Received on 30.05.2020:
Everyone, everywhere, will be feeling the pinch of lockdown. Nobody has been left untouched and it’s not just the direct effects making their mark. We are seeing the indirect result too.
You will have noticed that many of the already existing problems in our society are being exacerbated. There have been plenty of reports of increased domestic abuse, mental health crises and financial instability to cite but a few examples.
But what has it all meant for the prisoners?
Well, in some senses it’s business as usual. Much of the freedom you have temporarily lost, never exists here in the first palace. And many of the freedoms you are relying on to cope, are completely beyond our reach. There are no Zoom parties, Netflix binges or streamed concerts here.
There has been an impact though.
All temporary release has stopped. This is generally used to help re-integrate people back to normal life prior to their full release. This is particularly important for those who have spent a long time in prison. They now face being dumped at the front gate with no time to adjust and no real support.
All education and other activities have stopped. Some have been working towards qualifications (for many for the first time in their life) and are left wondering was it all for nothing. Potentially, people will be put off further self-development as a result.
All in all, probably the best way to describe prison during Covid is mindless agony made more mindless and agonizing. These days, often monotonous and lacking in purpose, are now intolerably so. As a result, there is a real danger of a spike in terms of mental illness and drug addiction. And the situation was already far from okay.
Unless, or until, we can access reliable data on things like suicide and self-harm, we won’t be able to assess the damage. But be under no illusion, there will be damage. Unfortunately, by the time the information becomes available, it may be too late.
Although you still have your modern luxuries to help you cope, some insight into our experiences is possible. Next time you use the internet, your smart phone or relax in your garden with your family, reflect that we don’t have that privilege. For just a second, put yourselves in our shoes.
John Paul Wootton
HM Prison Maghaberry
17 Old Road,
Lisburn BT28 2PT, UK