Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Am I an Alcoholic?

You would be amazed at the proportion of murders in which alcohol played a significant part in the unfolding of tragic events. You may think, then, that someone might be interested in how I handle my drink.
Of course, booze is officially prohibited in prison. Until recently, we could be issued a tot by the Doctor but, even though this has never happened, someone in HQ decided to shut that loophole.
This doesn't mean that there isn't booze around, in the form of  ‘hooch’.  Home brewed concoctions of chemical ingenuity, brewed in odd hiding places and shifted around the prison in secret operations until ready to drink. I have no problem in saying that I'm not a bad brewer, having in years past earned a few pennies by flogging hooch.
That said, I can't recall the last time I had a drink. I can take it or leave it, my preference is for cannabis. But I have known those who start the day with a drink and whose sole aim in life is finding the next one.
Of course, you only have my word for this. For all anyone knows, I'm an absolute piss head, and one who gets violent with it. I may know that I'm a contented drunk, slowly leaning sideways at ever increasing angles the more I imbibe. But you don't know that. 
More significantly, neither do my keepers. At no point during my sentence can I have alcohol. Even in Open prison, where we are meant to be tested for our reactions to the outside world, it is prohibited. When we work outside or go on home leaves, it is on condition that we don't enter licensed premises.
This highlights the tension between rehabilitation and punishment. Open prisons are meant to test us but at the same time they try to prohibit anything that we may enjoy,  so no booze and no relationships. These only happen to be the two elements that are involved in most murders.
So when do we find out how I handle alcohol? When I am finally released. It could be when I'm sitting in a restaurant in good company with a glass of wine. Or it could be as I'm staggering along the road, Special Brew in hand, taking wild swings at passers-by.
I would have thought that the prison service, my keepers for most of my life, owes society a bit more certainty when it finally kicks me out, don't you?


  1. If alcohol tolerance, or otherwise, is to be "tested" before release, how could other flash-points be similarly treated? Would you have to be observed first in some sort of meaningful relationship (assuming you could form one in the allowable time scale)? Would your tolerance for cannabis or other drugs also have to be checked? These are just the obvious triggers, I suppose, but for other people there will be unpredictable things to test their new-found freedom, and the prison service surely cannot be expected to anticipate all of these?

  2. Ben, I agree.

    I think prison sounds a bit like high school - you're stuck in this completely false society for several years then thrown out into the world with all the academic 'smarts' but no clue as to how the real world actually works.

    Two of the my 'bug bears' were Maths and Uniforms. I always DESPISED wearing a school uniform and I didn't actually see the point of making us all look the same when you have to learn how to get along with and respect people from other cultures who look and dress differently to you in the real world.

    As for Maths? While I was being tortured by algebra and Pythagoras Theory, what I think we REALLY should have been taught about was Mortgages and how not to get into trouble with credit cards! I don't have a credit card myself but I am convinced that if we'd been taught about practical, relevant stuff like that in maths then lots of people of my generation wouldn't be in the financial mess they are now.

  3. This is surely the most stimulating blog that I read regularly. I often come away with my mind buzzing about, thinking, thinking. Thankyou. Ben.

  4. I was not a great one for drinking hooch either, and like you preferred to smoke cannabis until the Mandatory Drug Testing came into force in 1995.

    All this achieved was to turn many into chasing the dragon because opiates only stayed in your system for 3 days whereas cannabis could stay for up to 28 days!

    I did flirt with this for awhile, but I could not see the attraction and was not keen on throwing up.

    I thought the don't drink alchohol on home leave rule to be crazy because it is not enforceable. So, I would ignore it save for not drinking on the day of returning to open prison.

    Originally, I kept my nose clean in Sudbury open prison until somebody mentioned how much somebody else could earn for his home leaves by smuggling spirits into the prison. At one stage I had £3,000 in my bank account.

    Inevitably eventually I got caught and rather than face being grounded for 6 months or returned to closed conditions I went on walkabout.

    I do recall on one occasion going to a pub with friends for a drink whilst on home leave, and 20 minutes after we left a fight broke out and the landlord was seriously injured. It made me think had it happened whilst I was in there and the police arrived I might have had some explaining to do on return to open prison.

  5. Oh this brings back memories, we had a big bucket of hooch on the go in Cookham Wood, under a table in the lifer room, all of us were told to collect a peice of fruit, instead of pudding, (that's a shriveled up old orange to anyone who's reading this and not in jail.) Everything went in, cabbage stalkes etc. Then about 10 of us were standing around, we needed some Yeast, someone said one of us would have to give a male Kanga a b**w J*b, i stood back, and said "don't worry, i won't have any" someone else did. The trouble is is doesn't get you pissed, just gives you belly ache.

  6. And it doesn't surprise me in the least that alcohol plays a part in many disasters. I no longer drink alcohol as it brings out a part of me that I do not like and which is best kept at bay.

  7. I'm not sure what you're suggesting here Ben; that prisons should feed alcohol to people and anyone found to react badly shouldn't be released?

    Alcohol does not have the power to make someone violent. The way an individual reacts to alcohol is down to their socialisation - the way they believe they should act. The violent reaction is confined to certain social groups in certain circumstances - the set and setting. When alcohol is given to tribespeople who have never been told alcohol makes you violent this effect is never seen. In fact it has very little effect beyond making them slur their words if drunk in large quantities. We learn our response to alcohol from society and our circumstances.

    If you haven't read the research in this area I strongly recommend you do. It's very interesting and completely dispels the myths around alcohol which are so ingrained they are considered 'common sense'.