On Tuesday 21st March 2017, I visited HMP Humber prison. Throughout the day we, me and other members of the YAG, had a tour around the prison and worked with 4 current prisoners who are all serving different sentences for different crimes. These crimes varied from a drug offence to a murder. In this article, I will discuss some questions I had the opportunity to ask them. I will also discuss different areas of prison life that I learnt about and other factors that the prisoners may have brought up within our discussion.
Everything I will discuss in this article will be based on information that I was told by the prisoners. If any information is dishonest or is not true, I will apologize. These prisoners and their crimes are real and current so some information that was discussed cannot be disclosed within this article.
At different points throughout the day we had the chance to walk around the prison. We had the chance to see various parts including the different wings, the gym and solitary. Due to the prison being on lock down, as staff where on training, we were able to walk freely though out the wings; however, on each wing, when a prisoner became aware that we were there, the prisoners did shout a lot of sexual statements at us.
Whilst in solitary we had the opportunity to see a room where prisoners get held before being put in a sell. This room is a concrete room within a room. The prisoners will receive a bucket in which to use as a toilet, there is no mattress and the bed is a raised bit of concrete. The prisons can spend days in there if they are not compliant with the officers. Not long before we had the chance to view this room, a prisoner had been in there who had been fighting. This means when we were in the room, there was blood on the walls. This made me uncomfortable and really on edge.
Crime in Prison
One question I was interested in finding out was ‘does prison give you the opportunity to learn more crime?’. After speaking to one of the prisoners who had been in prison more than once spoke out about when he was first out in prison. This was when he was 17 and he was put in a youth offender unit. He explained that when he first went in at the age of 17, his outlook on prison was to learn how to be a better a criminal. He stated that what you get out of prison is what you put into it. If you want to go into prison and learn how to be a better criminal, that is what will happen; whereas if you go in wanting to become a better person, you get them opportunity’s.
We also asked the prisoners ‘what was the worst thing you have seen whilst in prison?’. Before asking this I was expecting the answer to be along the lines of fights; and although that was the answer, the extent that the fights get to surprised me. One prisoner explained that the worst thing he saw was someone getting hot water mixed with sugar thrown over their face. For those who don’t understand, when hot water and sugar is mixed it makes a caramel like substance; when this is thrown on skin, the substance will melt away skin, and due to the sugar, it will be stuck onto a person’s skin.
Education in Prison
Many prisons offer the opportunity for prisoners to receive qualification and an education that they may not have received whilst growing up. One of the prisoners we spoke to explained to us that whilst being in prison he has done the GCSEs that he missed at school and it currently doing a degree. This could open some opportunity’s when he leaves prison.
HMP Humber also have many facility’s in which the prisoners can learn different skills that can be taken into a work place. These skills are learnt within a work place environment. One prison stated that every prisoner that earns a degree whilst in the prison do not reoffend. This could be due to the prisons wanting to achieve more with their lives instead of taking part in criminal activities.
One thing the prisoners and the prison guard explained to us was about a method of grouping within the prison where the prisoners are separated into three separate groups. Although this does not affect what wing they are on, this does affect the privileges that the receive whilst in the prison. A prisoner can change the group they are in by good behaviour.
If a prisoner is classed as a basic prisoner they do not have many privileges at all. To become a basic prisoner, they would have caused issues within the prison; this may be fighting or drug use. A basic prisoner is only allowed out of their cell for one hour a day and this will be at a time that no other prisoners are out. Within this hour they must shower, make phone calls and ect. Everything that a basic prisoner does is timed, and observed.
Most prisoners start out as a standard prisoner. They receive access to such things like a television, a PlayStation and a radio. They will also have the right to visits from family and/or friends.
An enhanced prisoner has achieved this by good behaviour within the prison. An enhanced prisoner will receive more visits and will have access to all jobs available within the prison. They will have all the same privileges as a standard prisoner but may receive some extra.
Like earlier stated, the day was spent with four current prisoners. We had the opportunity to ask questions, and to hear their stories.
One prisoner we spoke to was currently serving a 24-year sentence for a drug offence. This was the third time he had been in prison, one for assault and twice for drug related offences. Throughout his time in prison he has had to readdress his actions; due to counselling and sharing his story. Whilst speaking with him, he revealed that the hardest part of the full process was when he was first told his sentence; he stated for him as soon as he was told he would be in prison, it was like ‘everyone he loved was flashing before his eyes’. He also said that he struggles a lot knowing that there are some people he will never see again, like his grandparents.
At many points during his talk he explained that he wished that he had tried harder at school and got his GCSEs. He blamed a lot of his action on lack of education. Whilst he has been in prison, he has earned his qualifications and is currently undertaking a degree.
When this prisoner started, he explained that at school he was good however that is not what he wanted to be; he stated he looked up to people in his area and wanted to be a ‘gangster’. He had spent some time in prison prior to his current sentence. After being asked if he ever thought of his victim, he explained that at the time of the offence he didn’t take the victim into consideration; however, after some time he started to realise what he had done.
He went on to tell us that he spends a lot of time thinking of what he did and that he remembers significant elements of the crime; such as the smell of the victim’s house. When asked ‘why did you do it?’ he explained that he didn’t go out of his way to commit the crime, however it was a heat of the moment action.
This prisoner explained that this was his first offence and only did his crime because of needing and wanting money. He explained that he spent time before the robbery planning it out with a friend. Although he was not the person who conducted the armed robbery, he was driving the getaway car; he explained that the judge sentenced both men the same. He also stated that he believed that he was going to get away with this crime.
I asked him ‘what has been the hardest part of your sentence?’. He revealed that within his first week of being in prison, his wife and children had been robbed at gun point; at the time, he was unable to anything as it was the start of his sentence. He also said that at one point during his sentence his wife left him.
This prisoner has done 10 years of his life sentence and spent 4 of them years seeing a therapist. During this time in therapy, he had to constantly relive his actions, so now he doesn’t like to think about it however he stated that he will always be honest about his crime. At the time of the crime he already had a previous sentence for breaching his antisocial behaviour order (ASBO) and the offences happened only 18 months apart.
He explained that he didn’t care about the victim’s family due to many threats being made. When asked if he would ever speak to them again, he stated that the only member of his victim’s family he would speak to would be the victim’s daughter, this was due to her reminding him of his younger sister.
Whilst being in prison he has worked with Cambridge university and has also stated a criminology and psychology degree; which he has deferred for a year.
Media Representation of Prison
One question I had the chance to ask the prisoners was ‘how is prison life compared to media representation?’. One prisoner stated that the media can have a massive impact on how a person is viewed and can affect a person’s perception pf others.
The prisoners then went on to explain that films, television and other forms of media always show two extreme versions of prison; this being that prisoners either get nothing at all or everything single thing, if not more privileges then the public. They then went to explain that not everyone who is in the prison are bad people; they are just normal people who have made bad decisions. One of the prisoners said that everyone has a story. Not one person has committed exactly the same crime and will always have different life experiences.
Another prisoner explained that the youth offender’s institutes, which house criminals aged between 18 and 21, are more hectic due to everyone trying to be the best and always something going on. He went on to explain that normal prisons, such as HMP Humber, is more mature as most prisoners are just trying to get through their sentences.
One prisoner explained that some forms of media make the public believe that all prisoners can get anything they want such as televisions and game consoles; however, he told us that for a prisoner to receive them they must earn it and must pay for it out of their own money, that they may earn from working within the prison.