KILLERS, kidnappers, drug addicts, fraudsters and arsonists. Despised members of society . . . and the patients Dr Amanda Brown must care for.
As GP at HMP Bronzefield, in Middlesex, the largest women-only prison in Europe, she is used to treating inmates who have committed appalling crimes.
Karen Matthews, who faked the kidnapping of her daughter Shannon, was one of the inmates[/caption]
As was Tracey Connelly, the mother of Baby P[/caption]
The jail of more than 500 inmates has housed extremist Roshonara Choudhry, who stabbed MP Stephen Timms in 2010, Mairead Philpott, who, along with her husband Mick, started a fire that killed six of her children in 2012, Karen Matthews, who faked the kidnapping of her daughter Shannon, and Tracey Connelly, the mother of Baby P.
But Amanda tries to ignore the crime to see the person instead.
In an exclusive interview with The Sun, she says: “My job is not to judge them, because someone else does that.
“I am there to care for them. But there are very occasionally women who have done something so shocking it’s hard to ignore.”
In her revealing new book, The Prison Doctor: Women Inside, married mum-of-two Amanda, 65, tells how meeting one woman in particular turned her stomach.
The inmate, who Amanda refers to as Hannah, had been accused of murdering her child — which made the doctor feel “sick”.
She says: “A sharp pain shot through my chest. I thought of my precious sons and of the overwhelming love I have for them.”
Hannah, in her late twenties, had just arrived and told officers she did it to save her son a life of hell.
Their stories are usually incredibly sad
Amanda met her in the healthcare corridor, where often prisoners can kick off, using a shoe or cup to make noise, smearing faeces on the wall or “just scream for hours on end, which can make it feel as if I am in a horror film”.
What shocked her about Hannah was how calm she was. Amanda says: “I still felt sick. I couldn’t help but imagine the horror of what she must have been going through. How her poor little boy would have suffered in those moments.”
Usually, however, Amanda prefers not to know the full details of the crimes committed by her patients.
“I have to not think of it,” she says. “Even if someone is a paedophile I just try and put it out of my mind.”
Amanda was a normal GP until 15 years ago when she quit her practice to work in a young offenders institution. She spent seven years at London’s Wormwood Scrubs before moving to Bronzefield four years ago.
Working in prisons has changed her perspective on inmates.
She says: “The stories behind why they were in prison are usually incredibly sad and in many cases you find they are lovely people, who have had very hard lives.”
Cut off her husband’s penis with barbed wire
A prisoner she refers to as Linda, in her fifties, came to see her about a bad cough and casually revealed she was inside for trying to cut off her husband’s penis with barbed wire.
Linda added: “I didn’t manage to finish the job. Sadly.”
Amanda says: “That was a new one on me. I tried to continue the consultation but it was hard to erase the image of what she had nearly done.”
Linda told Amanda she had been married to Alan for 28 years and they lived an affluent life in Surrey.
But he controlled every aspect of her life, ordering her to keep a food diary and monitoring how she spoke, ate and shopped. He would lock her out of the house, forcing her to sleep in the garage, and hide her inhaler then laugh as she ran around the house, out of breath, trying to find it.
He sexually abused her and spent thousands on prostitutes. He also had an affair and Linda caught the two of them naked.
A female prison warder patrols HMP Bronzefield, in Middlesex, the largest women-only prison in Europe[/caption]
Mairead Philpott, who, along with her husband Mick, above, started a fire that killed six of her children in 2012[/caption]
Extremist Roshonara Choudhry, who stabbed MP Stephen Timms in 2010, was also housed at the jail[/caption]
Finally she flipped and attacked him, describing it as “one of the best things I’ve ever done”.
She added that going into prison was, “the day I got my life back”.
Another inmate, Hilda, 82, tried to suffocate her abusive husband by putting a pair of his dirty pants in his mouth while he was asleep, then poured a scalding pot of tea on his face. She had lived with him for 50 years and had finally had enough.
Amanda adds: “Hilda always said prison was the best thing that ever happened to her and she never wanted to be released.”
Amanda says many of the women beg the judge to send them to prison, as it’s somewhere they feel safe.
Female offenders are, Amanda says, “some of the most vulnerable people within our society”.
Women make up just five per cent of the prison population in England and Wales and many are caught in a vicious cycle of domestic abuse, drug abuse and homelessness.
More than 50 per cent of prisoners are released from Bronzefeld into homelessness. The average age of death for a homeless woman is 43.
