Give prisoners the chance to help the community
May 17, 2011
"I want to be out there, helping people," says one prisoner in the report, who could have been speaking for many of those I met while serving my own 20 years of prison time.
....Probably the best such experience was when I joined the Braille Unit in my first long-term high security prison. The 12 of us who worked in the unit had all been convicted of murder and for most of us it was first time in our lives that we had experienced the satisfaction that can be gained from helping other people. The prison held more than 700 of the most serious offenders in the country, but the only official opportunity for any of us to put something back into the outside community that we had harmed so badly were those 12 places in the Braille Unit.
Things have changed since then. Today many prisons have Braille Units. Many have workshops refurbishing bicycles or wheelchairs and other items for the disabled in this country and overseas. Every week in prisons all over the country groups of people with learning disabilities are welcomed into prison gyms and education departments to work with prisoners to their mutual betterment. In fact, all prisons have schemes and programmes where prisoners and staff are working together to provide some service, social enterprise or item that benefits people in the outside community. But such opportunities are still severely limited. As Strangeways reveals, prison in the main still consists of enforced idleness and an obligation to conform to behaviour aimed primarily at maintaining the smooth operation of the institution. In short, prisons conspire to create model prisoners rather than model citizens, and even in that they fail.
...."You can meet good people in a bad place," (male prisoner) and "We help each other. You'd be amazed – we're the scum of the earth, but there are people in here I'd trust with my life," (female prisoner).