When this book was offered to me by Rachel at Authoright I knew immediately that it was one I wanted to read, but also knew that I was already booked up. There were many questions I would like to pose to the author regarding her time working in a male prison. So my focus was regarding the changes in prison over the years. I have a wonderful post that is honest and insightful to share with you. It has made me more determined than ever to read this book soon.
Question: How has the prison service changed in the time Veronica was there?
Veronica’s Bird by Veronica Bird and Richard Newman
It is a commonplace today to criticise the lives of prisoners: ‘too soft’, ‘too cushy’, they say. Choice of menu, carpets in cells, television and radio, ensuite facilities, own door key. What, is going on? So, are these not the good things we all aspired to in a caring society?
Let us make a comparison between a modern prison today with Dartmoor Prison when Veronica entered the Service. Prisoners in those days wore canvas uniforms printed with arrows (even their boots had studs in the shape of an arrow) no television of course, or radio, often deliberately awful food, flogging, no human rights and too far for families to travel and visit, being on the edge of the world, or at least, hidden away in the heavy moor mist. Hard labour was just that: breaking up stone (granite) in a quarry in a chain gang. The men had no rights at all and if a prisoner happened to be mentally ill they were placed under even greater hardship.
No-one, surely wants to see a return to those days, but many of the public still seek an eye for an eye, that the prisoner must feel the lash of the cat ‘o nine -tails albeit if only in a virtual world of his own making. And so, we moved away from chain gangs and, gradually, conditions improved, propped up massively by the European Court of Justice. A balance seemed to have been found. Prison was hard, boring and a huge waste of time – and treasure – but the punishment was fitting the crime in people’s minds. Canvas uniforms with arrows disappeared, there was better food, better on-site hospital care, prison visiting groups could report inconsistencies. We all felt Britain was moving towards being a member of this much espoused, caring society.
Then the pendulum began to swing. Drugs began to rear their ugly head and the snag of importing it into prisons became easier. Now, under organised crime and despite visitors having a rub down and being obliged to open their mouths at the prison gate, the drug flow continues. Drugs can be mixed with children’s paints in a picture brought in ‘for daddy’. It is hidden in kids’ nappies or it can be thrown over prison walls. With thirty-five percent of prisoners already addicted a further two thousand non-drug-takers each year will be addicted before they end their sentence.
And now, with potent drugs such as spice, while we have a prison population living within their ‘rights,’ we are also converting our youth into addicts who will steal and maim in their effort to get their ‘fix’ once they are released. Something is radically wrong here.
Today, staff are better equipped, better trained and unionised. They have to work to strict rules which protect them as well as their charges. They are though, under pressure as budgets are cut, leading to a frightening increase in assaults often triggered by the drug-taking by prisoners who know their rights and use them as a shield. Working in the Prison Service has never been easy but without radical and courageous change, something which successive governments are fain to consider, things will only get worse.
Veronica’s book continues the debate on the vexed subject of how to deal with the varying categories of prisoner. With the death penalty gone and prisoners handed the keys to their cells, we all need to think carefully what is really implied as an eye for an eye.
Veronica’s Bird – Copyright © Richard Newman 2018. Authors Veronica Bird and Richard Newman. Published by Clink Street Publications 23rd January 2017
Veronica’s Bird: Thirty-five years inside as a female prison officer
Veronica Bird was one of nine children living in a tiny house in Barnsley with a brutal coal miner for a father. Life was a despairing time in the 1950s, as Veronica sought desperately to keep away from his cruelty. Astonishingly, to her and her mother, she won a scholarship to Ackworth Boarding School where she began to shine above her class-mates. A champion in all sports, Veronica at last found some happiness until her brother-in-law came into her life. It was as if she had stepped from the frying pan into the re: he took over control of her life removing her from the school she adored, two terms before she was due to take her GCEs, so he could put her to work as a cheap option on his market stall. Abused for many years by these two men, Veronica eventually ran away and applied to the Prison Service, knowing it was the only safe place she could trust. This is the astonishing, and true story of Veronica Bird who rose to become a Governor of Armley prison. Given a ‘basket case’ in another prison, contrary to all expectations, she turned it around within a year, to become an example for others to match. During her life inside, her ‘bird’, she met many Home Secretaries, was honoured by the Queen and was asked to help improve conditions in Russian Prisons. A deeply poignant story of eventual triumph against a staggeringly high series of setbacks, her story is led with humour and compassion for those inside.
About the Authors:
After thirty-five years working for the Prison Service, Veronica Bird is now retired and living in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. She is still an active proponent of the justice system and continues to lecture across the country and is a supporter of Butler Trust, which acknowledges excellence within the prison system. A qualified architect and Swiss-trained hotelier, Richard Newman enjoyed a forty-year career designing and managing hotels worldwide before retiring in 2001. Since
then he has gone on to publish a number of novels: The Crown of Martyrdom, The Horse that Screamed, The Potato Eaters, The Green Hill, Brief Encounters and most recently The Sunday Times bestseller, A Nun’s Story. He is currently working on a new novel about retirement and an autobiography of his time in the Middle East. He lives happily with his wife in Wetherby, West Yorkshire where he enjoys being close to his family.
Follow other bloggers as they share their thoughts on Veronica’s Bird.
I will be reading this book in the near future and will then will add my thoughts also.
Many thanks for reading my post, if you liked it please give a share. Better still go and buy a copy of this book xx