We had Sylvia Boyes come to talk to JustSpace this Tuesday, and she was as inspirational as ever. Sylvia has been to prison on many occasions since 1983, when she first was incarcerated for non payment of fines following an anti-nuclear protest.
She chose not to talk about her peace work, but instead talked about the pointlessness and pettiness of prison. It is a place where the poor and disaffected end up. It does nothing to help them build up their lives and even takes away the small amount of responsibilities that they have. For many of the women she meets, it is a double punishment, first on them, but secondly on their children.
Sylvia often says to people inside that it is fair that she is there, but for most of the women, it is an injustice. Sylvia has chosen to be there, she has chosen to go to prison for her beliefs, but for many of the women in prison, it is much more awful than that. Many are there because of poverty, some are dragged into criminality by violent partners or because of drug habits forced upon them in youth. Some are there because of mental health problems, many have been exposed to rape and domestic terror. But all are there because nobody in government has the imagination to work on their potential, on their human worth.
Sylvia's visit reminded us of the need for serious prison reform, as unpopular as it might sound in the ears of politicians, fearful of being labelled 'soft on crime'. She reminded us of an important adage 'A society can be judged on how it treats those it chooses to imprison'.