Writer Rob Williams launched new series Screw on Channel 4 in the first week of January. It stars His Dark Materials’ Nina Sosanya and Derry Girls’ Jamie-Lee O’Donnell as officers – one highly experienced, one new to the job.
Screw is set inside a fictional male prison wing but Williams, who has previously written The Victim (starring Kelly MacDonald) and an episode of the classic first season of Killing Eve, has years of real-life prison experience. Here’s what his inside knowledge of teaching in prison taught him…
Out of sight, out of mind is true. That’s why cuts are so easy to make to prison budgets. So many prison officer posts have been lost in the last 10 years, while wages for prisoners and the cost spent on their food hasn’t gone up for years. These are easy cuts for governments to make because only a small proportion of society sees the impact, and they’re not a very popular minority. Besides, they can’t vote.
All life is there in prisons. That’s what I wanted to show people. You’ve met these guys – you went to school with them, they served you in shops, one might have done your accounts. It is a massive cross-section and lots of people are there for one mistake that, if we’re not careful, defines them for the rest of their lives.
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There have been brilliant prison dramas. The one that stands out for me is Oz. It was on Channel 4 at some stupid hour at night but I used to stay up to watch it and now have the boxset. It was so clever. Brilliantly written, great characters and stories, you came away knowing there was a point to it. And everyone knows Porridge is a classic – it’s still the one officers and prisoners talk about as being the most accurate.
Because too often what is missing is the colour, the humour, the humanity. And it’s a shame, because it can mean the prison population is seen as one lumpen mass rather than individuals. The same goes for prison officers.