Every week 10,000 visits are made by children to prisons. When we later hear from Simeon Moore who himself was in prison 6 or 7 times (he can’t recall) his teenage daughter says she thought at first he was on holiday. When that story wore off her dad was ‘away working’. Now a musician and advocate for young people Simeon spells out as a father of three, he’s determined there’ll be no history repeating itself in his family. His father and brother were both in prison, this is not the form of belonging he is providing for his own children. ‘Education is a requirement – including a degree.’ Listen to Simeon’s voice, his music, there’s no doubt Simeon means it.
Prison Bag is intimate, Josie naturally warm and confessional. She gets gritty in a way her RP voice belies as she shares unexpected personal details – for instance a giggly exchange about sexy underwear with Paula, doyenne of all things prison-related or the revelation of a lonely cancer scare (turns out OK, though a bike accident compounds her aloneness). Moving between the big and small things of life as a prison wife is what an authentic, authored podcast needs.
As a listener, the all-important audience, you don’t have to want the presenter to be your friend, but you do need to like their voice in your head for many hours. A trusted guide to a little-known world. Prison bag, the podcast, mixes the whimsical (Josie singing on the journey to a prison visit) with the practical (down-to-earth when the family dog dies) and clear-sighted (she knows popular opinion is Daily Mail- style unsympathetic ‘Don’t like the crime don’t do the time’). Prison Bag chooses her moment to plea for prisons to change….and to move away from prison representing societal revenge towards helping people inside to change.
Nevertheless, this is a podcast not a public service BBC News interview or tabloid newspaper. Instead of interrogating Paxman or Humphries style, Josie walks alongside people, they open up to her – they’re in the club together. We learn more about the true impact of imprisonment on families: its drip-drip corrosive effect on children of all ages, about the hard work of keeping a relationship alive, the ripple effect of incarceration on families for generations. This is insight through empathy not hostile challenge. Take Lesley for instance, a foster mum who has cared for umpteen children. Matt has a particular place in her heart. Currently in prison on what is now an outdated sentence for a serious violent offence Matt has no idea when he could be released. With an indeterminate sentence, he has told his foster mother, ‘there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.’ Matt was taken into care at two years old, followed by over 90 care placements.
Lesley is not giving up, she visits him in prison. A calm, sometimes humorous woman (amused by the ‘tree hugger’ stereotype), she is angry. Frustrated that after a childhood of trauma he is ‘cooped in concrete’ when she believes he should learn to look after animals, valuing nature.