Yesterday I had lunch in The Clink. The Clink is a restaurant within High Down Prison, where, as in other prisons, a prisoner can determine "to be better than he was and manage to become whom he was meant to be". These words are based on text by Erwin James, author, former prisoner, and upcoming AGM speaker. Erwin also commented that a prisoner may find a reason to live that is inconsistent with crime if he will only access all that is on offer in any given prison. While it is acknowledged that this might be easier said than done, we enjoyed a talk from a Samaritan Listener in High Down Prison who is a prisoner himself, and is always ready, willing, able, and trained to listen to his fellow inmates, and in most instances avert a disaster or help to calm a troubled mind.
For my lunch I enjoyed a menu of beef osso busso and chicken ballotine, followed by bakewell tart with a difference (I’m sure it contained fresh raspberries). Earlier in the morning I had enjoyed morning coffee with melt-in-the-mouth lemon biscuits. Between these treats, I attended the launch of the latest report from the Prison Reform Trust, “Time Well Spent”; a practical guide to active citizenship and volunteering in prison.
The report has a forward from Erwin James which begins "It is a fallacy that people in prison are content to wallow in a state of irresponsibility whilst lounging around wasting time just waiting for the day when the gates are opened so they can stroll back out into their feckless, crime-sullied lives". The following 62 pages detail the many ways in which prisoners can be active citizens voluntarily giving their time to help fellow prisoners. The NFWI has worked closely with The Prison Reform Trust throughout the Care Not Custody Campaign, and the Trust profiles and promotes all of the good work that happens within our prison system.
Some of the attendees at this event had also attended the Care Not Custody conference in March where both Kenneth Clarke MP, Justice Secretary, and Andrew Lansley MP, Health Secretary spoke and announced that £5 million would be put into 100 Diversion Schemes in the country. I mention this here because three people I spoke to said how moved they had been to hear from the WI member whose son's suicide in prison had prompted the resolution to stop the inappropriate imprisonment of the mentally ill. There is a moving story behind every one of us and not least behind every prisoner, whatever the reason for their incarceration and no matter their circumstances. What is surely needed is rehabilitation with respect, and prison with purpose.