John Crilly: Jimmy McGovern’s Time – an authentic portrayal of life inside prison

John Crilly is a campaigner with the not-for-profit JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association) campaigning on behalf of, and with, those wrongfully convicted and is campaigning to reform legal abuse by Joint Enterprise and is part of our Spokesperson Network. In this guest blog he shares how the BBC Drama Time reflects his own experiences in prison and how he hopes it will change public perceptions around prisons.

Time. Jimmy McGovern’s new three part BBC prison drama is unlike most programmes about prison I have ever seen. Time is a real, no holds barred, depiction of the harsh, brutal and torturous life that is imprisonment. All that was missing were the smells.

From the age of 15, I was in and out of prison, mostly for theft, and from 2005 -2018 I served 13 and a half years of a 20 year tariff for joint enterprise murder before having the murder charges quashed on appeal. Time took me right back to my own time in prison.

Jimmy’s story centres around Sean Bean’s character ‘Mark’, a former teacher who finds himself inside for killing someone when drunk driving and subsequently convicted to four years for dangerous driving. Obviously, having previously lived a law abiding life Mark is immediately out of his depth.

Unfortunately, this is how the vast majority of first time offenders begin their lives of ‘criminality’. Lost, confused, desperate, lonely and so much more. Mark is instantly immersed into prison life and the chaos that defines it.  I recall my very first ‘sweatbox’  (prison van)  experience with amazing similarities. The lads like animals screaming to make their voices heard. To somehow create fear into all others. It’s fear that underlies a prisoner’s experience of prison.

All too familiar were the scenes of someone invariably getting kicked in the head for something or nothing. The reception area is where ‘career’ criminals sometimes come face to face with their enemies. Or as in Jimmy’s scene a co-defendant blaming another of being a ‘snitch’.  I had this exact experience – I was attacked and accused of being a grass.

 If you had images of holiday camps in your head as put there by a headline hungry media this is the reality.  The grimness that saturates the wings and landings in Time is so real it does actually take me back there. Although the saddest part for me personally is the amazingly accurate portrayal of Mark’s first cell mate. To sit here (free) and try to convey to the horrors that human beings such as Mark’s cell mate endure whilst incarcerated feels a very hopeless task, but please believe me when I tell you that the wings of our prisons are full of very, very petty offenders. From those convicted of being drunk and disorderly to shoplifting, these people are crying out for ‘mental health’ treatment yet are simply seen as a problem. 

Of course some have committed awful crimes but ignoring their very clear underlying issues and throwing them in a cell is clearly only going to make them worse?  Mark’s cellmate Barnard was taken to segregation for ‘cutting up’, self harm and despite being very clearly mentally ill. Leaving him in a bare white cell with no privileges, communication or any type of interpersonal interactions.  Is this really how the prison system should be handling these issues?

Even in Mark’s case. There’s no mental illness per se yet he finds himself like most first timers in a world of trouble. Trouble he clearly wants to avoid. Well, in Time, and every single prison and young offenders in the country trouble comes to you. Navigating through a prison sentence is as hard and brutal as Jimmy so perfectly mirrors here. As Mark’s mother tells him in the visitors room “you’re here as punishment not to be punished”. But as Jimmy captures so well time spent in prison is filled with fear. 

Prison is a jungle, literally, if you’re not strong then we have people like Bernard (Mark’s first cellmate) who just ‘can’t cope’ anymore. All hope is driven out of prisoners everyday. Every five days someone in prison takes their own life. We are so clearly exacerbating little issues into monumental problems which our re-offending rates attest to.

‘I hope Time will finally awaken the public awareness of what time spent in a prison is really like’

Which links into one alternative; Restorative justice. I have seen the effects it can have in making an offender comprehend their actions and moreover their consequences. It may seem alien and incapable of providing justice for victims but as Time shows it at least makes everyone involved contemplate the fall out for everyone involved. Victims and offenders.

Now I’m free from prison I anxiously think of those left behind! Good people. Friends.  Then I have to fight for those I’ve met also unlawfully convicted of joint enterprise as I was. I can not rest until justice is done. How could I? 

I hope Time will finally awaken the public awareness of what time spent in a prison is really like.  Time will hopefully change the media narrative when it comes to how they portray prison and the real pain it brings. 

About the Author:

John Crilly is a campaigner with the not-for-profit JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association) campaigning on behalf of, and with, those wrongfully convicted and is campaigning to reform legal abuse by Joint Enterprise. He is part of our Spokesperson Network #SDMNetwork @Johncrill1

Don't miss out on our latest news

Sign up now
%d bloggers like this: