Charlie Kiss, a trans man, writes about his time in Holloway when a teenage anti-nuclear protester.
I went to Holloway Prison the first time back in 1982. I wasn’t alone. I was with ‘Greenham Women’ who were anti-nuclear protestors’ This was for only four days, the end of a two-week sentence for refusing to be ‘bound over to keep the peace’. We had disrupted things in Drake Hall, an open prison because we had all refused to do the prison work and so were kept in the punishment block, thereby of course preventing anyone else from being punished which was satisfying. So, to put a stop to this, we were transferred to different prisons, I was only 17 at the time and so I was put on the borstal wing. I remember an overbearing old ex-RAF woman officer who was clear in her lack of respect for me and was quite intimidating.
The second time I went to Holloway was in February 1983, this was for climbing on top of the the nuclear missile silos on January 1st, 1983. I had a pretty miserable time but at least my sentence was again short, for two weeks only. The women inside were supportive of us and friendly on the whole. We listened to their backgrounds and became angry at so many injustices mostly due to poverty.
It feels strange, referring to myself going to women’s prison and being part of the Greenham cause, because that was so long ago and in the year 2002 I started transitioning to male.
But despite living in the male world now for over 15 years and doing less direct action, I will never forget my time in Holloway Prison.
I remember the awful food, the screaming and banging through the night, the splitting of matches to make them last longer, the horrible slatted windows designed so narrow that you could not put your head through it, having to choose between decent toilet paper or a packet of tobacco from the measly weekly wage, the unbearable hot temperature and the emptiness of having nothing to do all day but stare out at the red neon sign of the ODEON cinema on Holloway road. Life in prison is painfully slow, excruciatingly, agonisingly slow. I understand why prisoners call it ‘doing time’
I remember- the total lack of control in not being able to look after yourself. All responsibility is taken from you. You can’t control what you eat, how much exercise you get, the temperature, the noise around you. You are totally helpless, and I have an idea now of how crippling institutionalisation is- when you can’t look after yourself or take responsibility. The opposite in fact of what prison should be about. Rather than making the women feel worthless, they need to be given hope and practical help.
It seems to me that prison is an extremely expensive illogical exercise in making the situation worse for everyone. The prisoners in Holloway were mostly there due to reasons of poverty or drugs and a huge number had mental health issues. What possible use for society is there in locking these women up? It’s been proven time and time again that deterrence doesn’t work. What does work is helping women get back on their feet, with accommodation, helping family ties and help getting a job. This would mean, as with men, they would be far less likely to take a risk and end up back inside again.
I describe my experiences of prison in more detail in my book ‘A New Man- Lesbian, Protest, Mania, Trans Man’ For info visit: https://anewman.uk/
Copyright, Holloway Prison Stories. May not be used without permission.