Picassent, a Mixed Prison Wing

Marie Claire  London, 1994, 2,000 words; adapted extracts  


"You have to make the effort yourself," comments one prisoner, "though of course you know what the authorities want to see."

The prisoners also feel that relationships can be affected by the silent pressure for good behaviour - and that there’s a point where this can become controlling. "When I split up with Enrique for three months last summer," says Maria Jose, "everyone said you've done the right thing. But I didn't take any notice and we got back together. Now the authorities treat Enrique almost as if he was my husband. I'm very lucky."

"There are definitely models of suitable behaviour to which we are made to feel we should conform," comments Alicia. "On the whole we respect them because we want to the wing to work. I clean and study when I should and so on. But I don't accept it for my personal life. I picked the wrong boyfriend in the authorities' eyes, but it doesn't matter to me. It's the only freedom I have left."

In the end, though, the women are sceptical about how far relationships formed in prison can translate to the outside world. "You create your own world here, but you know it's not real," says Rosa. "There are so many hidden interests in everything, it's transitory."

Alicia agrees. "In the end, it's very difficult for anything that's born here to flower, even friendships, because what you really want to do is forget this stage of your life when you get out."

Even Maria José is sceptical about her chances with Enrique. "My boy's getting out in four or five months. I don't know if we'll stay together. He says yes, but I don't know. It's not that I don't trust him, it's just you learn that you never know with life."

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