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In Prison with the Lifers

Soon after the new Swaleside Lifers’ Prison was built on the Isle of Sheppey in 1989, the Authorities decided to have a Lifers’ Week where outsiders were allowed to go into the prison and give lectures to the inmates. I was surprised when an invitation came through my letter box. On reading it I thought it was a chance to see what it was like “inside”.

Having accepted the offer to Lecture on Industrial Wooden Built Vessels, I prepared my lecture very carefully and waited for the day. On my arrival at the prison, I entered by a glass entrance and was locked in. Then on the other side a lady warder unlocked a door on the opposite side. This was a shock to me as I was expecting a male warder. As this lady walked me to the room where I was to give my lecture, we talked about how she came to be there.

It appears that she was at Holloway Women’s Prison which she hated; the inmates there were so rude and their talk was filthy, so that when volunteers were asked for, she was the first to volunteer for the new prison on Sheppey and was accepted. So far she had had no trouble from the male inmates.

On arriving at my lecture room, I was quite happy to see it had nothing to show that it was a prison; the room was large and reminded me of a dance hall. Around the walls were tables loaded with sandwiches, cakes and all sorts of eatables. I asked the prisoner who was in charge why the eatables were there and he said that they were there in case anyone felt hungry. Hot drinks were available too.

The time came to give the lecture but no-one moved. Then the boss man all of 6’ 6” and black came to me and said they would not sit down until the warders left the room. I went to the warders and told them the reason but they said they had to stay in the room with the prisoners. After some time being the “in-between man”, an arrangement was arrived at that the warders would go in a passage-way with the door open. By now half my allotted time had gone, and only half the class had shown any interest. It was then time for eat and drinks.

hen this feed was going on I sat on the outside of the room hoping to be on my own but one of the inmates thought differently and parked alongside me. The Lifer who sat with me was 18 years old and intended that I should know what he was inside for. I was not allowed to ask any questions. He told me he had killed a man outside a pub for no reason at all other than he did not like him.

I was rescued from this nasty man by my 6’ 6” tall black man, who seeing me cornered by this young Lifer came to my rescue. I felt very safe with this huge black man on my side.

After all had been fed, it was back to the classroom. Then it happened. I saw my protector and an Indian having a row. It seemed that the Indian had stolen something belonging to the black prisoner. I decided that I must stop this squabble, so I asked my protector what the trouble was. Apparently the Indian had stolen something from the black man’s coat but my protector had spotted him. I asked them if they might settle this after I had gone, so they agreed to do nothing whilst I was there.

In the meantime I saw a man sitting on his own looking very lonely. They called him “the Tank”. I found out that he was a Canadian and that he came from Burnaby, some miles from Vancouver. I asked if he knew the Large Emporium and he said that he lived opposite it. I was amazed when he told me the location of his house as he lived next door to my Canadian cousin. This really shook me as I was frequently in Canada and visited her and I must have seen him before. He told me his story, which turned out to be true. His was a crime of passion, I think, as he turned himself into the Police in Scotland and was sent down to Sheppey almost the next day.

There is so much to tell of my first visit; almost enough for a small book. Eventually I received a letter from the Authorities to say that no more civilians were to be employed inside for lectures. One of the Lifers had murdered another Lifer and it was thought it could happen to a civilian.

Another phase in my life ended, hardly before it had started. All I have to remind me is my old pay slips.

Don Sattin

What a co-incidence!

On Tuesday the 15 May (2007) a lady came into the Fleur De Lis Centre at Faversham where I work on a voluntary basis and made some enquiries about the Taylor family of Conyer.

We sat down and talked and I knew who her father was and that he was a lorry driver for Eastwoods', carting bricks. He moved away from Conyer to Faversham during the war where he married and the lady was his daughter.

After we finished talking about her family, the lady turned to me and said “You have not altered much, Mr Sattin.” “How can you say that when I have not seen you before today? I asked. “You may not have seen me but I have seen you”, she replied. “I worked in the Lifers’ Prison and I used to see you turn up every day. I wondered who you were and asked one of the warders.” It was the same person who had introduced me to the job and she told her briefly about me. I thought what a co-incidence just when I had written about my time there (see above).

Don Sattin

In Prison with the Lifers