Law students visit HM Prison, Portland - by Bhavika Vithlani

The Access Platform

Pearson Business School law students recently visited HM Prison, Portland, as part of an organised scheme by Key4Life – a charity created to rehabilitate inmates and reduce the risk of inmates re-offending once released. Bhavika Vithlani writes about her student experience. 

I had the opportunity to visit HM Prison, Portland, as part of an organised scheme by Key4Life, a charity created to rehabilitate inmates and reduce the risk of them re-offending once released. This article is all about my experience during the law visit…


The Journey

I have to admit, I was nervous during the journey to the prison. I didn’t know what to expect: the only time I’d seen the inside of a prison was on television. The advice we were given before the visit was, “just be yourself, they’re more scared of you than you are of them” – I didn’t believe this one bit at the time (but I would later find out that this was true).

I was one of two Pearson Business School law students joining this trip – as well as John Clifford, our law tutor. During the train journey, we soon discovered that other companies would be joining us: there was around 20 people in total who were taking part in the same visit. Admittedly, when I discovered this – I was relieved. We were on the train for 3 hours, after a while it got a bit tedious! After we arrived in Weymouth, we took a 10 minute taxi journey to HM Prison, Portland, and there were some amazing views on the way.

Arriving at HM Prision, Portland

Once we arrived at the prison, we all locked away our bags and phones into one car, since we weren’t allowed to take anything inside with us. Once having our ID’s checked, we were patted down and taken to a waiting room – that inmates families used when they came to visit. Despite only being a visitation room, our surroundings were still highly protected: the doors were locked and could only be opened up by security team, there was also metal bars across all the windows.

We waited around for a while until we were finally given name badges and introduced to a female prison officer called Katie. She told us that she’d been in the industry for around 20 years, so it’d be safe to say she really knew her stuff. Her job role included being the first point of contact when there was a suicidal inmate, where she’d try to reason and talk things through with them. Katie was also the family liaison officer for the prison, which included the gruelling challenge of breaking bad news to inmate’s families.

The Prison Tour

Katie began the tour by showing us around the grounds of the prison, this was a very eerie experience because even though we could see so many windows: it was pin-drop silent. We then led into one of the buildings, where Katie told us we would be seeing three wings: Raleigh, Nelson and Grenville. Whilst we were in the middle of the Raleigh wing, Katie explained that there was only one officer allocated for every thirty prisoners. This fact shocked us all, but what was even more disturbing was the fact that between four-thousand to five-thousand prison officers had lost their lives from their work over the last 5 years, nationwide. But when there’s so few prison officers, for so many inmates – this didn’t seem like a surprise. What was a surprise, however, was how we never hear about this in everyday life. Surely something could be done to reduce this tragic mortality rate?

I asked Katie if at HM Prison, Portland any inmate had lost their life to another inmate over the last few years. It was a relief when she said that this had not happened at the prison.

Katie explained that society has become broken in recent years. She explained that 20 years ago, inmates at HM Prison, Portland would have never even thought to assault a female prison officer. However nowdays inmates are encouraged to assault female officers in any way they can, for ‘status’ and a ‘big name’ around the prison.

Whilst we moved around the wards, Katie explained that each inmate gets a gym allowance of 2 hours a week and are entitled to 30 minutes of fresh air per day in a large enclosure covered by grass- even though they don’t have to leave their cells for fresh air if they don’t want to. 

During our visit, we got to see the inside of an empty cell designated for two inmates and was exceptionally small. Inside there was a double bunk, a desk, a chair, toilet and a wooden corner where a television would normally be. We were also told how at any one time, only one t.v channel would be shown – being rotated around once every six weeks. We also saw a cell designated for suicidal inmates, with words inscribed on the wall by its previous occupier, including:

“The devil’s got my soul,
It’s him that’s in control,
He makes me do all this evil” – ‘snowy’

“Everytime I try and get closer to God, the devil makes me spasm.”
– ‘snowy’ 

Reading these words made me feel very upset, to think about someone that was in that cell, probably around my age, feeling like they had no control over their actions, yet knowing what they had done was wrong – causing them to be suicidal. Snowy had felt like the only way to escape it was to try and kill himself, and it just broke my heart thinking about it. I was unable to find out what happened to Snowy, but I pray that he overcame his problems.

Meeting the Prisoners

After the tour, we had a quick lunch break, and then went on to meet around eighteen prisoners –with the chance to interview three of them. This was when I realised that most of the inmates were more scared of us than we were of them. It made me realise that they were just young people, some the same age as me, and they just made one bad choice, or had such a horrible upbringing and no proper guidance previous to committing their crimes. Some of the inmates I met were really great to talk with, and didn’t realise how much they could change their lives around once they were released from prison. One of the best things to see, was that after the talks every one of the prisoners said thank you to us for coming, and how much they appreciated the fact they had this opportunity – regardless of their reputations that they had for themselves in the ‘inside’.

All-in-all, I found the prison visit to be an overwhelming experience, and I would really recommend it to everyone I know. It helped me to realise that these people, who we normally fear, are vulnerable, and all want the opportunity to be able to ensure they don’t make the same mistakes again.

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We're transforming higher education. As a FTSE 100 company, immersed in industry, we do things differently. Industry engagement is at the core of everything that we do, and it’s what sets us apart.

We offer all full-time degree students guaranteed internships*, so they gain experience during their studies. Our degree apprentices also get to work within a company throughout their studies, so they gain valuable experience, learning on the job. We help our students to build their own professional networks; they’re taught by well-connected industry experts, and they get to make contacts at industry workshops led by some of the world’s most reputable organisations. We work with industry giants from Unilever, L’Oreal, and Sony Pictures, to WPP, Lloyds of London and IBM. Alongside their academic studies, it’s the experiences like these that help our students to develop the knowledge and skills they’ll need to succeed, as well as inspire them, so they have the drive and ambition to get ahead.

Our students are enterprising and entrepreneurial. They get to work with our in-house business incubator The Access Platform (TAP), and many have set up their own companies too, like Kickpush and Yaantu and even social enterprises like Once Upon a Doug.

Our alumni have gone on to work for brands such as Nestle, Sainsbury’s, Microsoft, Dyson, Not on the High Street, the BBC, Snapchat, Wincanton and General Mills.

Industry engagement drives us; it’s not just what we do, it’s who we are. And it is what will take us, and our students, into the future.

*subject to academic performance