This week, a comment from one of the LandWorks trainees leaves Chris reeling…


Neil is a newbie, a day release prisoner and fascinated by how and why the project does what it does.

The morning planning meeting is just breaking up. I like to believe everyone now knows what they’re doing! Mugs clink, seats scrape, men stretch, stub out fag ends and force out that last bit of smoke into the atmosphere, signifying the ‘off’.

But Neil interjects, shooting from the hip: “So, Chris, basically you come up with some new ideas and it’s all fun.”

The shot sends me reeling, my mind whirling as I think about the hours of planning, the worry involved in LandWorks. I am lying wounded in my (Scottish roots) fug, as thick as the smokers’ cloud. Oh, dearie me. ‘Fun?!’

I am brought around by voices, voices all agreeing with Neil: “Oh yes I do enjoy it here”, staff and trainees speaking as one. I stand blinking as they head off into the morning sun… ‘Fun?’

LandWorks tools in the workshop

LandWorks tools in the workshop

Well, I decide there and then, I am going to clear up that pile of rubbish, over there, that everyone (including me) just ignores … despite having raised its existence a few times at morning planning. That’s clearly not ‘fun’, so I am just going to do it, yes I am.

Joe comes over to help, I manage to stop muttering dark ‘work ethic’ nonsense and we fill a wheelbarrow together, while he tells me about a difficult time with his family over the week; we find something to laugh about and he gives me a hug.

Pushing the barrow towards the bonfire, I overhear a conversation at the cob wall (it’s becoming the ‘in’ place to chat; there’s something about working with your hands and talking about life that seems free, easy, good and – I realise – fun!). I pause, catching words about ‘the system’ and ‘losing any purpose during a long stretch.’

I carry on, past the veg beds… There is a lot of laughter coming from the polytunnel, one of the guys is reminiscing about his parents embarrassing him as a child.

As I push my barrow along further I reflect that perhaps only in this safe environment prisoners can let out such private but perfectly normal memories.

I am almost full circle, back to the diminishing rubbish pile; I call in at the workshop, a hive of activity. Men absolutely enjoying themselves, productive, learning skills, banter and laughter… it’s great, it works.

Day almost complete, another smokers’ cloud appears, signalling two things…

  1. Tea’s up
  2. LandWorks are 90% smokers, which beats Her Majesty’s Prison stats of about 80%

I reckon that this high percentage for offenders is more a social economic indicator than anything. Although it is one choice an individual can make in an institution that controls just about everything else.

This may not be for much longer as the prospect of costly litigation from staff affected by passive smoking will undoubtedly force a ban!

Time to go. We jump into our new (Big Lottery funded) van, everyone laughing at my ineptitude with unhelpful gadgets that are supposed to be helpful!

Anyway we all get that Friday feeling, laughing and a-giggling.

Until the prison gates, when Neil lets out an involuntary sad sigh and I look at a group of women gathered waiting forlornly at the bus stop, their visiting time over.

Hmmm, okay, a bit of fun has got to be a good thing.