I am a peer researcher on research looking at cancer in prisons. My first interviews in prison took place a few weeks ago.
On the way to the prison to meet the other researcher, I felt mixed emotions; excitement, apprehension and fear. I walked alongside the huge enclosing prison wall when I had to take a moment and gather my thoughts. I imagined the faces of the front desk security looking at me and turning me away instantly, ‘you’re not welcome here’.
Peace was restored when the other researcher walked towards me and we went through (and cleared!) security.
Once inside I felt a surge of overwhelming joy. I have spent many wasted years in this place, and here I am now, a free man – a changed man. It felt surreal, especially with the responsibility of interviewing prisoners.
The first interview was a large fella. His main complaint was about being handcuffed on his hospital visits, which you could compare to moaning that you don't like the ride in the police car when you get arrested. Handcuffs are an unavoidable consequence yet he isn’t the first and won’t be the last prisoner to feel hard done by (which I find quite bizarre).
Next up was an 80-year-old man, who disclosed he was serving his sentence on the vulnerable prisoners wing. I thought to myself, how difficult it must be to start your first ever prison sentence at that age? He answered our questions but you could see the sadness in his eyes and gratitude for the time away from his cell.
The third man, what a character! As well as having terminal cancer, he also suffered with a major personality disorder. He spoke almost non-stop for the entire time and appeared to feel comfortable staring at the floor.
Afterwards, we had to look for a nurse or an officer. On walking past the cells, I noticed a name of someone I knew and automatically filled with dread. I was afraid and sad as the cell opened. The initial shock of seeing him took my breath away but I quickly composed myself. I could feel his pain and suffering. I remained calm and was blown away by the interview. The story of his diagnosis with cancer, the pain he went through was unbelievably cruel. I'm no doctor, but I have no doubt of the psychological effect on him.
At the end of the day we were both exhausted, mentally and physically drained. I knew I would need time alone to reflect and process the day.
The next day our interviewee was 83. He had five years left to serve, had lung cancer, dementia, was going blind and deaf. He tried to disclose his crime, which we quickly dispelled - that wasn’t what we were here for. He told us that he was waiting for radiotherapy but despite this he maintained a sense of humour.
This, like the other interviews, went well in my opinion. We managed to interview five out of six prisoners, which is a massive success. Afterwards, we had a debrief.
The experience ignited something in me and I wished I was there the next day doing more interviews! I believe I offer something different in this project. I’ve been there, I can relate. I may not know or understand everything they are feeling, but I know too well what it feels like to be trapped, locked in a box with just your head (and if you’re lucky, a decent pad mate).
Revolving Doors Lived Experience Team (LET) co-designed a Liaison and Diversion (L&D) Peer Support Model service specification with NHS England. This model has been successfully piloted in Birmingham and Wiltshire. Revolving Doors evaluated the pilots and the model for peer support will now be embedded in all contracts for L&D service providers.