Last week I was lucky enough to go to London and be involved in some filming for the DD310 module, for the section of the module that looks at Grendon Prison. Although Professor Graham Pike was taking the lead for this section, I really wanted to come along and meet the speakers and try and gain an overview as to how this would fit in with the rest of the module. HMP Grendon is the UK’s only wholly therapeutic prison, and the aim of the filming was to talk to a number of different people who had been involved in Grendon about their experiences and to gain a variety of perspectives. Firstly, there was Mary Haley who is the head of Psychotherapy and a wing therapist at Grendon, then Professor David Wilson, who had been the Governor at Grendon and finally Noel ‘Razor’ Smith, who had been an inmate at Grendon for 5 years. All the speakers gave us fascinating insights into what it was like to be involved in the therapeutic communities in Grendon and below is just a short teaser of some of the interesting topics that came up.
Firstly Mary Haley was interviewed by Morgan Phillips a producer from the production company AngleEye and the interview focused on what it is like to work in Grendon as a therapist. Mary explained how Grendon was very different from any other prison as it was a wholly therapeutic prison where each wing live as therapeutic community, that is a group of approximately 40 men who have agreed to all share a living space and spend the majority of their time attending therapy. Mary described how there is small group therapy in groups of 6-7 people, larger group therapy, individual therapy and also art therapy and psychodrama. The therapy is seen as being the most important part of the process of rehabilitation, as offenders can come to terms with the offences they have committed, and events that preceded them. The therapeutic communities are also run as democratic communities, as the men can vote who comes into the community and who should leave. Mary also explained how before coming to Grendon a number of prisoner viewed it as an easy option, however once there they realised how much hard work is involved and not all of them make it through the therapy process with a number going back to the mainstream prison. However many of the prisoners do make it through the therapeutic process and spend a couple of years at Grendon in therapy. Below is a photo of Mary being interviewed by Morgan Phillips from AngelEye, with Colin Rogal on the camera and Seth Hamilton assisting.
The second interview was with Professor David Wilson, who is currently a Professor of Criminology at Birmingham City University, but used to be a prison governor at Grendon before changing direction back into academia. David told us about the historical background of Grendon and how at the time of opening in the 1962 there was a view in some circles that crime could be viewed as an illness and that psychiatry could offer some solution. In the early days Grendon was run by psychiatrists and then over time they were replaced by prison governors and psychologists, and therapists. David explained that Grendon is unlike other category B prisons, in that prisoners are encouraged to talk about their offending, take ownership of their offending and to see the links between why they have offended and events from their own past. By making the links and gaining insight into why they have offended prisoners’ can then try to change their behaviour so that they do not re-offend once they are released. The photo below is Morgan interviewing David Wilson.
In the third interview David Wilson spoke to Noel ‘Razor’ Smith. Noel has been described as being one of Britain’s most prolific bank robbers committing over 200 bank robberies. David asked Noel about his childhood, and he described his home life and the events that led up to him getting into a ‘life of crime’ and a specific event in his life that was a turning point and when he first began to commit crimes (to find out what it was you’ll have to watch the film on the module website). He then spoke about how he began his time inside, beginning with young offender institutes and then as he was older serving time in prisons and has spent around 32 years in total inside. The photo below is David talking to Noel about his life with Graham Pike and I listening intently.
In the second part of Noel’s interview Morgan asked Noel about the time he spent in prisons prior to going to Grendon and he explained how he felt that all the prisons were doing were serving as a punishment, and that they didn’t help to rehabilitate him or the other inmates. Then he heard about Grendon from another prisoner who had been to Grendon and explained that it was a prison were the inmates helped one another, but it was really hard because you have to talk about yourself all the time and that can be really difficult mentally and emotionally. It wasn’t until years later when Noel’s son died and he wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral as he was deemed as being too dangerous to be given a day release from prison, that he decided he had to try and stop re-offending and try to find some rehabilitation.
From the moment he entered Grendon’s reception Noel described how it was clearly very different to other prisons, he was addressed by his first name rather than surname or number, and even offered a cup of tea, which would never happen in a mainstream prison. After passing the weeks of induction that is used to decide if an offender is ready for therapy Noel began his stay on a wing and his therapy. He described how they had three hard and fast rules at Grendon; that is no violence, no sex and no drugs. If anyone found you had broken any of these rules the other inmates could vote you out. One of the major differences in Grendon was how the inmates all treated one another and Noel said this is because we were all interested in changing and helping each other to change and it became a really peaceful oasis for him in the 5 years he spent there. To hear more about Noel’s time in Grendon and the events in his life you will have to wait until we have it all up on the module website. I just hope you find it all as fascinating as I did hearing about it.