Thursday, 19 January 2012
Britain is a country where old men die in prison " at the last stop before Heaven or Hell"
The film-maker Rex Bloomstein, pioneer of prison tv documentaries, presented his first radio documentary on the growing phenomenon of older prisoners,'Dying Inside', last weekend. It a powerful indictment of a penal system which locks up so many old men.
A taste of the programme :
The full programme :
What emerged was that :
* Britain has the largest prison population in Europe with around 88,000 inmates each costing the tax payer £45000 per year and the fastest growing group are older prisoners, mostly old men, who number over 8000.
* there are so many old men because sentences are becoming harsher and longer and because there is no national strategy to deal with them, prisons cope as best they can.
* inmates are classed as 'older prisoners' from the age of 50, when they are more likely to suffer with diabetes or coronary heart disease or have problems with their mobility.
* Rex visited three prisons at Maidstone, Whatton and he was given exclusive access to the 'Elderly Lifer Unit' at Norwich, where for the first time in its history anyone from media had been allowed in.
* Rex discovered that over 40% of older prisoners were convicted of sexual offences, with an increasing number who had committed their crimes many years ago and had been caught by advances in DNA techniques.
* at Maidstone prison the 'Head of Health care' said that in addition to illness the old men found life very difficult away because they were away from their families, had lost their liberty and were with strangers they knew to be potentially aggressive.
* in Maidstone, 25% of the prisoners were old men who had 9 disability scooters but still faced difficulties getting up stairs and to the toilet.
* Norfolk Prison the 'Elderly Lifer Unit' had old men suffering from chronic illness and one prison officer said that " a lot of the macho prisoners disappear because they see they are, perhaps, in God's waiting room".
'Tommy' was interviewed. He was 74 years old and had served 24 years of a life sentence for murder. He worked in the laundry and helped other prisoners.
" I like it here. Its peaceful and just like an ordinary prison except everybody here is very old and very ill. We all get on together. A lot of them kick the bucket and disappear. I think its the last stop before the gates of Heaven or Hell".
Rex asked would he * like to be in an ordinary prison ?"
" There are too many brash and harsh young men coming into prison now, drugs and the likes. They just slap you about and take your tobacco because you're an old man".
When someone dies "does that affect the unit ?"
" No everything goes on. Prison never gets affected. Its routine after routine after routine. Sometimes it makes you happy because you see people really suffering at the end".
"Do you think you'll die in this unit ?"
" Probably, yes. You sometimes pray when you go to bed, 'let me die tonight'. We're all too cowardly to cut our own throats. You just have to lie it."
"Do you you're in limbo?"
" Yes that's exactly it. Floating on air, waiting where the wind blows me one way or the other."
"Where will the wind blow you?"
"To Hell I suppose."
As an antidote to this sadness, David Jason as a young man played the old prisoner, Blanco who had been imprisoned for killing his wife in the 1980's comedy series 'Porridge'. I suppose he reinforced the idea that old men in prison were lovable old rogues when the reality is that they are sad and forgotten old men.
Throughout his lengthy prison sentence Blanco continued to profess his innocence, and when parole was granted, he refused, preferring the prospect of dying in prison to that of admitting guilt :
When he was finally granted a pardon, Fletch warned him not to seek revenge on the person who really killed his wife and his response is an oft-repeated comedy moment:
"No. I know 'im wot did it. It were the wife's lover. But don't worry, I shan't go round searching for him, 'e died years ago. That I do know. It were me that killed him!".