I wanted to write a blog yesterday about this experience, however, I became somewhat overwhelmed. Fortunately, I can count Michael Irwin and The Tartan Con as contacts and also as friends. It wasn’t so much the advice more the silent understanding. So, before I begin I would like to say a massive thank you to both those gentlemen, no further explanation needed.
On Wednesday 31st July I attended a ‘Celebration of Success’ event at HMP Pentonville as the guest of Jose Aguiar education consultant based at the prison. Before the event, Jose had asked me if I would say a few words about my own experience of prison education “about 3 to 4 minutes” he asked. Of course, me being me, scoffed at the 3 minutes “That would be my hello”, Jose came back to me to let me know he had allocated ten minutes to my talk. Gulp! That’ll teach me was my initial thought, but when I got there, I wished for even longer.
The 31st July 2015 was the day that I was remanded in custody for armed robbery, although that was at HMP Norwich. It was early summer 2004 that I was on remand at HMP Pentonville and where I was subsequently sentenced staying at Pentonville until 2005 when I was then transferred to HMP Blundeston.
I had been back to prison on two occasions since my own release. One was to visit a good mate, the other was at HMP Coldingley with the Prison Reform Trust and the launch of the Prisoner Policy Network. I wasn’t sure on the way into the prison on Wednesday where the event, which Jose and his team in education put on monthly to celebrate the education successes of their learners, would be taking place. We had gone through a few gates, doors and corridors and then a wave of emotions hit me like a juggernaut as I was stood in the central hall of the prison, with the five outstretched arms of the wings in front of me. It was still bang-up following lunch but wow! I wasn’t prepared for it. And if it wasn’t for Jose’s wonderful mentor Joanna from the CRIMINOLOGY COLLECTIVE UK. (Click on the link for their blog) talking to me and reassuring me I think I would have passed out, my mind was spinning like a washing machine.
A few things have changed over the years at Pentonville, one of which was the wings, the last time I was at the Ville I was on D-wing. Jose told us we were going to the library, on G-wing, however, at that stage, I was not aware until I got to the gate that G-wing used to be D-wing. Christmas Day 2005 was the first time I had been in prison at Christmas with my own children at home. My eldest son was 8 at the time and my youngest son had turned three in October (I was not in my daughter’s life at this point). That Christmas Day in ’05 I was on the phone to my sons and it ripped me apart. I was so upset I had to get off the phone and I banged myself up ten minutes into the association time. On Wednesday I walked past the exact phone I used (position of anyway, no doubt the handset has had a few replacements) and I also walked passed my old cell. This was even before the event had begun.
The event itself was so inspiring, after the initial introduction from Jose, we then heard from the head of reducing reoffending, herself attending this celebration of success for the first time and commenting that it will now be a regular event for her as well. We were then treated to two separate singers. The young man who wrote and performed his piece was first class, his lyrics, wow, talk about striking a nerve, especially within that privileged environment. You get to hear, and read, amazing talent in prison. Words that only those who know to understand will understand. I had to surreptitiously wipe a few tears from my cheek during his performance. The second performer, my age this time, 50, treating us to a song he wrote about family.
It was then my turn to speak. I had an idea before the event what I was going to say, but hadn’t written anything down. I was hoping to have been inspired by the day. To speak from the heart and off the cuff. I was not to be disappointed. I could not have failed to have been inspired even if I had wanted too. As someone that was kicked out of the education system at a young age, it was the education I received in prison that finally provided me with the key to my freedom and therefore my future. Education is so much more than the provision of knowledge. Education can also be a pathway of discovery in so many different aspects. Creative writing definitely so. “What we don’t speak about leaks out of us in other ways” was a quote I had borrowed from the speaker, activist & and author of Unbroken: One Woman’s Journey to Rebuild a Life Shattered by Violence. A True Story of Survival and Hope.
I was back amongst my own in that privileged world of a collective togetherness and understanding few get to see. And it has spurred me on, even more, in campaigning for better conditions and opportunities for my brothers and sisters that I left behind.
Jose, Helena, Joanna, HMP Pentonville and the men in that library Wednesday, along with the governor and education manager. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for such an incredible experience that I will never forget.