Pentonville today for the inaugural "Pentonville Discussion". The theme was "Education and violence reduction in prison" and it brought out some of the big hitters in the prison education milieu; more doctors than you might reasonably expect if you were undergoing open-heart surgery.
A group of the men gave a wonderful performance of Shakespeare. Please don't ask for details about what bit of Shakespeare - I think I was off the day we did Shakespeare at school; Ceasar was in it and he came to a bad end if that helps anyone in narrowing it down. We didn't get the full thing but what I saw was powerful. The idea of using Shakespeare in prison - they've been working on this for about eight weeks - is interesting. What little I know of his work is that he isn't shy about bloody and violent death. The work is done by a charity called London Shakespeare Workout and the director and the actors he takes in do it for nothing. I chatted with a couple of the guys and they had clearly gained from the experience - one of the speakers, someone who has spent time at Her Majesty's pleasure, advised them to do things they wouldn't be able to do on the outside and acting in a Shakespeare play would probably not be something they would have envisaged before coming into custody.
A Governor was part of one of the panels and he spoke about the history of Pentonville and how it was founded on hope. It was the first of the new model prisons when it opened in 1842 and was based on the "Separate system". It was modern with plenty of light and ventilation and in-cell sanitation - though this was later removed. The "Separate system" meant that the men could not see each other. They were in single cells. They exercised wearing hoods with small slits which allowed them to see the ground but not much more and the chapel had individual seats with high sides and back so that they could only see the preacher at the front and not the people around them - HMP Maidstone had a similar chapel. The men were well fed and given a trade. They came from all over the country and were generally under the age of 35 because after a period of incaceration they were loaded on ships and taken to Van Deamon's Land - Tasmania. He spoke also of the hope which is still part of the underpinning of Pentonville. The hope which keeps the staff coming to work, the hope that they can make a difference and help the men in their charge.
From there I headed to the Southbank to see the Koestler Exhibition. I took a tube to London Bridge and strolled along beside the Thames and by The Globe but when I got there it was closed for a private viewing. As it wouldn't reopen until 20:30 I decided to head for home so I walked up to Victoria - I'll go the exhibition another day. I feel virtuous having smashed the 10k steps and it's lovely wandering around London without any deadlines or pressing need to be anywhere. It gave me time to reflect on the event and draw out some of the stuff that was buzzing around my head as we left.
If you are on the Twitter check out the account in the subject line - it posts snippets of the fascinating history of Pentonville as it celebrates 175 years.
All up, a good day.