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Dr David Honeywell

The Pains of imprisonment

David Honeywell, a former prisoner turned academic, will be giving an interactive presentation alongside academics on Glyndwr’s Criminology and Criminal Justice degree on July 10.

They will be looking at the ‘pains of imprisonment’ – a phrase first used in a 1950s Criminology classic studying prisoners’ experiences, which David argues is still very much relevant today.

David, Can you explain a little bit about your own experiences?

As a former prisoner turned academic, I have experienced the pains of imprisonment first hand. However, many of these pains are experienced differently by each individual. For some, one day in prison can be enough to make them never go back; some never learn, but also for some prison is a better place than living on the streets or within abusive homes.

I don’t speak for others who experienced much harsher regimes, longer sentences and had harder lives than I but I can relay what I have learned from them.

One of the ‘pains of imprisonment’ I experienced over 30 years ago was ‘slopping out’ which most of today’s prisoners won’t have experienced – as I mention in my autobiography, Never Ending Circles.

[…] I could see lines of men wearing blue tee shirts and blue denims, sleepily dragging themselves along the landing. It was 6:30am. I could see that they were all carrying plastic chamber pots to slop out their overnight waste. In their other hands, were bowls to collect water to wash their hands and faces in, and white plastic jugs to collect drinking water. In those days, we didn’t have toilets and washbasins in the cells, so we had to go to the toilet in plastic chamber pots. Three times a day, we were unlocked to dispose of it all in a daily ritual known as ‘slopping out’, where we emptied our pots into large sinks in a recess area at the foot of each landing.

 Tempers were frayed, as it was far too early in the morning to be suddenly woken by a bright light and a bang on the door, followed by a screw bellowing, “slop out!”

There was one toilet in the recess area and if you could get there before someone else beat you to it, you made the most of it. I never thought that using a toilet could be such a luxury, but it was at times like that when I realised just how much I had taken everything in life for granted. The disadvantage of the toilet though, was that the cubicle door was only waist high, so while everyone was crammed in the packed recess area slopping out, they could see the person in front sitting on the toilet. We were all used to not having any kind of privacy though, because we had to do our business in the cells, there was a mutual respect amongst us. We always gave one another as much privacy as possible. When I had to squat over my pot in the cell, my cellmate would read a newspaper or if he was lying on his bed, he would turn to face the wall. We didn’t have toilets in those days because Durham dated from the Victorian era and wasn’t originally designed to have them.

Gresham Sykes’ Society of Captives, where the ‘pains or imprisonment’ quote comes from was published in 1958. How much has changed in the half-century-plus since it came out?

Nothing has changed - except prisoners now face different pains. For example, they no longer ‘slop out’ but there is a massive drugs problem which didn’t exist during my early days in prison in the 80s but had begun to emerge during my second sentence in the 90s. Some pains, such as the  ‘loss of liberty and autonomy’ are the same - losing your freedom and being unable to do what you want has the same emotional impact as it always has.

The public still seeks revenge and want to see people punished. We still have a very punitive approach towards punishment - the pains are as relevant today as Sykes studied them over 50 years ago.

There is an impression given in the media that modern-day prisons ‘resemble holiday camps’ – is this accurate?

With a record number of suicides, homicides, drug abuse, sexual assaults and bullying in today’s prisons, I wonder what sort of holiday camps these journalists have visited.

The idea arose from photos smuggled out by prisoners of them partying in ‘open prisons’ which is key to this myth. Open prisons do not advocate partying, but they are less restricted than secure prisons.

I have spent time in one. Yes, there were parties as we could walk around freely and go in and out of each other’s rooms. We had keys to our doors and prisons are excruciatingly tedious places. But there were a whole set of nuanced ‘pains of imprisonment.’

For example, open prisons are based on trust - there are no razor wire fences and you are not locked in cells. Yet if you choose to abscond, you’ll be captured and housed in a secure prison for the remainder of your sentence.

