New Year has kicked in with wolf whistles, questions and varying statements of misogyny.

“Chris what does she look like…she gorgeous?”, “That’s the dish washing sorted”, “I’ll ‘ave her, I’m not fussy’, and slightly surprisingly, “Does she have any teeth?”. (Perhaps not quite so unreasonable, given the general state of prisoner’s teeth or lack of them!)

Bird motif on fence at LandWorks

Bird motif on fence at LandWorks

A little taken aback I managed to say, “Her name is Jenny”.

You’re quite right – our first female trainee was on the horizon and coming for an interview. Was this to be the dawn of a new era or several knuckle-dragging steps backwards?

Well, so many things in prison life seem to be an odd balance; an unhelpful prescription; a recipe combining many different ingredients, a bubbling cauldron.

Lock up hundreds of men, hold together for a number of years, fit one into a space of approx. 10’ by 8’ or perhaps squeeze two in! Insist they sleep, live, use the loo and eat in there. For extreme pressure, why not mix in: – A dash of an alcoholic hallucinating through the DT’s – A gram or so of an addict doing a ‘rattle’, writhing on the floor as his body detox’s – A soupçon of madman raving at the telly through the night…

Then simply contain for 23 hours a day and hey presto! It’s not particularly helpful in changing male culture…

‘Arry recently explained, “Getting the sentence was a bellyful; I am guilty, I made terrible mistakes but losing my liberty was enough. I am told daily I am scum, I’m surrounded by continual violence and drugs everywhere. A bloke gets cut up cos he owes a bit of baccy, it’s mad…

[‘Arry draws breath]

…I’ve lost everything and the only thing that keeps me going is to try and salvage a little of my life. You watch others slowly losing more as they revolve in and out until they have nothing. Then prison is all they ‘ave.”

It’s not beyond thinking; it just could be so different. A prison sentence could give an opportunity to educate, deliver new skills and new ways of thinking.

Addiction should be treated.

People with mental health issues… just should not be in there.

Family contact should be precious and encouraged, not restricted.

Jenny, it turns out, is not obviously dentally challenged. She is verbally energetic and doesn’t tolerate nonsense.

This has only increased the muscle rippling; men are suddenly performing unfeasible acts of strength, without warning lifting whole tree trunks for no particular reason and unusually discovering new delights in washing up.

What does a feminist look like?