Saturday, 14 November 2015

Spoons 6: HMP Wayland

I was approached by staff at HMP Wayland to work with them as part of a wider 'Museums in Prisons' initiative. 
My line manager, Jan, and I met with staff from a prison unit called the PIPE (Psychologically Informed Planned Environment) to discuss the best way of working together. 

The PIPE has a much higher staff-to-prisoner ratio, so is able to create a more informal environment than in standard units. In the PIPE, prisoners are able to experience more variety in their daily activities and interactions and they also receive an increased amount of psychological and well-being intervention. By providing a 'step-down' from the usual prison routine, the PIPE's aim is to assist the prisoners' transition to life outside, and to reduce re-offending rates, after their release.

The prison staff felt that a Creating a Stir session with prisoners who had self-selected to do it would make the ideal introduction to the idea of Museums in Prisons, with a view to running more in-depth training on things like museum display text over future months.

Security checks all completed, Jan and I took the kit -including the prosthetic leg- to HMP Wayland on 11th November. 

Any nerves we may have had (and we did) soon vanished with the warm welcome we received. My only personal experience of prison was, thankfully, watching episodes of 'Porridge', but there was no ominous door-slamming here, just a lot of locking and unlocking as we passed through. 

The prisoners themselves were all very polite, good-humoured and interested. Inevitably we had some lengthy discussions on the similarities between a Victorian workhouse and a modern day prison, but the conversation also broadened out to include topics such as women's rights, rural poverty, homelessness and all manner of contemporary issues. One man dressed up in the workhouse inmates costume, to the accompaniment of a few ribald remarks; all the men engaged in the discussion and the activity.

The spoon doll-making itself was great fun. Though almost all the men declared themselves incapable of doing it, they all made tremendously individual little figures, with lots of details. They all seemed delighted to be involved in the project and, like the workhouse inmates of long ago, pleased to have their voices heard in this small way.

After the success of the day, prison staff were keen to run another session with another volunteer group of prisoners, so we'll return in January. All in all it was an incredibly positive experience for everyone involved.

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