Friday, October 30, 2009

Pedos are People Too

If there is one thing that everybody thinks they know about

prisons, it is that there is a social system with sex offenders at the bottom. Child molesters are, it is said, the lowest of the low.

This stratification by crime has always made me slightly uncomfortable. I killed someone, who am I to point a finger at another? The air of self-righteousness that comes with this social structure is all a bit much, as if the fact that there are ‘worse’ crimes somehow reduces the culpability of the ‘clean’ crimes and criminals. There is also a strong thread of hypocrisy, in that sex offenders capable of great violence, or with a ready supply of drugs, are miraculously transformed into being one of the lads. Beating people up is only fun if it carries minimal risks of retaliation.

Sex offenders are usually separated from the 'normals' in Vulnerable Prisoner Units, wings which are kept firmly locked against the rest of us. Recent years, though, have seen some shifts in this pattern.

There are now prisons which are 'mixed', with sex offenders and 'normals' living side by side. As a general proposition,this seems to work reasonably well and without the apartheid you would expect.

This prison is one such place. Being all lifers, then a high level of stability and social coherence can be expected. As this place runs the Sex Offender Treatment Programme, then a high proportion of dubious cases find themselves here.

This has interesting consequences. I have bumped into acquaintances that I first met many years ago and whose offence I thought was 'normal' (as murders go). But here, with the prevailing attitude of 'live and let live', some of these old acquaintances have let bit of biography slip. One of my oldest mates turns out not to be a straightforward murderer at all; he first brutally raped his victim.

This did cause me to raise an eyebrow, but I made no other reaction and the revelation has never been referred to since. It made no difference to the way that I perceived this man.

Criminals are easy to despise, so long as we are stereotypes splashed across the pages of the tabloids. Sound-bite analysis obscures the reality. We are people, just like you. It is far easier to hate a one-dimensional media creation; it is far harder to hate a real person, someone you have known for years, who you then discover has a shady past. My mate’s revelation added to what I knew of him but it did not overshadow everything else. As someone once wrote about a notorious killer, he was also

"somebody's husband, somebody's son".

15 comments:

  1. People who have been hurt and preyed upon by criminals are also 'somebody's husband, daughter, wife, or son'.

    Thus your last point falls flat because their husband/son violated the rights of somebody else's loved one. That the criminal is human is why they are in prison and not put down as a dangerous animal.

    I would suggest you keep that particular sentiment to yourself on the outside, at least don't repeat it anywhere someone whose loved one was a victim of crime migth hear it, even second hand.

    Yes, to an extent for many in prison it is a matter of their but for fortune and circumstance go I. But for your 'mate' that judgement is suspended because I severely doubt my capacity to do what he did, no matter how driven. For some crimes there is no excuse and harming the children is one such because it betrays a complete inversion of normality. We adults have a duty of care to children, all children. Those who violate that steal the future from their victims.

    I am glad that there are still sex offender treatment programs, that shows that at least society is interested in harm reduction rather than simple punishment.

    I think this issue is perhaps and example of how the young age of your initial incarceration and the long time you have spent inside have skewed your perspective. You have largely grown up in an environment where to be a nasty criminal is normal. If you were to choose your friends from the p.o.v. of their crimes you would be a lonely and probably victimised figure so I will not criticise your choice of friends, only your perspective.

    BTW I emailed Allan Johnson today and put a plea for your release in it as well. I said please, fingers crossed.

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  2. It's hard to have an intelligent conversation with people about certain things when they still buy into emotive crap like 'good' and 'evil' - we are still animals, despite the self-deluded protestations of some - murder, infanticide and rape regularly occur elsewhere in the animal kindom, not just with humans.

    Maybe I'm just too objective for the majority of people about most things, but whilst the actions of a sex offender utterly repulse me, I understand that they are in fact very ill, and instead of putting people in tidy little boxes that 'other' them so that we can feel superior about our own behaviour, we need to have some serious research done on their disorders in order to understand how medicine can alter their brain chemistry so we might protect potential victims in the future. I liken it to the times when epileptic people were killed for being 'possessed by the devil'. We now know this is utter crap and those medieval ideas have no place in a civilised society, so maybe one day people we become that enlightened about sexual-psychotic disorders aswell.

    Some people, like paedophiles are so dangerous to others that they must stay in a secure place for the rest of their natural lives, but I don't think this means they can't still contribute to society whilst in a place where they are no danger to themselves or others.

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  3. In Reply to Peter's Post

    While in general I have the deepest respect for your views and can fully appreciate the points you are making I think I must disagree with you on this one.

