October 24, 2021 9.30 am

Lincoln prison ex-chaplain opens up about 2002 riots in new book

A row over sandwiches ended in riots that left one inmate dead

A former chaplain at Lincoln Prison has spoken out about the devastation she witnessed in the riots nearly 20 years ago, ahead of the launch of her new autobiography.

Joy Osborne, who has lived in Grimsby all her life, worked as a chaplain at Lincoln Prison between 2002 and 2012 before retiring.  The 74-year-old has documented her experiences in her book ‘An Inside Job: The Life of a Prison Chaplain’, and given a glimpse into life behind bars.

Two of the chapters in her book, focus on the prison riots of 2002, which caused almost £3 million of damage and left one inmate dead, and was sparked by a row over sandwiches.

It was described at the time as the worst disturbance at a British jail for 11 years, according to the BBC, and 21 inmates received sentences totalling 97 years for prison mutiny, assault and unlawful wounding, and violent disorder.

Joy was at work the morning after the riots and told The Lincolnite: “The prison was in the hands of the prisoners for eight hours and was out of control. Prison back up came from all over the country.

“The main chaplain rang me the next morning and asked me to meet them at the gate. It was horrendous to look out on that particular wing, it had been vastly affected. It was like a war zone, cell doors had been ripped off. It felt like mayhem and sadly one prisoner died in his cell.

“Then the job came of trying to pick up the pieces and support prisoners that were there. For a long time the structure of the prison, the day-to-day activities of normal prison life, were suspended and it was like a lockdown.

“I hadn’t been there for very long and it never entered my head that a riot would take place, it was very sad. We worked as a team and supported one another and visited prison officers in their home who were injured and affected. One particular prison officer – Nick Scott – received a Queen’s award for bravery as he rescued one of his injured colleagues.”

‘An Inside Job: The Life of a Prison Chaplain’ by Grimsby-born Joy Osborne will be launched on October 29, 2021. | Photo: Austin Macauley Publishers

During her forties, Joy says she experienced a call from God to train for ministry in the church. She gained a BA in theology and pastoral studies from Nazarene Theological College in Manchester, before training to work as a prison chaplain at HMP Lincoln.

Her role as chaplain included providing support to prisoners and staff on a variety of issues, sometimes for a brief amount of time and other times longer and ongoing.

Joy was part of a multi-faith team of chaplains, who supported prisoners and staff, as well as their families where appropriate. The role included three statutory duties – to see prisoners who had come in the day before, those in the segregation unit and in the healthcare section, which was a smaller wing of up to 16 prisoners who were unable to cope on the main wing.

A typical day consisted of meeting prisoners, dealing with bereavement issues such as telling them when a relative had died and offering support, and also helping to facilitate visits such as after an application to attend a funeral or visit a terminally ill relative, with supervision from officers.

Lincoln Prison. | Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

Joy said: “Prisoners moved on and would send in a card or letter thanking us for the support they had received. I remember one particular prisoner whose mother was terminally ill and lived in Manchester.

“He was allowed to go and visit her, accompanied by two prison officers. His family sent a card to say how grateful they were that he was allowed to go.

“Every prisoner would be treated in the same manner with decency and respect. You may well know what a prisoner had done, but sometimes you wouldn’t know at all.

“Each individual is a human being. From my perspective as a Christian minister, we are all created in the image of God. Even though people find themselves in prison for a variety of reasons, we are not there to judge what they have done and help them find their self worth again.

“Lives do change through faith and I have seen it happen. Some prisoners upon release went on to work in the ministry to help others.”

Joy dedicated ‘An Inside Job: The Life of a Prison Chaplain’ to Reverend Canon Alan Richard Duce, who was the co-ordinating chaplain at Lincoln Prison and sadly died in 2006. Joy said he was a very knowledgeable and thorough man, who had a big impact on her career.

An extract from the book

“Finding a place of quiet in the prison was not always easy but the chapel offered respite and calm. It was used for services and various groups throughout the week.

“Prisoners would often request to go to the chapel to light a candle on hearing news of the death of a loved one. And because it was such a large area, the prison governor would occasionally hold staff meetings there.

“On entering the chapel, I quickly realised the riot had affected the whole prison in one way or another. Routine, as we knew it, had been severely impacted and allowances had to be made for disruption in every department…including the chapel.

“As I turned the key to enter, I looked over the vast expanse in amazement. What had been going on in here? The chapel had clearly been used as a base for prison officers and staff to conduct their meetings, and as a place to rest and eat during and after the disturbances.

“I guess they had more pressing things to do than keep the chapel tidy. Normally a chapel orderly would clean the space, but not at the moment! Ah well, I could pray as I went around picking up empty food containers, drink cartons, jackets and coats. And what was that? One shoe. Where was the other? I never did find it!

“I couldn’t imagine how officers and staff at the forefront of the disturbances felt. Many of them came from military backgrounds and this, together with Prison Service training, would leave them well equipped to handle trouble. Nevertheless, as in any conflict, there is always the unknown and unexpected waiting to happen.

“Understandably, many staff were traumatised, but specialised help and counselling was at hand, including support from the chaplaincy team. We were kept very busy, not only with staff at work but also home visits for those on sick leave.

“And then there were the 32 prisoners at Lincoln County Hospital, across the road from the prison. They were too sick to be moved to other jails at this time. They may have been injured during the riot or taken substances to make themselves unwell.”

Her book ‘An Inside Job: The Life of a Prison Chaplain’ is due to be launched on October 29, 2021. It is priced at £8.99 and will be available through the publishers directly here, as well as from Amazon, WH Smiths, Waterstones, and Lincoln-based Lindum Books. 

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