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Jailbirds: Lessons from a Women’s Prison

It's a bit early for book of the year, but Mim Skinner's "Jailbirds": Lessons from a Women's Prison should definitely be on your list.

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You’ve only got to read the prologue of Mim Skinner’s new book Jailbirds to know you’re in for a treat. Mim, who worked as an art teacher in a women’s prison from 2014-2017, discusses the challenges of accounting for all the scissors in her art class when some participants were sneaking them off to the toilets to give themselves a tidier pubic hairstyle. 

The story is, of course, funny; it is also told with charm and wit and not a trace of condescension and takes us straight into the parallel world of prison life where the unsanctioned use of HMP scissors could result in the art class (and the neighbouring sewing workshop) being permanently cancelled.

You can read a fascinating interview with Mim Skinner by Joanna Moorhead of the Guardian here  where you can find an excellent review of the book and discover a lot more about Mim herself.

© Andy Aitchison

I don’t have any aspirations of reviewing Jailbirds to Guardian standards but would urge you to buy the book yourself. It’s published today in hardback and is also available as an e-book. It’s main strength is that it gives an insider’s look at a women’s prison in which the women are described simply as people like us, rather than a breed apart.

But don’t take my word for it, when you can take Ken Loach’s:

Mim’s warmth and understanding make for a humane, sometimes humorous, always perceptive account of prison life.

To whet your appetite, I’ve reproduced a full chapter below:

Six uses for sanitary products

  1. Tampons can be shredded up and stuffed into a lighter which has run out of gas, where it will ignite and produce a flame.
  2. Sanitary towels can be stuck along window openings to be used as draft excluders.
  3. Tampons can be crushed at the end and used as make up brushes. The shape is particularly effective for blusher or bronzer.
  4. Sanitary towels can be stuck to the soles of shoes and to hands and shuffled around on as a very effective way to clean floors and windows.
  5. Sanitary towels can be used as insoles in no-longer-comfortable shoes.
  6. Both sanitary towels and tampons can be torn apart and the cotton wool inside used as either earplugs, fake snow or make-up remover pads.


Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.

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