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- Recently there's been a media uproar over the "horrific" conditions at Feltham, the notorious and "unacceptably violent" Young Offenders Institute here in Britain. Most of these stories seem to place blame upon our "broken and aggressive" younger generation and fail to look at /why/ the prison environment is the way it is. I was recently released from Feltham after serving 37 days of a 2 year sentence and, although my time there was very short, I believe I have seen about enough to provide an alternative viewpoint to this scandal. This is a short post with a few points that I feel are important.
- -- Food --
- Due to my having worked behind the servery for several weeks dishing up food for other prisoners, I had gained a certain insight into the habits of Feltham's breakfast/dinner/lunch cycles. I believe various problems are spawned from several fundamental flaws in this system...
- The food disposal unit (what we simply called "the gobbler") is better fed than all of Feltham's inmates. At the end of each dinner we were left with trays upon trays of leftovers that we were made to destroy. The common excuse for not re-opening all the cell doors and allowing seconds was "it's against protocol", possibly the most ludicrous and fallacious blanket reasoning in our society. Certain inmates would literally have eaten an extra plate filled entirely with crusty beans if they'd been allowed to return for more.
- And when it comes to what food we /could/ give inmates, the "protocol" took preposterous turns. We were given 6 loaves of bread (4 white, 2 brown) to hand out among the 48 youths on the wing each day. That's enough for 3 slices each - and most of the time several didn't ask for bread. And so I handed out 3 slices each day until I was eventually warned that I was dishing out too much. The particularly sarcastic guard did not like mathematics and essentially implied that if I didn't hand out 2 slices instead, I'd lose my job and return to my cell for 23 hours a day. The next day (and every day after) we were given 5 loaves of bread instead of 6.
- To state the obvious, in prison the inmates don't have much. The difference between 3 slices of bread and 2 slices of bread is surprisingly significant. I'm really trying to stress this point because the people in charge don't seem to appreciate the simple psychology behind it: you're dealing with angsty, hormonal, naive young men who will turn against each other and themselves if you start messing with what little they have.
- Fights break out because the youths are upset. They're usually upset because they're hungry. They get pissed off during the evening and begin the next day even more frustrated. I'm not suggesting one should lavish prisoners in caviar, I'm saying give them what's been ordered each day even if it means going around every single cell and asking them if they want more. Do this until the day's order is /entirely depleted/. Saturdays are home to the best atmosphere because burgers are served and nobody wants to be hit with a police baton when they're full up on burgers. No rocket science required.
- It boils down mostly to the timing of food: breakfast at 8am, lunch at 11:30am, dinner at 4:30pm, back in the cell with nothing until 8am. I think there would be a positive shift in attitude if this were changed to 9am/1pm/6pm instead of deliberately torturing prisoners' stomachs throughout the evening and into the next day.
- -- Socialisation --
- By default we received an hour of "association" per day -- time out on the wing to have a shower, make a phone call, play pool/table tennis/cards. This is where fights kicked off because it's essentially the only extended period of time any prisoner is allowed to be within range of another. The misconception is that there are "planned" incidents outside of the guards' control that have been thoroughly plotted during the night by the vindictive and hate-filled younger generation. The truth is that most fights occur for ridiculously futile reasons, usually involving pool balls going missing or cell doors not being opened on time. If we got an hour a day out of our cells, we wanted the full hour. During my last week a team of temporary guards attempted to round everyone up after only 50 minutes, not realising (or perhaps not caring) that those 10 extra minutes are considered precious. We refused to return to our cells, the entire wing standing defiantly for exactly 10 minutes, arms folded by the pool tables. Then we walked back. Warnings were handed out, televisions were confiscated, people were angry, an incident occurred in the showers which ended in one boy being sent to the healthcare wing and the other to "the block" (solitary). That incident probably went into the final report that eventually sparked the recent media storm around Feltham's continued notoriety. It was probably penned down as a simple, malicious assault; the result of violent youths being violent. However, I blame it on a distinct lack of 10 minutes.
