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Jason Flemyng reveals what it's really like working with category A prisoners

Jayne Cherrington-Cook
·4-min read
Jason Flemyng has spent the last 30 years working with prisoners (Images: Getty Images)
Jason Flemyng has spent the last 30 years working with prisoners (Images: Getty Images)

The inmates in Wandsworth prison are a world away from the usual Hollywood celebs he rubs shoulders with, but over the last 30 years, actor Jason Flemyng has invested a lot of his spare time working with prisoners.

Speaking on White Wine Question Time, the Putney-born star revealed one of the reasons he was so keen to work with them, is that prison could’ve been in his future.

“I've always been fascinated with prison,” he told host Kate Thornton.

“One reason being that it was a definite possibility that that was a road I could have taken just from growing up poor in South London. I found acting quite early – and not everyone I was surrounded with did find what they wanted to do early and I think that is the key.”

Listen: Jason Flemyng talks about why he’s glad he’s not Jude Law in the latest episode

In an interview with The Daily Mail earlier this year, Flemyng said as a teen he’d had a few brushes with the law.

He said: “When I was 15, I was into car theft, petty thieving and criminal damage. My mum picked me up from the police station a good few times.”

In fact, he credits his former social worker mum with keeping him on the straight and narrow and encouraging his interest in acting.

Read more: Jason Flemyng is happy to not be the leading man

“The key to keeping you focused in on a straight road is to have direction and to have a destiny that you want to try and achieve and I had that from a very early age,” he said.

“I was brought up by a single parent yet, she encouraged me to do what I wanted to do. It was wanting to act so she made sure that happened. She made sure that I was at the National Youth Theatre. She would drive me. You know, she really encouraged me.”

But what is it really like working with prisoners? Well, the Save Me Too star said he’s found that they are often compassionate people who have merely taken a wrong turn in their lives

“It's amazing,” he declared. “Obviously there's people in prison who are absolute wrong 'uns and should be in prison possibly forever, but I've met people who've done terrible things who are incredibly compassionate and full of love.”

Watch: Opera singer serenades south London streets for carers

Read more: Child criminals held in ‘harmful solitary confinement’

One of the major projects Flemyng is currently working on is training prisoners to be listeners. It’s something he’s doing in conjunction with The Samaritans – over the last ten years, the project has helped cut suicides in prisons by half.

“Basically The Samaritans train convicts to become listeners and then they self-police the prisons,” he explained.

“If you're in the nick and you're having a bad time, you bang on the door and the screw has to ask a listener to come and sit with you or be with you.”

He continued: “It's really good for them because it looks great on their parole and also for a lot of them, it's the first sort of positive certificate they've ever won. It’s an amazing thing for their self-esteem.”

Jason Flemyng, seen here with mate and fellow actor Jason Statham, credits acting with keeping him on the straight and narrow (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage)
Jason Flemyng, seen here with mate and fellow actor Jason Statham, credits acting with keeping him on the straight and narrow (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage)

While potentially it might be scary mixing with tough inmates, Flemyng has had his fair share of hilarious incidents since he began working with them – including a time he was strangled in Durham prison.

“When I started the RSC, which was my first job, we did a tour of Cat A prisons,” he told Thornton.

“In The Changeling, my character gets strangled and I was doing my best acting… I was getting strangled and I'm going [makes choking sound] and I die. Then this voice goes, 'It takes longer than that'.”

The 53-year-old has also come face-to-face with former co-stars while visiting prisons,

“I've met people in prison that I've acted with – it’s really funny,” he laughed.

“This one geezer was like ‘I know you’. And I was like, ‘Oh brother, where do I know you from?’ And he was like ‘We were in Snatch together’

“He said ‘I'm thinking about changing my agent’. I'm like, ‘I think you should think about changing your profession!”

Drawing on his experience of working with inmates, Flemyng now also hosts a podcast – More Than My Past – where he talks to those who have managed to overcome addiction or offending, exploring their stories and finding out how their lives have changed.

Hear Jason Flemyng talk about his friendship with Jason Statham and Dexter Fletcher and why he takes pleasure in the simple things in life. Listen now on iTunes and Spotify.