Jail can be especially punishing for women

Yvonne Roberts remembers a campaigner who successfully
fought to improve conditions for women in prison.

One of the less obvious results of the imprisoning of
Patricia Amos because of the truanting of her two daughters, Jackie and Emma,
is that it might have given pause for thought to those who believe that prison
is a doddle, a luxury hotel behind bars.

Released from
Holloway, Amos said the experience had been "Horrible, absolutely
horrible". Chris Ryder-Tchaikovsky, who died only days before her 58th
birthday last week, would have heartily endorsed Amos’s views. She set up the
campaigning organisation Women in Prison with criminologist Pat Carlen in 1983
to publicise appalling conditions and the very specific impact jail has on
women, who often lose not just their freedom but also their children into care.

Chris set up
Education Training Connection, a charity offering education and training to
young women, many of whom, like Jackie and Emma Amos, had spent more days out
of school than in, for a variety of reasons, many involving various forms of
emotional abuse.

She hugely improved
resettlement provision, drug rehabilitation and treatment of mentally ill
women, and she persistently raised the issue of deaths in custody. She helped
to set up the Holloway Remand Scheme, which diverted women from long custodial
sentences into reparation within the community. She also improved mother and
baby conditions.

Chris lobbied in
academic and political circles, and used the media. She pushed the same
message, well-known to social care professionals, that locking up damaged
people without trying to heal wounds and provide education was inhuman and

She came from an
affluent middle-class Cornish family of six girls. Chris, however, preferred
"outlaws". She became an adept counterfeiter, making thousands of
pounds a day. She served her final prison sentence in 1974, appalled by the
burning to death of a woman in her cell in Holloway because the night staff had
switched off the alarm bell.

More recently, she
also became the story consultant on ITV’s Bad Girls, a ratings success
among young women in particular. She used to comment, tongue in cheek, that it
was ironic that, after all her efforts, she’d managed to turn prison into a
glamorous career move.

On Friday’s 7.45am
from Paddington to Plymouth, a motley crew travelled to Chris’s funeral. We
included former police officers, ex-cons, probation workers, criminologists,
social workers and the makers of Bad Girls. She would have been
delighted that, although tears were shed, there was much laughter and an
appreciation of our good fortune to have enjoyed the company of a person who
had genuinely made a difference.

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