I’ve just started interviews in the prison, with men who have served many sentences. Yesterday, one of them said something that took me aback. He described leaving prison as ‘a holiday’ and said that this was a common way of describing release among short-term prisoners. Do they see their life in prison as their ‘real life’, just like others see their lives of everyday responsibilities as ‘real’, and holidays as a temporary escape? If being outside is ‘a holiday’, then this automatically means it is temporary – seeing release in these terms almost precludes a move away from offending.
At the same time, this prisoner felt outside life was sometimes more difficult than life in prison. Having to cope with the demands of relationships, dealing with bills, having to buy food and cook, just the kind of things that make our lives normal, made his life outside stressful. Like the long-term prisoners I spoke to for my PhD, he described being in prison as respite (a holiday?) from all the stresses of ‘normal’ life. Seeing the outside world just as a place to ‘go mental’ before a return to prison (and normal life) avoids its more difficult aspects. Getting drunk, using drugs and partying – the outside world as some sort of strange Ibiza for people who otherwise live in prison.