“Roof over the head, three square meals a day, gym, swimming pool, you can get your hair and nails done.” Chloe.
“It’s the same old routine every time. You come to jail, come down here do the detox and when you get released you go back out and you do the same old thing again, and then you end up coming back in again, it’s just boring now, I don’t want to do it anymore.” Nicola
Holloway prison, in North London, holds up to 500 female inmates and is the largest women’s prison in Europe. Incarcerated behind heavy security is a complete cross section of criminals, from petty villains and drug-addicted prostitutes to swindling fraudsters and high profile murderers. Many are seasoned re-offenders schooled in the ways of prison life.
With unprecedented access, this brand new three part series follows the lives of the prisoners, prison officers, from Governor down, and medical staff, who make up this complex, noisy and disturbed community – in order to reveal the truth behind Holloway Prison.
The documentary will afford viewers a unique and revealing insight into prison life and female criminality today and demonstrates the practical function Holloway serves in the lives of the inmates – from the fear it holds for the first time offender worried she is entering a real life ‘Bad Girls’ to the recidivists who use it as a refuge from their chaotic lives on the outside, or as a free drug rehab facility.
Holloway’s population is transient, some are on their way to other prisons, others to and from court, some are lucky enough to be going home, but many are coming back. Over a half of women released from Holloway make the return journey.
Up to 80 per cent of the inmates have drug issues and many have mental health problems and are unwanted by a society which has washed its hands of them.
Holloway has no such luxury. “Our actual duty is not only to make sure these damaged women are held safely in our custody but it is also to make sure that they are treated humanely and encouraged to reduce their re-offending and successfully reintegrate back into society.” says Sue Saunders, Governor of Holloway.
These three compelling films show staff facing this challenge, made all the more difficult by an intake of increasingly violent young offenders.
The average stay of a Holloway inmate is just 45 days. It is a holding prison, defined by its transient population. Its function is to hold inmates on remand, or until they move to other jails.
Repeat offenders also come through the gates with alarming regularity. Shockingly, the main reason for this is drugs.
Every prisoner is seen by a doctor on arrival, and at times the scale of drug abuse is staggering. Most arrivals go straight to “Ivor Ward”, the prison’s specialist detox unit. So successful is its detox programme that some addicts trying to get clean are actually hoping to come into Holloway.
May reveals that she has put herself in Holloway on purpose after applying many times for detox treatment and being told she is not a priority. She tells the programme: “I went out and committed the smallest crime I could commit which would give me the shortest sentence possible.”
She wants to get off heroin for the sake of her five year old daughter, who she describes as her “inspiration” and “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever done.”
May is serving a six week sentence and desperately wants to be drug free before her release.
She says: “I want to be clean when I get out of here, I don’t even want to be on a tablet, a nurofen, anything. If you get released when you are still on Methadone you will use. I just want to be totally clean.”
It isn’t only addicts who find life preferable on the inside. Chloe, 18, has anger issues, and struggles to cope on the outside. She is in Holloway for wrecking the B & B she was staying in. She is now homeless.
Chloe is a familiar face in Holloway. We see her serving her fourth prison stretch of the year. She had been on the outside for just three and a half weeks before this stay, but admits she usually only lasts a week.
She says of Holloway: “Roof over the head, three square meals a day, gym, swimming pool, you can get you hair and nails done.”
The last time she was in Holloway, she created a trail of destruction including barricading herself in her own cell before being moved to the segregation unit for her own safety.
After becoming involved in an argument she throws her dinner on the floor of the corridor and then floods her cell. Officers decide to take her to the segregation unit for her own safety; she will also be facing disciplinary action.
In the segregation unit Chloe is about to face an adjudication for flooding her cell. She pleads guilty and is told she must stay on the segregation unit for seven days. Following this decision her behaviour deteriorates rapidly.
In her cell, Chloe is attempting to choke herself using ligatures made from torn up clothing and bedding, continually forcing staff to come in and cut the ligatures off. This is a familiar pattern of behaviour. In the past she has kept doing this for hours, causing a constant strain on officers and resources.
