Locked up and livestreaming: Inside the thriving social media scene of Mancunian prisons
Prison officers 'can’t or won’t' monitor illicit smartphone use, which has created a world of YouTubers and TikTok influencers on the prison estate
Dear Millers — If you’ve heard of the social media giant TikTok, you’re probably familiar with the different communities thriving on the video channel. There’s BookTok, who make or break bestsellers; WitchTok, who help pagan newbies via video tutorials, and now…PrisonTok.
PrisonTok is thriving in this city, and while using a smartphone while locked up is strictly against the rules (prison inmates risk adding an extra two years onto their sentence if caught with a smartphone), if you browse TikTok or YouTube, it’s clear that plenty of prisoners are willing to take that risk. So what is going on? And how can a crime that is so easy to spot be carried out minus consequences? We investigated.
Editor’s Note: We’ve paywalled this investigation part-way down to incentivise those of you on the free list to upgrade to the sunning-yourself-in-Bali-level luxury of a full subscription. “Why should I bother upgrading?“ Dear reader, imagine access to:
16 stunning features for £7 a month — or closer to a fiver, if you pay for the whole year up front. That’s an inbox replete with news about the city you live in for the cost of one and a bit city centre pints or one Boots umbrella that will break because it’s too flimsy for Manchester’s mighty levels of wind.
Our members’ events — meet other Millers, hear Mancunian authors wax lyrical on where this city’s headed. We have our birthday coming up soon, and big plans are brewing.
The unparalleled joy of a clear conscience, peaceful in the knowledge that your contribution gives us the time and manpower necessary to report in-depth stories and hold corrupt institutions and individuals to account.
Your Mill briefing
Maqsood Ghulam Ahmad, a diversity advisor to the government and chief executive of the British Muslim Heritage Centre — which aims to forge good relations with other faith groups — has stepped down from his latest role as a director of Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust after a collection of anti-Israel tweets were found to be linked to his official NHS profile. Ahmad has been a member of the trust, which provides mental health services across Greater Manchester, since 2021. Ahmad liked tweets referring to “Zionazis” and suggesting Keir Starmer and Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy have been “bought and paid for” by pro-Israel lobbyists. A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism told the Jewish Chronicle: “These comments are horrific. It is staggering to think that someone with these views held such significant positions.”
A Sudanese doctor from Manchester has told The i that “time is running out” for him and his family to escape Khartoum, the capital city that has descended into conflict. Dr Ahmed Hassan travelled to Sudan’s capital with his wife and children two weeks ago to visit his father, who is ill. They are now trapped amidst the fighting between Sudan’s armed forces and a paramilitary group with no clear way to escape. Ahmed said he could not get “any clear answer” from the UK embassy on whether his family would be helped.
A self described “gay superstore” was attacked for the third time in six weeks on Tuesday. A red motorcycle pulled up outside, with an assailant jumping off to repeatedly smash the shop’s windows. The owners of Clonezone, on Sackville Street, have described the attack as a “premeditated, targeted hate crime” and say that “the police response has, in no uncertain terms, failed us”. GMP’s Chief Inspector Adam Wignall said: “We are providing ongoing support to the owners of the shop, whilst we thoroughly investigate these incidents.”
Sir Jim Ratcliffe is proposing a deal that would allow the current owners of Manchester United — the Glazer family — to remain stakeholders in the club, should they decide to sell it to him. This may not go down well with United supporters, who for years have said they want the Glazers out of the club entirely, who they say have “driven our club into the ground”. Before Sunday’s match, a group of United supporters plan to march from the city centre to Old Trafford under the banner: “full sale only”.
By The Mill Team
It’s a grainy video, filmed on an overcast day, and it shows a prison yard. A ramshackle red-brick building is in the frame — it looks like HMP Manchester, which adds up — the title of the video is “Strangeways Prison”. The cameraman, holding a smartphone from one of the upper windows, takes a shot of the exercise area below, where inmates are milling around. Suddenly there’s a loud thump. “One’s hit the roof,” says the man filming, just before a prison siren goes off.
An inmate dashes away from the group over to the edge of the yard. As he approaches a red painted line on the ground that says “DO NOT CROSS”, a soft white package the size of a sausage falls out of the sky and slaps down on the tarmac. The inmate stuffs it in his pants. “Get that up your hoop, lad,” says the cameraman, using a slang term for a body part beyond the reach of sunlight. Another inmate runs over to a second package, stashing it just before the prison officers arrive. This is Prison TikTok.
Illicit mobile phones — which have been reported in Manchester prisons at least as far back as 2013 — have proliferated to the point that there is now a thriving social media scene depicting inmate life. It’s not exactly Solzhenitsyn but watched at length, these YouTube videos and TikTok snippets convey the prison experience — hours of extreme boredom punctuated by moments of horror, violence and despair.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Mill to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.