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  • Seven Dials
  • Seven Dials

Jailbirds: Lessons from a Women's Prison

Mim Skinner

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Autobiography: historical, political & military, Gender studies: women, Penology & punishment, Prisons

The only book to be published about a UK women's prison - and told from the unique point of view of a prison teacher - this is the fascinating, often-uplifting, sometimes-sad account of the unique world that exists inside and the stories of the women imprisoned there.

'I've never read a book like Jailbirds before - which shows quite how much we need it. It is very funny and very important and reminds us that women in jail are still women worth listening to. I'm only grateful - for them, and for us - that Mim was listening.' PANDORA SYKES
'Mim's warmth and understanding make for a humane, sometimes humorous, and always perceptive account of prison life. This book is a fine achievement.' KEN LOACH

Darkly funny, heartbreakingly poignant and stark in its revelations about the UK's attitude towards people on the fringes of society and women in general, JAILBIRDS is this year's book you need to read.


"Did you know:
- that 48 per cent of the women in prison have committed an offence in order to support the drug use of someone else?
- that 46 per cent of women in prison report having attempted suicide once in their lifetime?
- or that over half of the women in prison have been victims of more serious crimes than the ones they've been convicted of?

But this isn't a book about statistics. It's a book about the individual stories of women caught up in our creaking and under-resourced prison system. Women who commit crimes in order get a roof over their head, who star in prison pantomimes and who deal drugs with Apprentice-style entrepreneurship. It's about those who won their battles with addiction or mental health, and those that didn't. About those who will never come back to prison, and those for whom it's the only safe space they've ever known.

Headlines and news reports of prison leave us with a boiled-down narrative of goodies and baddies - violent offenders, neglectful mothers and incurable psychopaths if you read one paper, or cruel officers, the evil establishment and sexist judges if you read another. But, very rarely, just humans. When I started working in prisons, part of me expected to find this pantomime cast of characters. Instead I met wonderful, funny, brave and resilient people with complicated stories - on both sides of the bars. Come inside with me and meet them."

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Mim Skinner

From 2014-2017, Mim Skinner worked inside prison as an art teacher. She now runs the women's project for the charity Handcrafted, supporting women to connect to community, housing and recovery from addiction through creativity.
She is also a co-founder and director of multi award-winning community interest company REFUSE, which works to intercept food that would otherwise go to landfill. In the last six months they've prevented 27 tonnes of food from going to waste by serving thousands of meals from it instead. The REFUSE cafe in Chester-Le-Street also provides supported volunteering opportunities for those with barriers to employment such as addiction or poor mental health, working alongside local mental health services and probation and prison resettlement services.
Mim lives in the north-east of England with her husband, Sam and their cat, Monkey.

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