Publisher: Seven Dials Books
Publication Date: 30th May 2019
I’m all over anything involving prisons. I love a good prison documentary or TV drama. I mean granted, most of my prison knowledge comes from Orange Is The New Black but how different can it be?……
Yeah it’s massively different.
You knew that.
I was drawn to this book because it was pitched not as a book based on statistics. (I hate numbers), but rather the actual people living inside the prison walls the humans, the real life women (and men occasionally). Be that residents (that’s what they’re called, NOT inmates or convicts or criminals) or the staff who work there. I’m much more drawn to the human interest aspect of non-fiction than I am any kind of statistic analysing or report quoting.
Mim Skinner was a teacher in a prison in the north of England before she wrote this book. She spent her time teaching essentially creative pursuits, card making, crafting, creative writing, poetry and painting. She connected with many of the women in the prison through her classes and various artistic pursuits, getting to know each of them and their varied characters, personalities and troubles.
The fact that Mim was not a prison guard or anyone responsible for the discipline (for want of a better word) of the residents, she was able to maybe get a little closer to the women and lend a sympathetic ear to their plights. She was also lucky enough to experience and instigate many group activities leading to close friendships between the women and a sense of camaraderie.
What I really loved about this book was the different ways in which the information Mim is giving you is presented. There were brief chapters told in the form of lists (6 Uses For Sanitary Products, Three Uses For Prison Coffee Whitener and 8 Things To Know About Keys), transcripts of conversations, poetry written by the residents, interviews, snippets of information from the residents, what they were missing from the outside etc etc. all sandwiched between Mim’s fascinating narrative.
I’ve learned a great deal about life in a women’s prison, about the disturbing drug culture (and the things you can do with a Buscopan tablet!), women giving birth in the confines of the prison walls and what happens to them and their babies. The rules (both written and unwritten), the sensible to the bizarre. Privileges and perks, hierarchy’s and prison structure.
Mim also touches on what happens to the women once they leave the prison and return back to normal life, which in itself is quite jarring for them. These women often reoffend just to be sent back to the only place they feel safe. A place where they have a roof over their heads, stability, structure, routine and friendships. Often they are cast back out into society not having had much preparation for doing so and quite often having no stable home to return to which in itself is so sad and so eye opening.
I feel like I’ve had a great education without having statistics rammed down my throat (which lets face it can be boring!). There are literally just a couple of pages of stats and that’s it however these are very accessible, easily understandable yet enlightening stats. For example:
- 48% of women in prison have committed an offence in order to support the drug use of someone else.
- 46% of women in prison report having attempted suicide at some point in their lifetime. This is twice the rate of men (21%) and more than seven times higher than the general population.
- 84% of sentenced women are there for non-violent crimes.
There are also three Glossary sections which explain the meaning of some prison related abbreviations and lingo. Fascinating!
Mim herself seems like a lovely woman. She is determined to give the residents her time and dedication and make life for them behind bars as enjoyable as possible, even if that is just for a few short hours, by the way of a contraband biscuit (or wheel of brie!). I particularly enjoyed the sections surrounding the putting together of the prison xmas show and Mim’s crusade to make use of the giant leeks and other veg grown by the women, which was not getting put to good use due to security restrictions. An mental image of Mim trying to force a strong smelling mammoth leek into her rucksack and casually stroll through security was quite amusing!
This book is not only factual and educational, it is very touching and heartwarming in places. Obviously there are some very difficult sections to read, detailing the struggles some of the women have endured and continue to endure in their lives. It is something I have had no experience of and never wish to. It is a whole way of life for some of these women and they amazed me with their unwavering strength and resilience.
All in all this was a very interesting, educational, emotional read and I would heartily recommend it.
Thank you as always to the publisher for my advanced proof copy.
See you soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xx