Prison is not like the real world.  Prison is a magical place where you only have to write words on paper, laminate them, (I think this might be an important part of the recipe), and pin them to one of the noticeboards that are positioned with the monotonous regularity of cats eyes on a B road, and lo, they become reality.

It’s amazing… no really.

You cannot move in the slammer or anywhere in the near vicinity without visual bombardment by clusters of random words pinned artfully into patterns every two meters or so, in order that the qualities and the aspirations signified by them can become reality.

As I wait for my tea to be poured and am simultaneously hard sold a lemon cake which will apparently taste like the best sex I have ever had (I desperately hope it won’t, but can’t bear to disappoint and therefore make the purchase), I rest assured that DIVERSITY, RESPECT, ETHNICITY and SEXUAL ORIENTATION are all alive and well at HMP Highpoint. I know this without a shadow of a doubt because there it is, written and displayed for all to see.  Thank Goodness!

It would be really tough if this wasn’t a perfect universe where you just had to write words for them to spontaneously become fact and you actually had to do something in order for these lofty signifiers to hold meaning.

Hopefully there are similarly abundant notice boards in the kitchen with CHIPS, ONION BHAJI and SPONGE PUDDING writ large every few feet, so that instead of having to shop and cook for the prisoners, food can be whipped up via noticeboard.  If so, could I put in a request from Charlie, who is vegetarian, painfully thin, and hasn’t seen a vegetable in weeks, for BROCCOLI, CARROTS and COURGETTES?

If the prisoners could only have access to the word pool, I’d bet they might go for all the P’s: “PILLOWS”, “PENGINS”, “ POO PAPER” and “POST” (nobody has bothered to send it for two week). Less lofty than some, but a pillow is a damn sight more useful than a DIVERSITY, and there doesn’t really seem to be a downside to them – to date there have been no recorded pillow related deaths or attacks in prisons.

I’m considering getting some words for my home. GRADE 8 VIOLIN, HOMEWORK DONE and BINS OUT are on my current wish list.  I can’t go overboard because of the laminating costs.  I must choose carefully.

They must have their own laminator at Highpoint however because they really don’t hold back on the concepts.  FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY and PEACE and are all happening here.  No matter that a significant percentage of the inmates can’t read (over 30%), no matter that overexposure ensures that no-one who can read ever gives any of the boards a second glance: the box that requires prisons to address these topics can be ticked, because the words are out there, doing their wordy thing, being real and changing lives.

Only good words are allowed inside Highpoint however. Letters are now being delivered to prisoners with all of the swear words crossed out, which is really worth it, because these men shouldn’t really be corrupted by this kind of bad language.  I should imagine it takes quite a while to rid the incoming mail of all the wrong kind of vocab.  Speaking from personal experience there is plenty in this bizarre, barbaric separation that makes me want to curse violently and at great length.

It’s so simple and the real beauty is, that if by some strange turn of events the words were to stop working or the laminator were to fall prey to some kind of nefarious internal scam to manifest more chicken (and this would not surprise me), it won’t really matter, because there is zero accountability within the prison system, because the service users are all criminals and they can hardly take their business elsewhere.  No-one gives a rats backside about them anyway.  They are here to be punished.

It’s genius: You create a system which is the polar opposite of every well functioning business in the world right now, where the clients can’t give feed back, can’t complain, have no rights, no facility to chose an alternative service and no public voice.  You then fail to rehabilitate anyone or reduce reoffending rates, and it doesn’t matter because the people who you are supposed to be serving are utterly mute.

Except that there is a flaw in the logic.  Surely we all have something to gain from a reduction in reoffending and less criminality in our society? Let us be clear. There is no effective rehabilitation going on at either Hewell or Highpoint according to the people who are best placed to make that judgement – the inmates.   There are notices and forms though… Lots of them.  So many in fact that you have to wonder if the MOJ hasn’t got shares in a dodgy noticeboard factory in Bejing. Rehabilitation cannot be a half-arsed thing. You have to commit, and then some.  Lip service is null and void

I meet with the CEO of Nacro, one of the leading NGO’s for prison reform.  I am astonished to learn that 70% of all inmates have a primary need such as mental illness, drug addiction or alcoholism.  If these conditions are not addressed, then the likelihood of reoffending is overwhelming and the usefulness of prison is entirely defunct other than as a temporary holding pen.

In Rob and Keith’s own private holding pen there is an issue over Mayflies.  I know it’s September, but no one seems to have told the Mayflies.  Keith hates them and hunts them down with the kind of viciousnesss you would expect from a seasoned criminal, but Rob has declared his side of the cell a Mayfly sanctuary in an attempt to curtail these murderous impulses.  Sadly the Mayflies insist on doing their scampering thing, and frequently stray inadvertently into the kill zone.  I do think some signs might help. “NO FLY ZONE” should do the trick.  The May flies are at least as likely to take notice of all the signage as the inmates.