Governor Sue Saunders says: “Self harm generally is an attempt to hurt themselves because they don’t like themselves; sometimes it’s an attempt to shout out for help, to express their desperation. It’s a huge responsibility, not only keeping them alive but trying so hard to help them to change and to stop hurting themselves and reach out and get some help.”
Sadly, the odds of staying clean and remaining out of prison are not good for many prisoners. Following their release many return to Holloway.
For many addicts a stay in Holloway is a way to escape the chaos of their lives outside the prison walls.
Nicola, 20, has done the Holloway detox a shocking five times. “It’s the same old routine all the time. Go to jail, come down here do the detox and when you get released you go back out and you do the same old thing again, and then you end up coming back in again, it’s just boring now, I don’t want to do it anymore.”
Nearing the end of her three week sentence, Nicola decides to visit the prison hairdresser, so she looks nice for her dad when she is released. It’s the first time she has had her hair done for two years.
The salon is run by a dedicated prison officer, assisted by inmates. It’s a subsidised oasis of calm, giving the women a rare taste of normality.
Nicola is adamant she will stay clean on the outside. She tells the programme she will just stick to methadone, but admits: “I might have a little dabble here and there, but probably only once a month or something.”
Nicola has reached the end of her sentence and is about to be released. Her future isn’t certain. She admits she is quite scared about leaving and “going back to the same old routine.” She says: “You can say you’re going to stop taking drugs…but as soon as you’re out of those gates it’s a different thing.”
Lorraine, 41, is a new arrival at Holloway, and full of trepidation about what lies ahead. She tells the programme that she thinks prison will be “rough and horrible and full of drug addicts.” She admits she has come to that conclusion from watching Bad Girls on television. Lorraine, a mother of three, is on remand for three weeks, before being sentenced. She was found guilty of GBH after running someone over after an argument. This is her first offence; she has never set foot in a prison before.
Lorraine struggles to cope in Holloway. “Listening to these keys going every five minutes is doing my head in. I’ve got a thing about all different noises in my head. In my room I’ve got the TV going, there’s the radio going, then someone else with the radio on, with headphones but going full blast and the keys jangling every five minutes and I’m like my head’s ready to explode”
As Lorraine returns to court for sentencing, she is scared because she knows she could get up to five years. She says that if it goes badly it will “hit her like a ton of bricks.” She receives eighteen months.
Governor Sue Saunders says: “The message you try and convey to the women is that you probably wouldn’t choose to be here, but whilst you are here, for goodness sake make the best of it. The people who have a difficult time at Holloway are the people who rebel against everything, and eventually most of them have to come round anyway, because you can’t really buck the system, you have to get on with it. “
Back on the segregation unit, after three days of chaos, the prison staff have managed to calm Chloe down. She has even begun polite negotiations with the officers, by pushing written requests under her cell door.
Prison Officer Dawn Bailey explains: “When she comes down to the unit we get the ligatures, the abuse and bad behaviour and when she starts calming down we get the sorry notes, that’s just her way.”
When asked if she likes Chloe, Dawn says: “She’s alright, you do get to have a, not a soft spot, you try and work with them and get the best for them because that’s what we’re here for to support them and look after and care for them from here, so that when they get released that will carry on. “
Chloe is approaching the end of her 21 day sentence but has nowhere to go so Holloway’s resettlement unit becomes her last resort. The unit provides assistance with all aspects of life on the outside.
Chloe is told she will be provided with some warm clothing, and the officer explains to Chloe that because they are still not sure about her housing situation, and she may be homeless, they will provide her with a tent and groundsheet.
Housing Officer Kay Worley says of Chloe: “Nobody wants her, they won’t take the risk. Because she can’t get on with people in prison, she’s not going to get on with anybody.”
Asked if Chloe may be in a tent at Christmas, Kay admits she could, and says: “Terrible isn’t it? In this day and age is that not terrible?”
