“We’re here in the exercise yard of HMP Durham, the Costa Del Durham hotel. Awful? You’re f***ing living the dream here man.”
Michael Surtees, a burglar who was first incarcerated aged 15, and has since been in and out of prison his whole life, is one of several men interviewed in Bafta winner’s Paddy Wivell’s inside look at life in Durham Prison.
Documentary director Wivell offers an intimate portrait of prison life, whilst offering the viewer a unique insight into the ecosystems that underpin it.
The series sees Michael smuggle drugs into the category B prison, delightedly taunting “the screws” (prison guards). But we’re also privy to Michael’s vulnerability: as “the runt of the litter” in the prison’s hierarchy, he often takes the rap for cell mate and gang criminal Lewis McMahon, who controls the prison’s drug supply.
“He’d take the punishment and I’d sit here laughing in my pad,” Lewis tells the camera, smiling.
Here’s everything you need to know about Channel 4’s Prison.
- The best documentaries to watch on Netflix
- Channel 4’s Sex Clinic: What’s it like to be an artist in residence at a sex clinic?
- Viewers left heartbroken and angry by Stephen Lawrence documentary
What time is Prison on TV?
The three-part series airs on Thursdays at 9pm on Channel 4. The series kicks off on Thursday 19th July, and will also be available online via All4.
What’s the documentary about?
Two-time Bafta winning filmmaker Wivell has an uncanny knack at gaining subjects’ confidences and coaxing them into revealing their innermost secrets.
In Prison, he discovers the hierarchical structure inside Durham Prison, and how the understaffed, overworked guards combat the reality of phone and drug smuggling.
Inmates show Wivell the ways they outwit the guards. Michael explains on camera how to create a pulley system to transfer phones between two next-door inmates, using strips of sheets and wads of toilet paper flushed down each toilet, which then get tangled and can be tied together to rig a pulley through the sewage system.
“It’s a constant battle,” admits residential governor Chris Hounslow. “And, I hate to say it, a battle that we’re losing.”
The documentary also takes a look in later episodes at prisoners with mental health problems. It’s a difficult watch – one inmate drives screws into his knuckles because, “My mind is more painful, so it’s nothing”.
We also see guards attempting to reassure prisoner James, who is convinced that there is a conspiracy amongst the staff to kill him.
What other prison documentaries can I watch?
Paddy Wivell’s inside-look at life in Durham Prison is the latest in a number of recent brilliant prison exposés…
Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons
Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons sees Raphael Rowe – who spent over a decade wrongly incarcerated for a murder he didn’t commit – go inside some of the world’d most dangerous prisons, visiting institutions in Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Ukraine and Belize, where he meets serial killers and drug lords. Watch on Netflix
Life and Death Row
Life and Death Row tells the story of the two youngest men on death row in Texas, examining capital punishment through their eyes.
Above, you can watch Anthony Cardell Haynes, who was convicted in 1999 at the age of 18 of shooting a police officer in the eye. Watch on BBC iPlayer
Breaking Into Prison
Breaking Into Prison sees investigative journalist Livvy Haydock attempt to uncover the ways in which contraband items are being smuggled in and out of UK prisons. Watch on BBC iPlayer