- The classic example of pool ball shenanigans: inmate #1 pots a ball, inmate #2 accuses inmate #1 of cheating, inmate #1 doesn't like that. Slang is thrown and eventually the white ball is as well - out of the nearby window, onto the grass outside. The three guards on duty physically pin down the perpetrator and quiz him as to the whereabouts of the ball. He openly admits (while in pain) that it's out of the window, unable to point at the exact window due to his arms being forcefully pinned against his back. At this point even the other inmate was confirming this, simply wishing to resume the game. Instead, an alarm bell was pushed and no less than 19 guards flocked into the wing out of nowhere, like some sort of Grand Theft Auto spawn-point, and made every single person return to their cells for vigorous searching. The whereabouts of the ball had been disclosed by at least 20 people at this point, but for some reason the police-like apathy mode adopted by the alarm-belled guards ensured they completely ignored any sound judgement and went about their searching and cell-spinning. Because of the lost time, there was a general sense of anger amongst the wing population and several incidents took place thereafter as a result. Again, all in the name of "protocol" instead of common sense: accept the pool ball is out of the window, pick it up, let them play pool, let them finish their association. I was in the middle of a highly interesting card game when this happened and entirely blame the animosity of the guards for interrupting - I was about to beat a high-profile cocaine dealer with a run of twos.
- This stressed out problem is another basic piece of psychology. Treat kids like caged, violent animals, and they'll act like caged, violent animals. During one particular week there were only 4 days of association and 3 days of 30 minute "shower and phone call" sessions. No exercise due to rain. The entire wing was pulsating with a hivemind of untold rage. The following week, a new senior officer took charge of the wing and we were given extra association, made to participate in hilarious team-building exercises, and were allowed out in the yard in the rain, which everyone loved. There were no issues while this officer was in charge. He was praised as a "gangster" and the wing transformed from a dark, scornful cloud to a gathering of relatively cheerful/distracted young men.
- -- Purpose --
- This is even simpler than the last two points. Prisoners need purpose. When rotting in a cell 23 hours a day, the mind is naturally going to wander and become violent, whereas giving someone a purpose (even a repetitive purpose) generally calms them down. I found this to ring true when I was hired to clean/sweep/mop the wings every day. I changed countless bins, put out countless wet floor signs, and was entirely lost in thought at the blatantly monotonous task at hand, which paid 50p per day if I recall. Naturally I was fired by the prison security team for mopping "too near a computer", but it was nice while it lasted, as it should be for any other inmate in Feltham. The cleaners were never angry despite having a disgusting job -- the laundry shift was beyond wretched, but highly sought after. Prisoners involved with workshops and college courses rarely had the time to even think about stabbing each other in the necks. It's the waiting and thinking that makes a criminal a criminal.
- Is there self-harming because of this? Yes, and the reports do not exaggerate it. During my 4th week, the occupant of a cell only a few doors away from mine attempted to hang himself because he had asked to assist me in cleaning out the bins and was promptly denied by the guards without thought. It would have been incredibly simple to unlock his door for 20 minutes while he tied up some binbags and I'm confident it would have boosted the worth of his entire day. Instead, he was moved to another wing and seemingly vanished, like trying to hide a stain by flipping the cushion over. This country has a horrible reputation for burying its head in the sand and examples like this only serve to reinforce the situation.
- Standing by while "high-ranking" pen pushers trample all over a vulnerable generation of utterly disenfranchised youths is not something we should allow. Feltham is notoriously violent because its management has crafted it to be notoriously violent. As tweeted, an alleged murderer is a happy, docile alleged murderer after some sunshine and delicious cake.
- -- Unsolicited Nerdrage summary --
- More card games.
- More association.
- More pens and paper.
- More exercise.
- More cake.
- More purpose.
- Less violence.
Why Feltham Is Condemned For Violence
DoubleJake Jul 11th, 2013 2,295 Never
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