Inside a UK prison: Former inmates share their experiences

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THERE is a general misconception that life in a British prison can be equated to life in a hotel.
This week three Zimbabwean former inmates have agreed to share their experiences in UK prisons.
I have changed their names for anonymity.
Maria (54. Croydon): “I was arrested in 2004 for violence after fighting with my then boyfriend, who came from Rwanda.
“I used to drink and go partying and he didn’t like it.
“I had no papers, no accommodation and I lived with him.
“One day we fought and he told me to leave.
“He packed my clothes in black bags (bin-bags), but I refused to go.
“He called the police and I punched him in front of the police.
“I was arrested and taken to court where it was also established that I had committed other offences related to violence.
“They had been looking for me, but because I had no fixed aboard they could not find me.
“I was sent to Yarl’s Wood Prison which also has a holding centre for illegal immigrants awaiting deportation.
“I was put in a cell, a single cell.
“The room was very small, a box-like room with a concrete bed, a foam mattress and I was only given one blanket at night, which they took away in the morning.
“The toilet was inside the box-room.
“They took our shoes, belts and any other clothing that could be used for aggression.
“I remember the shoes that I was given.
“They were made of material like toilet paper.
“They were disposables.
“There were no televisions in our rooms (contrary to what many people believe).
“There was a television in the common-room, which we only accessed during meal times.
“We were given food on plastic plates, cups, and we used plastic cutlery.
“They did not want prisoners to use the cutlery for violence or to commit suicide.
“I was given two years (suspended) although I was in prison for three months. “They counted the day and night as two different days.
“Because I did not have papers they wanted to deport me, but I claimed asylum because I had nothing in Zimbabwe (property) or job to return to.
“We were allowed letters and visitors.
“For breakfast we were given cereal, bread and tea.
“For lunch we chose from a variety of dishes, same as supper.
“We were given enough food.
“We also had desert and fruits.
“We were paid £14 per week, but you only got that money when you left the prison.
“That’s why vamwe vachiti vakabuda mujeri they can buy cars, especially those doing longer sentences.
“I helped in the kitchen where I learnt a variety of cooking skills.
“There were many black women in the prison, especially Jamaicans and Nigerians.
“Overall there were more Chinese women in the prison than any other race; most of them had been trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation.
“Most Zimbabwean women were in the prison because of fraud (credit card scams) or beating children although most of them had been arrested for fraud.
“Most Jamaicans were also serving time for drug-related offences.
“I wouldn’t want any woman to go through the experiences of prison life.
“I think most women committed offences because they had no papers.
“Ndakati ko kudzokera muchiKristu mandakakurira zvinei?
“I sought Christ when I was in jail.
“I don’t drink alcohol anymore.
“I have not been involved in any crime after that.”
Martin (30, Birmingham): “I was arrested for street robbery.
“I was young and naïve and had fallen into bad company.
“Fighting and stealing gave me a sense of belonging.
“You had to be like the others to be accepted.
“I was given three years in prison and I was sent down to Her Majesty Prison (HMP) Hewell in Worcestershire.
“It’s a Cat B (Category) where they hold people awaiting sentencing.
“I was over 21 and was put in with other adult male prisoners, some in late 60s. I remember at HMP Risley (in Warrington), there was this Nigerian man who was very old, in his late 60s who was in prison for drug-related offences.
“He was serving eight years.
“There were more whites, but the number of black people was also very high. “There were Nigerians arrested and doing time for fraud and drugs.
“Jamaicans were also there mostly for drugs or guns.
“There were quite a number of Zimbabweans in jail, but most of them had been arrested for drinking/driving while on ban, domestic violence, fraud (dodgy cheques) and a few for drugs.
“I was mixed with murderers and hard criminals.
“The experience was so daunting I never thought I would come out alive.
“There was this man, a white man who had committed a murder and he used to talk about it so openly.
“I shared cigarettes with him.
“We bought cigarettes inside with our pocket money.
“There was a guy who was arrested for helping a friend to dispose of the corpse of a woman he had murdered.
“He was found with the dead woman’s head in a suitcase which he wanted to dispose.
“The other guy said he had committed murder, but only arrested after many years of committing the murder.
“There were stories about drug dealing.
“When you are inside you kind of accept your new situation and resign to your fate.
“But there are many people who were happier in prisons than outside; especially in Category C prisons because they said there were no bills to worry about when they were inside.
“One white man kept re-offending because he said he had a roof over his head in prison than outside.
“In HMP Hewell (Cat B) I shared a cell with other inmates.
“We had concrete beds, foam mattresses and we were given two blankets.
“We were not allowed to wear my own clothes and we wore prison clothes. Lunch was a jacket potato with baked beans every day.
“At breakfast we were given cereals, tea and bread (two slices although sometimes we would get more).
“On Fridays sometimes we were given fish and chips.
“After sentencing, I was transferred to HMP Risley which is a Cat C.
“There I was given my own cell and allowed to wear my own clothes and we got prison track-suits every week, old and new.
“We were locked up for 23 hours every day and allowed only one hour socialisation time, to go to the library, use the phone or have a shower.
“At HMP Risley I had a tiny television in my room.
“The toilet was also in the room, which is very tiny.
“We were all required to do some work, such as cleaning the kitchen or common room.
“People did drugs in the prison.
“I don’t know how they smuggled them inside despite all those searches with sniffer dogs.
“I think it is easy to re-offend after serving a prison sentence because you have nothing to fear about a prison anymore.
“I have a friend who is in prison right now who has converted to Islam.
“He is supposed to be released in June, but they told him he will be deported because he has no papers.”
Timothy (36, Northampton): “I went to prison twice and did five years in total.
“I was in prison for domestic violence (DV) and the second time I did three years for fraud.
“I had no papers and survived on stealing cheques and credit cards.
“Life in prison is very difficult, tough.
“Vanhu vanokaura nekushaya vakadzi.
“Some prisoners used to sleep with female prison guards.
“Some prisoners asked their girlfriends to bring them their dirty pants, which we sniffed as we relieved ourselves.
“Tainhuwidza mabhurukwa evakadzi vatisingazive, kana kusheya bhurukwa remusikana wako nevamwe varume.
“It was tough.
“There were also lots of prison fights.
“I was sent to a removal centre after my release for deportation.
“My asylum case had been turned down because of criminal activities.
“I am lucky to be still here and I have been crime free for nearly five years.”

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