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#prison blog Log 5: The more I saw inmates as PEOPLE, the more the ‘inmate’ faded away

January 23, 2017

 

At BastØy, beauty is around every corner, people are respectful to one another and it is a nice place to be.  There is no disputing this.  I think this kind of environment pays huge dividends.  At BastØy, there have been no recordings of suicide, assaults on staff or inmates are unheard of and drug use at BastØy is rare.  The reason for this, so the inmates tell me, is because they have too much to lose and the threat of returning to closed prison is too great.   

 

This idea of a safe and settled prison just adds to my feelings of astonishment.  As I pass every inmate, they smile and wave at me.  I am starting to be accepted I think and this makes me feel a part of something positive. I have found a place which inspires me and I still struggle between what I am feeling and the thought in my head that is saying; “you shouldn’t feel this in a prison”.   I don’t get this level of connection down my own street at home and I am finding it increasingly difficult to think of ‘these people’ as inmates as they appear to me more as ‘good neighbours’.  I visited a ‘house’ today (see a photo after all the snow) and my coat was taken to be hung up, I was given slippers, chocolate and a coffee and felt immediately at ease and safe. 

 

I didn’t know what the inmates were serving time for and as I talked about everyday things, the prison and the label of ‘inmate’ faded away.  They appear unburdened with how the media portray them because newspapers in Norway report crime in a very different way.  Instead of the monsters that we read about in the news, they were instead, people like you and me, with talents and skills.  I can appreciate this may be hard to accept, particularly if you have been a victim of crime.  In some ways, creating all offenders as monsters is easier for us to make sense of some abhorrent behaviour that causes so much harm.  But from my experiences at BastØy, I did not find the monsters that we read about.  The inmates showed me care and respect and shared fascinating stories about their lives openly.  I wondered whether this care and respect was only characteristic to BastØy or even Norway as a whole, but then I reflected on my experience working with offenders in England. 

 

I can only think of one instance when a prisoner was disrespectful to me and reflecting on this, he was experiencing a significant amount of stress at the time and later apologised for his behaviour.  Conversely, I can think of several acts of kindness, supportive comments and respectful encounters during my Probation career.  I value respect and have always strived to outwardly acknowledge my respect for others; I would like to think that this is why I receive respect back. 

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