The recent BBC drama Time gives a chilling insight into the life of those in prison. It shows us all aspects of prison life: mental health issues, self-harm, illiteracy, bullying, violence, blackmail, drugs, family breakdown, bittersweet prison visits, despair. It is not easy viewing but compelling for those of us involved in supporting prisoners and prison staff.
As a PF volunteer, I don’t see the full extent of what the men and women we serve are facing and this is a stark portrayal of the difficulties and dangers that they encounter. We see their life through the eyes of Mark Cobden, a first-time prisoner played by Sean Bean.
He is scared, disorientated and confused as he goes into prison for the first time and we see how he learns to adjust to the dangers and the drudgery of prison life throughout his sentence.
Being a prison officer is also fraught with danger. The violence and intimidation they face is terrifying and Time portrays a heart-breaking dilemma that confronts an experienced officer with an impeccable career, Officer Eric McNally, played by Stephen Graham.
Prison chaplaincy is presented in a positive light with the Roman Catholic chaplain Marie-Louise, played by Siobhan Finneran, giving Mark some purpose as she utilises his skills. She is there at times of distress and bereavement, offering practical support and comfort. Many volunteers will be very familiar with chaplains carrying out this role, and others will do this vital work themselves.
Those of us who have participated in a Sycamore Tree course will have been interested to see the prominent depiction of restorative justice (RJ). One of Mark’s cell mates gets the opportunity to meet the parents of the man he killed in a facilitated RJ meeting. He is looking to say sorry and ask for forgiveness; the parents are looking to understand why their son died. It is a raw encounter which is portrayed well. Mark also seeks to engage with his victim in order to say sorry and seek forgiveness. It is not a straightforward path for him and we don’t get to see the final outcome. Very true to life.
After the last episode was broadcast, I referred to these encounters in a Sycamore Tree session we were running and was surprised that a number of men said that they hadn’t seen it. When asked why not, one said, ‘We are actually living it on a daily basis.’ This is not a drama to them, it is their reality.
If you haven’t seen it already then please do watch Time. It takes us behind the cell doors to show us the lives of those we seek to show Christ’s love to, and will help us empathise with them as we get alongside them and give them our support.
David Cooke is a PF board member and a Sycamore Tree Tutor. Time is available on BBC iPlayer until May 2022.