Mim Skinner spent two years teaching prisoners. Now she’s written a book, Jailbirds, to change our view of incarcerated women – and how we can support them on the outside

If Britain was hit by an apocalypse, Mim Skinner knows the people who would make it through. “The prisoners I’ve worked with are the most flexible, the most adaptable, the most inventive and the most entrepreneurial individuals it’s possible to imagine,” she says. “They’re survivors – they’d be the last ones standing. There’s a misconception out there that prisoners are defeated characters. Well, not in my experience.”

For Skinner, this is one of many truths about prison life she’s keen to share because, she says, people are locked up in the name of all of us, but most of us don’t have the faintest idea about what goes on behind the high walls and barbed wire fences. She spent two years as an art teacher inside a top-security women’s prison (“I can’t say which one, but there only is one of them…”) and the shock of what she discovered inside was matched by her shock of how little people knew from the outside. She’s now on a mission to change that. Her book Jailbirds is published next week and is now being developed as a BBC series. No surprises there, really: some of the most successful TV series ever made were set in women’s prisons – Prisoner, Cell Block H; Orange is the New Black; Wentworth – and Skinner’s book is full of nitty-gritty details of life inside, and peppered with stories (some tragic, some funny, some poignant, all real) of the women who make up Britain’s female prison population.

Being inside a prison is like being in a foreign country where people speak a different language

Sharing her story had helped her find the strength to move on

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