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Interview with Neil Samworth

Author of number one bestseller in true crime : STRANGEWAYS – A PRISON OFFICER’S STORY

in his explosive book, Strangeways, former prison officer, Neil Samworth has exposed a prison system in crisis.

Vivid descriptions of drug use, violence and poor conditions pepper an account of working at HMP Manchester before being forced to leave, suffering from PTSD.

He agreed to be interviewed by The Crime Hub.

You give a harrowing account of your time at Strangeways, is there one abiding memory of an event that has stayed with you more than any other? 

Several however one that required no intervention, no staff to assist and was just me trying to interact with a lad whom was locked behind his door.

He was due to go to a brain injury hospital the following day, he was stood at his sink which was full of pages he ripped from the Koran and scrunched up!

He was putting them in his mouth and washing them down with water from his blocked toilet, the toilet was filled with rubbish food and excrement! He should never have been in prison and had become incredibly unwell whilst incarcerated.

He spent a lot of time behind his door locked up due to the difficulty in managing him. This wasn’t anything to do with religion just the sort of behaviour mentally unwell people can display, very sad.

"Locking people up for 23 hours a day doesn’t work"

What in particular was your greatest concern about the living conditions for inmates? 

It wasn’t so much the conditions as time spent in cell, particularly for those with mental health issues. Locking people up for 23 hours a day doesn’t work and this is what we are going back to due to not having enough staff.

What is your view on the age old argument that prison is meant to be hard?

Prison is hard, you don’t control your time, there is no stimulation, lack of family contact, and no purposeful activity, it’s boring! What do people want? Chain gangs?

It can also be a dangerous place for the weak and vulnerable, in fact in can be dangerous for anybody

"Prison is a terrible place for those with serious mental health issues. "

You describe many disturbing incidents, including prisoners setting themselves on fire. Was there an increase in prisoners with mental health issues during your time at Strangeways? 

There was an increase of mental health issues, drugs like spice seriously contributed to this. I think society as a whole doesn’t understand or tolerate mental health issues and prison is an easy option keeping the public safe by locking people up.

Prison is a terrible place for those with serious mental health issues.

In the book you talk about a code of silence between officers where rules are broken – for example in prison restraint?  Is that changing?

 It’s about knowing your audience. I mostly worked with good people. The stress of the job affects how some people do the job! Sometimes you had to improvise particularly with violent or mentally unwell prisoners.

It seems as though the new breed of officers are almost out to catch people out or report on what they see as wrong doing.

 

In the book you talk about a code of silence between officers where rules are broken – for example in prison restraint?  Is that changing?

It’s about knowing your audience. I mostly worked with good people. The stress of the job affects how some people do the job! Sometimes you had to improvise particularly with violent or mentally unwell prisoners.

It seems as though the new breed of officers are almost out to catch people out or report on what they see as wrong doing.

What do you think had a greater effect on you – the behaviour of the prisoners or the cold shoulder from colleagues when you broke ranks? 

I could have worked with prisoners forever it’s as simple as that. The cold shoulder didn’t bother me it’s how officers and mangers poorly treated staff. There were some really evil bullies, and people would turn a blind eye.

Manchester is known for gang culture – do the gangs of Moss side and Longsight persist inside Strangeways? 

There will always be gang members inside but on the whole they operate on an uneasy truce though I doubt they would admit that.

Is the greatest priority in the prison system, more officers? 

Enough officers to do the job and more importantly deal with incidents and allow the prisons to carry on with the daily regime!

Neil, in your opinion, what are areas of the prison system that require the most urgent funding? 

It’s very simple as costing and prices go up yearly you can’t cut budgets, it doesn’t work.

What do you hope your book will achieve in relation to prison reform? 

I don’t really think people at the highest level care! I know it’s helped people cope with PTSD and life issues due to the lovely messages but prison reform? The people who could make a difference are so far removed from reality that things will never change for the good. 

Would you or have you recommended a career as a prison officer? 

That’s simple if you read the book and still want to do the job! I’ve had messages from people who have decided against that career and others whom have gone into the job eyes wide open.

Read reviews or buy the book here.

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