“Cool! So we’ll be served by, like, murderers and stuff?” said my 15-year-old son.
“Oh no. That’s scarey,” said my 8-year-old daughter. “They might poison our food or something."
The reality disappointed the Big One and reassured the Little One. The 15 or so prisoners who work at Café Britannia inside HMP Norwich, I explained, were Category D prisoners (or D Cat in prison lingo). According to Wikipedia, these are non-violent prisoners who are considered low risk to the public. They could be serious offenders, but only if they are coming to the end of their sentence and can be trusted not to try and escape.
Not that HMP Norwich is a fluffy little mickey mouse kind of prison. Far from it. It has 10 wings with over 700 male prisoners of categories B, C and D. And as my son – who got googling pictures of the inside of it immediately – declared, "It's got really harsh-looking cells, in tiers, with nets to stop suicide and everything.” Reggie Kray of the Kray twins and Ronnie Biggs the Great Train Robber were both imprisoned here.
We all couldn’t help but immediately check them out. Surreptitiously. And they were easy to spot in their navy blue T-shirt uniform. “They’ve got ID cards round their neck underneath if you look carefully,” my son noticed.
The food was great, the atmosphere relaxed and the waiters affable. Even my daughter tucked into her chicken and vegetable soup unhesitatingly. Profits go to projects offering skills and employment opportunities for offenders. Tips go to Victim Support. My son joked that a range of merchandise for kids would be a good spin-off: handcuffs, prison uniforms, that kind of thing.
As we drove away, we saw a dejected-looking couple in their 50s approaching the prison. “Looks like they’re on their way to visit their son or something,” said my son. “Urggh. Wouldn’t that be awful ... especially now, at Christmas time?" I said. “Yeah,” he said, in a far from jokey voice.
We both pondered that scenario for a little while.
Visit the cafe's website here. There are also prison restaurants at HMP Cardiff (where children are welcome), HMP Brixton and HMP High Down, Surrey (over 18s only).
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