“Her majesty’s prison at Low Newton, outside Durham in northeast England, is a women’s facility—maximum security for young offenders convicted in the courts of the Scottish Borders, North Yorkshire, and North Cumbria. Although it has a famous inmate these days, the serial murderer Rosemary West, Low Newton is not an especially notorious house of correction. It’s an ordinary prison, and what drew the photographer Adrian Clarke to the women who had served time in Low Newton was a quality they shared with the place—they normally go unnoticed. A year ago, with the support of a National Health Service grant, Clarke began visiting former inmates at their homes, mostly in Middlesbrough and Stockton, to photograph and interview them—about their physical and mental health, their histories of trauma and drug abuse, their criminal pasts, and their experience in custody. Clarke’s portraits are stark, candid; his subjects’ testimonies only more so. In their conversations with him, the former inmates were explicit, searching, forthcoming, and forthright. As the photographer notes, ‘all the women have wanted to be identified by their own names.’” —Adrian Clarke, “Low Newton”
PATRICIA REED [pictured]
I was picked on at school. The other children called me dumb and ugly and they hit me and pulled my hair. When I was eleven I threw one of the teachers down the stairs.
At home I saw my mum being beaten up by my dad. Those are my earliest memories, my dad punching my mum and my mum having black eyes.
I started using drugs when I was sixteen but it was only when I was twenty-six that I used heroin. For two years I worked as a prostitute to pay for the heroin. When I was twenty-eight I persuaded an old man to let me into his house so that I could use his toilet but once I was inside I demanded money off him. When he refused to give me what I wanted—looking back I don’t think he had any money—I stabbed him in the eye with a pair of scissors. I was given a six-year sentence for robbery. It wouldn’t really describe how I feel to say I’m ashamed of what I did.
In those days there was no methadone in Low Newton. So I was rattling from not having the heroin, I knew that I was going to be separated from my three children for four years, and I had to come to terms with stabbing a man in the eye who must have been at least eighty years old. That was too much for me. I was offered what is called a listener to talk to. It helped me a lot and I became a listener myself later in my sentence.
I was as frightened of leaving prison as I was of going in. You get used to prison and the world outside becomes more and more distant and scary.