These views were collected by Dr Jane Jones and her Regroup team. They reflect the thoughts of several veteran prisoners
Covid-19 Reflections of Veterans in a Cat B Prison
“It’s scary times”
“We are ready for this, better prepared than most because we have experienced being isolated and locked up”
“We know that it might come to lock down”
“The prison officers need to be safe”
“We need to be safe”
“We can help by getting on with it not moaning”
“They are saying some might get out early – that will work for me. Happy days, but not everyone”
“I want my family to be safe we don’t need trouble in the prisons”
“I’m keeping well away from trouble”
“I’d be well happy if they let me out – I did one bad thing I know it was bad - no way I’m repeating it I’ve learnt my lesson”
“The government have forgotten about us”
“Why has there been nothing on the news about keeping the prisoners safe”?
Last week a group of prisoners all who have served in Her Majesties Armed forces spoke about their concerns amidst the Corona Virus pandemic. Three main themes emerged from the discussions:
A feeling of being forgotten: Many of the statements replicated how these men felt when they were discharged from the forces. “we served our country and then got thrown on the scrap heap” “stabbed in the back by the government who sent us to war”. The mood carried a mixture of underlying emotion.
Anger at a lack of understanding of the short- and long-term personal impact of service life experience. Anger that the lack of understanding resulted in poor or non-effective resettlement provision. But anger was not the primary emotion:
Sadness was pervasive as personal memories of personal sacrifices and experiences of military life were resurrected in the minds of those talking, recognition of the dire consequences of offending behaviours which, for some of these men, can be argued to be a result of unresolved military trauma. Associated shame. And most prominently desire to do the right thing in these unprecedented times.
Thought of friends, family and those in need: There was a real concern for the welfare of the world outside of prison. Helplessness was evident given their segregation from society yet within that there was a clear recognition that they too have a role to play in the management of this crisis. Staying out of trouble (not always easy in what are extremely unpredictable environments) encouraging others to do the same, acceptance that they might be confined to cells for the protection not just of them selves but of others.
Staying safe in prison: It is unusual to hear a veteran prisoner refer to Prison Officers in derogatory terms such is the general respect for authority and rank within the military but barriers between the two do exist in the general prison population. These veterans talked about actively promoting a breaking down of the emotional barriers between Prison Officers ‘Them’ and the prisoner population ‘Us’. They did this by acknowledging the difficult decisions the Prison Officers have to make to either go to work or not. To keep safe, prisoners or family or themselves? Empathy for these decisions in these times where clear direction is not available was notably evident.
There were suggestions of how to protect the most vulnerable within the prison walls. Talk of potential for some early releases. Of course, this was welcomed, and wishful thinking was articulated about reuniting with loved ones and talks of walking the dog and interestingly how their experiences could eventually be used to help others not to take the same mistakes that result in criminal behaviour. Alongside this however was a true understanding that release for some could be as frightening as being a ‘sitting duck’ for coronavirus in the prisons. No family, friends, accommodation, income, isolation, loneliness. What about them?
And what about the statement ‘sitting duck’ – for that read fear.
Of course, there was also a humorous banter innate to the force’s community, a banter that evidenced the ‘in it together’ culture never seemingly lost by those who have served with the armed forces.
It is fair to say that the veteran prisoners who spoke to me over this last week have the best interest of others at the forefront of their mind. That within their capacity to do so they will do the right thing. That their goal remains the collective (not personal) survival of the threat we face.