Friday, November 13, 2009

More answers

2. Why did you abscond from an open prison knowing that this would put your release back several years? How long ago did this happen and is it why you wrote that you will not be considered for a move to Open before 2011?

I have never done a runner from open prison. They slung me out in 2006 for 'failing to comply with the regime'. That is, I insisted that they did their job and prepare me for release. I'm currently being considered for a move to Open. If this fails, then 2011 it is.

As a protest, I did try to escape in 1995 but that was so long
ago that it isn't particularly held against me.

3.Why are you championing other prisoners’ rights knowing that this is detrimental to your own situation?

I'm a weird soul, in that for most of my life I have believed (to varying strengths) that it is more important to do what is right, rather than what is easy or convenient. Beliefs are not worth a damn if one only sticks to them when there are no consequences. The cynical will note that it's a pity that I didn't have this outlook before I murdered. True, but I've been trying to make up for it ever since.
Rather Mockingly, more than once I have thought that I have a 'martyr gene'. Unlike some, I do find it remarkably easy to hold my ground regardless of the consequences. A few hundred years ago. someone would have been piling up brushwood at my feet and reaching for the Swan Vestas, having caught me nailing stuff to church doors.

A number of my peers seem to lack the fortitude or skills necessary to fight their own corner, and it only seems right that those of us who are motivated and equipped to do so should pitch in.

4.Is there a danger that you have been institutionalised given your young age when you were sentenced?

Nope. See my response to JackP's question. I would add, though, that spending my life in dispute with the prison system has been beneficial. I am my own man and make as many decisions for myself as possible, both large and small. I don't particularly buy into the prisoner subculture, nor have I adopted the system as some ersatz family. This independence of spirit and self reliance will be important on release.

5.Are you frightened at the possibility of release after so many years?

The thought doesn't phase me. Life is life, people are people, and the major difference between here and there is that out there,there are infinite possibilities to life. That I'm not frightened does frighten my keepers, who like us to be convinced that we need their help to cross the road. Seriously.

6.Have you a support network in the community which will help
you on release?

Yes. Amongst others, there is a Quaker network who are focused upon giving me as much (or as little) support as I need. This network is based upon the "Circles of Support and Accountability" protocol. These are remarkable schemes which should be brought to wider attention, so please excuse this slight diversion as I explain.
Circles of Support (CoS from here on in) began in Canada, a response by the Mennonite community to high risk sex offenders being released without supervision.
Each Circle comprises volunteers from the local community, plus the ex con (the 'core member’). The central idea is that the Circle protects the community from the ex con, whilst protecting the ex con from the community. Broad, yet very tailored, support is given to the ex con in order that he can safely reintegrate into the community. The Circle also challenges the ex con should he begin to slip in any way. Hence 'support’ and 'accountability'.

The concept was imported into the UK by the Quakers, again focusing on sex offenders. Their success in reintegrating sex offenders has been remarkable, with none of their charges having reoffended. Please check out WEBSITE FOR CoS for more information on this excellent scheme.

In my case, it was believed that if a Circle could deal with high risk sex offenders, then a low risk violent offender such as myself should be an easier proposition! And so a Quaker Circle was created around me, outside of the official scheme. This was nearly a decade ago and they are still patiently waiting to spring into action.

7.Other than academic skills have you been trained on basic
skills such as cooking etc? What I mean have you the necessary
skills to live independently?

Interesting phraseology you have, suggesting an underlying set of assumptions or beliefs. Do you work with prisoners or another 'client' group? I ask because of the assumption that we need to be trained in 'basic skills' such as cooking.
Honestly, how difficult is it to live independently? What are these 'necessary skills'? Most of the world’s population seem to do it with some success. How does your average, say, 18 year old cope when they first live away from home? Do they starve to death, baffled when presented with sealed tin tubes containing foodstuffs? Are they driven mad by the complexity of remembering to switch off the gas? Do they need courses in 'basic skills'?

I have railed against (often unspoken) attitudes such as those all of my life. They assume that prisoners are idiots and need their hand held, lest they are overwhelmed by the complexity of modern life.

But next time you are in the supermarket, look around. There will be a number of people for whom the shining light of intelligence is but a rumour. Yet they get through the days okay. We may be confined but we are not retarded.

8.Do you listen to advice from others?

If I'm in a weak moment then others have been known to insinuate ideas into my head, but not very often! Suggestions are made, but if they are based upon differing moral beliefs then they are not much use. I find it much more useful if people give me information, which I can then use to make my own judgements.
I'm a great believer in Bismark, who pointed out that anyone who learned only from their own experience is an idiot. Individually, our experiences are minuscule, and it is vital to learn from the experiences of many, many others.

Even so, it is important to remember that each of us must live our own lives for ourselves. What is sensible advice for you may be useless for me.


  1. One question has been on my lips for some time, but I was waiting for someone else to ask as it's a bit personal. As you have been inside since the age of 14, are you a virgin? Do you think forming an adult relationship with (presumably!) a woman would be hard, given your lack of experience? Does it scare you?

  2. Good one! I thought many of the questions are quite impersonal.

  3. Ben,

    I hope this comment finds you in good health and spirits.

