Recently one of my contacts on the police force invited me to visit a Homicide and Serious Crime Command Unit. In the course of a fascinating day, I visited the police cells - taking great care not to touch the panic strip on the wall on the way! Apparently it’s not unheard of for new recruits to set off the alarm by mistake, but as a visitor I didn’t want to make a nuisance of myself – not on the way to the cells at any rate…
I’ve seen police cells on the television, of course, but it was a strangely eery and depressing experience to see what little space is allocated to those held in custody. The cells are clean and safe, but very grey. Needless to say, I was glad to leave the custody suite. There was no dramatic clanging of metal gates or jingling of massive bunches of keys. Compared to representations on the television, it was all very low key (Sorry! Bad pun. Very bad.) The ‘rights’ read to prisoners are also very long compared to those you ever hear read out on the small screen, and very dull.
I admit to having a lively imagination – I do write fiction after all. So after my visit to the custody suite, it was with some trepidation that I accepted an invitation to visit a closed prison to talk to prisoners about writing crime fiction. The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on me, and I couldn’t help wondering how my talk would be received. The gates of the prison clanged shut…
I can’t speak for all establishments in HM Prison Service, but the prison I visited offers educational and cultural opportunities for the prisoners similar to those offered in many colleges. Whatever your views on the rights and wrongs of such provision in prisons, there is clearly an admirable agenda to rehabilitate offenders and facilitate their return into the community. Whether or not it is effective is a complex issue to unpick, with so many other factors involved.
What I can tell you is that my prison visit was fascinating. Although the prison officers and the prisoners were very friendly and welcoming, I was still glad to leave. The visit also helped in the writing of the fifth book in my Geraldine Steel series – but you’ll have to wait until the end of the year to find out what happens to Geraldine in prison, and to read my description of her visit to prison in the book that follows Death Bed!
And don’t forget, DEATH BED is out very soon http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1842435949/pocketessentials and the limited edition hardback is available directly from my publisher, numbered and signed http://www.noexit.co.uk/dbspecial/
What a great opportunity, Leigh! I would love to know how your crime writing talk went down amongst the prisoners, and whether there were any budding crime writers in your audience. Were you told what any of them were in for, and did they give you any tips for future plots?!
There were some very talented writers in their creative writing group. They were keen to show me their work and some of it was brilliant. I talked to them as I would to any other group of readers. I have to say, they asked some interesting questions!
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