Is there such a thing as a good day as a prisoner? Well I guess it would depend on what one would class as ‘good’. Many would class a good day as just being able to mark another day off the calendar. For first time offenders getting through your first day without someone trying to kill them is probably a ‘good’ day, well that’s what they believe after watching ‘badgirls’ prior to entering a women’s prison. It actually makes me laugh prison programmes and documentaries that appear on our TV screens, I wonder if they get a brief to exaggerate, edit and give an unrealistic view of prisons? I suppose it’s a good way of encouraging the negative view’s they have of female offenders.

Do not get me wrong I am not saying women’s prisons are an idyllic setting because they are far from that and some of the rumours that exist about prison are true, just the same as some are made up to scare and intimidate women entering the prison system.I remember on my first day I felt afraid and alone, and I was not a newbie to the Criminal Justice System so imagine what first time offenders feel like. Being placed on a first night unit with every woman that has arrived at the prison recently is a chance to be inducted into the prison regime but is also a chance for individuals to learn. You can be educated about the use of drugs, different offences and the different types of prisoners that you will be accommodated with through out your stay. May I add this education is not part of the prison induction programme; it is delivered by the more experienced inmates.

Within the prison population you can pin point the different types of women; the newbie, old school, long-term, lifer, young offender, the seasonal inmate and there could be many other groups. You could go on labelling each of the women until you have stereotyped them all into a ‘group’ but what people fail to realise is they all deal with prison life in a different way and not necessarily because they choose too. Often when we enter somewhere that is new we are thrown out of our comfort zone and look for reassurance and comfort from others. We relate to other peoples opinions, actions and experiences and before we know it we are classed as being in that ‘group’.

You need to be aware of some prisoners who are experienced at preying on the vulnerable first time offenders; they will befriend you and then more often than not betray you. As long as you supply the gold they will be at your side. By gold I mean the items that are classed as gold in prisons; sugar, coffee, tobacco and food. They will manipulate you in to becoming their follower and take advantage of your inexperience. Then soon as trouble brews they will try to blame you and make you an enemy.

Many prisoners are that wrapped up in their own world and looking after number one when they first enter the prison, they fail to notice other people that need help and that are struggling themselves. But it only takes one individuals action to make everyone on the unit stop, listen and look around even if it is only for a short time. When you hear the call for a code blue to healthcare echoing off the officers radios you immediately know something is wrong. When you hear an officer trying to kick a barricaded door in and shouting for assistance you understand it’s serious. But when you find out a women has killed herself because she was that afraid, lonely and ill that’s when the reality kicks in that you are only one of the women in prison with multiple needs.

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4 Responses to Care to Listen!

  1. June says:

    So true…..but also society also think prisoners get ‘first class’ health care. Reality is so different: No matter how ill you are – you see a Nurse first (after a weeks wait)….. Then she will decide whether you need to see a Doctor…..and then you wait another week !! So if you have, say a bladder infection – you will be passing blood before you see a Doctor, and then another two days before you receive antibiotics. Dentist in once a week – so only emergency treatment (no continued care) opticians once a month…….and this is for 450 women………

  2. Tracey McMahon says:

    Hi Nat,

    That’s an ‘iron fist’ of an account of life inside a women’s prison and compelling to read.

    June: Welcome to and no matter which way we look at it, people do think as you say. It’s fuelled by the ‘hang em and flog crowd’ and those who believe in the death sentence. The ‘prison is a holiday camp’ crowd and amazingly the people who have never stepped foot inside a prison. The clean living little individuals they are. (I often develop a smirk when I read such comments) It’s called having an opinion and like the proverbial holes, everyone has one just some are bigger than others.

    There is nothing which can be done about these mind-sets and there is nothing which can be done about the services until such a time there is a real shake-up of the prison system. While there are often rumblings about this, nothing much is ever done and I’ve seen countless articles about this. Fact is, it’s the way it rolls.

    Great read there, Natalie.

    • Natalie Atkinson says:

      Hi Both, Thank you for your comments and I agree with you both. Society seems to have a muddled up picture of what women’s prisons are like; a holiday camp, a time to relax and live free etc but as you say Tracey these opinions are of people that have never actually served a custodial sentence….. So how would they no? I wonder if there opinions would change if one of their family members becomes incarcerated?

      Documentaries, Television programmes about prisons are often edited to appeal to the opinions on the public and give a false representation of the truth. Just the same as the way the media chose to represent young people negatively like ‘disrespectful yobs’ and this goes on to create a moral panic. Women are seen to be more deviant If they offend as they are meant to be child rearers, caring and maternal…… We are in the 21st Century where females are entitled to be viewed on an equal level to males.


  3. Tracey McMahon says:

    Hello Natalie,

    Women are entitled to be viewed on equal levels, you’re absolutely correct. Maybe that’s why they strive so hard to be heard. Who knows.

    But the fundamental issue is that women, particularly mothers who commit crimes are castigated. No matter how much feminism strikes at the heart of society, there is still a stigma attached to women and crime. This is by no means a victim statement, but women are treated harshly because of their gender in the CJS and more so if they have children. The ‘how could she do that to her children’ bandwagon oils its wheels. Or the best one ‘I would never do that to my children, I would never commit a crime and harm my children in this way’

    No matter how much women strive for equality, it will never happen and lest we forget, in the CJS. Years ago, back in the 1990’s I was told that women are always higher up the tariff for sentencing to show society how unacceptable it is for a woman with children to commit a crime. With the 21st century now in its teenage years, there are still people fighting for women in the CJS to be treated differently than their male counterparts.

    Women’s needs are different to men’s. That in no way lessens men’s needs. Naturally, there is the issue that both lose liberty, children, homes, Gender doesn’t fit into those issues. Both are equal there.

    The CJS is a blanket system for all. Underneath that blanket are where the problems lay. There are no equals and there is no room for treating each and every prisoner differently. If we incarcerate people together in one building there will be problems. Women’s prisons, men’s prisons, regardless of gender. There are many ways to solve it. But the basics are there no matter which gender.

    Now we are televising prison from the inside. That in itself is indicative of how society is today as we are driven by the media. There are shows where women prisons are glamorised (Bad girls) and documentaries of men’s prisons.

    There are not many of the ‘good, wholesome’ British public who want improvements to any prison, it’s just not the way it rolls. They want harder sentences, harsher conditions, harsher treatment as the viewers look on in disgust and tell themselves they would never possibly end up there. It’s called spin and marketing.

    Chris Grayling has no idea, he’s about as trained in law, the needs of prisoners and the mental health of all prisoners as the chair I am on sitting on. Which leads me onto my next post…. I’ve just had a brilliant idea….

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