Life Behind Bars

New documentary on Wormwood Scrubs inmates

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A new documentary series that follows the lives of inmates serving time in Wormwood Scrubs begins this May.

With unprecedented access to the W12 jail, the two part documentary follows the lives of prisoners and prison officers and includes accounts from some of them on the emotional turmoil, frustration and anger inside.

Prison Governor Phil Taylor says life in the prison can often be like a “smouldering or erupting volcano”.

“A lot of our prisoners are illiterate, or innumerate, some of them have never worked in their lives some have been criminals from a very young age and they are really damaged and difficult people to work with. All the more reason why we should work with them,” says Mr Taylor.

Wormwood Scrubs prison holds up to 1280 male inmates. Up to 80 percent of them have drugs issues and many have mental health problems. Some wings of the jail can hold over 300 prisoners, and, with only 12 guards to keep order, bullying and violence can be a daily occurrence.

The films show how prison staff have to deal with disruptive prisoners as well as help them through tough times and keep them alive when they self harm or attempt suicide, often in the face of extreme provocation and violence.

Despite the conditions, one prisoner reveals that he finds it almost impossible to survive in the outside world: “I have a nice life in prison. I have a roof over my head, and I don’t have anything to worry about. The people in prison are my family. The prison is my home,” he says.

The programmes provide a unique insight into prison culture: how drugs and mobile phones are smuggled in and used as currency inside, and some times leading prisoners into debt, and how lethal weapons are made of simple household products such as toothbrushes.

The first programme in the series focuses on the staff at Wormwood Scrubs and on the severe, testing conditions they work under. The second focuses on what life is like for the prisoners at Christmas, when they miss their families most.

Christmas Day in Wormwood Scrubs begins with a carol service and a full roast turkey lunch is served, and one inmate even manages to decorate his cell with a stolen Christmas tree and baubles. But otherwise it is just another day inside for the prisoners and staff.

The first episode of 'Wormwood Scrubs' is due to be broadcast on ITV1 on Monday 10 May.

28 April 2010