I managed to talk to a number of inmates today, one who talked about their first days on BastØy, after being in a closed prison for 10 years. The closed prison sounded similar to some of our prisons in England, with inmates locked in their cells for 23 hours of the day, getting lost in their thoughts and being told when to eat, shower and exercise. One inmate explained this as a place where he had no responsibility. In this sense, it was straight-forward. He talked about arriving on the island on a cold day and feeling the fresh air for the first time, being told he didn’t have to strip search, being given his own key to his house, shown the shop where he needs to buy his own food (see shop on the left) and his work place (see cattle shed below) where he is expected to work each weekday. He said he felt utterly overwhelmed. After being told what to do for the past decade, he needed to start making decisions.
He also talked about a friend of his who was released straight from closed conditions and just found himself walking around in a circle, as he had done so for the years during his hour out of the cell. He discussed how he doesn’t wear a watch because there is no need to. The guards determine what he does during an average day. I have trouble imagining that. I also can’t imagine not needing to know the time; for the school run, attending meetings or and getting the bus. I hate not wearing my watch. But I guess these things do not operate in prison. These are the things that are lost as a consequence of people losing their liberty. They lose all the things I take for granted and I understood why time would hold a different meaning to some. One inmate said that time goes quickly in closed conditions, due to monotonous lifestyle. In this sense, BastØy may be harder than a closed prison environment.
I left the prison today reflecting on the impact of prison and the ideas around responsibility. Enabling people to take responsibility for their crimes, then taking away responsibility in prison fills me with confusion. The ironic thing was that it seemed that inmates wanted responsibility, they wanted to have a purpose. They wanted to contribute to something. Creating environments that embrace responsibility are surely more beneficial to us in terms of the kinds of people we wanted released back into our communities?