Lost in the maze of Holloway

 

I know HMP Holloway from working for a charity. At first Holloway felt quite intimidating and confusing, not because of the women residing there but because of the institution itself. Even though I had attended the key training provided by the prison I wasn’t really sure what exactly I was allowed to do - nobody had told me what the actual rules were as a member of staff or where I was allowed to go within the prison. I felt like I sneaked around the corridors waiting to be told off by an officer for being in an unauthorised area,I got lost while walking around the prison alone, feeling a slight sense of panic at getting temporarily lost. It felt like a very strange place indeed. I can only imagine how confusing it must be being a prisoner in Holloway for the first time - not being told what’s going on, not knowing what your appointments or visits are for the week or even day ahead, not knowing where you will live when you are released, even if that is tomorrow…

Slowly but surely though I started to find my way around Holloway and started to find it quite homely. It’s a bizarre micro cosmos, a world within a world. It sits right in the middle of a busy part of London, yet when you are walking around its empty corridors, it feels so far removed from the community in which it exists. It is easy to start feeling a sense of normality and every-day life in Holloway, even though the very notion of such an institution is anything but normal. Some of the women in Holloway really have made it their home, not because it fits with anybody’s idea of an ideal home but because our society has failed to provide these women with a home of their own.

So how do I feel about the closure of Holloway? Mostly sad to be honest. When the announcement was made of Holloway’s closure some women asked themselves where they will now spend Christmas. You have to ask yourself what the victory is in closing a prison if nothing is done to challenge the homelessness, poverty and abuse facing so many of the women that end up in that prison? A reduction in the overall prison population is not just about numbers, it is about challenging the inequality and unfairness embedded in our society that ultimately leads people to imprisonment. Instead of simply closing Holloway and in effect depriving some women of their home and safety, perhaps our society and government should focus on supporting women to never end up in this maze to start with?