With her release date getting nearer, and fearing imminent destitution, Chloe’s behaviour deteriorates, and once again she starts trying to choke herself with ligatures.
Officers attempt to calm Chloe down and remove the ligatures from her neck. The officers need to move her to a different cell where she will be easier to manage, but this is a difficult and potentially dangerous exercise. Chloe hits out at one of the prison officers, leaving a raised handprint on the officer’s back.
Senior Prison Officer Sharon Kelly says: “She’s not in the frame of mind at the moment for giving up, we just have to keep going….we will keep her alive and well. “
On being asked if she ever gets frightened of what Chloe will do to a member of staff or herself, Prison Officer Amanda Williams says: “No, what to herself? No, because I know that we can manage her. That’s what we’re trained to do. It is sad that she is so young and she is going out to nothing. But there’s nothing we can do, we’ve done everything we can and we can’t help her any more.”
May is one week into her accelerated detox. She hopes to complete it before her release in a few days time.
Like other prisoners she is wary of leaving Holloway’s care. “I’m kind of worried, Thursday they’re going to put me out of jail, its crazy because I want to be fully off it. I might as well do my detox here, get fully off it, get something good out of it. I’m constantly coming in so I may as well get something good out of it.”
Accepting her fate, Lorraine is firmly embedding herself in Holloway life; she is even bonding with her cellmates. Lorraine has found comfort and security with her new friends. She soon learns that nothing can be taken for granted in Holloway.
Nicola’s time on the outside was brief. After her release she missed her appointment with her probation officer after heading straight for the pub. She explains her swift return: “Half an hour it took me to go out and score some drugs, between leaving the gates and going home. I got done for suspicion of shoplifting and then ended up punching a police sergeant.”
May is leaving Holloway without completing her detox, she must now ensure she resists temptation and completes it on the outside. She is currently on 15 ml of methadone.
“When I get down to ten mil I know I’m going to be ill. I know what I’m like. It’s hard not to do it but I’m going to my mum’s. If I stay at my place I’ll be around the gear so I’ll just go straight to my mum’s.”
Whether this is a one way ticket for May, only time will tell.
Lorraine has had some bad news; she has to leave Holloway for a prison miles away. “They said I’m going to Downview but I’m not going nowhere. I’m not having my mum traipse down there and wait God knows how long for me to see my son. I’m not having it, it’s so wrong. You get settled in a place then all of a sudden they want to up and move you.”
Lorraine protests to the prison officers but the prison is overcrowded and she has no choice.
However, not everybody’s news is bad. Calm has descended on the segregation unit. Chloe has been told that she will be allowed to go and live at her mum’s.
She has written a note to the prison officers apologising for her behaviour, she writes, ‘I am sorry for the harm I inflicted on you this morning, it was the wrong thing to do, you were doing your job, for the rest of the day and my sentence you shall not have to wrestle me to the floor any more. So again, I’m very sorry for the harm I caused you all.’
She is asked by the programme if she knows why she behaves the way she does. She says: “When I was little I used to be quite secretive, I didn’t speak very much to people I didn’t know … so it’s my way of saying, ‘Look, please don’t forget about me I am here.’ I don’t want to become the forgotten mute again. I’ve got to start admitting the truth so I can move on in my life. And don’t stay in the past.”
Chloe needs to make lasting changes to her behaviour if she’s to avoid returning to Holloway for a fifth time.
Nurse Tracy Welch tells the programme: “It’s a constant circle, release, outside, lack of resources, let down by us? And then she will commit another crime to come back to Holloway because she feels safe, it’ll either be one week, two weeks but Chloe will be back and then we start the whole cycle again.”
In fact it was one week before Chloe returned to Holloway for a fifth time
Nicola was sentenced to five months for assault.
Lorraine was released from Downview Prison in February and is on a tag.
May stayed clean and booked into a residential rehab.
Tuesday, 17 March 2009, 9:00PM – 10:00PM