My kitchen tap is dripping badly. It’s a vintage affair requiring a special washer that no longer exists. Changing the tap is a hassle and expensive, so rather than fix it right now, I push the spout over the porcelain that divides the two bowls (most unhelpfully for the roasting trays), so that I can’t hear it. Our prison service seems to run along similar lines. From what I can gather, prison is a holding pen for all the elements of society that we currently don’t know what to do with: drug dealers, drug addicts, alcoholics, the traveller community, eastern europeans who can’t do plumbing, a few gangsters, a few film makers, and anyone with a problem with authority.
This last faction is particularly visible inside: kids who have survived school by making a name for themselves as rude, uncooperative and unteachable and who go on into adult life in the same vein, unable to hold down jobs or relationships. Many of these guys don’t have visitors or letters, they have no-one. Some behave appallingly inside, abusing the screws, (many of whom are women), refusing to go through the induction tests that would qualify them for various categories of work, disrupting every class they enter. Lots of people also seem to have mental health issues. Rob meets an alcoholic manic depressive who is charming, but who drinks as soon as he is released and finds himself almost immediately back inside having abused or assaulted someone whilst under the influence.
Many of these men have entirely given up on their free lives. There are dealers here who come from drug families where it is accepted that you will spend roughly 2 years out of every 10 inside. There is zero interest in what is going on in the rest of the country or the world. When I ask whether most inmates were pro or against Brexit, Rob snorts in derision. No-one has even mentioned it or gives a monkeys toot either way, that is, if they even know it’s happening. Prison is the real world for most of the people in here and they approach it as such, trying to stamp their individuality on the system, kicking off when they don’t get what they feel is due to them, lashing out when the sheer futility of their situation gets on top of them.
Our prisons are basically unfit for purpose. What we need is here, as everywhere it seems, is “Norway Plus”: (Less people in the prisons and proper full time rehabilitation). Our reoffending rates are terrible. New sentencing guidelines mean that huge sentences are being handed down, and we have doubled our prison population in the last 25 years. We are also getting ever closer to the American system now where if you offend more than three times, they lock you up for life. Three strikes and you’re out. If you offend whilst in prison the punishments are severe. Rob meets a guy who was only doing a 6 month stretch, then got into a fight, broke someone’s jaw, and is now serving a seven year sentence, and yet what do we expect a bunch of angry young men to do when we lock them all up together and infantilise them?
A mass prisoner action had been planned for the previous day in retaliation for the guards breaking an inmates arm after he disrespected one of the female officers. For some reason it failed to materialise but it is indicative of the mentality inside. Apparently there is very little difference between the guards and the prisoners – both like a good fight and both do a healthy trade in drugs. The inmates all know that if they are part of internal violence they will at the very least loose their privileges: (visiting rights and canteen money), and will likely add years on to the time they serve, but these are not people who don’t do things because of the consequences. The whole notion of deterrent is laughable.
I call the plumber. He is here by lunchtime and changes the pretty, old, leaky tap for a shiny new modern one. The things that used to concern me seem ridiculous now. The new tap works. It is functional. It doesn’t fit with who I used to imagine myself to be once upon a time or how I think the world should look, but the old one was broken and it had to go. It’s out with the old and in with the new. Roll on Norway Plus.