HMP Bronzefield, the UK’s largest women’s prison: notorious for bent screws and drugs.
But what’s the truth behind the headlines?
Forced into signing an NDA when she arrived there on remand, former public schoolgirl Sophie risked extra time on her sentence by documenting her experiences on life inside.
Backed up by recent research and statistics, Breakfast at Bronzefield offers a powerful glimpse into a world few see: riots; unethical medical prescribing; and prison barons – key figures behind prostitution and drug smuggling.
In a world where anything goes and being rehabilitated simply means saying ‘sorry’ right up until being released, how will Sophie cope on the outside when she is expected to play be different rules? Will she succeed in creating the life she wants? Or, like most prisoners, will she end up back where she started?
First, huge thanks to the author, Sophie Campbell for reaching out and offering me a copy of her book, published earlier this year. Written under a pseudonym and described as a work of creative non fiction, the events are portrayed to the best of the author’s memory. The stories in the book are true but identities have been protected and names, including the author’s have been changed. What we have is a powerful and thought provoking account of life inside a women’s prison.
We know little about Sophie except she has a good private education, she is a black young women with no criminal history prior to a violent offence which led to her incarceration. She is sharp and intelligent and in prison she quickly learns how to survive – she reflects candidly on the disparity between prison and free society and in an accessible account backed up by research explores the notion of prison being an alternative society, which fails to rehabilitate but arguably sets in play events to trigger further incarceration.
There were aspects of the account that shocked me; the general neglect on every level within the prison environment, the lack of education or training which would enable prisoners to increase their opportunities upon release, the stereotypical views which categorise the prisoners but also fail to recognise the diversity within prison in terms of education, class and race. But I think what surprised me the most was after a significant period ‘inside’, Sophie was released from prison with no real arrangements for where she would live. She went to stay with her dad which as she pointed out was in breach of the probation guidelines, this is not uncommon and I was struck how as a society we are continually and repeatedly setting women up to fail. Support systems within prison and upon release were basic and limited, for Sophie as an educated and determined woman she was forced to rely on her own resources, her resilience was remarkable and I was struck how difficult things were.
This book was very thought provoking and an important read. Regardless of anyone’s personal views about crime and punishment, Sophie comprehensively and very accessibly puts forward many arguments for why the current system is so flawed. On an obvious level in terms of not rehabilitating or deterring / preventing crime but also by not preparing people for release and reintegration into society, to be able to contribute and participate without discrimination and judgement.
A strong memoir which offers an original insight into the author’s time inside a women’s prison.
About the Author
Sophie Campbell is a freelance writer whose writing has appeared in Prospect Magazine and the British Educational Research Association and the author of Breakfast at Bronzefield. In 2020 she won the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize that recognises one woman who through her writing has raised awareness of state violence against women. She coined the term misogycon and was shortlisted for the Financial Times / McKinsey Bracken Bower Prize 2020 for the best business book proposal written by a young author under the age of 35.