Today we have included an excerpt from a first time prisoners diary, below, which reflects on their early days in prison and the emotions surrounding them.

As we engage on a greater level with legal representatives and third party partners we are becoming more determined than we were, even at the outset, to change things for the better.

As our engagement grows we recognise that, there appears to be an almost palpable fatigue/resignation in many discussions regarding making positive changes. Create the concept, create intelligent partnerships, utilise the energy borne out of innovation & sweep the barriers to change off the table is our mantra. We believe it’s an abdication of society’s responsibility to do nothing. Like the author below that may sound like newbie optimism but it’s borne out of a passion for making it happen and on a lifetime of achieving results.

It’s 2019 and yet we still don’t as a progressive society do enough. In the area we have been focussing on we have been asking;

You’ve never been to prison before & you are returning to court for sentencing soon. Has your lawyer offered any advice on making the transition from everyday life to prison life? If not why not?

You’ve never been to prison before & you are returning to court for sentencing soon. You’ve been referred for CJSW reports do they offer advice on making the transition from your life to prison life? If not why not?

To lawyers, CJSW and all those who come into contact with those facing prison prior to their sentencing we say, it’s not defeatist to offer someone guidance regarding entry to prison it’s adding value to your own range of services. If it was your child would you find a way to offer them that help? We are all somebody’s child, it’s time to make positive changes and truly listen to what individuals require beyond what has historically been offered during the representative process leading up to court or making a plea arrangement.

Diary excerpt below;

“I’m sitting here trying to review my first few weeks in prison and struggling to commit thoughts to paper because the whole experience is so utterly abhorrent. The scale of drug use and the indiscreet manner of it is a shock. Watching guys enjoy the environment is in many ways heart-breaking to see and of course the threat of violence feels only a wrongly spoken word away. The fatigue that comes on the back of having to be 100% alert at all times is quite overwhelming. That’s a word I keep muttering to myself overwhelming.

I started keeping this diary as a way of passing the time and documenting my experience and now I’m also using it to communicate with a virtual friend who can reason the debate with me. Call it mental exercise if you will or just mental but I need to keep my brain alert and my thought processes clear. There are mental challenges here everyday but they focus on integration and survival i.e. how do you exist in here, stay safe and exit in one piece as early as possible.    

My first thought as I reflect is that nobody should be sent to prison on a Friday. Impractical maybe but just like on the outside the weekend seems to bring a slowdown of services.

That first day/weekend, viewed as objectively as I can, was a perfectly mixed cocktail of exhausting, disorienting and terrifying. I’ll come back to the entry process another time as that warrants a scribble of it’s own at some point.

I can remember being given a pin number to use the telephone and receiving a few pounds credit for the same during the entry process but when I wanted to use the phone that’s when my environment all of a sudden took control of me for the first time. It was a Friday evening and I sat in my cell knowing that my family would be at home desperate to hear from me. I had to use the phone. For what seemed like an eternity but in reality was, having spoken to my wife since at visiting, a couple of hours I sat trying to pluck up the courage to leave the cell and walk across the wing to the bank of phones on the wall. When I eventually managed to stand and open the door I was aware of noise, I was aware of a number of people watching me and I was only able to focus on putting one foot in front of the other to get to the phone. As luck would have it there was a guard standing near the phones and I remember thinking thank God for that. My optimism however was misplaced, I asked how to use the phone and was told to ask one of the other inmates. That thought filled me with dread for a number of reasons and I walked to the phone myself to figure things out, you’d think it was easy right. Pick up the receiver, enter your pin and dial your number. Nope not that simple. After a few failed attempts with others waiting to use the phone, I managed to ask a guy walking away from the phone beside me where I was going wrong in as casual a tone as a newbie could muster.

You see you can’t make a call until the number is on your approved numbers list and to put a number on that approved numbers list you need to visit the wing ATM (computer of sorts) and input the numbers. For me that meant walking the entire length of the wing and back. In reality a complete walk of less than a hundred yards but on that Friday night it felt like walking across the Sahara with weights on my back and crazy tribesmen on my trail. Of course when you get to the ATM machine you have no idea initially how to work that either although I managed to figure that out after a process of trial and error, the whole time thinking that I was standing out as a clueless first time prisoner. Eventually I returned to the phone, called my wife, asked how she was whilst desperately trying to keep my emotions in check (as was she – something we both recognised in each other but didn’t comment on) and told her everything my end was fine and that I’d see her soon. I then retreated to my cell and felt the walls closing in on me. I can clearly remember deciding at that point that this place wouldn’t take control of me or destroy me but it didn’t stop the emotion overload of that first night alone.

Entering prison on a Friday means no money to purchase toiletries, no money to buy foodstuffs or essential items. It means that the credit you were given on entry needs to last all weekend and at 7p a minute to a landline and 19p to  a mobile that can and did disappear pretty quickly especially when you don’t know the cost at that time. It also means that for two days you are on your own to adjust to the environment without any meaningful contact with support or guidance. It also means if you go to court in your best brogues you’ll be wearing them for the best part of a week potentially, even to work placements. Maybe that’s intentional and a strategy of sorts but I suspect not although it is symptomatic of the way you need to get used to being viewed by those supposedly in charge of you now.

There is no one to one conversation that takes place prior to or immediately after entry designed to help you blend in to this place. Every conversation is with someone who is distracted by an agenda. Nobody is actually listening to what you say beyond how it might impact on them. This is not about individuals this is simply about managing an institution. That said the process of listening with an agenda we all encounter in everyday life but there should be times in life when it is set aside and people are really listened to.” More to follow soon.

First Time Inside are keen to make that transition from everyday life to prison life just a little less traumatic through a process of conversation and mentoring where appropriate.

Thanks for taking the time to read our blog and as always we welcome feedback via our Twitter feed @firsttimeinside or via our Contact Form on our website. Have a great weekend @firsttimeinside out.

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