I managed to speak to some guards today. They also discussed the physical changes to inmates, when they arrive from closed condition. They described them as arriving as shadows, who slowly transform by straightening up, starting to talk more and then finding their smiles. This reinforced my feeling that this place is transformative and you can feel it in the air-I wish I could bottle the atmosphere to allow you to experience it yourselves. It felt warm and safe even though it was cold and snowy. Not only because of the beautiful setting, but also because the people at the prison create an environment of ease. Having worked in an English prison, the contrast is incredible. I always remember finishing a day at work in prison and feeling relieved when I handed in my keys, having felt a low level of anxiety throughout the day. I also remember going into a wing and getting bombarded by queries and questions from anxious inmates. The atmosphere was tense. At BastØy, losing their freedom is the punishment and the impact of this is sometimes underestimated and can be profound. It highlights to me that irrespective of whether a prison is open or closed, we can create opportunities that promote personal growth; opportunities that hold value rather than resentment. I cannot comprehend how harsh and unsettling places can support people to move away from crime.
When I disembarked the ferry today I became suddenly aware of my own freedom. I went to the shops, rang my family, walked a different route back to my room and sat outside during the evening, looking at the stars. I did it on my terms. People at BastØy often said; “you may feel a sense of freedom but you should never forget you are in a prison”. A prison like this focuses on preparing people for freedom. In this sense, practising freedom (and the feelings connected to it) seems beneficial. I feel saddened and angry that our prisons are getting bigger and losing sight of the things that are important. As some countries are closing prisons due to their successes in rehabilitation, we (in England and Wales) are planning to build bigger prisons. But at what cost? A smaller system, which uses closed prisons intelligently could develop our prisons in England and Wales. The average size of prisons in Norway is 76. I am starting to recognise the benefits of this approach rather than warehousing prisoners on mass. One staff member said to me today; “I used to think we should lock people up and throw away the key, until I came to BastØy.” He talked about how he has become open to the idea of getting to know inmates and what skills and abilities they have. He talked about the importance of taking an informed and tolerant approach and how this contributed to inmates recognising their role within society. His position was very much that inmates have a great deal to offer and this should be encouraged and nurtured.