'Presuming on an Ague's Privilege'
(Richard II, ii, i)
Text: Matthew Woodhead
Artwork: Lawrence Mathias
Going to HMP Pentonville with the London Shakespeare Workout was one of the most revelatory experiences I’ve had. Entering the prison, Bruce mentioned that it was a privilege to see the inner workings of a jail like this. To enter the belly of the thing and see a side, a function of our society so many of us are ignorant to. Having visited relatives in prison I didn’t feel completely alien to the environment – but to walk along the wings, to see the crowding, the many faces, to see the sheer number of young men watching with cat like interest behind bars and through windows of reinforced Perspex was not only shocking, but brought up a great gnawing in the heart, of how ordinary, how banal, seemingly how cruel and inevitable this place “prison,” was.
To read the rabid, click-bait tabloids, to listen to a Government which shows no interest in the most vulnerable and disempowered in our society, we are led to believe, with platitudes of honey that these men are beyond help. We’re told not to concern ourselves, to let those who deserve to, suffer and to simply get on with our everyday routines (and in fact, most us will – unless or until we find ourselves, or someone we love trapped in the web of a punitive judicial system, interested only in incarceration.) No pill could be more ignorant or callous for us to swallow.
These men are our own. They are our fathers, uncles, brothers, sons, cousins, partners and friends. These men are not islands. They and their crimes are a product of our society. The work carried out by Dr. Bruce Wall and the LSW is generous and humanizing. It seeks out those who are receptive at a time of great stress and constant hostility and plants a seed. Such work is, such tools for rehabilitation are, rare.