    I'm extremely impressed by your blog posts. I like your attitude and writing style.

    I'd like to invite you to write a guest piece for my blog Jon's Jail Journal. I started that blog when I was incarcerated in Phoenix, Arizona back in 2004, and I now mostly post prison stories written by the friends I made inside.

    The person managing your blog can reach me at


    Shaun Attwood

  4. Very interesting :).

    The CoS sounds a lot like the system they have of community assistance and accountability in New Zealand.

    One question I forgot to ask - which of course you don't have to answer if you don't want to - was this:

    Forgive my bluntness, but do you trust your own temper now, or does it concern you how you may react to provocation one released? Have you been faced with any conflicts in prison that reassure you that you can walk away from a situation?

  5. Two points, one very minor.

    Firstly the word you wanted in the answer to question 5 is not 'phase' but 'faze'. It is a perfectly good Anglo-Saxon word and it carries meaning. What phase might mean in the context has always been opaque to me.

    Secondly the question about your coping day to day on the outside is germane because others released after a long time inside have struggled with this, particularly the lack of routine. With freedom comes the inability to budget, to not eat everything for the week in 3days, etc, etc. We are not trying to belittle you, only worried that you have underestimated the problems manifest in others.

    You went from school to prison so have never been in the situation of an 18yo leaving home for the first time. The answer is that many 18 year olds do not do well initially and run home to mother's cooking at the weekend with a pile of washing and 'can I have £20 to tide me over?'. IOW they take time and mistakes and learning from friends and flatmates as well as practice to become functioning independent people. Many don't, they get married instead.

    At 18 these things are easy to handle. You are physically and mentally more resilient and it is all a big adventure. With respect it will be different for you.

    All I'm saying is be prepared for it to be rather harder than your blasé answer implied.

    I should note that I have never flatted independently*. I lived in catered halls at university for 2years and one term and left to marry a fellow resident. We made up, sort of, for each other's deficiencies and she gave me license and help to expand my limited cooking range.

    *Apart from 7 weeks when my wife took the kids back home to NZ several years ago. I put my head down and worked a lot. I would make a big pot of for eg. chilli and eat it 3 days straight.

  6. Sorry if I misinterpreted earlier posts regarding your stay at an open prison. You mentioned in that post about self release and I assumed incorrectly this related to the open prison. You were at the prison for twelve months which surely must help for the future?

    We read continuously of the difficulties endured by prisoners on release after spending a long time in prison. Some of these prisoners have also given interviews. I thought the question was relevant as you were a boy when sentenced. I must assume that your food is prepared for you, etc and regardless of intellect, you have not gone through the experiences which others have done in living independently. My partner is a very able person who can read instructions on how to prepare food. Nevertheless, he is pretty useless in this regard and it would take him years to become proficient should the need to do so arise. As Peter stated above, my partner relied on parents to see him through university and then marriage. Indeed, all of his clothes had laundry marks on them when we married (a long time ago). Nowadays of course, one can buy prepared food to pop into the microwave if one has a good income. The same with budgeting. We all had to learn the hard way on how to survive. The resilience of youth is paramount in all of this. I do think you underestimate the difficulties that we all face in day to day living regardless of our income or abilities. The Quaker organisation you mentioned sounds superb and it appears you will have plenty of friends around you at such times.

    Reading your blog has pushed me to read all documents available on the Prison Service and Department of Justice websites. That has led me to believe that long term prisoners do proceed through various prisons - finally at open to ensure they are as prepared as possible for release - the "career" that you mention. This surely is an acknowledgement that long term prisoners are used to having decisions made for them etc and this may have consequences for them on release?

    I would have thought that intellect and the ability to apply rational thought did matter regarding release. I know that if I behave in a certain way at a given time, then my behaviour will have consequences. I am a bore and would not do this, but over the years have known people have their golf membership cancelled etc etc. They were the ones that suffered - not the club nor the rest of the members. I suppose it depends on your definition of authoritarianism? You have the right to appeal decisions in a prison as too do members of a club. Golf/Bridge Committees etc believe they act in the interests of all members - prison governors would no doubt claim to do the same. All societies, clubs and organisations have rules some of which are petty, seriously flawed etc. If you want to remain part of that grouping then you have to accept the pettiness. If you continually point out flaws you would be sidelined by members who just want to get on with enjoying their club or society. You would not be welcomed - people do not like to be reminded of petty rules in any situation even if they are indeed pathetic. It is not just a matter of being right or wrong. In my youth, I too would have pointed out all the discrepancies. However, age and experience has led me to the conclusion that it is I who would suffer by continuing to do so.

  7. Ben has always taken the view that the stresses of freedom won't send him off the rails, say into reoffending. But he doesnt mean to suggest that it will all be sweetness and light! He accepts there may be difficulties, he merely objects to being treated like an idiot who will need his hand holding. Note that all comments which have highlighted problems they know off also include the point that these were surmounted. That is Ben's position.

  8. I've been reading this blog a while and would like to thank all involved in making this happen.

    I have a question for Ben. What's your opinion of the recent prison officers walkout? Were you affected by it and did people talk about it much?