Monday, April 25, 2011


We may not want to live in them, but for long termers they are essentially our home. They do not belong to us , we may only occupy individual cells briefly and at the whim of our masters, but nonetheless they are home .

Not home in the essentially comforting sense; home as a synonym for security. Cells offer neither. But they are home in the sense of being the closest we have to personal space or a semblance of privacy. These are very significant psychological crutches, all the more so for helping to endure the strains of a lengthy sentence.

And like all personal space, prisoners share what may be an innate need to make an attempt to organise that space into the shape that is most comforting, most comfortable, and which somehow afford a small sense of mental ease.

If you entered a room containing a table and chair and were left to your own devices, would you not arrange these two items in the way which best suited you? A cell is no different. Each of us lives in a slightly different way, has a different routine and different needs. And each of us attempts arrange our cell in a way which best suits us as individuals.

This is why the recent drive to remove ''excess'' furniture riles us so much. And it illustrates the depth of the lack of understanding on the part of our keepers as to what it is like to serve a long sentence. What was a useful psychological crutch has been removed on an unexplained whim, and until and unless our keepers gain some appreciation of our lives then the prospects for change are slim.  


  1. The alternative (although it is depressing so I hope it isn't true) is that your keepers do understand what they are doing and are reading into the punishment of incarceration the denial of your humanity.

  2. How much "excess" furniture can you get into a tiny cell for heaven's sake!!!!???

  3. I think Tallguy may have hit the nail on the head. I suspect it's more likely that they know exactly what they are doing!

  4. To a point they may know what they are doing. I was being rather simplistic. Essentially, what I think has happened in the penal system in this country is carelessness rather than deliberate resulting in an accidental denial. That may sound odd so I will try and explain.

    It starts with crime and punishment being a political issue. And as with most political issues, for the most part it gets covered very briefly. 3 minute clips on the news at ten, a few pages in a newspaper. In order to cover it this quickly generalisations have to be made, and labels have to be used to simplify things. So everyone in prison is a "prisoner." Every prisoner is a "criminal." These labels take up much less space than "a person who has committed a crime" or "a person who is incarcerated." They mean the same, but there is a huge psychological difference. It means they stop being people. We can see this everyday, as the line "Prisoners don't deserve human rights" is much more convincing than "Human Beings who are incarcerated don't deserve Human Rights." I don't think this was ever conscious, it was just the result of using simple language to express ideas.

    And then out of this public view were people are "prisoners" rather than "persons in prison" you get the recruits to the prison service. Which means they arrive with the pre-conception that people in prison are somehow not quite as human and dignified. Which leads to the view that part of the punishment is to prevent the enjoying of humanity. All probably innocently formed as a result of careless words, but ultimately having disastrous affect.

  5. Tallguy, how very right you are. If only we would all see others as unique individuals rather than labelling people (e.g. criminals), as if that was all there was to them.

    My young friend was arrested and sent back to jail on remand again recently. Whether or not he is guilty of what they have charged him with, they went through his room and accused him of stealing the second hand laptop he'd been given to encourage him in his writing, and breaking into a church as they found a welcome pack (he had actually been attending there with me). Very sad, as in the end people like him will stop even trying to improve themselves and just give in to people's low expectations of them.

  6. Well said both of you, the end result though is that Ben will no doubt lose some treasured piece of his 'shabby chic'


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