Over the last couple of weeks we have had a lecture from a guest speaker from the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge. The lecturer led a session about Adapting to Long Term Imprisonment. For me this lecture was gripping and very informative. I felt that the delivery of the lecture was professional and easy to follow.
As a long term prisoner myself it was a comfort to learn that the feelings and emotions I have and continue to experience whilst in custody are part of the natural process that many, if not all, long term prisoners go through. It is only on reflection that I have been able to recognise that I went through a very difficult time of trying to come to terms with my imprisonment. At the time I felt that I was coping well. I recall returning back from the Old Bailey, having just been told that I was to spend at least the next 25 years in prison, and the reception prison officer asked me if I was ok. In reply I said I was fine and 25 years was not that bad, I recall saying, “it is what it is”. I went to my cell that night and once the door was locked behind me I just fell on the floor and broke down in uncontrollable tears. As sad as it may sound, I just wanted my mum to hold me and tell me everything was going to be ok. The next morning I woke up and as soon as the cell door was open I put on the mask that has remained ever since. Showing weakness in prison is not the best way to proceed, or so I thought at the time.
The Learning Together programme has really opened my eyes to a lot of truths about prison life. The lecturer described the stages of adapting to long-term imprisonment and this has really helped me to understand the process of adapting. It was not strange or weak to break down in tears after all. Since the lecture I have spoken to a few lads on the wing, some of whom may be described as hardened criminals, and in private they told me of the stages that they had been through during the long sentence. All except one described the first night following sentence, where they broke down in tears and then the putting on of the mask the following morning.
Maybe a way forward would be for a book to be created that describes the process of adapting to long term imprisonment. This could then be given to the newly sentenced prisoners. Knowing that you’re not alone with the way you’re feeling and knowing that things will get easier to cope with may give some comfort to many during the early days of the sentence.
I am totally energised by the Learning Together programme, and I hope that others feel the same.