Christmas Behind Bars
If you've been following our Prison Advent Calendar on facebook, you will have seen our version of Christmas behind bars, but what was Christmas Day really like for prisoners? Our resident Tour Guides at Shrewsbury Prison are all retired Prison Officers who experienced Shrewsbury Prison at Christmas as a fully operational Prison.
The Run Up to Christmas
A programme of activities was run to keep prisoners occupied in the run up Christmas. These activities included Table Tennis Tournaments, A Christmas Quiz and Football Tournaments. These activities encouraged co-operation and there were prizes to be won like tobacco and chocolate.
'Education was normally shut two days before Christmas until after the holidays'
It was all about occupying their time, keeping them moving'
The Prisoners also got up to their own festive activities during the festive season, some made decorations for their cells out of what materials they had access to. Others would try more colourful activities like brewing hooch (alcohol made from fruit rinds, sugar and whatever else they could source). The week before Christmas Officers would often check cells for hooch as the fruit had begun to really ferment into alcohol, so the closer to Christmas it got the stronger the smell became.
'The smart ones would leave the lid slightly open, or it would explode. Not all of them did though.'
Prisoners were allowed to have visits from family and friends on Christmas Eve as visits were not allowed on Christmas Day.
There was often a Church service in the evening and Choirs would come in to sing Christmas Hymns.
Christmas Morning was a very quiet time on the wing, Officers would let the Prisoners quietly come round.
'Coming onto the landings Christmas morning, you could hear a pin drop. The mood was solemn, inmates were thinking of their families, their kids opening presents on Christmas Morning without them.'
For breakfast prisoners were given something different to the normal - a treat of a full english.
'or something close to it'
The prisoners got a Christmas lunch which was a traditional Christmas roast of turkey and veg they also got Christmas pudding for afters.
'It was basic, it had to be kept in the budget, but it wasn't terrible by any means, they normally had something cold for tea in the evening but they'd add chips to it.'
The Prisoners also invited members of the local community who were alone for Christmas like the elderly whose family had moved away, to the prison for a three course Christmas Dinner. The Prisoners would make the food and serve the people who came.
'Some of the Prisoners would volunteer their own time, not all prisoners are bad people - they'd done bad things - but that doesn't make them bad people.'
Christmas Day (For Guards)
On Christmas Day Guards would only work part of their usual shift. Those who were shifted to work on Christmas Day got Boxing Day off. The prison was run on minimal staff as the prisoners would be placed in lock down most of the day and visits were not permitted. Administration, Reception and Educational staff would also be closed for the Christmas period.
Some Prison Officers would come in early for their evening shifts so another officer could go home early from theirs.
'We had a one in one out system, whoever had the furthest to travel went home first'.
Christmas Day (For Inmates)
Christmas Day was mainly spent in lockdown so they spent a lot of time in their cells, prisoners would have the day off from their assigned jobs except the kitchen and maintenance staff.
They would be allowed out briefly into the rec. yard for their allotted recreation time.
A lot of the prisoners would use any time out of cells to use the phones to call loved ones.
On Boxing Day visits were allowed and if Boxing Day fell on a week day more staff would be as the courts would be open.
'Sometimes admin staff came in if it was a weekday as the courts were still open so if a prisoner wanted to pay their fine that moment, they could go home for Christmas.'