“It’s hard to train for freedom in a cage” is just one of the memorable quotes to be found in the Oxford History of the Prison edited by Norvall Morris and David Rothman.
Memories of what it is to be free recede as your sentence progresses, as you are forced to accept the rhythm of prison life. Of shower, facility time, work, servery, work, servery, association, bang up. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.
As fellow prisoners will confirm the key to maintaining sanity inside a cell lies between your ears. “They can lock up your body but not your mind” is an oft heard phrase.
For most the staple in cell diet of TV, inane adverts, music and ‘news’ from the ‘real’ world, along with, if you’re lucky, conversation with a really good pad mate will see you through bang up.
But for some this is not enough. Suddenly cast in to a regime bearing some comparison to that found in a monastery. Often forced to confront their own demons. It is no great surprise that some prisoners discover religious faith when they least expect it and some rediscover the pleasures of reading. An activity so often sidelined, certainly in my case, by the daily pressures of life on the outside.
Through my time at HMP the inspiring attitude of staff within the Library and the teachers within Education has not only kept me sane. It has also wrought changes upon me for the better.
In this context the monthly Reading Group requires special mention. The regular opportunity to sit down comfortably in a relaxed forum amongst my peers….To share opinions on books that I might not otherwise have read and even, on occasion, have the opportunity to converse with their author. Not forgetting coffee and sometimes cake or biscuits! This is a precious activity with long term benefits extending well beyond the time it occupies.
Before coming to prison it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to seek out membership of a local reading Group. Neither would I have realised the riches to be gained from seeing books through the minds of others and challenging my own preconceptions.
But now I have resolved to set aside at least an hour each day to reading and freeing my mind. I shall also, upon release, be seeking membership of a local reading group. It will be interesting to see how it compares.
Now go back to Give a Book