40 Days in Mayfield Women’s Prison; Chapter 9 Teacher Diary: the first class

I took a class today.  It turned out to be not very demanding. Only four women turned up. The teaching assistant Ruth was there assisting me and told me that she was in for drugs related offences, though she had now been clean for nine months. She said she was interested in qualifying as a drugs worker and then helping other women who are in prison.  I was rather warming to Ruth, who struck me as being quite a genuine person, and someone with positive plans for her future.  But then many of the women had positive plans for the future, the question being could these plans be implemented once they were back on the outside.  This was something I often had my doubts about.  The class itself went very well and was very much like any other class in any other institution.  The atmosphere was relaxed and informal and there were no problems.  Later I was to realise that this might have lulled me into a false sense of security.

The following day I took another class, one with different students than yesterday. There were 7 students in the class and the class took place in the afternoon.  Again, I was satisfied with how this went. Three of the women had to go out for methadone soon after the class started. I worked with Kate, prison veteran and one of the teaching assistants, at preparation and admin things after the women left. Some excitement was caused by a report that there had been a fight in the library between two of the women, apparently over a disagreement that had started before they were in prison.  They had ended up wrestling on the floor beside the photocopier.  Kate told me with some amusement that she had just stepped over them to do her photocopying.  She was not at all phased by the incident.  Officers soon broke up the fight and the women were taken to the isolation unit. All in all, it had been a fairly good day: not too stressful and I was starting to feel a bit more relaxed about the whole thing.

One of the women, Amanda, a young woman in her twenties, had left my class because she had an appointment with two women from the Women’s Institute.  She had to meet these women for afternoon tea.  Women from the Women’s Institute frequently visit the prison and one of the things they do is invite some of the women for afternoon tea.  This may seem to be something that has no importance, but in the context of prison life it does have importance as it brings some normality to what is essentially an abnormal situation. There is always a certain tension in the air. When Amanda returned from her afternoon tea with the ladies from the Women’s Institute her demeanour had noticeably changed for the better.  No doubt this encounter with normality had done her good.  While Mayfield is far from being an inhuman environment there is no escaping the fact that it is a prison, so any dose of non-prison normality has to be beneficial.  I was very impressed with the Women’s Institute for doing this work.

I also heard today that Lucy’s parole hearing had been successful and she had left the prison.  It would have been good to say goodbye to her, but no doubt she wanted to, and probably had to, make a quick exit.  I hoped she made a success of her life outside.

On another occasion when I went back to the staffroom there was an Imam waiting to see one of the women. He was sitting in the staff room waiting patiently for the opportunity to make the visit.  No doubt this kind of support was very helpful to the women.  Again, I was impressed that someone would make the effort to do this.

On my way home I called into the pub near the train station as I had a short wait for my train.  I had an orange juice and lemonade.  After I ordered my drink I saw someone I recognised from the prison as one of the officers, a man in his thirties. There were not that many male officers in Mayfield, so I tended to notice the ones that were there and remember them. He was a somewhat unsavoury looking character with a black beard and tattoos, who looked like he belonged in prison more as an inmate than an officer.   I walked over and said hello.  As it happened Matthew, as he was called, recognised me too as he had seen me around.  I told him I had just started work at Mayfield and he asked me how it was going. I said all right so far.  He told me he had not started long ago and said it was a bit of a weird job.  I can’t say that I found much to disagree with there.  He also told me that everyone was a bit on edge, or at least on their best behaviour, because of the inspection going on.  I replied that I was aware of that but thankfully the department was going to steer the inspectors away from new teachers. As my train was arriving I had to leave so I said goodbye and see you around.

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