Silent night

I hate it when my kids go back! It’s been lovely having them home for Christmas; messy and noisy, but lovely; and it all seems so quiet when they’ve gone. The washing up (I still haven’t replaced the dishwasher) has suddenly diminished to its usual single person level; how symbolic.

I’ve managed to do a bit in the garden this week – cleared away lots of dead stuff from the front, and had a bonfire. I like bonfires; I may have mentioned this atavistic pleasure before. And, of course, I’ve iced cakes and made sausage rolls and mince pies and done all those Christmassy things. Christmas Day was good, although by the end of it the sheer inactivity was getting a bit too much for me, and I was itching to find something to do. Part of the problem was that there was nothing I wanted to watch on TV – it’s very rare for me to watch TV, and I had hoped for a good film. Where was The Guns of Navarone, or The Great Escape?

So yesterday I started back with the work – preparation for the next prison course, and various things I needed to do for Poetry on Loan, and The Reading Agency, and for the nearly-upon-us production of Pygmalion. All good, useful stuff.

But before Christmas I spent two days in the prison – two very mixed days. I got the books printed and the guys were delighted with them. I went to the Community Carol Service, which had too many dignitaries and not enough prisoners, and was too long for the kids in the congregation, and which included readings that were almost unintelligible and made deadly boring by the bad reading. If only they had let me help! Any reading can be brought to life with a bit of thought and preparation, and I could have made it better.

One of the men in my poetry group has been shipped out – just like that, gone; another, a very sweet young man, was delighted because he would be going home in two weeks. Shame for my group, but excellent news for him.

The next day I spent a lot of time helping one of the guys with paperwork for a qualification; I do hope he gets it. But while we were working, there was a disturbance – sounds of a struggle, with shouts and thumping and banging. A prisoner pressed the alarm button, and within seconds a group of officers had come and sorted things out, although all the guys were locked away while it was going on. My chap was just concerned for my welfare, bless him. Now, I know there are fights in prisons, but I hadn’t expected this – it was an apparently unprovoked attach by one prisoner on another, who was just quietly in his cell. And what’s worse, the attacker was the sweet boy who was due out in two weeks. Well, he won’t be leaving now; and I want so much to talk to him and find out why? Why do such a stupid thing? But I won’t get the chance – just one of the frustrations of working in a prison.

Anyway, I left a bit early. I was shaken, like you are when you see an accident, even if it doesn’t concern you. But I did go back and finish the qualification paperwork first. And on Christmas Day I couldn’t help wondering about the men in prison. I know they have all committed crimes, and the law says that’s where they should be, but the way we handle it is all wrong. There should be far more of a focus on education and reform – apart from anything else, it makes sense financially to do everything possible to stop them coming back to prison. But anyway. Will they have had silent nights, do you think? And their victims – what about them? Some guys have a predisposition to commit crimes, I know, but for most of them – well, it all comes down to how we treat our children, and what we bring them up to believe.

And that’s the last thing – I had arrived at the prison angry because I had heard on the radio a comment by the Pope, that homosexuality is as much of a threat to humanity as the destruction of the rainforests. To my horror, I found that at least one of the education staff agreed. These people are teachers! They run courses on diversity; they are supposed to uphold the principles of equality – and yet some of them, at least, are creationists who think that every word in the Bible is true, and that homosexuals are people who should be cured.

It’s a good thing that Christmas can be celebrated as I do, as so many people do, as a time for goodwill and giving, with no prejudice against anyone. It’s hard getting rid of prejudices; I know, because I was brought up with just about all of them, but I have tried very hard to rid myself of all that rubbish, and I think that mostly I have succeeded.

Which helps me believe that we can, even in prisons, overcome all the bad stuff that has happened to people and show them a  different way of looking at things. Which is what poetry is, at least in my view.

Phew! Sorry about all that, but there have been lots of things this week that have made me think about stuff like this. The nights may be silent, but what’s inside my head never stops.

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