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When Ross Kemp came to Glasgow to visit ‘notorious’ Barlinnie

By Lee Dalgetty

In Ross Kemp’s own words HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow is one of Britain’s ‘most notorious prisons’, and his visit to the prison proved that.

To understand what the inmates live like, Kemp spent some time admitted to the prison for a 2017 ITV documentary - Ross Kemp Behind Bars: Inside Barlinnie, with exclusive access to all parts of the prison. During his time, he discovered the lengths prisoners at Barlinnie took to get weapons.

The Glasgow prison once homed Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, serial killer Peter Manuel, and notorious gang leader Arthur Thompson. Kemp certainly wasn’t in Walford anymore.

The EastEnders actor was taken into the prison in cuffs, just like the 8,000 prisoners who come through the doors every year. Over a hundred other inmates were being processed at the same time as Kemp, though we’d imagine he’s the only one with a film crew.

On entrance to his cell, he tells the camera: “For some, this is a rite of passage as normal as walking to the shops.

“For others, this could be the most frightening day of their life. I’ve yet to find out how intimidating this place really is.”

Staff advise he keeps his head down, and does what the staff tell him. Might be a bit more difficult for a television personality.

Kemp meets an array of revolving door prisoners, some serious criminals serving life sentences, and learns some numbers surrounding Barlinnie. The prison population at the time had doubled in the past 25 years, with each prisoner costing £36,000 a year on average, and 3,500 meals prepared in the kitchen every day.

You would be forgiven for thinking the actor was visiting an overseas prison, with subtitles provided for the Scottish inmates he talks to. Is the accent really that hard to understand?

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After talking to one prisoner who describes Barlinnie as a ‘bear pit’, Kemp comments: “It’s one thing to fall out with the prison officers here, but if you fall out with the other inmates your life becomes a living hell.”

To protect themselves, prisoners use extreme measures to smuggle in weapons. One of the prison guards describes ‘banking’, where inmates insert weapons into their rear.

Weapons and violence aside, one anonymous prison serving time for murder describes the darkest time in his sentence. He tells Kemp: “For me, it’s when you realise what you are. When you come face to face with yourself properly.”

Rev Jill Clancy was recently given a Meritorious Award for bringing a bit of light to Barlinnie, after taking over the Barbed Wireless radio station as Covid-19 hit. With prisoners banned from leaving their cells, ‘DJ Jolly Jilly’ recorded, edited, and broadcast an hour-long programme that prison bosses said helped inmates to cope during the height of the pandemic.

Barlinnie is set to close within the next 2-3 years, with the ageing building set to be replaced with a £100 million ‘super jail’ on the land near the Provan gasworks.

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