Essay Example on Power, Race, and Prison Structure in Modern British Prisons

Published: 2018-01-13
Essay Example on Power, Race, and Prison Structure in Modern British Prisons
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Race Penal system Theatre Art
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1302 words
11 min read

Roy William’s plays are widely known for bringing the experiences of black people mostly black Britons on the stage. Not Black and White: Category B is a play that examines modern day Britain through "black theater." The main themes Williams delineates in the play are power and the structure of life in prison. The play is set inside a category B prison; Thames Gate Prison at the C wing. The author briefly narrates that there are four categories of prisons; Category A, B, C, and D. Category A prisons are for the offenders serving life sentences such as drug dealers and serial killers. Category B is where everyone goes to when sent to jail before being categorized to a suitable prison as per your offence. Category C prisons are where most offenders find themselves in from drunk drivers to burglars. Finally, Category D also called open prisons are for minor offences and prisoners pose no major problems to the public; they include offences such as not paying taxes (Williams 7). The author uses a lot of vernacular ‘slang’ language throughout the play, for instance, “screws” to identify the prison guards as they are often called by the prisoners. Also, the use of slang language is used to relate with how African-Americans communicate in contemporary Britain. As a black person himself, Williams relates to the moral dilemmas inside British prisons. Throughout the play, William employs several voices, nine to be specific. Each person offers his or her perspective on the prison structure and what it means to be black while living in Britain. The two females in the play include Angela, a correctional officer and Chandra, a mother to a convict. The remaining seven voices are male and include four prisoners (Errol, Rio, Saul, and Riz), two correctional officers (Andy and David), and a visitor (Reece; brother to Roy). It is important to realize that Williams uses black characters or voices to offer the chilling insights into the manipulation and treachery inside prisons. From this insight, this paper will discuss four main themes that William uses in the play to express his ideas. To competently address this, the paper will examine the relationship between the themes and the several voices and how they influence the portrayal of how the law operates in contemporary British prisons.

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From the onset of the play, power is a major theme that is used to demonstrate how the powerful prisoners do not abide by laws mandated in prisons. In prison, it is the prison guards or “screws” who hold the keys to the prison doors showing they have power over the prisoners. However, as Category B shows, often prisoners have powers inside prisons. As David, Angela's replacement arrives at the prison; he is guided on his transition, but eventually finds that the law is not followed in Thames Gate Prison like his previous workplace Rainesworth Prison. Thames Prison has a bad reputation for officers not following the law and using their powers wrongly. Williams introduces the audience to Saul and Riz, who are black inmates controlling the internal structure of the prison. Saul is the mastermind behind every product that can be sneaked inside the prison while Riz is his accomplice. Angela, an officer, knows the activities of Saul and Riz but turns a blinds eye. Saul and Riz are feared by other inmates and officers as well; this demonstrates how power is being used to show lawlessness in British prisons. Furthermore, Errol, a black inmate is also feared by some prisoners and uses his power to blackmail Angela into signing a recommendation letter so that he could be released from prison in six weeks’ time. Additionally, Errol kills Riz, a prisoner of Asian origin, and sets up his son Rio to take the blame. Despite the fact that both Officers Angela and Andy find out the truth that Errol was behind the killing, they do not take the necessary actions to confine him as he is released from the prison at the end of the play. The play implies that law is not followed in British prisons. Prisoners seem to have power over the guards and manipulate them.

Race: Black and White

Just as the name of the play Not Black and White suggests, the issue of race in prison is a crucial factor that cannot be ignored in modern Britain. As this paper highlighted above, out of the nine voices/people in the play, seven are black people while two (Andy and Riz) are of white and Asian origin respectively. Williams does a commendable work in distinguishing the characters through the voices. For instance, all the black voices use vernacular language as it is common for African-Americans while Andy and Riz use formal language. Significantly, it cannot be ignored the relationship between Andy and Angela creates a moral dilemma in the play. Officer Angela becomes intimate with Andy although both have families back at home (Williams 37). Williams tries to portray that prison life changes all people, not only prisoners but the guards too. Angela explains that the reason he cheats on his husband is because he is lazy sitting on the couch every day while she works to fend for her family. Also, she rages that her man does nothing to ease her life and, therefore, she finds it not reasonable to give in to his sexual demands. Back to the race issue, William implies that the law does not favor any race as Riz, the Asian prisoner is incarcerated with black prisoners. However, the author also suggests that white people receive the fair treatment since there are no white prisoners in Category B prison at the C wing. Furthermore, the introduction of white voices in the play is used to depict that law inside the prison structure is not followed as Officer Andy helped the prisoners to sneak drugs and mobile phone inside the prison.

Prison Structure

William's point is clear in the play; treachery is common in prison. Prisoners and ‘screws' define the prison structure. The central question that the audience should ask themselves is why did Williams choose the prison location for his play? The answer is simply to tell the stories of black people in Britain. In particular, Williams analyses the society and how overcrowded jails avoid breakdowns as long as everyone (prisoners and screws) play by the ‘rules.’ For instance, drugs are tolerated by officers because the alternative would be insurrection. Williams suggests that prisons operate more as places of potential rehab than a power system that could be depended on. The flawed prison system sheds some light on the disregard of the law by both by both warders and prisoners. Even though all inmates are either black or Asian, Williams’ use of these voices is to reflect on the real-life prison. It can be argued that the play is not necessarily about racism, but about a flawed prison structure that has no regard for the law whatsoever.


As this paper has delineated, Williams employs the use of several voices to depict the themes of power, race, and prison structure in modern British prisons. The nine characters in the play define the treachery that goes on inside Category B prison. Structurally speaking, Williams incorporates these voices to show the shifts of power between warders and prisoners. Each person offers his or her perspective on the prison structure such as Riz, the drug smuggling Asian, Saul the mastermind prisoner, and Angela, the screw who has seen it all. All these voices have been used to signify lawlessness and the flawed prison system in the contemporary British prison.

Work Cited

Williams, Roy. Not Black And White. 1st ed. London: Methuen Drama, 2009. Print.

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