With prisoners spending very large amounts of time in their cells, Inside Time asked the Library at HMP Thameside what it is doing to help prisoners during the current lockdown. CMS (Custodial Management System) refers to the computer system the men have in their cells. Thameside is a private prison managed by Serco and its library has won awards for its services.
Book ClubLibrary staff continue to work with charity Prisoner Reading Groups (PRG) to offer a monthly remote book club called Book Talk. December and January focused on George Pelecanos The Man Who Came Uptown and Februarys was The Colour Purple by Alice Walker, to celebrate LGBT Month.
Volunteers who ordinarily host book clubs have been providing regular poetry / short story documents which are uploaded to CMS Noticeboard.
Request and Deliver ServiceThe Library is offering a Request and Deliver book service during lockdown. The initiative allows prisoners to request titles via CMS Apps and staff in the library will endeavour to provide these titles to them via wing staff (depending on availability).
Creative WritingSerco have applied for funding for this initiative via the DPS (Dynamic Purchasing System) model and are still awaiting an outcome.
Reading AheadReading Ahead (formerly Six Book Challenge, which encourages prisoner to pick and document six reads before receiving prizes) has been re-introduced remotely to prisoners. The library offers a free mini Collins dictionary for completers which encourages a healthy number to engage in the incentive.
Melanie WhipmanCreative Writing tutor Melanie Whipman has taken over a short story platform called The Story Player. She suggested a prize for short stories created by prisoners in lockdown might be their contribution to helping vulnerable people in lockdown, having been impressed by the pieces the group wrote when she ran a workshop at Thameside earlier this year. Funding was successfully obtained through the amenities board and we are due to commence the course in April or May 2021.
Poetry SessionThe library is looking to hold remote poetry sessions with an artist called Lady Unchained; an inspirational poet and founder of Unchained Poetry (a platform for artists with personal experience of the criminal justice system) once funding has been agreed
Audiobook ChannelOne of the DVD channels has been changed to an audiobook channel using audiobook CDs to cope with the demand of very popular titles such as Rhona Byrnes The Secret, LJ Flanders The Cell Workout and Robert T. Kiyosakis Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Similarly, some of the other DVD channels now feature looped programmes and films of popular book titles to cope with the demand (eg. Cell Workout training sessions).
Puzzle ChampionshipCharity CSC (Chess in School and Committees) provide regular chess and now sudoku exercise spreadsheets which are uploaded to CMS Noticeboard in the absence of real-life chess sessions which were approved and funded via PIAC (Prisoners Information and Activity Committee).
Film ClubFilm Club sessions are on hold until prisoners can access the library but the latest film titles are available on the DVD Channel.
Wayout TV / Way2LearnWayout TVproduces educational content to compliment and extend learning, training and employment opportunities and allows prisons to communicate with inmates directly via the in-cell technology in place at Thameside. Way2Learnis an in-cell learning channel which delivers bite-size courses prisoners who cannot access education or those that just want to extend their learning. We are in the process of applying for funding for this incentive.
Prison Advice Service (PAS)Legal advice sessions from PAS have been cancelled due to current regime. The organisation has offered to hold phone clinics instead but this is not feasible under the current legislations but we advertise their services via CMS Noticeboard so prisoners needing advice can phone them directly.
National Prison RadioNational Prison Radio offers programmes such as Sunday Service and Muslim Prayers which are advertised ad-hoc on CMS.
EmbassiesLibrary staff have contacted all main embassies to request books and magazines for the men. The response has been very positive and allowed the library to provide more materials to foreign national prisoners.
DonationsThe library has received hundreds of donations from various charities such as Give A Book, Prison Reading Groups, The Kittiwake Trust and Haven Distribution. The titles books are being distributed fairly to each wing.
Shannon TrustLibrary staff are in talks with the Shannon Trust about how they can offer their sessions remotely.
Therapeutic ArtsThe library has been offering therapeutic art sessions remotely via DVD channel tutorials from late November 2020. The library will also offer screenwriting courses from the Met Film School remotely via DVD channel tutorials from April 2021.
StretchCarlotta Allum, who founded arts charity Stretch and worked with Thameside previously, is currently offering a remote programme via the DVD channel where selected prisoners take part in a project and cartoon about their lives. The charity has provided booklets and films to provide men with inspiration and would like to publish a collection of work from them.
During the project, they ask prisoners to go through the booklet and complete the exercises Carlotta suggested it could be something they turn into a published pamphlet to send back to their families.
SynergyA remote course with drama company Synergy has been running which will last until March. The course is a Screenwriting course and involves writing a ten-minute play to respond to Black Lives Matter. During the course, a professional playwright will guide prisoners through how to write a play over four video sessions and professional actors will rehearse and record their play.
Acknowledgement: Charles Carr (Serco)
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