Prison primer

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - By ER­WIN JAMES

If some un­lucky chance sees you in­car­cer­ated at Her Majesty’s plea­sure, make sure to take this handy guide along.

IG­NO­RANCE and naivety of­ten ex­ac­er­bate the trauma that many peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence when they are sent to prison for the first time.

Im­me­di­ate con­cerns might range from where to get a stamp for that first let­ter home, how to make pur­chases from the “can­teen” (the prison shop), in­for­ma­tion about the vis­it­ing days (times/fre­quency), who to ask for help to use the tele­phone, or, sim­ply, when may be the safest time to visit the show­ers.

The ear­li­est days are the most pre­car­i­ous. With any luck, you might get “twoed up” (to share a cell) with an old hand who will show you the ropes and keep an eye on you un­til you find your feet. Oth­er­wise, you’re on your own.

At least you would have been, un­til Frankie Owens de­cided to write The Lit­tle Book Of Prison, , a sur­vival guide for those at the mercy of Her Majesty’s plea­sure (sent to jail) for the first time.

“I wrote it to try to make some sense of my own sit­u­a­tion,” says Owens, 38.

“Be­ing sen­tenced to prison for the first time in my life was a shock, but the re­al­ity of prison life was a big­ger shock. That first day was just a blur of won­der­ing what was go­ing to hap­pen next. I re­mem­ber sit­ting with two other first-time of­fend­ers in re­cep­tion and they were shak­ing like a leaf.”

Owens spent four months in cus­tody on a num­ber of charges, in­clud­ing wit­ness in­tim­i­da­tion. He was re­leased last Au­gust. Brought up in a lov­ing, in­dus­tri­ous fam­ily (his fa­ther ran hol­i­day camps, his mother was a full-time par­ent), he grad­u­ated in hos­pi­tal­ity and cater­ing and went on to hold se­nior po­si­tions in the in­dus­try.

A high achiever, the cat­a­lyst for the fa­ther-of-three’s down­fall was his sepa­ra­tion from his wife fol­lowed by a seven-month “hy­per-manic ben­der”, of drink and drugs. He was drink­ing 30 units of al­co­hol a day and snort­ing 5g of co­caine a week.

The most sur­pris­ing thing he found in­side was the avail­abil­ity of drugs, he says.

“That was un­be­liev­able. So many of us were in there be­cause of sub­stance abuse, yet it was prob­a­bly eas­ier to get hold of drugs in there than it was out­side.” Owens used his time to get sober.

What did he find the most dif­fi­cult?

“I had a new cell mate who was es­tranged from his fa­ther and wanted to con­tact him to make up. I en­cour­aged him to write his fa­ther a let­ter, help­ing him with spell­ing and punc­tu­a­tion.

“He was out in a few days and was go­ing to post the let­ter then.

“But the next day there was a knock on the cell door and it was the chap­lain to tell my cell mate his fa­ther had been found dead. “When the cell door closed it was just him and me.”

How does he think his book will help peo­ple?

“Well, it’s a dos and don’ts guide, which I wish I could have been given when I first went in,” he replies.

“I hope it helps to make peo­ple smile in dark times – and I hope it helps fam­i­lies and friends who are left be­hind when a loved one goes to prison.”

Does he have one es­sen­tial piece of ad­vice for any­one about to go to prison? He laughs. “Ride out your bang-up and try and think of it as an op­por­tu­nity to make your life bet­ter.” — Guardian News & Me­dia

The­lit­tle­bookof­prison:abeginner’s Guide by Frankie Owens is pub­lished by Wa­ter­side Press (ISBN: 978-1904380832).

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