Women prisoners have told the Duchess of Cornwall about a programme of training preparing them for life outside – and their appeal to the Duchess of Sussex to join their literary festival.
Camilla met trainee chefs, seamstress and photographic shop workers during a tour of HMP Downview in south London where outside companies are working with staff to turn around the lives of inmates.
Downview has Europe’s biggest female wing housing more than 200 prisoners out of a total population of up to 300, with the institution home to a range of inmates from those serving sentences for fraud to murder.
In the prison library the duchess chatted to the organisers of the Penned Up literary festival, staged in male prisons but now in its second year at Downview with inmates hoping to attract a range of celebrities and inspirational speakers for its launch in March.
A prisoner, who did not want to be named, told Camilla: “A lot of the people who have joined Penned Up have been incarcerated to, it’s good for ladies like us to see that so that when we go back out into the public we can succeed.
“When we write to these people we’re trying to get people who will inspire us.
“A lot of them are like book writers, songwriters or they can help us get out feelings out through drama.”
She said with a laugh: “One was Meghan – so we can aim high.”
The women said they have yet to hear back from Meghan who has begun a new life with Harry and son Archie in Canada after the Sussexes gave up royal life for financial freedom, but have said they hoped celebrity chef Levi Roots would be among the guest speakers.
Meghan’s involvement with the charity Smart Works, which provides women with work wear for job interviews, was the main reason they decided to ask her to participate.
Camilla told the inmates organising the festival: “I think all these festivals are such good fun because you learn so much from them.”
Camilla chatted to a reading group in the library with Lucy, 40, a prisoner convicted of fraud offences, telling her: “Being inside has made me want to become a teacher.”
The library has recently started working with the National Literacy Trust, which Camilla supports as patron, to implement Books Unlocked, a programme funded by the Booker Prize Foundation which gives prisoners the opportunity to own, read and discuss Man Booker Prize-shortlisted titles.
Another inmate praised the librarians, saying: “They deal with us, keep us sane, we’re hard work sometimes.
“It takes us away from everything that’s going on in the wings.”
Later Camilla sampled canapes made by prisoners in the Clink charity kitchen, who undergo training which can earn them an NVQ, and served at prestigious events at London’s Guildhall in the City.
The duchess chatted to trainee chef Kelly, 37, who told the royal: “I’m a newbie here, I’ve only been here for a week and a half”.
She said afterwards: “I’m in here for drugs, possession with intent to supply, I’m quite open about why I’m inside.
“Cooking gives me something to work towards when I get out, something legit.”
Kelly added laughing: “And people always want food no matter what happens in this world.”
Today in Sutton, The Duchess of Cornwall arrives at @HMPDownview to meet staff and prisoners, and learn about their rehabilitation programmes.— Clarence House (@ClarenceHouse) February 6, 2020
The prison is one of only 12 female prisons in the country. pic.twitter.com/IN4zwpGNey
When the duchess met trainee seamstresses she had a conversation with an emotional Eastern European inmate who told Camilla she was being freed in a few days.
She later said her conviction related to human trafficking.
Camilla praised the women benefiting from Making For Change, a fashion training and manufacturing unit established by the Ministry of Justice and London College of Fashion in 2014.
She said “These ladies are very talented they obviously know how to sew”, and when the prisoner said she was returning home to Lithuania in a few days Camilla replied: “Well good luck, you have to keep sewing.”
The duchess’ visit to HMP Downview in Sutton was hosted by Governor Natasha Wilson, described the visit as a great event for her staff and the prisoners.
She said about the inmates: “It makes them feel trusted in being able to interact with her and it actually gives them a lot of hope and makes them feel empowered.”
The governor went on to say: “A lot of our women have got a very difficult past and don’t have the highest level of self-esteem so it helps with that.”