The author of this article is a life-sentenced prisoner serving a minimum tariff of 13 years, who communicates with Urban Times via letters which are transcribed to be published online. He describes Notes From The Other Side of The Wall as a kind of ‘Blogumentary’, offering a unique and topical insight into prison as a microcosm of society. Danny Cash is a pseudonym.
“Cashton to the office,” my Personal Officer beckoned over the tannoy.
“My name’s Cash, miss, Danny Cash,” I said to her, for the fiftieth time in a week, as I arrived at the office.
She looked at me kind of funny then said, “I don’t care what your name is…”
An awkward silence ensued, then she continued: “Look, you’re in for murder…” and shrugged as if I was supposed to know what she was implying. Did it mean I was somehow less than human? That I wasn’t worth her politeness and respect? That she was entitled to call me whatever she pleased? An even longer silence ensued but I held firm. To be fair, I think she realised she had perhaps been a bit too abrupt and her attitude softened ever so slightly, though no apology was forthcoming. Such was the general level of contempt expressed towards prisoners from officers at my last category-C jail.
I remember once reading about this psychological study they had done back in the day (they famously recreated it on one of the early big Brother shows). It’s where they the divide the class up into guards and prisoners and inevitably the guards become callous, contemptuous and even physically abusive towards their prisoners. I believe that’s precisely what has happened at that particular jail.
Everyday you spend locked away from your familly and loved ones is another day you will never get to spend with them ever again.
The holiday camps you may read about in the red-tops exist only in the imaginations of tabloid editors. Make no mistake, prison is prison and prison is hard whatever prison you are in. Everyday you spend locked away from your familly and loved ones is another day you will never get to spend with them ever again. But still, I knew there had to be somewhere better than that place that I could spend the next few years until my category-D per-tariff parole board. The only question was where? I wanted somewhere it would be easy for my family to get to and somewhere where the staff weren’t bullies. Usually among prisoners in the lifer system, most prisons get mixed rviews because the experience is always subjective.
There was one place that I’d never heard a bad review about, one place I’d only ever heard spoken highly of. It was easy enough for my family to get to and there were only around 200 prisoners there. I decided to apply for a transfer there. The night they came and told me I’d been accepted by the other prison and I was due for transfer the next day I almost cried. I’m strong and resilient and I would never give into bullies, no matter what type of clothing they wear, but I just felt so relieved to be moving somewhere that simply had to be better.
My instincts weren’t wrong.
On my arrival I was met with a warm smile and a firm handshake. I wasn’t locked into a little cubicle as I had been at the last prison on arriving there. Instead I was invited to take a seat and asked if I’d like a hot drink after my long drive. Straight away I felt human once again.
As I drank my coffee the reception officers told me a bit about the prison: it was the oldest operational prison in the country and had the best progress rate to category-D. They’d obviously learned a thing or two over the years and that was instantly reassuring.
As I’ve slowly settled in, it has become increasingly obvious why I’ve never heard anything bad about this place. Withing 3 days of my arrival here I was given an interim sentence planning board. Such boards are very important to progress through your sentence. At the last jail, in almost an entire year, I’d only every met my Offender Supervisor once and that was for quite literally less than 10 minutes.
At the jail when they could actually get my name right they called me just by my surname, here they call me Mr. Cash. It’s the little things. The little things have a way of reminding both us and the guards that, regardless of what may have landed us in prison, we are still human. At the last jail you couldn’t move about the prison without permission, here you have something called Free Flow which basically gives you freedom of movement within the prison walls. Again, it’s the little things. At the last jail my visitors were often made to feel criminals themselves; here they are treated with dignity and respect.
The little things have a way of reminding both us and the guards that, regardless of what may have landed us in prison, we are still human.
This place is much closer to how I’d imagined a category-C jail to be back in the lifers’ jail. It must be one of the best category-C jails in the country but there is a cloud on the horizon.
For largely financial reasons it has recently been twinned with another jail and I have arrived at a seemingly tumultuous time. Those who have been here for several year or more tell me the place is going through big changes and, allegedly, not for the better. Will this place’s reputation, among lifers, emerge out of all this unscathed or will it become just another “Don’t go there…” on the lifers’ list of prisons to avoid?
It seems a shame because they’ve obviously been doing something right here – the inspector’s reports and progression statistics talk for themselves – why risk damaging such success? Perhaps, instead, the Prison Service should look at why this place is so successful and roll some of that magic out across the rest of the category-C state.
God knows, the last jail could do with some of it, that’s for sure.