ONE MAN’S RELEASE DAY
Peter B . . . . . is 60-ish but old for his age.
He has many health problems, including suffering fits often brought on by stress.
He has spent much of his time in Healthcare at the prison.
He is fragile and walks with a wheeled zimmer frame.
He is released from HMP Winchester on 20th September 2011after eight months in prison.
- Having visited Peter as an OPV since his arrival at HMP Winchester (until I was dismissed on 2nd August by the Assistant Governor for an apparent breach of prison rules), I suddenly realize I am now in a position to be able to offer to meet Peter when he is released on 20th Sept, a date which I had previously noted in my diary.
- I send him an email on 15th Sept through the ‘Email a Prisoner’ organization (very helpful) saying that if he would like me to meet him at the gates on 20th Sept perhaps he could ask the prison officers for permission to phone me on my mobile (I include my mobile number) or, if that is not allowed, ask someone in authority in the prison to phone me.
- I receive a call on my mobile from a member of Peter’s cellmate’s family, because the prison officers have refused to let him phone or to phone for him (unhelpful) saying – yes, Peter would be pleased if I could meet him. He will be coming out at 9.00 am on 20th Sept.
- I receive another call from the cellmate’s family saying Peter is getting cold feet about going home would prefer to go into a care home. Could I phone his doctor and Social Services?
- I send him another email saying it is too difficult to arrange this at such short notice. I phone the prison and speak to a prison officer to say that Peter is in a worried state and I wonder if he is going to cope with the day of his release. The prison officer phones me later to say she has been to see him and thinks he will manage OK. (She did also say it might not be worth waiting for him at the gate until 10.00.) (very helpful)
- However, as I have told Peter through the cellmate’s family that I would be there at 9.00, I arrive at the entrance barrier just after 9.00 on 20th Sept, but I am told on the intercom that I cannot bring my car into the prison car park and I will have to park behind the hospital, an 8 minute walk, (not helpful – how would an elderly relative picking up a newly released prisoner manage this?)
- So, having parked the car, I am now sitting outside the big wooden entrance doors by 9.20 am. There I stay (doing my knitting, which I have fortunately brought with me!) until 11.20 when Peter staggers out on his zimmer frame carrying his belongings in a plastic bag.
- I have to rush back to fetch my car, having now managed to get permission to bring my car into the prison, arranged by a prison officer I happened to know when I was visiting (very helpful), who happened to see me sitting on the bench outside the entrance doors. When I get back to the prison entrance, by chance the barrier is up and so I come through without even having to use the intercom (!)
- Having negotiated the zimmer into the back of the car, Peter’s first concern is that, although he has specifically asked for his pills to be brought down to him from the medical office, no one has bothered to do this (very unhelpful indeed).
- We decide to ‘get the hell out of here’ and go elsewhere to decide what to do.
- We drive to Rownhams’s service station on the M27 and go in for a coffee. He needs to phone his doctor’s surgery about his pills so we use my mobile and phone to explain the problem. The receptionist says she will get a doctor to phone us back on my mobile, which he does within a few minutes (very helpful), and he gives Peter an appointment for 11.00 the next morning.
- We stop at a pharmacy for Peter to get some denture fixative to stick his teeth in (!)
- Next stop is Lyndhurst police station where Peter has been told he has to register on the day of his release. Zimmer into the police station. He is told that they no longer do this at Lyndhurst (very unhelpful) so we will have to go Lymington. (Who should have told him it was Lymington and not Lyndhurst?) Zimmer back to the car.
- So we drive to Lymington. Zimmer into the police station and short interview with the police at the reception desk. Zimmer back to the car.
- Next stop is Hythe Social Services where Peter has been told he will see his probation officer.
- Zimmer into the Social Services offices where we are told that the probation officer will not be there for another 45 minutes (unhelpful).
- Zimmer to car and drive into Hythe centre. Zimmer to café for another much needed cup of coffee. Zimmer back to car and back to Social Services.
- Zimmer into the offices for Peter’s half hour interview with probation officer. He will have to go and see her again every Monday for the time being, a journey of nearly four miles. (Very unhelpful indeed) He will have to get a taxi there and back every week. Bearing in mind his health problems, and also the fact that there is no public transport between Blackfield and Hythe, why can’t the probation officer make arrangements to visit Peter at home? (PS. I have now heard that there is in fact a bus between Blackfield and Hythe, but I don’t know how Peter will manage the walk on his zimmer frame from the bus to the Social Services office.)
- Zimmer back to car and drive to Blackfield to the bungalow where Peter lives as a lodger with another lodger called Brian who has thankfully looked after the house while Peter has been away, fed the cat etc.
- However, the phone has been cut off as Peter hasn’t been there. He needs a phone for his lifeline phone (because of his fits). I spend about an hour on my mobile trying to sort it out to get the phone reconnected. Too many problems, (he also has to try and re-organize his disability allowance to be paid to him). Both of us too tired, so I say I will try to see about his phone tomorrow.
- Half hour journey home. Get back at 8 pm EXHAUSTED!
- Next day I start trying to get Peter’s phone reconnected. Nearly succeed until they say he cannot be connected until the last phone bill for £66 has been paid.
- I phone Peter on Brian’s mobile. Peter’s electric ‘buggy’ is out of action in the shed, and the brakes of Brian’s car failed (two weeks ago) and cannot be used. However, Peter has managed to get taxi to the doctor’s appointment. He has not got enough money in his Post Office account to pay the phone bill. He will have to make other arrangements. His problems are by no means over.
THIS IS THE SAGA OF ONE MAN’S RELEASE FROM PRISON.
At this point I am afraid I decided I could not do any more for the time being. I left it until Monday 26th Sept and then phoned Peter on Brian’s mobile number again. I was relieved to hear that Peter is OK and has survived the stress of the release day. He was very grateful and thanked me for what I have done for him. And he seems to be coping with being at home in spite of his worries. He has taken a taxi to the Post Office and is beginning to sort out his money, his phone and his disability allowance, but it is going to take some time. I said I would phone again and maybe see if he would like me to take him to his next meeting with the probation officer. We will see how things go from here.
BUT WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW IS: HOW WAS THIS FRAGILE MAN, ON A ZIMMER FRAME, AND LIABLE TO FITS, SUPPOSED TO COPE WITH THE DAY OF HIS RELEASE FROM PRISON, WITHOUT ANY SORT OF SUPPORT? NO MOBILE PHONE. NO TRANSPORT. NOTHING.
At least Peter was lucky that he had a house to go to, which is more than a lot of prisoners have. I do so hope that we can find a way of helping other prisoners on the day they come out of prison – a day which can sometimes be even more traumatic and frightening than the day on which they are admitted.
This account is not untypical of the issues faced by people, yes I did say people, coming out of prison. Often there is no-one ther to help them, advise them etc. The prison service is lacking in the respect that they will NOT help someone with messages, the last time I heard from someone trying to get a message to a person being released was’We are not messengers’ and they just put the phone down on them! Not a wonder that the first smiling face a person sees on their release is thedrug pusher or an old mate wanting to get them back into illegal activities again!
If you have any accounts such as these please do send them in. Like this account please be careful with actual names.