Holloway Horrors

I was told about my father's death when I was in HMP Holloway. 
I remember being called out of the art class where H was teaching and being taken to a Senior Officer's pod. When I was in the room, they put my mother on the phone from South Africa. 
I remember the room spinning, as if I was suddenly underwater - everything felt removed. My knees gave way and I fell straight into the chair an officer had put immediately behind me.
I remember I couldn't speak. I couldn't believe it. The officer just put her arms around me and I dissolved into the empty space in my life that he had just left behind.
The kindness of the staff stayed with me. Although I was not a practising Muslim, the Muslim chaplain came and prayed and sat with me everyday. Officers on the landing checked in on me. The Governor, AD pulled out every stop to get me out and safe to deal with my trauma and my pain. I was given HDC (Home Detention Curfew) and allowed to go home.
Grief overcame me, he was so young, only 70 and losing him was like losing a limb, a substantial part of who I am. He died 4 days after his 70th birthday when he had decided to take on a new lease on life, he was going to leave SA and let someone manage his property investments there and in London and move to the Seychelles. It was like a second Life was dawning for him, he was free of people leaning on him , he had decided it was time for himself.
I remember he sounded hopeful when I rang him, from the prison phone. Staff always made sure that operationally, things ran properly, women who needed the foreign national phone cards got them on time, every week.

The door to the wing office was always open. The staff were properly trained and decent. They treated us with dignity and patience.
I remember being able to open up, for the first time ever about the pain and shame of my trial with a forensic psychologist, sitting on a bench in the rose garden.
As frighteningly ugly and awful the physical environment was, and it was, there were cockroaches and rats everywhere, we'd hear them in the walls, the place was a kind of sanctuary for women who needed respite from the world.
There were no unnecessary or ill informed adjudications, the staff were never nicking happy. You actually saw the governors on the landings. 
I'm not trying to paint a rose coloured picture of my experiences there, it was, outwardly a brutal and horrific place, but if you let it, and let some of the kindness of strangers and staff come in, it was bearable. There was no need for lodging thousands of complaints, it was a functional prison that really worked. Staff didn't step out of line, sexually, morally or emotionally. There was a real sense of respect and responsibility.
I was very sad to hear HMP Holloway was closing. I've heard that the land has already been sold and I feel for the campaign and the group who so badly want and deserve to have their memories of this awful /beautiful place enshrined, out of respect for all they lost and found.
I hope and pray that this shameless government will give us at least something back, of ourselves for all the years lost and the lives taken, for all the friendships nurtured and creativity.
Most of all, for me, for the memory of my dad, whose death still haunts me, he somehow resides behind those prison walls.


Farah Damji