Prisoner in the tartan block

I was 15 when my Mum became a prison officer, my aunty already was; and I couldn’t get my head around that there needed to be a jail for women in central Scotland. To be honest, I mainly still struggle with this.

It seemed that PO wages were quite good in the late 70s and I mind my Mum coming home with tales of an outfit and rules and how she and inmates had to refer to the boss as ‘Miss’ – I kinda knew then it wasn’t going to be a career move for me. So thankfully I got my Highers and scuttled off to Edinburgh to learn how to change the world by being a lawyer.

Five years later I found myself working for women who were victims of domestic violence and getting phone calls from Cornton Vale seeking representation for women who were’t allowed to see or even write to their bairns. Used to visit them and the smell of the premises always knocked me down. So did the whirring of the lock on the door as I made my way to the interview room. Always were suspicions, and fear that some bam had planted something in my briefcase which would prevent my timely departure. 

Nothing, and I mean nothing, in this world can prepare you for the clanging of a prison gate.

And so here we are 40 years later – and I can smell the fear of the women who are housed with men, those men who resemble their abusers, the men who hurt and abused them in childhood, adolescence and adulthood. I will not have this shame. 

Without exception, the female prisoners I knew, and about whose children I now write reports, for foster care and adoption and removal from family, were victims – are victims – of physical, sexual and emotional violence. Female prisoners are in jail to a large extent because they sustained a head injury when battered by a male partner – think about that.

So a feminist to her fingertips, and those who surround her and consider themselves her satellites, thinks that housing intact males who boast and flash their maleness in female prisons is progressive – I have a different view; my position is we protect and attempt to save women who thus far have been failed successively as youngsters and as adults. Women who have single sex safe space rights always include our sisters incarcerated and hobbled. They deserve, just as  we outside do, their privacy self respect and safety so that they can benefit from rehabilitation and enjoy the safe life in the outside world denied to them for so long as the result of the sins and actions of others.