Why would someone do this? Imagine your partner has met someone else and you desperately want to work things out, or that a relative is unwell and you are desperate to see them? The torment can be too much sometimes, but you have to find incredible self-discipline and not walk out of the prison.


You can hear more from Dr David Honeywell on Wednesday, July 10 at our Pains of Imprisonment workshop. To find out more about our Criminology and Criminal Justice degree, visit the course page.

About the Author

Dr David Honeywell

Dr David Honeywell

Dr David Honeywell began his education while serving a 5 year prison sentence in the 1990s and eventually became a Lecturer in Criminology at the university of Durham. He began his career at the University of York in 2013 alongside studying a full-time PhD about Ex-prisoners and the transformation of self through higher education which was awarded in 2018.


Cryptocurrency - future currency or a scam?

Cryptocurrency is a digital currency built with cryptographic technology which secures financial transactions through blockchain technology. The most important feature of a cryptocurrency is that it is not controlled by any central authority i.e. central banks or governments, and is often referred to as decentralisation. The noise from recent press releases has been overwhelming with regards to cryptocurrencies, however, the majority of people- even bankers, consultants, scientists and blockchain program developers - have fairly limited knowledge about cryptocurrencies and their full potential.

To truly understand the cryptocurrency concept, one has to familiarize oneself with the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto who authored Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electric Cash System in 2008, just after the global financial crisis was first triggered. The new electronic cash system was designed to decentralise the traditional cash system after experiencing the failure of a centralised financial model in 2007.

Cryptocurrency diagram

The key technology to fulfill the objective of decentralisation is blockchain technology: it comprises a growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked using cryptography. Blockchain can record transactions between two individual parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way without centralised third parties under an open, distributed ledger system.

The question is, can this distributed ledger system replace traditional centralised ledger systems?

The key differences between decentralised distributed ledger system and centralised traditional ledger systems are to do with irreversibility, pseudonymity, limited supply, divisibility and decentralisation. Once a transaction is made and accepted, it cannot be reversed; senders and receivers in the transaction do not have to identify themselves; central banks cannot issue cryptocurrencies; they enable micro-transactions e.g. 1 bitcoin=100,000,000 satoshi; 1 bitcoin= 13,093.25 USD (10th July 2019).

After just a decade in ‘circulation’, Bitcoin‘s price has increased from zero to over 8,000 dollars and market cap over 230 billion dollars on July 10, 2019. You can check the price at the time of reading here.

bitcoin blockchain

Thereafter, the flaws are derived from those aforementioned characters of this open distributed ledger system. Carsterns (2018) stated that a high risk of debasement, lack of trust, high inefficiencies relating to clear transactions requirement and high price volatilityare the main weaknesses of cryptocurrencies which accelerate the doubt of substituting traditional money.

Although cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin currently seem impossible to substitute traditional money as mainstream currencies, the emerging of new technologies such as blockchain has augmented both challenges and opportunities in the entire business circle i.e. new functions required in international financial institutions, laws, regulations and beyond. Some literature (DuPont 2018) criticised that the real use of cryptocurrencies lies almost exclusively in speculative investment and financial asset portfolio diversification. Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies have become a new kind of risky and deeply speculative investment. Meanwhile, blockchain technology has been applied in logistics, governance/process control, the sharing economy, data management, stock trading etc. to mitigate the operational risks.

So, what can one concludes after researching cryptocurrency? Maybe it is a harmless, independent digital currency i.e. bitcoin that facilitates transactions. Or maybe it is a scam used in international money laundering… or maybe both or …neither? One thing is for sure, it presents a real challenge to traditional centralised systems.
The verdict is still out…

About the author

Chunmei Guo

Chunmei Guo

Chunmei Guo is a lecturer of accounting and finance for both UG and PG modules in the subjects of accounting, finance and economics in Wrexham Glynd┼Ár University. Before joining WGU, Chunmei Guo worked as a part-time teaching fellow whilst pursuing her fully funded PhD at University of Bath from 2014-2019. Prior to returning to HE, Chunmei Guo worked for Worldwide Origins Ltd, Shanghai as UK market research project manager.