A day in a UK women’s prison – and her beautiful soul
In august they are going to release me, and I have a house, in this city and I know I will go back to it; the drugs. They will let me out on a Friday, so my plan is to go to the store, and I’ll rob it. Monday, I will be back here in prison. I don’t trust myself yet.
Planning this journey, Sam asked me if I would come with her to the prison to see how they worked with the inmates, and without a doubt in my mind I said yes. I would love to see how the organisation works, learn from Sam, as well as to meet these women whose poetry I’ve read, analysed, and admired. Because through the beauty of words there are always these amazing intricate people pouring out their souls and hearts.
On the second day in London, we arrived at the prison, Sam was walking next to me, pretty confidently. It was a little bit annoying, but very cool at the same time. Her blue eyes really focused. I could see her presence change, which made me understand how important and a big part of her this was. The prison was surrounded by tall walls, with barbed-wires, and as we entered the door, all I could think was, so this is it. A British prison. The perfect mix between Airport Security and Orange is The New Black.
Entering as a visitor I had to go through all these security procedures, so I now officially have a very awkward what-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-my-face picture and fingerprint saved in the Peterborough prison system. As I entered the room, I will admit I felt a sense of shock. Everything was this weird fusion of faces marked by experience, an imagery of drug abuse, and surroundings looking like my old school library. As Sam presented me to the other inmates, I felt a bit awkward, but not enough to utter something dumb like; “so what’s up?”
Greeting the inmates, I found myself staring straight into a set of black eyes with a firm hand introducing herself. Black hair tied in a bun. She looked firm and kind. You could see that she had lived a rough life.Though little did I know how much experience and knowledge this lady was driven by, and I was soon to know a harsh truth and get a firm and huge kick in my butt! In regards to staying focused on what i’m doing. At some point after listening to her help the other prisoners, she looked at me and said:
“You don’t know how much this has changed my life. The feedback I get on my poetry is better than any drugs.”
And we as writers knows how much poetry is engraved into us and carved into our hearts. It made such a huge impact on me. I asked her if she could be kind enough to let me read what she had written. Scared of being turned down, because at this point I was rather starstruck by her very strong and sweet nature. And I read:
[…]Stereotyping of each of us inmates begins before we arrive here at HMP Peterborough. From our arrest at the police station we are no longer individuals […] Being prisoners we are never given the benefit of the doubt. Constantly we are made to “prove” our intentions […] The Officer even asked why the inmate couldn’t just be normal and go to chapel like “everyone else” […]Sometimes just having “manners” and respect and being treated as an individuals with individual personalities, beliefs and ways of life, can improve relations, relationship behaviour and understanding. I am an individual not a stereotypical prisoner – I am me. Nicwit. […]
I had to catch my breath as I realised something, these sentences with so much insight was written by a woman whose story I had read months ago, crying on her behalf. A firm hand, a helping person. A pair of black eyes and a gorgeous smile, that has been hit 56 times in her face with a hammer, nailed to the floor by the same man so she would not run away. Only to wake up next to her abuser, blinded by the harsh reality of abuse. The inability to understand the value of your beauty anymore, so badly that you tell a degrading lie about yourself to keep him protected. The abuse continued and the downfall: she went from losing herself to turning into the self-fulfilling prophecy that comes with being pushed into a world of stigma and stereotyping. She spiraled into a tunnel of drug abuse and institutionalization in order to handle the world. Pain and sorrow. Self-destructiveness – lack of self worth infused with what I hope she understands is kindness – warmth – beauty – a reflected mind; so focused on awareness, children, and how to prevent people from experiencing abuse.
She got to hear that my goal is to work – raising awareness against abuse – working with victims of abuse back home in Norway. That opened up for this amazing conversation that taught me so much.
“They should educate people about this in school, abuse and love. So people will know about the danger signs […] […] They had this basket with tiny beauty supplies in, and I grabbed a facemask, and it made me feel so good. Can you imagine that was for me and I could put it on my face right, and care for myself, can you imagine that thing just for me, it might seem tiny but I will never forget” […]
Her eyes always focused on me – down the hall we could hear a woman scream and it was one of those screams that out in the streets would have us running towards where the screams come from to help them and to call for more help. I noticed the other prisoners get very uncomfortable by this. She looked and me and said, “poor girl I hope she is ok”. She told me about the value of her writing, explaining to me with passion how it started with her just writing about sadness and fear, all of a sudden being able to write deeper and more reflected. How it had affected her way of thinking. I laughed. A bit earlier we had spoken on her way with rhymes, because her way of rhyming is quite advanced. Her eyes were shining with passion, stating she had been practising that technique. She told me how it had been rather bad at the start; and I think all of us that have ever tried to write a poem is familiar with the; heartbreak / ache principle. The conversation kept on shifting and I was amazed by her ability to joke and be serious at the same time. Like this was the norm.
I was stunned, thinking, here you are in prison. You have lived a rough life, and to such an extent you wanna perform crimes, to be safe. She had the same philosophy that we have: “If I can only help one person. That will be enough. If i can only make one change or change the way one person thinks that will be enough for me.” She looked at me with firm eyes and told me in detail what I could do to help. Her hands moving around with passion and grace. I hope with everything in me that she will be used for the purpose of helping abuse victims. Because she was one of these rare talents when it comes to communicating a message. Raw and reflected based on experience. I for sure will use the things she told me in my upcoming projects.
“You’re gonna help children in Romania, that is amazing […][Don’t bring the job with you back home it will tear you down, I had to learn that for myself, it will swallow you. You can’t bring it with you home […][[…]It’s Amazing what you’re doing […] (- I wish she knew what she was doing.)
Leaving her, I had to contain myself from swinging my arms around her neck hugging her like a deprived child, to be honest. I was empty, amazed, ready, and determined to bring forward this experience and her message. She truly changed someone’s perception that day. By the power of her words and her ability to fight and reflect. And it will be brought further. In projects, and seep into the back of our minds knowing these things she just shared. I am sure about that.
She will come with me to Romania, and the way she smiled talking about children and how much they mean to her and should be cared for, her voice will be present in all I write. In the form of: Awareness – Prevention – Rehabilitation – Insight and Action.
Sincerely Frøya Montezino.
Montezino is taking her love for words to Romania this Saturday (15th July ’17) to teach disadvantaged children English. If you want to support her journey, please head over to her funding page, donate and share, by clicking here.