My name is Frankie Owens. I was a first time prisoner at HMP Winchester until 2 August 2011.
I am very clear now that you are given two sentences. One from the Judge in days, weeks, months and years and the emotional sentence you serve alongside it. It’s hard because out on the wing you need to shut down your emotions in order to get through the day. Showing emotions may be perceived as weakness and you may well become a victim. In the cell, there’s time to think about what you have done, the victims who have suffered by your hand, and the loved ones and families left behind. It has a profound affect focusing on a negative past in a negative surrounding. This mental torture is far worse than the physical system of prison. I was clueless about how a prison worked and it was hard for me.
On Day 2 of my sentence I started writing The Little Book of Prison – A Beginners Guide.
On Day 3 I was introduced to the Samaritans’ Listener Scheme. A guy had a T-Shirt with ‘Listener’ on the back and he was a much needed friendly face in my new home.
As the weeks progressed I also started helping prisoners write letters to the Judge and encouraged them to join the Toe by Toe scheme run by The Shannon Trust which would help them learn to read. I understood why prisoners choose to be Listeners, helping other prisoners to adjust to very difficult surroundings. It gave me a real sense of purpose at a time when you need it the most.
The Listener scheme is so valuable and having the opportunity to talk to someone: as the saying goes ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. Unfortunately for some this is too painful to express and they shut down their emotions completely or open them so wide that they break down, sometimes never able to recover. This was often the case with prisoners who were not career criminals but men who had behaved out of character. One moment of madness had put them in prison. The system crushed them mentally, they were moved to the Healthcare wing where the Primary Care Trust for Mental Health then attempts to deal with the breakdown which the Justice System and Prison has created.
If the Listener service can prevent this from happening to even one prisoner then it is worth its weight in gold, and yet I am glad to say it helps hundreds of prisoners a year.
I recently met Jenny Chapman, Shadow Minister for Prisons, to talk about ideas for the next Labour manifesto. I told her about organisations that aid the support and rehabilitation of prisoners and bring invaluable services that should be embedded and delivered by the prison system, not outside charities. The Listener Service is no exception it is an exemplar to be protected with ring fenced funding and targets by prison governors to ensure engagement and co-operation in delivery.
The Little Book of Prison helps first time offenders to get through what is surely one of the most difficult times in their lives but it would never be standard issue to inmates (some say that it should be). However knowing it helps people makes me very proud indeed.
My thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts with you.