Sunday, November 13, 2016

I have seen how dangerous prison lockdowns are …

In a place whose essence is the passage of time, cell doors are the metronome. Unlocking and locking, creaking and slamming: steel doors provide the soundtrack and the structure to prison life. And when the cell door doesn’t open, when this routine is broken, a shudder of uncertainty runs through the prisoner community.
A prison lockdown is staff leaving prisoners locked behind their doors. You may shrug – after all, isn’t that the point of prison? A moment’s thought, though, suggests otherwise. Prisoners need to be unlocked to be fed. To move to work. To attend education. To see the doctor, governor, probation officer … cell doors are flung open with regularity. Without unlocking, everything stops.
You wake. You wait. Time passes by, and yet you hear no movement. Cells are not being unlocked. This is the only warning of a lockdown. And so you sit. And wait. As time passes, you may begin to worry. Will domestic visits be cancelled? Have families crossed the country to be turned away? Will mail be delivered? Will letters be sent? Lunchtime arrives. Doors must unlock: people must be fed. On a lockdown, this is done with a “controlled unlock”, a handful of prisoners at a time. Do you know how long it takes to feed hundreds of men, when only five at a time are unlocked?
A few hours locked down can provide some relief, an escape from other obligations. As the day progresses, and the prison remains silent, tensions can grow.
It may be seemingly little things, such as being short of tobacco. It may be large things, such as not being unlocked in the evening to telephone home to a partner sitting patiently by their landline.
To lockdown a prison is to increase exponentially the pressure on prisoners. And sometimes pressure must find some release. Lockdowns are dangerous, and to use them as a management tool in time of crisis only reveals desperation.
Courtesy of the Sunday Observer 


  1. You haven't written anything for a while, how about sharing your views on the current prison riots in Birmingham?

  2. Having just left prison myself, you have perfectly described what lockdown feels like, it is the same in both the male and female estate. I found myself in prison for being an idiot, but put my hands up as early as possible. Being disabled and older, Prison was not the walk in the part that I had thought it would be. Seven women committed suicide between April and May, all of them young, and all of them waiting for their medication to be sorted out. Lockdowns had also been very prevalent during this time, and the whole energyof both the staff and prisoners was waiting for "something to give". After 11 months when i left, the situation was worse, much worse in fact. There were not enough staff to escort to or from work or education, Unlock in the morning was getting later and later, and lock in earlier and earlier. The whole system in this womens prison is broken. There is no doubt corruption, from the top down, and nothing is being done to resolve it. Prisons are not places for the mentally ill, the infirm, the disabled or those with learning difficulties. The prison must have used one hell of a lot of its budget last year on funerals alone. I am glad that I have found this site as now I too can let people know just what really goes on in these so called Her Majesty's Camp sites.

  3. Hi Ben, I was wondering if you could possibly expand on how adjustment to life outside of prison has been difficult/easy? I'm particularly interested in family networks and communities and how these can impact readjustment and rehabilitation. Thank you, your blogs have been deeply insightful and interesting and I hope all is well with you!

  4. When we went on lockdown(tx, U.S.) we got "johnnies...nasty sandwiches delivered by staff...only out for showers...about10min once a day...and we were 2 per cell...lots of fun on 100 degree days

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