Last week I met Nick in Brixton Prison. We were there for different reasons. He is doing time. I was there to have lunch in a restaurant run by prisoners, appropriately called ‘The Clink’.
The Clink organisation’s aim is to reduce reoffending rates among ex-prisoners. The restaurant is the vehicle used to achieve this – the idea is to give prisoners the opportunity to learn new skills ,engage with the public and take their first steps towards a new life. Nick had already earned several certificates that would stand him in good stead once he was released.
The Clink restaurant in Brixton is in the heart of the prison so you have to go through several security checks before you get to lunch – once cleared you are escorted through two huge gates which creek open. Once inside the prison, it is just a short walk across a yard to the restaurant.
Inside, all semblances of prison disappear. The prisoners, smartly dressed, are at the ready to take your order. They seemed young, clustered together and slightly anxious. Our waiter was called Zia. When asked for advice, he recommended the chicken dish. We ate with plastic cutlery.
As we were finishing our main course, Nick, another waiter was close by. I asked him how he was doing. He said spontaneously that he was ‘cured of doing wrong’. ‘Prison life was deadly boring and the cells, which were shared, were very uncomfortable and cramped’. ‘He had’, he admitted, ‘made a mistake and this was his wake up call to get his life in order’. I suggested that he had no monopoly on making mistakes in life. I then delicately tried to feel my way towards the question I really wanted to ask….what was in for – ‘fraud’, he admitted freely. He was a 32 year old accountant. It was lovely, warm moment of meeting.