Yesterday I went to visit the artisan bakery in Low Moss for the first time. I’m not sure what I expected having never been to a prison, an artisan bakery or an artisan bakery run inside a prison. Perhaps my clean slate of expectations was a positive thing as I went in with a totally open mind.
When I first arrived I had to sign in at the atrium and then go through airport-like security (shoes off and everything) where I was met by a member of the Scottish Prison Service. If I had realised I would be taking my shoes off then I might have made the effort to wear matching socks – but it did at least earn me the nickname ‘Immy odd socks’, which is definitely one of the kinder nicknames I’ve been granted over the years.
I was taken through about 6 different doors before I got to the kitchen. I was introduced to 5 of the apprentices and Scott and Lee. Everyone was chatting away excitedly because an article had been published in the Daily Record about the bakery. Some were embarrassed by their photos but mostly there seemed to be a buzz about the bakery.
It struck me that prior to working in Freedom Bakery none of the apprentices had expressed an interest in baking, except for one who loved Great British Bake Off. Everyone that I asked said they were going to continue on baking when they were out. Two of the guys said they couldn’t wait to start baking with their kids, as well as hoping to get a job as a baker – a common ambition amongst the team. I was particularly heartened by the amount of times the apprentices told me that this was the last time they were going to be in prison. The resolve they had was evident.
I spent all morning in the bakery watching them prepare their orders for that day (they had four different orders to complete) comprising of different breads and pastries. The apprentices and Scott and Lee were working together like a well-oiled machine, and in fact I mostly wouldn’t have been able to tell who were the teachers and who were the apprentices if it weren’t for the odd bit of direction. One of the apprentices described his experience as a constant learning curve and said it was great to look back on how little he knew before compared to now.
It was easy to forget at times that I was in a bakery inside a prison. The apprentices, unsurprisingly, were laughing and joking with each other and working hard as well. Naturally, there were indicators in conversation that this was not an ordinary bakery: talk about visitation, when they were getting out etc. But mostly it was just as if I had gone to chill out in any bakery.
Luckily for me I got to try some spare baked goods, the freshest of the fresh and of course were delicious.
One of the apprentices went on to say that it’s all very well saying that prison should be about rehabilitation but for many people being in prison is a better option for them than not because they are guaranteed meals, showers, shower gel etc. It is absolutely bizarre by anyone’s standards that being in prison actually is the attractive option for people with very little. Never has it been more crystal clear for me the need to create employment opportunities for people with convictions.
So whilst I enjoyed my experience being in the bakery at Low Moss, and it was great to meet the apprentices who were all friendly, hardworking guys, I don’t want the reality to be forgotten. A lot of people in custody are there because they have been failed.