By Chris Hammond
Carl Cattermole is an ex-offender, who on finishing his stint in an English prison, decided to help those preparing for life inside. The result of his work is the publication of ‘HM Prison Service: A Survival Guide’. Here he talks to Scotcampus about what made him write the guide and the conditions inside he was faced with.
So what can people expect to read about in your Survival Guide?
“HM Prison Service: A Survival Guide is designed to help anyone who might be going to jail in the near future. That’s not as unlikely as you may think; England imprisons more of its population than China, Turkey, India and almost any other country in the western world. The guide contains everything, from what to pack in your bag when you go to court, to how to maintain your relationship whilst you’re banged up. It has even got recipes on how to make vodka from a kettle lead, a bucket and some mouldy orange juice. It’s written in a gritty simple style designed to communicate information to those who most need it.”
Is there anything you left out which you wanted to include?
“The zine is fairly all encompassing but in the future I’d like to create versions for youth offenders, women and those serving a long sentence so that the project becomes more consummate.”
Did you have any idea what to expect when you went into prison?
“A friend of mine who’d already done a sentence told me what to expect, the information that he gave me helped me hit the ground running and was invaluable. That was my main inspiration for ‘HM Prison Service: A Survival Guide’. Still though there’s a lot to learn when you get there, every prison is different.”
How were inmates treated by the prison authorities, did it always feel safe inside?
“Wow, how long have you got? The prison authorities let you down every step of the way. I’m not even talking about how they steal your property (this happens to almost everyone), make the complaints system virtually impenetrable to those without substantial motivation and legal knowledge or throw away applications when you want to go to family funerals. I’m referring to the way the prison service fails to rehabilitate or provide for those who most need it, when doing this would without doubt reduce the future criminal propensity of inmates.
They fail to recognise illiterate people, often advertising literacy courses with long winded wordy posters. Drugs are everywhere too. I’d say that without a doubt more people leave prison with a drug habit than go in with one. They fail to unlock you and ‘forget’ to call you when you have a visit so your friends and family come all the way and you can’t see them. As far as people feeling safe? No not at all. I was victimised by a member of staff because I could give a coherent argument against her abuses of power, she made me lose my job, made me high risk, made me lose privileges, other staff on the wing threw away complaints I’d written about her.
I didn’t feel ‘unsafe’ but a lot of people do; I remember reading a HMIP report from 2009 where 44% of inmates said they’d been victimised by staff. Anyway, I could go on…”
Did you ever meet anyone who you really thought shouldn’t have been in prison?
“Yes. Shoplifters who’d got 6 months for stealing a packet of sausages (is that really value for money for the taxpayer?). A guy who was on an indeterminate sentence for threatening to rob someone. A guy who’d got 18 months for 5 ounces of cannabis. The worst case was my friend who is doing 20 years for producing acid and MDMA; that’s more than most terrorists, five times the sentence of some murderers, infinitely longer than policemen who didn’t even go to jail for possessing the most serious type of child pornography. It’s crazy, isn’t it?”
We hear all the time from various ‘experts’ is that the prison system doesn’t work and that it’s broken. Would you agree with that?
“100%. You really need to go to prison to quite understand how broken and ineffective the prison system is. To quote Douglas Hurd – ‘prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse’.”
What one thing would you change to make life easier for inmates?
“I’d make it harder to get hold of heroin in prison. Heroin is the cause of virtually all the fights and stabbings; it ruins people’s lives and makes them come back to prison over and over again.”
Has anyone from the prison service been in touch about your guide?
“No. I suspect they won’t like it as it’s realistic and un-sanitised.”
Finally, now that you’re out how are you finding life?
“Great. I’m motivated, getting on with stuff, trying to help as many people as possible who may find themselves in a similar situation. Prison didn’t make me regret anything; it just exacerbated and further justified my hate for a dysfunctional and unjust system. I hope a government in the future will have the balls to put the long term goals of reducing crime and therefore the prison population ahead of the current goals of increasing Serco’s profits and convincing the electorate that they are ‘tough on crime’.”
Check out HM Prison Service: A Survival Guide online at www.prisonism.info. Feel free to share online with others.