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Corrine spends time on the inside to find out how prison affects inmates’ identity

Date 3.06.2019

A University of Northampton student went behind bars for a project which examines the impact of prison on inmates’ identity.

Corrine Gretton-West made several visits to HMP Leicester, where she photographed and interviewed inmates about life on the inside of the Victorian category B men’s prison.

The final year Photography student found that some inmates admitted their time inside had eroded their identity, while several revealed the strategies they use to try and cope with prison life, such as writing poetry, playing musical instruments or seeking solace in religion.

Corrine Gretton-West in her recreation of a prison cell

One prisoner told her: “I don’t know who I am anymore. I have no identity, so I just keep things plain around here. Poetry keeps me alive.”

Corrine said: “Those I spoke to who had been in prison for a long time, had pretty much given up and really didn’t feel like they were the same person they were before. It was quite sad to hear them say this.

“In contrast, those who had been incarcerated a for just a few months or a year or two had a better outlook, and seemed to make the most of their time in prison, keeping occupied with activities, taking part in the prison’s education system, religion, and so on. They also have a great mental health system put in place which is available to the inmates.”

Corrine added: “The prison officers do a fantastic job, they definitely deserve more funding. I cannot thank them enough for allowing this project to happen.”

Photo by Corrine Gretton-West

Photo by Corrine Gretton-West

Photo by Corrine Gretton-West

The prison visits were a challenge for Corrine, who wrote to 40 institutions before Leicester agreed to help her with her project.

She said: “HMP Leicester is a beautiful building from the outside, and once I went through the gates it still seemed quite appealing as there was a peaceful garden to walk through and then some offices. But the mood changed as soon as we went down a long corridor to where the cells are – the noise just hit me and it’s a sound I’ll never forget, it was pretty overwhelming.

“Once I’d got over my nerves and actually spent time with some of the prisoners in their cells, I felt more at ease and they were really surprised and intrigued that someone was interested in what they had to say.

“They are human beings, just like us all. That’s something that has stayed with me and I hope my project will get over to people who see it.”

Corrine’s project, Identity Inside, will be exhibited at the University’s Degree Show, which opens on Friday 7 June and is open to the public.

For the exhibition, Corrine has recreated a 6ft by 8ft prison cell, with the photos taken at HMP Leicester displayed on the walls – including an image of a cell window which a prisoner had dressed with curtains made from pillow cases and tooth picks.

Visitors to the Degree Show can find Identity Inside located in the Photographic Department’s exhibition on the ground floor of the Creative Hub, Waterside Campus.

Photo by Corrine Gretton-West

Photo by Corrine Gretton-West

Photo by Corrine Gretton-West

Corrine’s Degree Show exhibit

Images on the walls of Corrine’s cell

Images on the walls of Corrine’s cell