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'They Gave Me An Asian Lady's Pills' – Women Reveal Experiences Of Racism In Jail

6 1 10
30.06.2020

“Within days of arriving, I overheard other girls joking about golligwogs,” says Lilly Lewis, now 49.

“They were laughing about me. But when I told a supervisor that the prison had a racism problem, she just said: ‘Absolutely not. I don’t know where you’re getting that from.’ I was made to feel like I was causing a fuss.”

Lilly, who is mixed race, left prison after a four-year jail term in December 2019 and now wants to go public with the racism she experienced and witnessed there.

The overrepresentation of Black people within the prison system is worse in the UK than in the US, with Black people comprising just 3% of the general population yet 12% of the prison population. This is only slightly less severe in the women’s estate, where Black women make up 8.9% of the population, compared to 3% of the general population.

Racism has always impacted Lilly’s life: “My white birth mum had an affair with a Jamaican and had no idea what colour I’d be,” she said. “My life was determined by racism from the day I was born.”

While in an orphanage, Lilly developed “fears of rejection and abandonment”. Eventually she was adopted by a white woman and her Ghanian husband, but living in a white-majority area and being bullied in white-majority schools only fomented her fears. As a teenager, “drink became my friend” and violent men her saviours: “I accepted abuse as love because any attention was better than none.”

By 35, Lilly was an addict and her children were in care. She was also found guilty of fraud after calling the police on her abusive boyfriend, who’d been using her bank account to scam people. Though she is still apologetic towards the victims, it is impossible not to note that, like 57% of women in the criminal justice system, Lilly is a survivor of domestic abuse.

Once in prison at Foston Hall in Derby, Lilly felt relief. “There was no alcohol tempting me and there was no abuse from men. The fight was over.”

Here, Lilly got clean and took on every course available, from warehouse management to customer services – “so that, when I came home, no matter what job was available, there was always something I could draw from”.

In August 2017, Lilly was transferred to an open prison, where as a low-risk offender she could enjoy the privileges of release on temporary licence (ROTL). This meant home visits and a job, so she could help support her children and ease back into society. But once she got to HMP Askham Grange, where under 1% of the prison population is Black, racism became a huge problem, she now claims. The Ministry of Justice maintains........

© HuffPost