I’ve been talking to Ross Greenwood again, and picking up more unusual and unexpected tips on what life is like inside a prison. This is a distillation of the things he’s said, and it makes for interesting and in places uncomfortable reading. But if you want to portray a life inside, working in one or two of these points may help bring a new level of realism to your story.
- New inmates often arrive hungry. Having been in court all day and then stuck in transport van, they haven’t had the appetite or opportunity to eat. Newspapers make out that all prisoners are hardened brutes who sneered at the system, but all except the insane fear the courts. Hunger isn’t a concern until the verdict is in.
- Some new inmates will arrive in the clothes they were arrested in on the Friday night, even though it was then Monday.
- New inmates may be afraid to shower, having watched too many prison movies. So you’d give them a faded stiff towel and a bar of plain soap, and tell them to use the sink.
- A significant proportion of prisoners (of both genders) have mental health problems. Many were victims before they were villains.
- Prisons are not holiday camps, but they could be more spartan. However, locking people up with nothing to do and no TV when they already have mental health illnesses is inhumane. If they’re struggling with life before jail, that is not going to help.
- Most murders are clear cut. The perpetrator normally knows the victim. Often, it was their partner.
- Most of those accused of murder plead guilty when put in front of the Crown judge, but it is rare for them to be sentenced on the spot. They usually have to return to court to be sentenced; often about two weeks later.
- Those two weeks will be spent in jail and the reaction of the prisoners to the wait is fascinating, the weight could be seen falling off them. The nights are long as they wait for the axe to fall. People age years.
- Hygiene is not high on inmate priorities. Brushing teeth is not, for many, a regular occurrence. Toothache affects a significant portion of prisoners. The stench of their breath is indescribable. See point 3, some don’t shower for their entire stay.
- Gob watch (Ross’ term not an official one). When prisoners are on medications, these have to be passed out and someone has to check that they are taken, but prisoners are adept at hiding pills for a later buzz, suicide attempt or to sell, so an officer has to check their mouths. It’s easier to hide pill in teeth with holes, see point 8, so they have to be checked, try not to imagine the stench.
One other thing that Ross did add was this:
The Coronavirus has given us a glimpse into that world. It feels surreal, unnatural, claustrophobic, stressful and boring, and we’re only under house arrest. All our plans have gone to pot. We don’t know if we’ll have a job when all this is over. How will we pay the mortgage? We’ll miss weddings and funerals. Will life be the same afterwards? Could we lose hope?
This is a point on which I total agree with him, see my blog “New Year, Old Lockdown.”
Why not take a look at Ross’s Amazon Page for more information on him and his fabulous books. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ross-Greenwood/e/B019JRK0AY/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1
I hope these general pointers help others with their writing, and want to say a big thank you to Ross for being so open and honest with all he’s had to say on the topic.