challenged and sometimes common sense does win out in the end.
Many of you will have seen that since Michael Gove took over from Chris Grayling as Justice Secretary he has removed the limit that prisoners may only have twelve books in possession and has said that they can now be sent in to prisoners from any source. This goes a long way to increasing the opportunities for prisoners to engage in self study, raising literacy levels and reducing the rate of reoffending but it has other effects too.
Being able to receive a simple gift from family can make a massive difference to prisoners, reminding them that they do have people on the outside who love and care about them and who haven’t forgotten them. It can make you feel like you are still part of the family unit even when you are hundreds of miles away and only see each other every other week or so.
But of course, it is better to give than to receive and giving gifts is something which many prisoners find near impossible. Recently this is something I tried to address.
The criminal justice system in Britain often relies upon labels in order to deal with offenders. Individualised rehabilitative treatment is both expensive and time consuming and it is far easier to set a few different standard treatment pathways and then to divide offenders according to easily applied labels in order to determine which pathway would be most appropriate to their treatment needs. However, not only does labelling in this way preclude the delivery of treatment in the most effective way possible (i.e. on an individualised basis), it is also easy to apply the wrong labels.
The problem here is that, just as history is written by the victors, labels ore decided upon and fixed by those in power. An offender is never able to determine their own labels, they are applied externally. Even the term ‘rehabilitation’ itself is a label which (although differently interpreted by each and every individual) is given a fixed, non-negotiable definition by the criminal justice system.
This year the psychology department here at HMP Wakefield piloted a new idea. They decided to hold mini lectures on the last Monday of every month with a different “psycho-educational theme” each time.
There have been five so far and whilst I didn’t get to go to the first one due to other commitments, I have found the others absolutely fascinating and a great idea. However, this probably wasn’t for the reasons they had intended.
When I first started blogging I knew that others had done so from prison before me, and I knew too that there were many people on the other side of the wall writing about the criminal justice system and fighting hard to improve it. What I had no idea about was how these people actually form a single common community. And what’s more, what I never expected was that I might be welcomed into this community as much as I have.
Sometimes it’s the smallest things that actually restore your faith in human nature. When I first started my sentence I didn’t dislike officers at all. I honestly looked at them as people who were just trying to do a job. Over time the way I was treated, and the way I witnessed others being treated changed that and led me to view them in quite a dim light. But, every now and again something will happen to remind me that it isn’t all of them, only some. This month was no exception.
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.