Amanda says: “Before I started to work in prisons, my opinion was there were good people and bad people, with a clichéd list of bad characters ranging from violent psychopath to petty criminal.
“The reality is far more complex.”
Her patients often open up to her about their past and Amanda finds she forms close bonds with them.
Their lives are chaotic, prison is a refuge
Among the drug addict patients she meets regularly she is known as “Mama Brown”, and she says they often share a hug and a laugh.
Many of them become very familiar as they are what staff call “frequent flyers” — in and out of prison all the time. At any one time, around a third of inmates are locked up for three weeks or less and return repeatedly, their stays not long enough to address their emotional or addiction issues.
Amanda says: “Many of the residents’ lives are so chaotic that prison is a refuge. But it is not necessarily the best place for them.
Amanda says: “The state spends a huge amount on housing women in prison and that could be much better spent on rehabilitation. There are places out there that do that but there are nowhere near enough.”
One of the biggest problems in prison is drugs.
Amanda says with a sigh: “I hate the illegal drugs which come into prison with a passion.
“Women can’t be examined physically so they can hide stuff in the front passage, the back passage and wherever else. But of course it’s incredibly dangerous not knowing what else they are taking when you prescribe medication.”
Nearly half of all female prisoners have committed an offence to support someone else’s drug use, compared with 22 per cent of male prisoners, and 39 per cent of women enter prison with a drug problem. Inmates come up with ever more ingenious ways to smuggle in drugs. Amanda says in one jail a gang stitched drugs into the stomachs of dead rats thrown over the walls.
Liquid methadone, which Amanda prescribes to heroin-addicted patients to help with their withdrawal, is sometimes traded illegally inside.
She says: “I heard recently of this woman who put a Tampax in her mouth when she had her methadone to soak up the liquid, which she would then sell.”
Treating drug addicts and finding the right dose of methadone to help them safely come off heroin is a large part of Amanda’s work.
She says 99 per cent of her drug patients, who have often been addicted for decades, would simply not be able to go cold turkey without getting violently ill.
“And it’s not just that,” she goes on. “A lot of the girls are frightened to come off drugs because the flashbacks and the memories of abuse come back too. They have been using drugs to suppress the things they want to forget.”
To combat loneliness, many women find sexual partners in prison
Every day at the prison surgery is different.
Amanda recalls one case where a young girl, Claire, came to see her because of a pain in her breasts.
She was only 5ft 4in but her chest was so large Amanda thought she would topple over. She says: “I shudder just thinking about how uncomfortable she must have been.”
Claire said her sugar daddy Steven had paid for her to go from an A to a double G as he wanted her to have “silicone perfection”.
It wasn’t his only demand — he also got her to carry packages for her and when the police raided their house they found class A drugs. She and Steven are both serving time.
Claire’s unwanted implants caused her pain and she feared she had breast cancer. Amanda referred her to a specialist to see if she could have them removed.
To combat loneliness, many women find sexual partners in prison.
The number of thank you cards is touching
Amanda says: “Going ‘gay for the stay’ is very common and accepted. A lot of women do it. I was quite surprised when one of the nurses showed me the new femidoms we were giving out, which are like dental barrier guards to protect from STIs, which is pretty progressive stuff.
“The girls don’t tell me details of what they’re up to but it’s just a fact that there are very strong relationships in there.”
Coronavirus has had a huge impact on life in prison. The women are spending longer periods locked in their cells and visits have been stopped. Amanda and other staff have to have their temperature taken when they arrive, while movement around the prison has been reduced.
She says: “It’s very hard for the women at the moment but they have coped incredibly well.
“I have never seen so many thank you cards in the health department. It’s quite touching.”
Amanda strongly believes that most of her patients shouldn’t be in prison.
Many are victims of horrendous circumstances, and the cycle continues, with 18,000 children a year separated from their mothers due to imprisonment.
It costs around £65,000 per year to keep a woman at Bronzefield.
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Amanda says: “To me, the money would be far better spent providing community rehabilitation and specialist women’s centres.
“Women come in for two or three- week sentences and it’s not enough time to help them properly, then they are back on the streets, back on drugs, then straight back to prison in a vicious circle.”
Amanda says it can be hard to switch off from the harrowing stories she hears, but it is why she is working with prison reform and homelessness charities to make a difference.
She says: “I see the faces of the statistics and I hear the real stories. I think that’s quite a powerful weapon to stand up for them.”
- The Prison Doctor: Women Inside is published by HQ, at £8.99, on June 25.
The HMP Bronzefield[/caption]
A female warder in a cell at the vast prison in Middlesex[/caption]
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