The positive response to our Blog has been really encouraging and we are currently considering a number of ways to add to it’s impact and style of delivery.
If the messages within the blog offer insight to anyone in the justice network provoking a positive reaction then we will have achieved a little part of our desired aims which are focussed on making prison a little less traumatic for the first time prisoner.
Today we have chosen to include a short excerpt from a first time prisoners diary which highlights the loss of control over your personal circumstances and the impact on family members.
As always thank you for taking the time to read our ramblings and we encourage you to share them, or comment on them, on social media as we look to reach and impact a greater audience.
“Just when you think things can’t get any worse you are reminded that your ability to control your environment is hugely limited.
Last week my family came to visit and what transpired was utterly soul destroying and in no small way infuriating.
There are restrictions on what visitors can bring into a prison, that’s absolutely understandable, and there will be entirely justifiable security reasons for those restrictions. There are security checks to go through when visiting including the use of sniffer dogs, fingerprint scanners and ion scanners amongst other things (all of this I get third party because I’ve not visited a prison myself in the past). The need for security is obvious when you live here, the justification for it beyond question but the implementation methods are up for discussion.
The roles of the sniffer dogs and ion scanner are fairly straightforward they detect drugs being smuggled into the prison or they at least detect that the person being sniffed or scanned has come into contact with drugs prior to visiting prison. Last week my family were accused of handling or using cocaine. My two boys were separated and questioned about drug use. They were encouraged to admit to recreative use of drugs out of earshot of their mother who was absolutely frantic at what was transpiring in front of her own eyes. They explained they had never been a drug user but when reunited with their mother as a group they were told – the only honest person in this prison is the dog – I find that astonishing and insulting on so many levels.
Whilst this was going on I was sitting in a waiting room for around 40 minutes wondering where my visitors where, panicking that something was wrong or that they had an accident when driving to the prison, eventually to be told that one of my visitors had failed an “ion scan” for cocaine. My first reaction was one of incredulity but that slowly gave way to feelings of overwhelming guilt and anger. I was then told that there would be no visit and then told that I would be having a closed visit (small room with a screen between you and your visitors), unknown to me at this point my family were being told the same thing.
When my wife and kids eventually walked into that closed visit room they were clearly distressed and visibly upset. Their trauma attached to me being here was being revisited on them all over again. They were being treated like an inmate. They were being tarred with a very ignorant brush. Their word was dismissed as lies and their status in life trashed simply because they were visiting someone in prison. It broke my heart to see their pain, it was torture not being able to reach out and hold them when they were so clearly distressed. They explained everything that had happened and I suggested it was best they just went home and got out of here, I would try to call them later. I returned to my wing accompanied by a very understanding officer who tried to soothe my resentment and anger, individually there are decent people working here but some not so or maybe they’ve just been worn down who knows. The phone call later was heart breaking, to listen to my wife cry uncontrollably, listening to her talk of being afraid and of seeing her two sons being accused of something they clearly were not doing was traumatic for her. The impotence of my position rammed home again, I have no feelings of woe is me for being here, I made a mistake and am accepting my punishment but this added layer of trauma for my family is unacceptable or is our combined status now at a level where we need to accept unacceptable is no longer appropriate to us.
Watching your family experience trauma and to experience the guilt and shame of knowing that somewhere along the line you’ve exposed them to it is mentally and strangely physically excruciating.
Since then I’ve submitted a letter of complaint requesting clarity on visiting processes and asking if this was the norm or a possibility of being a regular thing. As a family we have decided that my wife will no longer visit me alone as she is too afraid to experience that again and my kids have decided that one of them or a family friend will always come with her when she is visiting just in case the same thing happens again. I have had a response and a visit from staff who explained the procedures, apologised for the turn of events and the senior officer told me he would make a point of greeting my family the next time they visited to reassure them this was not the norm, they also granted me an extra visit as a form of apology I guess. He also then asked if I wanted to escalate the complain further, I decided it would not be in our best interests to do that but given his commitment to meet with family I also thought why bother. I appreciated that commitment but I have no idea if it will actually happen as it has not happened on any of the two subsequent visits.
Since the incident I’ve learned of instances of 80 year old mothers being refused a visit for similar reasons, I suspect having listened to chatter, but have no evidence to support this, that the scanner is being used on multiple occasions without being cleaned after each use. Whatever the reasons they are simply not good enough.
There is so much to deal with in here but it’s sometimes what you can’t control on the outside which impacts most. There is so much for your family to deal with in this situation but it shouldn’t be the role of the prison to make their life harder than it already is.”
For those still with us and wondering that meeting with the family never did take place.
Once again thank you for taking the time to read through our posts we hope that somewhere along the way they help someone else who finds themselves in a similar situation.
Have a great day @firsttimeinside out.