Bad Girls Wear Orange

If you were asked where the largest women’s prison in western Europe was, you might not have expected the answer to be Holloway. In recent years, there has been a population of roughly 500 women at any one time, though with the cessation of new receptions and the planned closure of Holloway for good later in 2016 (no date has been set), this number is now falling. But still, that’s a lot of women for us to not really be aware of or thinking about.

So what is the general perception of women’s prisons, of the prisoners, and of the staff who work there?

Think about it yourself for a moment. What comes to mind? Maybe it’s tales of orange jumpsuits and chain-gangs, reality TV documentaries or drama, intrigue and salaciousness. Maybe it’s stories involving murderers, child abusers, psychopaths. Is that close?

Placed in the context of the extraordinary, well-known tropes of ‘female murderers’ and ‘lesbians lags’ trump the ordinary misery inherent in prisons. Mainstream media wants to attract the biggest audiences with the juiciest stories, so it’s unsurprising that it focuses on the most notorious prisoners, the most heinous crimes, the grimmest failures and the biggest tragedies. That’s not to say that there aren’t those stories, but it does mean everyday reality is often overlooked. Mainstream media doesn’t want to hear about the little victories, the ordinary suffering, the everyday laughter, the boring, the mundane.    

What’s the problem with that, though, when we know that’s what mainstream media does? We know that soap operas are not real life, that they’re just escapism. How is the presentation of women’s prisons and the stories around them any different?

Aside from tabloid stories of real crimes, dramatised versions of prison are the closest many of us will get to experiencing prison for ourselves; it’s through these stories that many people become familiar with women’s prisons and the expected stories of those within their walls.

Through this distorted lens, there is no picture of prison that reflects our experiences. There is no representation of Holloway as an institution that tries, on the one hand, to be the punishing arm of the state and yet, on the other, aspires to be caring, therapeutic, rehabilitative. There is no balance, no allowance for any grey area.

We believe that unless these stories can come through, then we will never really understand what happens in prison, that we will be condemned to repeat history over and over again. As prison is increasingly used as a solution to social problems in countries with high levels of inequality – where the ‘problem’ can be cut away and people dismembered from their communities – the public notion of what prison means drifts further away.

We want to use this website to interrupt this view of Holloway Prison, arguably the most well known ‘brand’ in women’s prisons in the UK, and invite a deeper look at the workings and impact of such an institution. 

Every Story Matters

We doubt that everyone who contributes to this project will agree with each other, in fact we would be disappointed not to see a some polemic positions, but this is a place for everyone who would like to be part of it. We would like to offer this as neutrally as we can, to allow for the full spectrum of emotions and opinions. 

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect our own beliefs, and we wont temper them. However, we will exercise care and caution around using names or identifying features, and will uphold principles before personalities. We are autonomous and do not reflect the beliefs or positions of any specific organisations or groups. Our common purpose is to provide a space for the fullest story of Holloway Prison as possible to be told, shared and saved for the future.  

Women's Building

The Women's Building Section is developed in partnership with Reclaim Holloway.  Women's participation in groups and workshops has been supported through a small grant from Rosa - Voices from the Front-line Fund.  This money goes towards room hire, refreshments, travel expenses, art materials, publicity and other administrative costs.  Where paid work is undertaken priority is given to women* who have been imprisoned in Holloway.

* Holloway Prison Stories welcomes the contributions off all voices cisgender, transgender, intersex and non-binary. While prisons are gender-binary institutions, we recognise that the people held in prisons comprise of many different identities.  

Our expectation of a Women's Building is one of inclusion and welcome for all.