    One of the stated aims of this blog is to raise the level of debate surrounding prisons and crime. I think the debate around our treatment, punitive or otherwise, of paedophiles, child molesters and sex-offenders in general can only be raised, languishing in the depths of the public imagination as it is. I am prepared to consider that the subject was not raised lightly, nor without some consideration of the consequence. I believe the point of the post was to illuminate from a different perspective than our own, so that we can have an informed debate centred round the issues. Whether this other perspective is skewed or not, I think it can add something to our own view, which surely cannot always escape a similar charge of being skewed, if in the opposite direction. This is certainly not a charge I am levelling at any of my fellow posters, only at our society as a whole.

    I agree that the majority of people struggle to feel anything but revulsion for such a person as described in Ben's post. However, if we are serious about having this debate it needs to cover all aspects of the prison population, not just those we feel are 'safe' or deserving (apologies to Ben). If we feel that the status quo serves no one adequately, we cannot exclude one group from our discussions on the basis of moral revulsion, because we have to deal with them as a part of society if they ever get out, and because by not facing up to the issues, by simply ignoring them as a group, we do not in anyway prepare them for freedom, which surely increases the dangers of repeat offending.

    Even among people who might consider themselves liberal, morally if not necessarily politically, there is a reluctance to address issues such as sex-offender rehabilitation. But there is a need. Sex-offenders are not all in prison. Some get released, and whether we are comfortable with it or not, are with us in society. And so we need to deal with them. If we accept that sometimes they get released and, if only for our own sakes, care what sort of people they may be on release, I believe we need to think about their welfare as part of their rehabilitation while in prison. If we are therefore to consider issues such as human rights in prisons, issues such as whether having the vote is appropriate, whether there exists a culture of unnecessary coercion, we need to consider it across the broad spectrum of offenders, uncomfortable as it may be.

    I apologise if I have offended anyone, overstated or misrepresented anyone's position.

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  4. @Babs G

    I refer you to my fifth paragraph. I am not in disagreement with what you said.

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  6. the title of this post certainly makes an interesting t shirt slogan

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  7. Peter, quite right. So I apologise for rambling on

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  8. the point of ben's piece as i read it was that criminals are more than the sum of their crime. When i was inside i quickly learned to appreciate this. Its only an offensive or disturbing view to those who have the luxury of distance, able to see criminals as stereotypes. So ben's perspective is far from warped.

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  9. Much as anyone is more than the sum of what they do. Luxury of distance????? Are you disregarding the hard work, discipline and determination that creates this distance?

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  10. @anonymous. The cause of the distance is irrelevant, the point still stands.

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  11. Well no, your terminolgy is warped much like a lot of individuals on here. You chose the word "luxury" which suggests that the individual somehow happened to perpetuate a crime and was convicted for reasons out of their control. Much as how jailhouselawyers profile uses the term "fell" into a life of crime. A very simple pattern of non responsibility is quickly forming. Which in turn is very much a part of the criminal stereotype you seem so intent to change

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  12. Those who take away the rights of others deserve the same but on a much much greater scale -the uk are far too easy. sex offenders are sick/ill and unfortunately there is not enough research done in order to find a solution to this .. something si not quite right in the brain,but I say we use that money to help the victims rebuild their lives. A life for a life and where sex offenders and children are concerned then it should mean the same. That childs life is taken away as it will effect them forever and therefore they shoudl recieve the death penalty. Prisons should be smelly, disgusting pitts ... not comfortable places with gyms, tv's , games consoles etc .. for some its a nice break and before you criticise I have experience on this !! Its nice to think you can save the world and help everyone but the sad truth is that is just not possible.For those of you who feel all prisions need is more "help" and less punishment I wonder if you would feel the same if your family were on the recieving end. And dont even start me on human rights ... those who take away other deserve NONE.

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  13. @anon, above. YAWN. Same old thoughtless rant. And you miss the point with "rights". They come with part of the package of being human. They are not earned, everybody gets them. Keep up, please.

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  14. Going by what he has written, Ben's sister was killed. He obviously knows both sides.

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  15. Yawn you may "Mad albert" BUT i think you are forgetting that it is the view of most hard working, honest, respectful people . Rights are a package of being a human i agree but surely if someone feels they have the right to take away someone elses then they have no place to have theirs. To live in a holiday camp with no reflection time doesnt help many .And I am sorry that he lost his sister in such a dreadful way and without knowing details it is hard to comment but it appears to have been more of an accident that premeditated murder.

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