Author in Prison

If you’ve read my blog in the past few weeks, you’ll know that I was asked if I’d go along to prison to talk to some of the prisoners about my books. The Prison in question is HMP Low Newton – a young offenders and women’s prison which has Category A status (due to a small number of prisoners), but is mostly Category C.

So I filled out the vetting forms, waited for clearance and arranged the visit to talk to a group of female prisoners. And, well, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little apprehensive about it all. Although I enjoy events centred around yours truly (what’s not to like about people having to listen to you?), there’s always time for a touch of the nerves but . . . in a prison? Gulp. I didn’t have a clue what to expect. When they said they’d go through a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ with me, I was thinking, don’t give any personal information, don’t stand close to the bars, don’t talk about chianti and fava beans. And when they said I’d be taken to the ‘search tank’, I felt a little queasy. There’s a tank? Where they search you?

In the words of my daughter – Oh. Em. Gee.

So when I stepped foot in the prison and the doors banged shut behind me, I wondered what I’d let myself in for.

It would make for an interesting blog post if I said it was awful and if I had some smart-arse comments to make about it but, you know what? It was fine. Sure, I was searched, finger-printed and photographed, but that’s not so bad. And yeah, every door was barred and locked but it’s a prison. Whaddaya expect?

My contact at the prison told me to treat the event just as I would treat any other event – to give the women an experience that would be the social norm away from the prison – so that’s what I did and . . . well . .  it was just like any other event. Except, of course, the doors were locked and I had the ultimate captive audience.

The staff were professional and friendly, and the women listened and asked questions, and after my talk, a few of them came over for a chat. The library itself was like any community library and it was great to see it so well used. It was encouraging to see that they had found something meaningful in books and had developed a passion for reading. I’m pretty sure that a few of the women were not hugely competent readers and, without wanting to sound condescending, it was great to see them trying to improve themselves.

So all in all, it was a positive experience for me and I hope it was for them too.

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9 thoughts on “Author in Prison

    • Just glad I made it out with my liver intact! Actually, it was fine – there was a suggestion of going to one or two other prisons though, and I imagine a room full of male prisoners would be a touch more intimidating!

  1. I’ve spent a good deal of prisons in various capacities (never as an inmate, ha ha!) and I think that people get nervous about prison visits because they’ve lost their ability to think about inmates as just people. Treating inmates like normal people is part of what they need to reintegrate into society, and, since most of them will be released one day, you’re helping to prevent future crimes.

    • I think it’s understandable to be nervous about visiting a prison – it’s not an environment many of us want to be part of – but you do have a point about inmates being just people.

      • Oh, yes, it’s very understandable, I didn’t mean to imply otherwise! I also think that part of the fear comes from the fact that prisons are invisible institutions. Very few people (who are NOT there as inmates) have a chance to visit and see what it’s really like, despite the fact that our incarceration rate is so high. So it’s a fear not just of people who are not seen as people (and violent at that) but fear of the unknown.

      • True. For a lot of people, our only knowledge of prisons is what we see in films and that, of course, is fiction. There is also, as you say, a sense that all criminals are violent and dangerous – which isn’t true. After all, we’ve recently had a case where someone was incarcerated for writing racist comments on Twitter! That hardly makes the individual dangerously violent, does it?

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