Women in prison in the UK often come from vulnerable backgrounds and suffer from mental health conditions. The View seeks to provide a voice for these women.
“Women in prison are uniquely powerless because they are detained in places that are largely designed and controlled by men. The View is a great idea, it advocates for women in prison and will be a force for positive change to bring prisoners and those who run them together through creativity.” – Ian Acheson, former prison governor and Government Terrorism Expert
Every day in captivity, Ai Wei Wei, the dissident Chinese artist, sent the Chinese Government a bunch of flowers. An act of beauty and triumph in the thorns of the Chinese State’s oppression, grew and his project flowers for freedom was born. The View Magazine is our flowering, with art, poems and her-stories by women serving prison sentences and women on license in the community. Published 4 times a year with a cover price of £4.95, contributions by prisoners are paid for, content by leading jurists and human rights organisations is provided pro bono. Our intention is to reframe the narrative in our own voices through lived experience of incarcerated women who have been historically homeless. There are 3,800 women prisoners compared to 82,000 men.
The inspiration for me to create art, to write about my experiences and the new prison magazine, The View, which is celebrated in the House of Lords in May, hosted by Baroness Uddin and with the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls Dubrovka Simonovic, was the experience of being imprisoned. Creativity was the only escape. Art kept me safe and relatively sane. The therapeutic effect calmed and soothed my constant state of heightened anxiety and feeling triggered. I have a diagnosis of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Prison didn’t help.
Using colour and light to break out of the monochrome, barred and gated world of an institution, painting flowers became a way to cling on to my sanity and defy feeling “locked in.” The trauma and chaos in the women’s prison system are overlooked, but with the recent terror attacks and the heightened visibility of the failures of National Probation Services, the public’s awareness of the broken criminal justice system is increasing.
Although a woman can be deprived of her liberty and relationships, our captors cannot strip us of our capacity to create and to express our feelings even through the darkest night of a prison sentence.
- 37% of all women in prison lose everything upon release.
- Over 80% of women are imprisoned for non-violent offences.
- Over two thirds of women have been diagnosed with mental health conditions.
- 54% of women have been victims of violence or abuse.
Most mental health services have been contracted to private health care companies and NHS Mental Health Trusts, but women find it difficult to access the services. This is evident in the first hand accounts of women in prison, published in The View. Prison has become a dumping ground for women we don’t like or don’t understand, who have mental health issues.
Through our art and words, we want to bring you inside our creative world. Our mission is to bring about structural shifts by way of a binding inquiry leading to mass decarceration of women in prison. Of the almost 4,000 women in prison, only about 400 are considered a real risk to themselves or others, and with the right bespoke support and mental health services in the community, they should be safely released.
We plan to petition supportive parliamentarians to bring about change using upcoming legislation. The Mental Health Act is shortly to be reviewed, and the Domestic Abuse Bill is to be read. Both can bring into place legislation that can protect and help women who have mental health issues, some of whom have suffered trauma and violence their entire lives, lived in the care system and are now perpetrators in a criminal justice system when society let them down as victims or when they were vulnerable.
The magazine started as a prison magazine at HMP Downview, but it was decided it was ‘depressing’ and banned. After my release, my solicitor, Sara Watson and I, resurrected it as a free magazine for women in prison. We also made it available to purchase in independent bookshops and by subscription for those who support us – the friends and families, NGOs and legal teams, to demystify the complex and sometimes contradictory processes of a prison service that is grossly understaffed and underskilled. There have been 40% net cuts to the Ministry of Justice’s own budget since 2012 and front line services took the full hit, and yet the number of directors at over £120,000 a year appears to be blossoming.
The recent statistics released by the Ministry of Justice show a disproportionately high numbers of women and girls in the stats for self harm. Girls’ monthly self-harm rate in custody at 72.3, compared to 11.8 out of every 100 for boys. Female prisons report a rate of 3,007 self-harm incidents per 1000 prisoners, compared to 663 in male prisons. Women turn their pain inwards and self harm and suicide are common, with over 100 women killing themselves in our prisons in the last 11 years. We hope The View will give them some inspiration and practical support through art, calligraphy, mindfulness and articles by their peers and specialists.
All the art in the magazine is for sale and we will be exhibiting at The FiLiA 2020 Conference 17TH – 18TH OCTOBER 2020 at PORTSMOUTH GUILDHALL
Managing Editor of The View