To be informed of upcoming screening dates of the film Uncommon Sense: The Life and Work of Laurie Baker in your city and country, and to get notifications when the film and upcoming Baker book are available for purchase please provide your email address. You will be added to the Baker Mailing List. To request a screening email lauriebakerfilm[at)gmail(d0t)com

The condition of our prisons and prisoners, the buildings and the facilities provided for them always troubled Baker and he used to talk about it. The following is what I found, scribbled on some old envelopes:

An ordinary lay person, such as I am, assumes that there are various types of prisoners 'behind bars'. We also assume that such places are not for us. I sometimes find myself wondering, what prison life is like? How would I put up with it? And as an architect how would I design and plan a prison? Besides the hardened criminal, who needs intense security, there are those suffering from one or other of various mental abnormalities, which also need special accommodation. There must be a big population of these and it is also popular conception, that you go to prison as a punishment, to be taught a lesson, or partly as a place where you will be reformed or taught, how to be a law-abiding citizen. This exercise in planning has this latter major group of prisoners in mind; the other two groups presumably need specialized planning.

The main line of thinking on my part therefore is to feel, that if these people are where they are, because they have been deprived of love and care etc. their condition and attitude is unlikely to improve by putting them in surroundings which are stark, bare, austere, loveless, isolated etc.

I've tried to imagine what things I'd find difficult to accept if I were behind bars. The bars themselves are unfriendly, ugly and irritating. I see no reason why patterned grills couldn't be just as strong and safe, and easier on the eyes. In fact, every daily artifact can be either poorly designed both from a functional and aesthetic point of view, or it can be well designed, beautiful and still be even more functional.

Then I think various expressions of art and craft have a good influence on people in general. Wouldn't good reproductions of good paintings, for instance, have a great improving effect on disturbed senses? Similarly, items of sculpture could also be visible, big stone abstracts and other items could help fill empty minds. Another big deprivation for me would be a almost total absence of nature, grass, trees, birds, animals, flowers, not to mention the relaxation of growing flowers and vegetables or of feeding fish, birds, etc.

And, what about pets? So many people are moved and strengthened by the faithfulness of a dog or a cat! Not to have any of these would have an adverse effect on me, I feel sure. Then, being cut off from the concern and sympathy of family and friends can't be a good thing? If available (or appealed for) wouldn't it be good to have one's own photographs, (previous happy times with one's family or say of good times at school with games and sports?) I presume, that prisons have libraries, but if they haven't, I would find not being able to read, a very big gap in my life.

I do fully realize that all this sort of thinking will make a lot of eyebrows raise. Oh! So you want to give criminals five star treatment, do you? Such pampering will be a further incentive to crime. What about giving them Star T.V. and films, or you could ask Zubin Mehta to give a concert every evening!

O.K, O.K., but as in most of the various aspects of life, there is a middle way. I just feel that we are not going to get very far with reforming people, if we use hard, stark, ugly surroundings and amenities, but that good, well designed natural things would help victims see that there are so many things in life that you can't get by stealing, or by having pots of cash, or that are not acquired or influenced by violence of any sort.

There, but for fortune, go you or I.