What Christmas is like for men behind bars in Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 11:23 21 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:28 21 December 2018
While many of us wrap gifts and decorate our homes in the run-up to Christmas, more than 2,200 men in HMP Norwich, Wayland and Bure are preparing to spend Christmas Day away from their families and loved ones.
Morale runs low within prison walls - as many mark down the days, months and years of their sentence, the festive period can be a difficult time for prisoners to count away.
A day of sadness
Officer Guiney, at HMP Wayland, describes Christmas Day as a time beset with sadness for some of the men at the prison.
“Not all offenders mark Christmas,” he said. “Some do not want to be reminded that they cannot celebrate with the people they wish to be with.
“So, when we open the doors on Christmas morning, we only end our usual ‘good morning’ with a ‘Merry Christmas!’ if they say it first.
“It is especially important over Christmas to get around every cell and make sure any concerns or issues are discussed.
“I served 20 years in the Royal Air Force and spent lots of Christmases separated from my family, so I can relate to what some of the prisoners feel over the holidays. Not everyone can cope.
“Officers support prisoners’ feelings and help them address some of the reasons they are in prison.
“Christmas is an opportunity for us to encourage prisoners to look at the terrific courses, help and advice that may help them to lead law-abiding, useful lives after their release – helping prevent them from being apart from their loved ones on future holidays.”
A time of hope
Christmas serves as the perfect time for men on the path to redemption, as a number of activities are held in the prisons to help them feel some normality during the season of giving.
At HMP Wayland, the library offers a story book recording service, where prisoners can record themselves reading a book on a disc which can be sent as a gift to their children, so that they are able to hear their father’s voice on Christmas Day.
Around 150 men take part in it every year, which not only helps to boost their confidence to turn their life around but also encourages them to take an active part in their child’s life, even if they are dozens of miles away.
A study by Lord Michael Farmer in 2017, which looked at the importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties to prevent reoffending, found that prisoners who receive family visits are 39pc less likely to reoffend, and so schemes that help prisoners connect to their loved ones are deemed important for their rehabilitation.
Placing themselves in a quiet room in the library, the grown men read and sometimes sing popular children’s books, such as Peppa Pig - Daddy Pig’s Office, The Gruffalo, Funnybones and Peace At Last.
Library manager Sarah Clarke said the exercise helped some of the men with their literacy skills, with added guidance from staff and officers at the prison.
If a prisoner cannot read or has a low ability, the officer will read the lines of the book for the prisoner to repeat back on the recording.
“It’s for any men in the prison who would like to read a story to their family,” Ms Clarke said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be their children - it could be nephews, nieces and grandchildren.
“We get a lot of men who aren’t very confident because they can’t read very well. We record with them in a quite area and they do a greeting, like ‘hi, it’s daddy, I’m going to read you a story’, and then say goodbye in the end.”
The discs are then sent to HMP Dartmoor where the stories come to life with added sound effects and music. The discs are returned to the men for them to post to their families in time for Christmas.
For some of the men it is about contributing something positive to their families, and, for others, it acts as a harmless ruse to keep up the pretence of why dad is not at home.
“Some of the children don’t know where they are,” said Ms Clarke. “A lot of men don’t necessarily have visits because of distance.
“It gives the men hope and a reason to carry on through their sentence.
“We get great feedback every week, it’s been so good.”
Leaving troubles behind
The festivities continue throughout the prisons with craft-making workshops to create garlands, baubles and Christmas cards and wing-based games and competitions between Christmas Day and New Year.
The men are encouraged to come together for Christmas lunch - with the typical roast dinner and Christmas pudding on the menu - and games including pool, snooker, chess, backgammon, dominoes, darts and quizzes.
At HMP Wayland, each wing is also allocated an allowance for prizes.
Ms Clarke said festive activities encouraged camaraderie between the men, adding: “It gets them away from the wings, especially at this time of year.
“It’s such a lovely environment, they’re relaxed and spending time with others.
“Their behaviour in the wings is not what we see - from what we hear, the wings can be an awful place to be but in the library they leave all of that behind.
“We are civilian staff and we make them feel welcome and relaxed. Christmas time is a difficult time for them and we try our best to get them through that.”