New girl Liz gives new lease of life to old girl Liz?

Posted: 25 February 2017 in Prisons
Tags: ,

Old girl Liz in old nick Newgate

I was handed a bag of cocaine this week.  Stuff that was being smuggled into prison, and in this case caught before sale. (I didn’t keep it). Cocaine, spice, mobile phones, even fast food.  Thrown over prison walls.  Smuggled it.  Or brought in by a few corrupt staff.  Prisoners – crooked and unredeemable?  And today an acquaintance piled it on.

Bill, aren’t your prisoners pulling the wool over your eyes when you go in?  Don’t you feel that they are conning you? Aren’t they just seeking to get “a good report” back to the prison authorities?

Yes, prison volunteers like me must not “go native”.  Look through the charm (yes, charm).  No naivety please.  But no relentless cynicism either.  This week in prison, I was told by a much experienced prison officer how often she had been helped in tricky situations by prisoners.  The majority who want to go straight after messing up.  Those with already messed up lives.   The prison officer added that good reports, as well as bad should be passed on by us.

Prison is like a different country.  They may talk English but all the rules and appearances are different.  Visitors cannot tell those who are trying, from those who are trying-to-con.  We seek to help all, knowing that some will just sneer, others try and struggle, and others will really succeed.  A bit like what Jesus said in the parable of the Sower (The Four Soils):

  • for some it just bounces off, totally resistant
  • others give it a go, then quickly revert to old ways,
  • others struggle,
  • and some really fly.

For everyone like Abe* who tells me he is in prison for things that are not illegal in other countries, there is a Chrissy* who is so keen to say sorry to his victims and put a long list of wrong-doing behind him.

So Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Justice, announces a new Prison and Courts Bill 2017, bravely announcing fundamental reforms to the prison system.  Oh really.  Claims of “fundamental reform” again?  We’ve all heard an awful lot about this over the years.

Even so – we have to hope this bill is a success.  The Bill would enshrine in law reform and rehabilitation of offenders as a central purpose of prisons.  As if this was new – the prison system was set up 200 years ago to do just that – reform, rehabilitation.  Relaunch people’s lives.  Right from the very beginning, even celebrated on our £5 notes till very recently.  New girl Liz Truss gives new lease of life to old girl Liz Fry?

May it succeed to offer hope for the many who really want it.

* Extracts of real conversations in prison, but not real names.

24 Feb 2017

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