Rebekah Wershbale’s speech – HMP Styal 26th February 2022

Full speech

Hi, I’m Rebekah.

I’m confident that I speak for every woman present today, if not every single woman in society, when I say that a custodial prison sentence is one of our worst nightmares. It goes without saying that it changes lives, and not for the better. All control is instantly relinquished.

Women inside have no financial security. The jobs we can get in prison earn just £10-20 per week. We rely on this being topped up by people on the outside sending us money, and we have no access to our own bank accounts. We’re in real danger of losing our homes because we can no longer make rent. We’re locked away from our families, our only contact is by letter and brief 10 minute phone calls. Visiting time is the highlight of our week and that requires a bureaucratic process of application. It can’t be stressed enough how emotionally taxing this is, to have contact with our loved ones regimented by factors beyond our control.

We eat, sleep and work to a strict schedule and we’re sanctioned if we’re unable to keep to it. We live in constant dread of having privileges revoked,

Education is available but is limited to GCSE level English and Maths. Open prisons fare slightly better – one that I was held in has an elderly IT suite in which you can earn basic qualifications in computer literacy. It’s woefully outdated and of no tangible benefit on the outside. When I was inside the ONLY available option for higher education was an NVQ in hairdressing.

Taking all this into account – and I could go on – to stretch already diminished resources to accommodate transgender prisoners is yet another kick in the teeth for women disadvantaged by the prison system, and to then see these men granted privileges unavailable to women is GALLING. This is before we even consider the danger posed by them. The current policies ONLY benefit men, at the expense of women inside already struggling with loss of control and greatly reduced quality of life.

Shockingly, funds allocated to build 500 greatly needed mother and baby units has been diverted to create single cells with ensuites for male prisoners that identify as women. Again, this is in the female estate. It’s a no brainer for male prisoners to utter the incantation of transgenderism, this process was ALWAYS going to be exploited. The predictable outcome starkly illustrates how men’s demands have steamrollered these incarcerated mother’s need to be housed adequately with their newborn babies without predatory males – some of whom are convicted of child sex offences – in their spaces. This is an enraging miscarriage of justice.

If these policies remain unchallenged, the women’s estate WILL be overburdened with opportunist men demanding transfers using the untouchable veneer of Self ID. This will KEEP HAPPENING unless we keep drawing attention to this brazen disregard of the security and wellbeing of female prisoners. Keep going to protests, keep talking to people about it. Keep writing letters. Keep raising awareness of policies enacted in the dark by sadistic prison officials. Keep the pressure up until our voices CANNOT BE IGNORED.