Jailbirds - a review June 14, 2019 14:47
At a time when feminism and women’s rights are more relevant and urgent than ever, Mim Skinner’s Jailbirds: Lessons from a Women’s Prison sheds light on the UK's female prison population - approx 5% of the overall prison population - which is often overlooked and which we know so little about.
Fine Cell Work were delighted to host An Audience With Mim Skinner last week, where she talked about debut novel which draws upon her experience as an art teacher in a women's prison in the North of England.
“This book isn’t about statistics [but] about the individual stories of women caught up in our creaking and under-resourced prison system”.
And she keeps her promise by telling the stories of the female prisoners and prison staff in a non-judgemental way whilst relating them to her own reflections on the prison system. Expertly woven are facts and statistics which make their experience relevant to us. Of course, some of the figures in the novel cannot go unnoticed:
- 48% of women in prison report that they have committed to support someone else’s drug habit
- 84% are in prison for non-violent crimes
- 48% of women leaving prison are back within a year
- 50% of the women in prison have been victims of more serious crimes than the ones they’ve been convicted of.
Jailbirds is a thought provoking and emotional read which humanises this group of women, challenges all the misconceptions around them and creates a platform for their voices to be heard. As she revealed in her interview with Joanna Moorhead at the Guardian,
“It’s much too simplistic to think of women who are in prison as ‘bad’ and the rest of us as ‘good’. Women in prison have had the odds stacked against them from day one.”
In fact, the book introduces us to many likeable and resilient characters as well as the complexities of living and working in a prison, with the right amount of sentimentality.
We were deeply touched by the hopefulness of the book and its balance between the bleakness of prison life and it's lighter, more humorous moments. The narrative resonated with the FCW volunteers and their attempt to create a safe space within the stitching cell groups where prisoners have the freedom to express their emotions though their creativity.
The rights of Jailbirds: Lessons form a Women’s Prison have just been sold to BBC and it will be soon be developed into a six-part drama series. However, we would highly recommend you read this heart-breaking, witty and poignant book and learn first hand about the characters Mim met along the way.
"When I started working in prisons, part of me expected to find this pantomime cast of characters. Instead I met wonderful, funny, brave and resilient people with complicated stories – on both sides of the bars."