Prison is a foreboding word that conjures up all manner of dreadful impressions and fear of what it might actually be like.
HMP Holloway Prison was in actual fact a community of women that had ended up there for many reasons and from all walks of life. Some for familiar crimes, some for reasons that leave you questioning how and why someone would ever end up a situation that would lead them to being incarcerated.
Initially, stripped of your belongings, (women were allowed to wear their own clothes), drug tested and photographed for your ID card, you are escorted to either the first night centre or to H1 the Health Care landing that supported those detoxing from drugs or alcohol.
I think my experience of spending time in HMP Holloway holds mixed emotions. The whole experience will leave me scarred for life and one that I will carry with me forever. Being locked in a room with women that you have never met before and having to share space with them in a double or dormitory space tests you on so many levels. One small TV, one small sink and a toilet as shared amenities. In a double room you are sleeping on top of or underneath your roommate, if they snore or you don’t get on, your experience can be unbearable.
Getting a single room was a long wait unless your circumstance dictated it, but having a single room on a noisy disruptive landing could be just as bad.
Getting out of your room for any form of activity becomes the focus of each day. Education, Exercise, Doctors, the Gym, visits, meal times and association were the main reasons that you could escape your confines. Personally, the gym was my saviour, somewhere you could work out your stresses and keep fit, especially relished was time in the swimming pool (when it was open and enough PEI Officers to staff the activity).
As time passed you would be able to move landings and be unlocked for longer periods of the day, D0 a workers landing was unlocked from 7:30am until 17:30pm, then moving up to D2 you would be unlocked until 20:30pm, this landing was reserved for those that would be allowed to go out on Day Release or ROTL (Release on Temporary Licence). Normally this work would be voluntary, I got to go out 4 days a week, I wanted to stay in the prison one week day in order to attend education classes. I also got permission to cycle to my workplace on the other side of London; I just had to be back by 18:30 hrs each night.
I took the opportunity to do some distance learning courses which, despite the limitations of not being allowed to access the internet, or at the beginning having limited access to a computer, did help build self-confidence and sense of achievement.
Being separated from family and children is probably the most difficult; phone calls are expensive, as are stamps on a limited budget. There were Kids Visits in the gym for 5 hour sessions once a month, other than that you were allowed 2 or 3 hour long visits a month in the visitors centre.
Your whole sentence is focussed on a single date, your release date. Your sentence is what you make of it and is really just about enduring your circumstances until your release.
The only other outlet that prisoners have is the odd completion, one run by Women in Prison, the other the annual Koestler Trust Award Scheme, inviting entries across over 50 disciplines visual and non-visual with cash prizes and an annual exhibition at London’s South Bank Centre as well as regional shows.
I documented the whole of my sentence in pictorial form by drawing a postcard a day, these were not only on show at the 2017 South Bank Exhibition curated by Antony Gormley, but are being published on a daily basis on Facebook and Instagram at postcardsfromprisondiary and on twitter at ErikaPostcards, Limited Edition prints are also available at www.recordedinart.com.