Text by Nicholas Burns
The most striking thing on arriving at Pentonville was that all my preconceptions about the nature of prison buildings were realised.
A Victorian Category A prison, the reality of the sight of tiny cells and cramped living conditions came as quite a shock, especially as I was actually there as opposed to watching it on TV from the comfort of my sitting room. Equally, meeting and talking to the prisoners was a humbling experience.
They told me their day finished at 4.30 p.m., at which time they were shut away for the rest of the day. Their optimism and willingness to participate in the Workout in face of this permeated through the abject boredom which must dominate their lives.
Their enjoyment was physically obvious and manifest in their very gratifying comments afterwards. One guy shook my hand and told me that it had been ‘the highlight of [his] week’. I felt as immensely privileged by this comment as I had been to be part of something that had illuminated this man’s life if only for the briefest of moments.
This reminded me of a quote from the film: ‘The Shawshank Redemption’: ‘It was like a highly coloured bird flapped its wings in our drab little cage.’
I felt my first prison visit was a good one. I was heartened to know it had made a similar difference for the inmates too!