“It’s a beautiful day to spend in jail,” I thought to myself when I entered HM Prison Brixton.
It’s an unusually warm morning in London, and it is distorting my perception of the surroundings. I feel weirdly comfortable entering the Category C male prison. A place reserved for those who have committed less severe crimes.
Luckily, I am not here to stay. I’m having breakfast at the Clink restaurant, a charity-run eatery running a rehabilitation scheme for inmates nearing the end of their sentence.
It’s staffed by prisoners who have been passed to participate in the programme, which aims to reduce reoffending rates among graduates. Trainees in the scheme learn the fundamentals of the hospitality industry, including cookery, service and teamwork.
Those who complete the scheme are 41 per cent less likely to reoffend in the future, according to the Clink.
Upon entering the prison, the reservations manager collects my passport and rattles out a long list of objects that I am not allowed to bring inside. Ten years for bringing in a phone seems extreme, so WhatsApp will have to wait a while.
It’s quiet at this hour. In fact, there’s only one other person there when I arrive. I’m shown inside, where I’m greeted by a friendly waiter who leads me to my table.
It is neatly set with blue napkins, a branded place mat and plastic cutlery. The faux-leather chairs are a comfortable addition to the brick-exposed decor of the restaurant.
I look around and immediately notice the simplicity. There are drawings hanging on the walls, including a portrait of Nelson Mandela.
The atmosphere is very relaxed. At the bar, I spot three young trainees who have recently joined the scheme. They are being taught how to use the coffee machine.
I glance at the small list of meals available on the menu, and decide on the full English breakfast and a black coffee.
The waiter is visibly nervous, but relaxes as soon as I ask him about his training. He is very chatty, willing to share his story and his hopes for the future. He has a few months left to serve and has already secured himself a job in a restaurant after his release.
“I enjoy working here. I get to meet so many different characters. But you never know what they’re here for. Some people just come to judge,” he said.
“You just never know what people are like.”
We chat for a while longer. After I finish my meal, the reservations manager is called to pick me up. When paying, I spot a stack of notebooks with a collection of the prisoners’ poetry that has been written by the Clink staff.
One line reads: “Where along the line of life did I slip, trip and stumble, ending up in all this trouble?”
Luckily, the Clink participants are not here to stay. And in a few months, they will be able to leave this place just like me.
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