Friday, January 27, 2012
The Tannoy is My Shepherd...
Closed prisons move to the rhythm of the Keys, our daily lives and movement being guided by how, when and where various doors and gates are being locked and unlocked. This Open prison lives without that control. We just have a Tannoy system, enabling staff in various departments to summon Joe Bloggs from wherever he may be.
In the absence of locked doors and staff, the rhythm of the day and our routine is self imposed. We know - or quickly discover - when and where we should be during working hours. We know when the dining hall opens, when the library is ready, where the visits room is.
And rather than being dependent upon staff to enable the journey to and from, we make our own way around the institution. The official activities such as work and meals provide a framework of sorts but for the rest of the time we can appear or disappear around the place pretty much at will.
This is why, in the initial week or so, it is a boring place. Before a coterie of new comrades or old friends are discovered, until the sources of ease about the place are unveiled, then activity is rendered random, aimless and unsatisfying. Once a job has been found or allocated, though, then it feels as if one is being integrated into the structure here.
Some find Open quite an easy place. Some just don't. The trite may sit in smug judgement and throw around that debased word, institutionalisation, as an explanation for this but they would be wrong. There are those - short termers as well as long - who prefer a more structured life, and that is how they arrange their affairs in the outside world as well. Until they can engage with some activity here, they feel adrift and uncomfortable.
Then there are those who arrive and fail to shake off the mentality which enabled their survival through many years in Closed prisons. This is illustrated most clearly by their interactions with the institution, the run-ins with staff, the complaints they make. Every prison (every human institution!) is riddled with flaws, shot through with issues where improvement should be a necessity. Open prisons are just as liable to these weaknesses as are closed prisons, though the specific issues may be different.
Yet to engage with the nick on that level is to miss the point somehow. Here we must give serious time and effort to looking forward, to gaining release and beginning to rebuild our lives. To be drawn in to arguments with staff over the minutiae of prison life may be a useful strategy in Closed prisons but in Open it is to fall into a trap of looking backwards rather than forwards. And that carries the risk of tripping over your own feet.
Labels: open prisons