Hidden Voices was created as part of the First Time Inside website to create a platform where amongst many others those incarcerated, currently or in the past, could share their experience with a wider audience.
A platform which simply allows forgotten or discounted voices to be heard.
With this in mind it is a great privilege this week to share this platform with men currently incarcerated within HMP Barlinnie during this Covid-19 crisis.
It also fills me with great encouragement that Gary McAteer and Beltrami & Co a leading Glasgow law firm have agreed to sponsor this weeks blog.
At First Time Inside we believe passionately in the concept of prehabilitation in justice and Sisco Recovery, our collaborative partner for today, are a walking example of that ideal. For those unfamiliar with the term prehabilitation it is perhaps easier to understand initially in the medical context in which it is commonly used. Prehabilitation is the process of enhancing an individual’s functional capacity to enable him or her to withstand a forthcoming stressor, e.g. major surgery. Essentially if we fail to help those in need prepare for their next challenge we may consider ourselves complicit in their likely failure.
In conjunction with Sisco Recovery, a young Glasgow charity, who operate recovery cafés in our prisons, including HMP Barlinnie, First Time Inside give you the Boys from the Bar-L (Part One).
For this Hidden Voices offering, Sisco asked the boys to share some of their thoughts on being in prison during Covid19 and what follows is what they have personally chosen to share.
Our challenge to you when reading this is to open your hearts, park any preconceptions you may have and listen to your fellow human beings who have no other method of communication with the wider world reach out to you in their own ways, in their own words. Let us begin with a poem received from one of the boys…
Life as a Label
I put my emotions upon the table
ALL I seen was life as label
“Oh he’s a junkie”, he’s a crook
“He is selfish, he always took”,
“A leopard doesn’t change its spots”
Living as a stigma, An open slot
Put in a negative = One comes out
Cry a silent scream, it’s heard as a shout.
Life as a stigma, a mark of disgrace.
Made to feel a burden on the human race
Shame sorrow sadness all common place
Negative feelings we strive to exchange
Though we can all change
Can you change too??
Because we need you to see us,
And treat us on a par,
Then in our recovery, we can really go far
As we are no longer active in addiction,
self centred scammers or even ex-cons,
We are Just other ordinary human beings
Struggling to get along
In the unforgiving environment
Into which we were born.
And now for some short written reflections…
Hello Nat! All is ok, Just getting on with it and keeping myself to myself, glad your okay and keeping safe.
It’s very hard being in prison in this lockdown as there is less things to do Usually I would be able to attend Recovery cafe and express my urges and feelings now I’m having to keep my thoughts and my temptations to myself along with the fear factor of not being by my familys side whilst their outside of prison. I get 10 minutes a day to talk and check my whole family are okay and healthy, I’ve not seen my family for over 7 weeks and nothing has been done that could help me through this, I’m always being told something is in progress to help with contact to my family but it’s starting to feel like a carrot on a fishing pole, basically they’ve got me listening to something that’s not happening, I have good days and really bad days It’s so depressing and sometimes the 10 minutes I have on the phone to family becomes arguments as I feel so low and no one is their for me, this is how prison is for me at this moment in time.
I hope this gives you an in sight to how I’m feeling in lockdown, thank you Natalie Big Hugs !!
You know sometimes when you take your jumper off you get sparks and static and the hair on your skin stands up well that’s how it feels here sometimes only in here it can be like theres live electricity in the air. I was thinking that if someone switched the lights on with a big switch this place could go on fire. You know when someone leaves the gas on and your mum tells you not to switch the lights on in case it explodes. It is tense but quiet which is weirdly edgy. Its tough being behind your wood all day with no work and stuff but I can try and get on with it because if going out of my peter means I could catch a virus and wouldn’t see my family again id stay here forever. Ive no seen anyone for ages and its driving me round the bend because I know that virus monster is out there attacking anyone that gets in its way and I know on the phone people can tell you everything is ok when its not. The walls close in so tight sometimes and I feel like I need help to breathe but as long as I know everyone at home is safe i think Ill be ok. That could all change if me or my copilot get this virus that would freak me out and I don’t want to have to deal with that so I’m just spending time trying to make myself relax.
Hello Natalie. Thank you for the e mail. The family are well so is everyone else that I know of. Things are fine in here. Hope you and the family are well. That’s good that you are a registered charity now. This is a period to reflect, brainstorm and come back even stronger. We all don’t know what this will mean for our progression there is every chance we could end up spending more time in jail because of this. I have hope that a just system will find a compromise and guys will get moving on in time for parole. However not everyone shares my optimism. About your exercise you sent the boys I like that thinking.”The ideal self” is not a destination its a daily practise. We naturally gravitate towards our goals. Ged told me too many people focus on the goal when the focus should be on ourselves, we work on ourselves and the goals will follow. I have never been more focussed on my daily disciplines, never been more calm or emotionally balanced. Then great things begin to happen, undreamed opportunities and then you understand what everyone was talking about. Making the mistake that almost everyone makes in thinking they had cracked it first time. Take care.
