All in the mind

I know there are some who think our prison system is akin to being sent to a Billy Butlin resort; in the year to the end of September 2018, there were a record 10,085 assaults by prisoners on prison staff, I’m not sure how many redcoats were assaulted by holidaymakers during the same period, but I doubt you’ll find many prison officers who consider themselves as redcoats.

Prisons are not one of the best environments in which to live and work. I have the utmost respect for those who choose to work in that environment, as long as it is for the right reasons. I wouldn’t recommend the role of prison officer as an ‘at least it’s a job’ attitude. It will chew you up and spit you out in no time. Then again, I wouldn’t recommend working anywhere in a prison to anyone with the wrong attitude. It will come back and bite you. I can say the same for those sentenced to serve time in prison. The prisoner. I know a little more about this part than the previous jobs, I based my perspective on those jobs from observations, ethnographic research you could say, I was definitely embedded with those I was observing. As I was with my fellow prisoners whilst serving my own sentence.

Regular readers of this blog will know that alongside serving sentences over the years, I have also on regular occasions been employed by the prison in several mentoring roles e.g. a reading mentor for Shannon Trust, a listener for the Samaritans and as a peer adviser for St. Giles Trust. As well as being an education mentor on a few sentences. Experience which led onto me, during my last time in, creating a resettlement course for the prison. I called it ‘Destination Change’ and they incorporated it into an education class.

I based the course on the 7 pathways to reduce re-offending. The 7 pathways are Accommodation. Attitudes, thinking and behaviour. Children and family. Drugs and alcohol. Education, training and employment. Finance, benefit and debt. Health. In my experience, the most important one for people in prison is Attitudes, thinking and behaviour. I could argue that it is important for us all, no matter where we are.

When you receive a prison sentence along with losing your liberty, and maybe dignity and reputation, you are also very restricted in choice and responsibility. Not since being a child will you have to rely on other adults so much. The prison becomes your parent, no matter your age. But, and a huge BUT (apparently we all like big buts) and I can not lie, prison does not have to be the end of the road, although like my last prison, HMP Norwich, many literally are at the end of the road.

However, in the opposite direction, i.e. being released, it is at the beginning of a new journey, or one you have walked many times before. That is one choice that they cannot snatch from you on the way in. Day one. The direction your sentence takes will probably be influenced by the initial days and weeks of your incarceration, but it will be your attitude that primarily determines that direction. Attitude and what you put into your body will affect your life in prison. Prison is not that difficult physically. The food isn’t great, but you can survive on it. The beds are not the best, though regular exercise can lessen the effects, but in the main, physically, prison is not too much of a strain. They can lock up your body, but freedom is a state of mind, and they cannot lock your mind up. Again, another choice you still keep. They can mute it with medication, as can you prescribed or illegal, but again, it can be a choice. Maintain or retrain? I tried both at once. What a fuck up that was, I nearly ruined everything. A lesson learnt, and the rest is history.

Things to be upset or worried about in prison are easy to find; but if you hold on to who you really are and can maintain a rehabilitative attitude, although not in control of every aspect, in fact, many things are out of your control in prison, the negatives are so much easier to deal with.

Look at it as an opportunity for self-improvement rather than reform or rehabilitation. Over the years many people have left prison and led crime-free lives doing whatever they set their sights on. I’m not saying it is easy, it can wear you down and feel impossible some days, especially in a prison environment. But with an attitude of self-improvement, they become lessons that you soon learn from and you will get there. I and thousands of others did. If we could conduct a survey of those who led a life free of crime following prison, it would not surprise me if most of those surveyed answered that they strongly agree the right attitude/mindset in prison determined their future. #WhatCanBe.

2 thoughts on “All in the mind

  1. Blimey David. In one blog you have listed every key point for those inside prison and also for those arriving to work as Prison Officers. It should be given to everyone as they first walk through those depressing gates so they can set off on a path that, when they leave, will help them in the future. Better still, read out to them so they have to take notice.
    As for officers, surely it is about time their pay levels were assessed so that those with the right attitude get rewarded and stay, rather than another depressing pay freeze after an appalling year and an even more difficult Covid ridden few months still to some.


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