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.
I’m quite sure that Her Majesty’s Prison: Aylesbury, the ITV documentary broadcast during February, was shocking to many viewers. I thought it captured the abject reality of a young offenders prison well. Many of the young men who pass through such prisons inevitably end up in adult prisons like the one I’m currently in.
As I was watching the first episode, I wondered what people at home might be thinking of such scenes. I’ve grown used to prison over the last seven years and it’s easy to forget just how shockingly desperate prison life must appear to people who have never experienced it.
I got an insight the next day watching Loose Women. One of the panel remarked on how depressing the documentary had been and another began pontificating on how “this sort of behaviour probably didn’t go on when we still had borstals.” It was at that point I became depressed. It wasn’t her “Gulags Work!” mentality. Rather, it was that she clearly hadn’t gotten the point at all and I wondered if anyone actually had.
The point, for me, was this: Incarcerating young offenders clearly isn’t working and if we continue doing what we’ve always done, we’ll continue getting what we’ve always got. A solution that doesn’t work is not a solution. Moreover what the Loose Women didn’t seem to get, and this was the most depressing part of all, is that society at large must accept some of the responsibility for these young men being in prison, (I should just point out, I’m not knocking the Loose Women. Like a lot of prisoners, I”m a big fan. You girls rock, honestly!).
Now before some irate readers begin accusing me of minimising, or justifying, the crimes of these young men or trying to defer responsibility for their crimes, let me assure you I am doing no such thing.
But let’s consider the facts here: Firstly, at Aylesbury we are talking about young men aged 21 and under. Secondly, in the vast majority of cases, these young men, feel isolated and disenfranchised from the society in which they live. They grow to resent the affluence around them as their own attempts at gaining some sort of meaningful education, training or employment are continually frustrated. Remember the August riots back in 2011? Remember the conclusions that were drawn in the aftermath?
Some have suggested that these young men need strong, positive role-models in their lives.
That’s all well and good in theory but you can’t force role-models on people, people will always choose their own, and there will always be a host of undesirables for them to potentially choose from.
What frustrates me and depresses me even more is when I hear some sanctimonious fool lamenting the lack of solutions. The solution is as obvious as it is simple. I’ll share it with you now in three easy steps:
- Help these young men discover a sense of self-worth. For many of them their values are way off. In many cases this is because they come from broken homes and haven’t been inculcated with a decent value system from within a stable family unit. In short, they’re often not sure what it is they truly value and as such it’s difficult for them to maintain any consistent sense of self-worth. Hence, the reason you saw some of the young men on the documentary behaving atrociously bad one moment, then reasonably respectfully the next.
- Help them discover a purpose in their life. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything as depressing as the young man who accepted with seeming indifference, the fact that he might well one day be killed in a gang fight or something such. These young men need a purpose bigger than their own fragile egos. A ship at sea without a destination is adrift.
- They need a stake in society. I’m worried about using this term because it’s almost a cliche now but, remember, cliches are cliches because they are enduring truths. these young men need homes, they need jobs and they need roles within the communities in which they live. They need a stake.
If you give these young men these three things, a sense of self-worth, a purpose, and a stake in their communities I guarantee their recidivism rates will drop overnight and I guarantee that these young men will mature and develop into respectable members of their communities.
And if you don’t help these young men with these things, then don’t have the audacity to sit their lambasting them, pretending you bear no responsibility. You do. These young men are not Martians. They are from your communities.. They are your sons, your brothers, your nephews and your cousins. Their crimes are totally their own responsibilities, but the way their lives have turned out is at least partially society’s responsibility. Until we accept that, these young men will continue down paths of self-destruction, hurting both themselves and their communities in the process.
Agree? Disagree? Tell us in the comments section below. Urban Times will relay constructive comments to Danny Cash.