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Life Behind Bars: New series revealing the truth about our prison system

Life Behind Bars
Life Behind Bars

David Navarro spent ten years in and out of prisons all over the country. Now he’s sitting down with people who have spent time inside to reveal the truth about the UK prison system.

In each episode, David sits down to eat a real prison meal with a guest who has their own unique experience of being incarcerated or working within His Majesty’s Prison Service. From the moment they take their first bite the pair embark on a journey that unravels the real myths and stereotypes that people have about UK prisons and prisoners. All comments they dissect are genuine things people have said on the internet about UK prisons.

Exploring topics such as rehabilitation, overcrowding, relationships, and the challenges faced by both prisoners and staff, the conversation covers difficult topics and brings back memories for those involved. Across the series we’ll hear anecdotes painting a unique picture about daily life inside.

1. The truth about prison food

Ever wondered what prisoners eat every day? David Navarro shares a standard prison meal of pie and mash with prison cook turned Michelin star chef Nathaniel ‘Natty‘ Mortley. They discuss the best and the worst of prison food, kitchen etiquette and how most prisoners cooked meals using kettles in their cells.We learn why the prison kitchen is the best place to be, why guards must strip search you if you work in there, and inventive places to hide seasoning. Breaking down misconceptions around the quality of the food, David and Natty reveal the reality of eating meals on the inside.

2. Prison life with a former prisoner and prison officer

What happens when an ex-prisoner sits down to eat with a retired prison officer? David Navarro shares a jacket potato and rice pudding with Neil Samworth who worked as a prison guard for many years. They go head-to-head and have an honest conversation about what life is really like from both sides of the bars. From extreme violence to illegal deals, the pair open up about the tough environment that both staff and prisoners experience when inside the institution of prison. Can they meet in the middle over a plate of standard issue prison food?

3. Men’s vs women’s prisons

How different is it for women in prison? David eats a plate of rice and curry with former prisoner Jules Rowan as she recalls her time on the inside. The pair share personal anecdotes and compare and contrast how they were treated. From inventive ways to use sanitary towels to getting ready for a prison visit, both talk honestly about the world of prison and what they did to survive it.

4. In prison for tax fraud

UK prisons are disproportionally populated with young black men, and in this episode, David sits down with the minority: a middle-class white man. Chris Atkins was convicted of tax fraud in 2016 and sentenced to 5 years in prison. Over a meagre prison breakfast, the pair discuss whether the inequalities of race and class are just as prevalent behind bars as they are in the outside world. And the pair go deep into how they both stayed sane whilst struggling with their sentence.

5. Being transgender in a UK prison

What are the realities of being trans in prison? David shares a mealwith Danny Baker, discussing how he came to terms with his trans identity whilst spending time as a young trans man in a woman’s prison. Over a fish supper, commonly served on Fridays in prison, the pair dissect how young people get stuck in the system and if redemption for ex-prisoners is truly possible.

David Navarro (left) meets Danny Baker (right) to discuss being transgender in prison

Q&A with Danny Baker on being transgender in a UK prison

In episode 5 of Life Behind Bars, David Navarro catches up with Danny Baker former prisoner and now a semi-professional boxer. Danny is a trans man who spent time in various women's prisons, including HMP Holloway and HMP Peterborough. Crime + Investigation called up Danny to find out what he talked about with David during their episode of Life Behind Bars.

Why did you want to take part in Life Behind Bars?

My story isn't the same as everyone else's and that gives it that diverse twist. There's a lot of other people in similar circumstances as me, being trans and locked up in a prison.

What did you talk about?

What people think prisons are like, compared to the reality. We talked about the dynamics of female prisons versus male prisons because I've not actually stepped foot into a male prison.

Can you talk about how you first entered the prison system?

There's a lot of stigma around being in prison. People think you're a bad person but I was never a bad kid. I was a lost kid. I ended up in prison 13 times by the time I was 25. I went to three different prisons. The first time I went to prison, I was very naive and I was very young. As I said, I was lost, I had quite a difficult home life and it sent me off the rails.

How was it adjusting to prison life when you first arrived?

I got taken off the bus in handcuffs. I hadn't transitioned but I was very boyish. I had to be strip searched. I was naked and they made me bend over. I felt exploited, to be honest with you but that's the way the system works. So I had to comply and just shut up and just get on with it.

What's the one thing that was the biggest misconception people have about being in prison?

As I said, prison has got such a stigma. Anyone who's been in prison gets looked down on and is last on the list for getting jobs and things like that. But I'm not joking, I met some of the most beautiful, articulate people in prison. A lot of them were survivors. I think a lot of them got stuck in the system just like I did. for survival. Not everyone in prison is a bad person.

What's the relationship like with the wardens? Can you be friends with them?

There's good and bad in all of us and there were some screws that were alright. Then you get our officers that I feel abused their roles.

What was your experience like as a trans prisoner in a female prisoner?

I've spent 11 stretches in prison in Holloway, so I was well known. Everyone knew me. When I was put into Peterborough, I was brand new. At first, I thought they took me into the wrong prison because Peterborough has a man's wing. They just said to me, 'You're going to cause a disturbance' and had a bit of a laugh. They put me on the wing and then they sent me a trauma worker which I didn't need. It was nice that they did do that because not everyone's got my character. Some people wouldn't have had as much prison experience as me and it would have been quite beneficial and comforting. It was a positive because if they were doing it for me, they were doing it for other trans prisoners as well.

Since you left prison, you've become a semi-professional boxer. Do you think taking up a sport like boxing can help people in their rehabilitation?

100%. It's a sport. It's a focus. It introduces you to good food and good routine, and sleep. All the things that the body needs. I encourage people to get into gyms not to necessarily fight because everyone's not got that nature but the fitness side of it is very beneficial.

If you were Prime Minister for the day, what's one thing you'd like to do to improve prisons?

I'd like to see prisoners being prepared to leave prison with a bit more support and compassion. We're not all animals. The sex offenders and murderers can stay where they are but everyone else deserves a chance.

Life Behind Bars is coming to Crime + Investigation in January 2024