Reading prison – famous for once housing Oscar Wilde – has been disused for some years and since then there’s been a constant tug-of-war whether the site should be used culturally, as housing for the homeless, or sold for yet more flats. Ultimately – and to no one’s surprise – it has now been earmarked for a private housing development. [To those unfamiliar with Reading, basically everything in or near town centre is turning into private housing with most flats being sold to buy-to-let landlords and only a small percentage actually to people who need it]
The prison had been open for viewings on some weekends, but I had always missed them and therefore was excited to be able to go on the last day before it is sold off!
Having never been to a prison my knowledge doesn’t extend beyond fiction and a handful of documentaries which are usually based on US ones and I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Everything, including the hallways, seemed a lot smaller than I expected whereas the cells, strangely, seemed bigger than I thought they would. Most books or documentaries about prisons discuss the lack of privacy and the high noise levels. The prison was crowded with other visitors and felt very loud with a lot of echo and when someone dropped a walking stick down a few steps, the sound reverberated through the halls. As such I can’t comprehend the constant level of a noise a filled up prison must have had.
There is nothing pleasant about the place, the cells and other areas are functional, colour coded, and have the basic amenities. Whilst the windows let in a fair bit of light, the cells are quite narrow and just overall unpleasant. Everything has a not-quite-clean feel about it and it’s missing pillows and other soft furnishings [for obvious reasons!]. A lot of people argue that prisons are comfortable and that people go there by choice, but I would hazard a guess that those have never actually been inside one.
I am so pleased to have had the chance to see the inside and I think it’s a shame that the prison will be used for private development as it would have made for a great cultural destination.