Page last updated at 08:42 GMT, Monday, 29 March 2010 09:42 UK

Actor Ashley Walters returns to prison to meet inmates

Ashley Walters at Feltham Young Offenders Institute
Ashley Walters said time stood still when he was in jail

By Len Freeman

When rap star and actor Ashley Walters returned to a prison where he had served time for a firearms offence it brought back some haunting memories.

Ashley, who came to fame as Asher D in the So Solid Crew, went back to Feltham Young Offender Institution to meet young inmates to share his experiences.

But as the doors slammed behind him, he remembered the tight security and boredom of daily life. Prison was a world of its own.

He said: "Time doesn't move in there as far as you are concerned. You can see the hour on the clock but you are stagnant.

I was a very angry guy in 2002. I enjoyed fighting. I enjoyed putting other people down. I enjoyed bullying people
Ashley Walters

"It is just the same thing every day - day in and day out.

"There is always gates being locked behind you, in front of you - and always someone there telling you what to do."

In 2002 he was sentenced to 18 months in a young offenders centre for possessing an illegal firearm.

His conviction followed the cancellation of So Solid Crew's 2001 tour, after a string of violent incidents at their concerts.

He served seven months - six in Olney, Rugby, and one month on remand at Feltham.

Tearful meeting

Ashley returned to Feltham eight years later to compare his experiences to those of inmates aged between 19 and 21.

He met two men serving time for murder, another convicted of carrying a firearm, and another jailed for dealing drugs. He also spoke to a man in jail for aggravated vehicle taking, and another who had caused grievous bodily harm.

One of the men explained how he felt on his first night in jail: "You don't want to be here, you don't ever when you wake up."

Inside Feltham
Ashley recalled the tight security and always being told what to do

And while Ashley swore he would not become a statistic and reoffend, some of the inmates had already struggled to stay out of jail.

One told him: "When I was in jail last time, I thought I had been rehabilitated, I did three years, I thought 'I'll start a new lifestyle and I won't do anything to get me back in trouble'.

"But once I got out, after a year... I completely forgot what jail was like and what I was feeling when I was inside... before I knew it bang I was arrested and being sent back to prison."

But he was more determined than ever to stay out of trouble, saying: "I'm going to be a good person when I get out this time."

While some of the inmates had first-night jitters, others said jail was not as bad as they expected. But they all said they had low moments, just as Ashley did.

"You're locked away, you're banged up, no phones, no Mrs, all you've got is EastEnders, or your PS2, it's long sometimes... from no-one telling you what to do, now you're locked up at seven o'clock. It's hard."

Another found the silence from those on the outside hard to stomach.

"One of the hardest things for me, was realising who your real friends are," he said.

Ashley recalled some of his own low points, a tearful meeting with his mother while he was in Olney and his fears for his own safety.

For me to start making money, I just went back and started doing the thing I had been doing, selling drugs
Feltham inmate

One of the main concerns of inmates was the difficulty of getting a job and starting a new life when they came out.

Ashley focused on his acting career after leaving prison, playing the lead role in the critically acclaimed film Bullet Boy and winning the British Independent Film Award for most promising newcomer in 2004.

He also appeared alongside 50 Cent in the semi-autobiographical film account of the US rapper's life Get Rich or Die Trying, as well as in the BBC's Small Island.

But for some reoffenders, having a conviction, no job and financial pressures - combined with the temptation to make easy money - had proved too much.

One said: "For me to start making money, I just went back and started doing the thing I had been doing, selling drugs.

"I definitely think that something to help people from reoffending is to help them get a job."

Family man

Ashley told them they needed to want to change and focus on their goals while inside.

He said: "I went to jail for having a firearm. It was in the papers every day for two weeks.

"Everyone knew about it. Everyone under the sun. And when I went out, no-one wanted to work with me for a good few months and for those few months I was depressed. I thought the world was over...

"I was on my face and I scraped my way back up to the top.

"Never think because of your record that you can't achieve anything because you can and I hope I am proof of that."

Coming out and seeing my son, I realised what I was doing to him
Ashley Walters

After his return visit to Feltham, Ashley recalled how it was the desire to be a good father and family man that helped him build a new life.

"I was a very angry guy in 2002. I enjoyed fighting. I enjoyed putting other people down. I enjoyed bullying people. That all came from my own fear of the world.

"I never wanted to end up here because my Dad went to jail at least 17 times. I hardly ever got to see him which made me very angry.

"Coming out and seeing my son, I realised what I was doing to him.

"I was setting him off on the same path that I had been set off on, so it would become a cycle.

"I don't see any point in that. If I have already had the bad experience, I should be able to steer him away from that. That's the whole point in being a Dad and being an adult."

Hear Ashley Walters in BBC Radio 1's Jail Tales on Monday 29 March and afterwards on BBC iPlayer

The documentary is part of BBC Three's Jail Tales project.

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