Washrooms of Divine Despair

A prison poem that highlights the gulf in understanding between the general public, informed mostly by the gutter press, and those concerned with prison life on a day-to-day basis. It was read to the lady Mayor of Bury St.Edmunds when she visited HMP Highpoint. I tried desperately to get her to actually see the washrooms in the so-called ‘Super Enhanced Wings’, but I’m not sure it ever happened.

I used to find the television series ‘Porridge’ amusing until I was obliged to experience reality. If we can judge a nation by the way it treats its prisoners then we should all judge ourselves with severity. Until, of course, we accept to share responsibility for the lack of dignity that we heap on tens of thousands of our fellow citizens and the people we pay to keep them safe and secure.

Please bear in mind that my aim is to create some popular momentum for an improvment in the conditions for prisoners in British prisons – to ensure that they are treated with the dignity that any reasonable British citizen would assume they would be. By doing so, we will also improve conditions for the people that work in the prison system. Remember that this poem describes conditions for ‘super enhanced’ prisoners -the elite of Cat C prisons

Please subscribe if you want to know more or are already convinced that – as in B Cat and some parts of C Cat prisons – locking two strangers up in a space designed for one person, with an open toilet a few centimetres away from their faces for 23 hours a day is unacceptable, and that obliging them to eat in that same toilet is just plain disgusting.

I am happy to debate this issue with anyone, any time on any platform or to defend these statements in any way anyone may choose.

Washrooms of Divine Despair


Their bodies bent before basin, boldly

Washing head and hands and face

Mumbled greetings delivered coldly

Monotone meetings in a putrid place

That all the inmates reluctantly share

These washrooms of divine despair


One enquires, strangely, after my health

The ultimate rhetorical question

I return the compliment, as if by stealth

He shrugs his shoulders at the simple suggestion

As if anyone could really care

In these washrooms of divine despair


On leaving, he comments on the smell

Caused by the toilets, void of flush

And describes other users as ‘men from hell’

Whose habits would make most mothers blush

But his criticisms are hardly fair

In these washrooms of divine despair


For nothing functions here correctly

In agèd, temporary, accommodation

Where ablutions are executed circumspectly

Clogging this cess pit of civilisation

O, that journalists might once go there!

To the washrooms of divine despair


And if that great day finally comes

When truth will be told to the population

Somewhere among pages of tits and bums

And the scripts of unscrupulous speculation

Let their readers with us, just once, share

The washrooms of divine despair


For newspapers tell us that prison’s a dream

And softness is built into the system

It’s enough to make prison workers scream

As they struggle valiantly to fix a cistern

For most fittings are beyond repair

In the washrooms of divine despair


And, so, I rise as early as I can

To ensure that I get enough water

And give myself time to clean the pan

Before other lambs come to their slaughter

To pray to their gods, or stand and stare

Before the washrooms of divine despair