PR : “When you get chucked in a cell and the door locked, that’s when you realise that’s your life for the next 10 to 20 months. It’s a horrible experience. You feel like you’re cut off from the world.” – Liam Poore, first-time prisoner
This new documentary for ITV this Wednesday evening goes behind the walls of Norwich prison to provide a vivid insight into daily life for criminals behind bars, and the effect on them of being separated from their families on the outside.
Made by Wild Pictures, producers of the acclaimed ITV prison series HMP Aylesbury, Strangeways and Wormwood Scrubs, this programme depicts how the jail’s 750 adult inmates and young offenders cope with the harsh realities of life inside the closed world of prison.
Most of the 2,500 new prisoners who pass through its gates every year are husbands and fathers. Statistics reveal that a fifth of marriages will break up with the strain of one partner serving a prison sentence, yet those who manage to keep family ties alive are six times less likely to reoffend.
With exclusive access to HMP Norwich, this programme provides a fresh perspective on how inmates’ contact with their families can be a lifeline while they are inside and helps them turn away from crime once released.
More than half of all offenders coming into prison are dads like Nick Grady. He has three young children at home and is serving a 13-year sentence for conspiracy to supply cocaine. As the reception orderly, Nick helps officers process new prisoners and settle them into life inside. He says: “You get a lot of nerves down here, obviously people first-timers. They’re a bit like a rabbit in headlights sometimes. You get obviously the family’s worry, you get parents’ worry, wives, you know? They’re obviously concerned for their partners who are in here.”
Nick is two years into a 13-year sentence for conspiracy to supply cocaine. In spite of the toll it has taken on his family, his partner is standing by him. He says: “They count it down by Christmases and birthdays to go. It’s four birthdays which doesn’t sound a lot but in real time it’s four years isn’t it?
“Austin [my son] has grown up in here, he took his first steps in here pretty much in the visitor’s hall. It’s not new to him, he’s been coming since he was one.
“Having seen what my family are going through, the hardness of it. The last year and a half, two years, [I’ve] watched my little boy grow up from a weekly visit – it’s not what I want.”
The prison’s head of residence and safety Jacqui Spencer explains that staff know virtually nothing about most inmates before they walk into the jail’s reception area. She says: “With new receptions, you have absolutely no idea, I have no idea if any of these lads are on detox or if they need a methadone script, first time in custody, vulnerable, we know none of that, literally unless we know them, until they walk through that door.”
Many prisoners are not new to the system – like 30-year-old father of two Rocky Gamble, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply heroin with an estimated street value of £200,000 and is waiting to be sentenced. Despite issues with discipline inside the prison, he says he has changed: “The players change but the game don’t. So, no matter how big and important you think you are in your little world, your drug world. I just don’t want to be involved with it anymore, do you know what I mean? It’s a mug’s game.”
Drugs have already taken him away from his family before. In 2009, when his eldest daughter was just three and his youngest only six months old, he was sentenced to six and half years for supplying heroin. This time, he’s preparing to serve a sixth custodial sentence – which he has been warned could be up to up to 12 years. He says: “I said to my missus, ‘Yeah I’ll behave, I’ll get out early or get D-cat (moved to open conditions) and try and get home visits or whatever,’ but that’ll never work out for me. Sometimes I sit and wonder why she does wait for me, she’s a good girl. F— me, I’m going to have sort myself out. I can’t lose her and the kids – they’re my world, do you know what I mean?”
For first-timers coming into this new world like 21-year-old Liam Poore, prison can be a frightening and bewildering place. He’s still reeling from the shock of being separated from his mum and dad, brothers, and girlfriend. He says: “I’ve put pictures on the wall to try and make myself feel a little bit more like home. Just to remind me of the people I love and miss. When you feel a bit down, [it] feels like they’re with you.”
Before coming to prison Liam was working as a window cleaner and going to college to train as a plumber. He then made the mistake that earned him a 20-month prison sentence. He bought a £7 stun gun online, he says, without realising it was an illegal weapon. Asked why he bought it, he says: “Just to p— around with my mates with. Didn’t know it was a firearm. Thought if the police would have found it on me, it would have just been a slap on the wrist.”
This is also Martin Lamb’s first time inside. He’s served two years of a six-year sentence for couriering drugs. But he’s one of the lucky few who get to walk through the gates and leave the prison behind each day. As a category D prisoner, he’s been assessed as posing no danger to the public and through good behaviour has earned the right to serve part of his sentence in open conditions. One false move could see him back behind bars. He says being in jail has been tough for his wife and young daughter: “My daughter can’t remember me being at home. For her, this is Daddy’s house.”
Before coming to prison, he was a fitness coach and two times British kickboxing champion. He had even set up a charity gym to train young people and stop them from turning to crime. He says: “I did all of that to keep kids out of trouble, and then I end up in here myself. It wasn’t a plan, it wasn’t something I went out to do purposefully…. The next thing you know you’re in up to neck deep, and there isn’t an easy way out, either.”
No-one at the prison underestimates the importance of visits by family. But sometimes the visits process reveals a darker side to human nature as people try to smuggle contraband like drugs and mobile phones. All visitors are searched once inside the jail, but in a special operation with police, people are subjected to spot-checks outside the gate. A sniffer dog detects two bags of cannabis in one visitor’s bag, so she is taken off to be searched. Another visitor is found to be hiding what turns out to be a package of a legal high – synthetic cannabis – which is banned in prisons, in his underpants.
One prison officer, Darren, says it is not just adults who receive their attention: “Obviously It’s a shame, you’ve got young children coming in, in little carriers. They are only a couple of weeks old or sometimes days old and It’s something we have to do because people do secrete items on children and young babies – the nappy area is a big area.”
Prisoners also receive items from their families which remind them of home – including clothes. Concealed in the waistband of some tracksuit bottoms, staff find two wraps containing nearly four grams of heroin. With two-thirds of prisoners having a history of drug use, governor Will Styles says: “It’s so lucrative that we even have people who get themselves recalled into prison for the sole purpose of coming back in here and selling the whole lot of drugs in prison because there’s so much money to be made.”
Meanwhile, Rocky reflects on his future – away from his family. He says: “When you come to prison, you don’t have a choice who you live with. You get the violent people, the drug dealers, the robbers, the burglars, and we’re all in it together, we just have to get on.”