September 25th, 2016

Open day boasts a captive audience

Updated: 9:48 am, May 07, 2015

WE HAVE seen it on the news, in television dramas, and on the big screen in films, but what is life actually like in prison? As part of national Heritage Open Days, Standard reporter Connie Osborne visited HMP Hewell to see what life is really like to be behind bars.

HMP Hewell was originally formed after an amalgamation of the three former prisons, Blakenhurst, Brockhill and Hewell Grange in 2008, holding Category B, C and D prisoners.

However, its history dates back long before that when the Earl of Plymouth built a house on the land about 1712.

The family kept the Grange until their gardener allegedly told them to build a new house on higher land.

That house, which now caters for 204 category D prisoners, was finally finished by the sixth earl who commissioned landscape designer Humphrey Repton and architect Thomas Cundy Senior to implement the work you can still see today.

Around this time the real tennis court was also built and would later become the gymnasium for prisoners, while the old house still stands as a listed building, once battling firework accidents and subsidence caused by the 30 acre lake which is now of Special Scientific Interest.

The land was eventually sold to the Government in 1945 and became a youth detention centre before it was turned into the prison.

But the grounds still reflect how it would have looked all those years ago including a cave where a hermit lived in the gardens, an enchanting maze and its beautiful statues.

As I wait outside Governor Nick Dann’s office, I cannot help but feel slightly overwhelmed by the surroundings and one question lingers in my mind – do prisoners deserve all of this?

But my question is quickly answered as Mr Dann explains to me a lot of the grounds are out of bounds, while the men who stay here have had to prove they can be trusted and work hard.

And if they step out of line they will lose the privileges they have spent years building up – the gym, their wages and their friends and family they desperately want to see.

“We have guys here who have committed their first crime and are serving two to five years, and guys who are back in to do a 20 year sentence.” Mr Dann said.

“It is about rehabilitating – you can’t just open the doors and say ‘on you go then’.

“They see motivation everyday and we put the responsibility back on to them.”

It is not a hotel stay as some might believe. Each prisoner shares a dorm and although lights go out at 11pm some are up from 5.30am to work 11 hour days, up to seven days a week and some prisoners earn as little as £7 a week.

The money does not go straight into their pocket, with 40 per cent of their wages going into the Victim’s Fund.

All of them are either training or working to better their futures and pay back the community, the state and their victims.

It is a mini industry of sorts, with many becoming volunteers, mechanics, window glazers, laundry men or waste managers at the prison’s recycling plant where they turn broken beds into bird boxes and fire kindle, while Hewell also has its very own bee keeper.

In fact, the prison has created its own hives which they make honey, furniture wax and candles from.

Work is now underway to set up a bee keeper course, while others can also try their hands at farm work which links with the farm shop where everything from fresh vegetables, sausages and beef ‘burglars’ are sold.

The 200 Jersey cows must also be milked twice every day and the milk is sold to supermarkets such as Marks and Spencer and Waitrose.

And Governor Dann’s newest project is a real life railway track which will built in the prison grounds and will mean prisoners can gain a railway engineering qualification in partnership with Bournville College.

He said: “If they have a job to go to, a home to go to and a family to turn to, then this will stop them from re-offending.

“We offer a support service as well as giving them the tools to get somewhere in life.”

Visit www.redditchstandard.co.uk for an extended version of this article.

The former house which was replaced by the now open prison.

Picture by Marcus Mingins 3814006MMR1

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