May 062014

I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance about working in prisons. He said he thought it might be a good thing that there was something else for ‘crims’ to do inside, apart from ‘just shanking and bumming each other’. It struck me as an ineptly light-hearted comment, born more of privilege and ignorance than of malice, and I did my best to look past it, and talked vaguely about how I think there is human potential in dark places. At the time, I had neither the energy nor the clarity to confront him more vigorously, weary as it made me. “It is a dreadful indictment of our society and Read full post >>

Jan 102013

At the office today we received the news that two of the prisons where we work are going to close. We heard through the BBC, having had no previous warning. I have my views on the closures, which I posted to my Facebook profile earlier but have since removed, since on reflection I think it’s better to keep them to myself. I don’t speak for the charity. A friend has, however, posted the text of a letter he wrote to his MP after reading my original post. His letter reminded me that while governments are elected, entitled and expected to take difficult decisions such as these all the time, they Read full post >>

Dec 212011
When the prisoners ran the prison: Massachusetts, 1973

I stumbled across an astonishing story on the US Prison Culture blog. It’s about a prison rebellion in 1972 and 1973 in MCI-Walpole (now known as MCI-Cedar Junction). The MCI part stands for Massachussets Correctional Institution. The early 1970s had already seen one of the worst lows in US prison history, with the Attica Prison uprising, when over 1,000 prisoners had taken over the prison in response to harsh conditions and treatment. Taking hostages, they made a series of demands about better treatment. The confrontation ended five days later with the violent deaths of 43 people, including hostages, as control over the prison was retaken by state police and National Read full post >>

Nov 132011

Tim Newell is a retired prison governor (and Quaker) who ran one Category B prison (HMP Grendon) along unique, and very different, lines to the rest of the prison estate. It still differs from the rest of the system, some years after his retirement. He has since set up a charity, called Escaping Victimhood, that does therapeutic work with families that have been bereaved by homicide. He’s a deep and subtle thinker on social and criminal justice, and someone for whom I have a great deal of respect. Tim delivered a lecture in 2000 which aimed to systematise a Quaker response to the problem of crime, and I think it’s Read full post >>