SAFESOC – LUNG
As part of SAFESOC’s work on prison regulation for safer societies, Matt Woodhead, Co-artistic Director at LUNG, created a short film about the impact of prison suicide. The production confronts us with the lived experience of being bereaved by prison suicide and features Janet Farrar, whose son Stephen died in Woodhill prison in 2013.
When somebody dies in prison, their loved ones can experience complicated grief. Such trauma is often embodied and difficult to express in words alone, making film a useful medium. Formal death investigations can risk subsuming the lived experiences of prisoners and their families. Yet, Philippa’s work (Tomczak, 2021) has illustrated that families can be powerful regulators, working with others to responsibilise the state to bring qualitative changes in prisons.
The words and experiences in the film are Janet’s. Professional writers, choreographers and musicians addeddramatic interpretations. Whilst Janet’s experiences do not
represent the diverse experiences and needs of families who have lost loved ones in prison, they are not isolated. Between 2013 and 2016, 18 prisoners took their own lives just at HMP Woodhill. During this period Woodhill combined multiple, complex prison functions and serious staff cuts had led to boredom and isolation amongst prisoners. These things are major contributing factors for self-harm. Further to this, suicide prevention policies were designed when the number of prison staff was significantly higher and the prisoner population significantly lower.
To prevent future deaths of young men like Stephen and other incarcerated people, large prisons with insufficient staff and mental health resources must be subject to sustained challenge by interest groups working together.
The Samaritans charity (TEL 116 123) provide a free non- judgemental listening service if you feel distressed after reading any of this material.