I hope this finds you well and healthy during theese mad times how you doing? I’m ok still frustrated and worried about things outside but i’m trying to just accept it as it comes with being in jail. This virus is crazy It’s making an already wild imagination extremely overloaded with worry. Imagine dying stuck in Bar thats a frightening thought for me. Its sown seeds of doubt through a usually confident psyche. I managed five days off that shit then slipped again but I’m ashamed to say I was proud of the five days. It’s the biggest respite I’ve had in months, talk about clutching at small victories LOL Thats great about your charity number I guess it will open avenues to progress the Cafe, I’m surprised how much I’ve missed the cafe after only being a handful of times. I was wondering if I could come all day on a Thursday when it starts back? Thoughts? This is my attempt at a vision board that you asked me for so here goes.
Who am I now? I’m an addict, a thug, a failure. I’m a brother, I’m wrathful, impulsive and quick witted. Who do I want to be? I want to be sober, strong, I want to be happy and respected, I want to be successful. What am I doing now? I’m at the start of a decade of captivity, I’m taking drugs and getting involved in petty prison politics, I’m training hard as I’m able. What do I want to do in the future? I want to be happy and strong, responsible for my sisters, I want to own my own house, I want to go to university and get a job I enjoy. My aspirations are to get sober, get involved in any self improvement activities and programs as possible. Build the foundation for the life I want to build when I get parole, continuing education, Uni being the goal. I would say my best quality was or is my social flexibility, I’m confident, personable and find it easy interacting with new people or doing new things. I’ve found this invaluable in the diverse chaotic drug world but I’m sure its multi applicable. I would like to work on my focus and discipline not let emotion cloud my judgement teaching my discipline to govern my mood instead of the other way round. I’ve run out of space to write the very last bit, raging lol. Found this refreshing taking stock, loved the Malcolm X quote. Take care.
Thanks Natalie I’m sure it will all work out MATE. Well let me tell you a bit about life in Barlinnie at the moment. First off normal numbers check at 6:30am and then your milk and cereal are left at your door before staff come round for requests at round about 7am then your locked away again for the longest time Down for dinner only two at a time, exercise is a maximum of 20 prisoners in the yard at the same time and it’s like a ghost town prison usually so buzzing like a busy airport terminal. I mean it must be bad because they are putting £2.50 on our phone every week for three or four weeks now and the Scottish Government have made a new law to allow us to get mobiles in our cells. Everyody saying thats right but is it true? The guards have told me it is. In here is not nice at the minute a lot of Valium going about its hard to fight the temptation when everything seems so dark.
How are you? Things are good with me. Just plodding on. Doing cell workouts, bit of drawing and reading. I’m so glad I stopped using when I did I am reeping the benefits now, especially in a time like this, with these long dub ups. I am actually enjoying my space at the moment. So all is good. Your right about this virus. Its is crazy. I worry about my parents as my Dad works in Gartnavel Hospital and my Mum is a carer. I guess their jobs are essential though. Just hope it sorts itself rather than is about forever. On a happier note I am in a good place thanks to recovery and support from you, Gary & my family. So thank you so much for that. I havn’t seen a booklet yet but it shouldn’t be long eh? Looking forward to it. I only have six weeks now so might see you next time on the outside. You will have to send me your deets. Im not worrying about what happens when I’m out because I know Im going to stay strong & positive and life will work out. Visualising always LOL Hope all is well out there with you and the family and thank you. Talk soon.x
Awryt Natalie, its me here, jis doing you a wee e mail back so you know I got your mails and thanks as it helps when Ive still got a good friend. The wee man is doin great and getting bigger, but I cant see him or wife at these times and the two girls and its so hard. I phone them everyday and hear the wee man too, but since visits were suspended its got even harder. Some screws are more relaxed than others but some just stand and time you on the phone and just take you back to your cell. Sometimes the phones lie empty for two hours but you cant get an extra shot, at this time it feels like people should get an extra shot. I go frew every bad thought and feeling and all coz I feel some people like to hold power over us. Natalie can you explain or give me an example on next mail what I can write about? Sumtimes in café I can feel emotional and don’t say a lot or continue what I start, but its easier to write probably, after aw ma years of madness and trauma or stuff like that, Ive only ever wanted to be happy and to have ma own family, now Ive got it am so happy but I should’ve listened to wife more and I wouldn’t be sitting here expectin years. But she changed my life and gave me everything so now I want to change, and even if im in anutha prison will yous always stay in touch and help me coz its only every yous Ive ever respect that do welcome and try. Well thanks and I just want to be home with my family earliest I can.
It has been a privilege for First Time Inside and Hidden Voices to be trusted by the men themselves to share their thoughts and feelings of being inside HMP Barlinnie and next week we look forward to bringing more insights into their life inside during this Covid19 crisis. We hope that these short accounts have helped you connect with ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances. We believe we respected the men’s right to anonymity when sharing as well as the environment they are in and those trusted with their care. We wish them all safety, good health and a smooth transition from a regime made more onerous by circumstance to a future built on respect and dedicated to changing lives.
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read through the men’s contributions, to Gary McAteer at Beltrami & Co for supporting our efforts to get this online and to Natalie McLean and Sisco for all their amazing work carried out in their recovery cafes. We need more like them, people who walk as opposed to talk.
If you want details on how you can support either First Time Inside or Sisco Recovery, in our respective work, please do not hesitate to get in touch here.
As always please do feel free to comment here or on social media Twitter @firsttimeinside and until the next time hold your loved ones tight and please stay safe, First Time Inside out.
Copyrite @FirstTimeInside 2020