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‘Prison is like being dead’: David Navarro on his new series 'Life Behind Bars '

David Navarro with Danny Baker
David Navarro with Danny Baker in episode 3 of '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 Life Behind Bars. In each episode, David shares a real prison meal with a guest who has their own unique experience of being incarcerated or working within His Majesty’s Prison Service. 

Crime + Investigation called up David to find out more about the series.

Why did you want to get involved in Life Behind Bars?

There are a lot of misconceptions about prison. A lot of people think it's like a holiday camp. I wanted to show the reality of what a UK prison is actually like

What was it like entering the prison system?

I first went to prison when I was very young and I believed everything that the media and the movies said like, 'Don't drop the soap' and everything like that. It wasn't as bad as that, but it wasn't a holiday camp or a three-star hotel, as some people say. Prison is like being dead but you're alive. It's daunting and depressing. It's a waste of life.

Do you think having an ex-prisoner like yourself involved makes the series more authentic?

It brings a lot more to it where it's two prisoners talking. I feel like you have to have some experience. You want someone who has got good experience in prison, talking to prisoners, or a prison officer like Neil Samworth because you can relate to them. I notice that when I talk to prisoners, they open up a lot more. 

It's a lot more factual as well. You can't make things up about your experience inside because it's easy to figure out. Whereas I was watching a prison documentary before, and I just noticed there were a lot of lies being told. Prisoners were sometimes saying things for effect.

What are the biggest misconceptions about prison life?

One misconception is that maybe all criminals are scum. Just for example, I've been with serial killers. I've been with terrorists, murderers, and whatnot but when you meet them, they're just normal people. Sounds kind of crazy but they're no different from anybody else. They're just humans. 

What do you think of prison food?

The food is rank. They have made some effort to improve the food in certain prisons but in the majority of prisons where the prisoners cook the food, it is really bad. But as you can see in episode 1, prisoners cook their food in a kettle. People buy their own seasoning and onions and get very creative. I'm not saying prisoners should get really good food, but it could be improved. You could increase the budget but I'm not sure how much you could improve it as at the end of the day, it's prisoners cooking the food. They've only got simple instructions and have limited seasoning and it's never going to be good.

Chris Atkins
Chris Atkins meets David Navarro in episode 5 of Life Behind Bars

What's the worst meal you ate in the series and the best?

The pie was horrible. The fish was alright because in prison, every Friday you get a fish and that's what a lot of people opt for.

Out of everyone you met in the series, who stood out for you and why?

Neil Samworth, the prison officer, and Chris, the middle-class guy. Those two stood out to me the most because I learned from both of them. As I said, I do interviews with a lot of ex-offenders on my YouTube channel, Delinquent Nation and it is usually the same story to different degrees. But with those two, I did learn a lot. I got a bit of an insight from both of them.

With Chris, I know certain people are treated differently but he told me that he was doing the roll check [inmate register]. I said it in the video, that was crazy. In a prison like Wandsworth where Daniel Khalife escaped, how can a prisoner be responsible for the roll check?

What explains why he was treated so differently?

Because he's middle class. He's not a typical criminal. He went in for fraud and the officers would still trust him because of the way he speaks, because of his life experience and because he was successful before he committed fraud, so they probably trusted him and treated him differently from your typical prisoner.

What was the funniest anecdote you heard?

Natty from episode 1 was explaining to me that people who work in the kitchens would 'bang' the seasoning and bring it back to the wing. What that means is they did literally put it up their a**e and they'd bring it back to their room. That was wild. I've seen a lot of prison and I've never heard of people going to those lengths.

What do you hope viewers will get from the series?

This is going to sound very controversial, but I would hope that it normalises certain prisoners. I'm not speaking for like every prisoner, you know, like rapists, murderers, and paedophiles but I mean, people like Chris Atkins. He is quite likeable, you know? And Natty, and Jade and Danny, they are just normal people.

I hope the series helps to bring prisoners or ex-prisoners onto a human level, so they get a chance at redemption.

What's one thing you would do to improve life for prisoners?

I would focus solely on rehabilitation rather than just locking them up and throwing away the keys. If you focus on rehabilitation and helping the prisoners out, you get a better society and less reoffending.

You can stream all episodes of Life Behind Bars on Crime + Investigation Play. Watch episode 1 in full for free.