Celebrating International Womens Day in (HMP) Styal

  • Blog

Celebrating International Womens Day in (HMP) Styal

#Women’s prisons are places rich in community life and mutual support. On International Women’s Day, Unlocked Graduate Tamara reflects on the achievements, friendship, strength, and solidarity among women prisoners and prison officers at HMP Styal.

International Women’s Day is the annual celebration of women’s achievements throughout history, across nations, and across different communities – such as the prison community. Although they are often overlooked, women in prisons in England and Wales – and all around the world – show strength and have amazing achievements to celebrate every day.

I don’t want to sugarcoat the situation in the women’s estate. By working with women in prison I see their problems, frustration, and anger – and must sometimes deal with their hopelessness. But I can also see the friendship, support and hard work that the women in my care display every single day. The women I work with are mothers, friends, sports fans, writers, chefs, gardeners, and so much more. They participate in garden shows, decorate and make plans for LGBTQ+ History Month, care for animals within the prison, and participate in a knitting club. Perhaps most importantly, these women help prison officers in building a community – incorporating staff and all the women in our custody.

 

Unlocked Graduates' officers at HMP Styal
Unlocked officers at HMP Styal

 

Within our community, women prisoners look out for and help each other by working as Listeners, offering peer support, or with the Shannon Trust teaching other women how to read – thereby showing how resilient they are. Living in an isolated environment – away from their families and secluded from society – the women not only lead their personal journeys but support each other with their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

Despite all their hard work, there are times when the anger and sadness override everything else and we, as prison officers, have to remind women in prison about their achievements rather than focusing on the setbacks. This can be more than difficult due to the unique problems we face in the women’s estate. According to Public Health England, women only make up about 5% of the whole prison population. Thus, there are fewer women’s prisons meaning women are typically further removed from their families than male prisoners. 65% of women in prison suffer from depression; 53% experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse during childhood; 41% of prisoners report having observed violence at home as a child. These experiences have an impact on their lives. Nonetheless, women, whether in prison or in the outside community, are often expected to live with their traumas and overcome every hurdle of society. Sometimes these hurdles are too big and the trauma too deep.

Yet the women in our prisons are strong and even if the negatives outweigh the positives sometimes, we should support them to the best of our ability. We need to show women in custody – who often feel unloved, forgotten, and not wanted in society – that we believe in them and provide opportunities to help them improve their situation. There will always be setbacks and the journey will not be easy, but together we can work on making these setbacks smaller and less significant and focus on the positive achievements instead.

As prison officers at the frontline, we should be empowering the women in our care to take control over their lives by working on their purpose and resolve.

As Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, put it:

‘Empowering women is key to building a future we want’

And we shouldn’t forget to empower the women in prison who have amazing achievements and contributions to our society at present and will continue do so in the future.