The Day I Went To Prison

Barbie made me laugh :D Borrowed from here.
If you're not aware, I'm a 3rd year Criminology student at Durham University. I'm about to embark on writing my final four essays, hand them in, complete one exam and then graduate. Which is scary, considering I remember my first day back in 1st year really vividly! Recently, as part of our Sociology of Punishment module, a small group of us were invited for a tour around HMP Durham, a category B prison located smack bang in the middle of Durham City. If you've never been to Durham, or even heard of it, it's an incredibly quaint old city with a historic Castle and Cathedral, as well as a large Victorian prison, and that's HMP Durham.

Now I know that this post is a little at odds with regular content here on Confetti Letters but, as one of my blog aims for 2013 was to include a few more personal posts, I have decided to write about my experiences of visiting a prison. I wasn't, for obvious reasons, allowed to take photos in HMP Durham. In fact, just bringing a mobile phone or any electronic equipment past the security desk is a criminal offence that could see you receive your own jail time. For this reason the prison officers (I'll call them POs) communicate via radio, and inmates have to use public telephones to call an approved list of phone numbers. If you're in desperate need of visual material to accompany my words then feel free to Google 'HMP Durham' and you'll find some shots on there.
Found on WeHeartIt
On a personal level I have never known many people who have been to prison, I've known people who have committed a variety of crimes, but not that many who have actually spent any significant amount of time behind bars. Why I chose to study Criminology I'll never know, but after 3 years I feel well versed in the delights of crime and criminality, I've learnt a great many theories to try and explain why people turn to crime, and have discussed the possibility of alternatives to prison. There are many people who believe the British Criminal Justice System to be failing, arguing that there are just too many people that constantly try the patience of the courts and end up in a cyclical life where prison, release, crime, court and prison are just about the only constants they have. I'm a believer in rehabilitation, although many would disagree with me, but to leave rehabilitation to one institution alone, the prison, in my opinion is not effective. But that's material for another post.

Once past security we were shown a number of areas of the prison, taken into the visitor's room, shown the workshops and education facilities, the gym, the prison greenhouses and plant growing area, lead through the chapel and finally around a variety of wings that house the cells. HMP Durham is an all male prison, at one point females were present but they've moved just outside of Durham City. We didn't actually come into contact with any of the prisoners as our visit was timed perfectly to co-incide with lunch time. One thing that struck me here was that prisoners have to eat all of their meals in their cells, sitting on the floor or on their beds. We got to experience the cells for ourselves, the PO crammed all 18 of us into a 2 man cell and it was completely suffocating. I'm surprised at the distinct lack of space, I know I'd hate to be crammed in there for multiple hours a day! 

Found here.
In my opinion, prison sets out to serve two functions in a society, to limit the liberty of offenders in order to protect the public from dangerous people, and to rehabilitate those are open to change in their life. The PO who lead us around HMP Durham talked at length about the rehabilitative measures that are in place in Durham which includes access to educational courses, work courses (we were shown the wood and brick workshops) and ICT courses. This is where I was surprised that the prison was managing to dispel a great many myths I had come to learn throughout the course as a result of the media, for example: 
  1. Prisoners do not sit in their cells all day twiddling their thumbs and watching TV. In fact those who work or undertake educational courses in prison are able to spend the majority of the day bettering themselves for the future. 
  2. There were no play stations or computer games in sight. Any televisions we saw were no bigger than old 1990's portable TVs, hardly luxury!
  3. Prison is not a holiday camp. In fact I felt incredibly despondent walking around the cell wings and outbuildings. Everything was painted a murky beige colour, cell doors were tiny and shrunken into the walls of the wings, and 
  4. Prisoners do not have luxuries of everyday life, including their own clothes, toiletries, and cells full of personal possessions. In fact in HMP Durham the only personal items a person is allowed to bring into prison is a set of clothes. Everything else they have to buy in the prison shop using money they've earned from working inside or been sent in from family/friends. 
  5. Violence and prisoner hierarchy does exist in prison. Some prisons segregate the most vulnerable inmates (i.e those who have committed sexual offences) but HMP Durham does not. I found this quite interesting and the PO said it was quite unique. I don't know the stats for inmate-on-inmate violence in Durham but that'd be interesting to study! 
Overall I managed to gain a fascinating insight into the British Prison system. For a realistic working insight, if you're into this sort of thing, then I recommend watching ITV's HMP Aylesbury that was recently on the tellybox (you don't have long left to watch it though, so hurry!). Now that I'm so close to graduating I'm really not put off by working in a prison...watch this space, I might be a beauty/fashion/lifestyle blogging prison officer in the near future...

If you have any questions about it all, I'll be happy to answer them.


  1. This was so interesting to read! I watched the ITV HMP Aylesbury TV programme and found it really fascinating. Good luck with the rest of your studies! x

  2. Wow, this was so interesting! I had no idea they do wood, brick or ICT courses in prison either. I love documentaries about prison and crime, and I'm a complete sucker for Crimewatch! It's not everyday you find a beauty blogging prison officer! Good luck with your course lovely, bet its been so interesting xx

  3. This was so cool to read, very interesting :) Just googled it, it's so big. I'd find that really scary x

  4. I found this so interesting as criminology is something im seriously considering to study!


  5. I'd loved to have visited a prison, I did criminology and psychology joint honours at uni and we never did anything like this! Definitely agree that prisoner on prisoner violence would be interesting to study, if there was a way of accurately doing so x

  6. Really interesting post, nice to hear about other topics in your life. I too had an interest in studying criminology, but unfortunately Ireland does not offer very good courses on that topic. So I stuck to computer science! I still am fascinated with crime related topics though.

    Love your blog overall, great post :)


  7. That's really interesting, it's amazing how much you learn by experiencing things compared to the news. I linked my sister to this as she's a Psychology & Criminology student at John Moores and really likes the criminology side, hope you don't mind :)

  8. Nice to read something a little different, loved reading it. Loving all the prison programmes at the moment so post fits in well xx



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