Monday, January 11, 2010

Picking Battles

Lest anyone get the impression that I'm a thoroughly decent human being, it should be said that there have been times when I've been a nasty shit. It has to be said that this related to my treatment of staff rather than my peers. This is a distinction that cons and ex-cons appreciate.

It used to be that I fought my battles with wing staff. This was before I raised my eyes from the immediate to the abstract and realised that most of my gripes resulted from the actions and policies of management, and not the staff implementing them.

Still, when I arrived at one nick, presented myself at the wing office to be allocated a cell and was greeted with the statement, "Gunn? So you’re the c**t", I suspected that this was not a portent of peaceful coexistence.
And so I spent the next few years in that prison being a bastard. Each morning I would dive down to the office to make complaints or applications, all with the sole aim of winding up the desk-jockeys.

At mealtimes, when the whole wing was queuing in the dining hall, I'd single out a dog screw and pick an argument. This inevitably led to his humiliation in front of all the cons - I'm smart, verbally adept and a public argument with me is likely to end badly. This once had the interesting consequence of the wing staff hiding behind their closed office door, solely because I was on the warpath.

This wasn't as random or vindictive as it sounds. The aim was to ram their own rules down their throat and I focused on digging out staff who applied them arbitrarily. Prison is an exercise in coexistence and broad cooperation between cons and staff, and dog screws who threw their pomposity in our faces were fair game.

And so in retaliation, I'd throw my intellect and knowledge of the rules back at them, making their life as difficult as they made mine. And, if this is any mitigation, they did start it...

This was brought back to mind by a conversation that I had the other day with the wing manager. At some point I said, "and that's why I'm a pain in the arse". He pointed out that, actually, I wasn't. And - a rare event - he was right. When it comes to wing staff, I'm absolutely no problem at all. Days pass without us speaking and when we do, it is a fleeting, neutral exchange or banter.

In the twenty odd years between my being "the c**t" and today, my battles have become far less focused upon the immediate and the personal. Tweaking management’s tail and playing prison politics has become the strategy, in recognition that arguing the toss with some obnoxious screw is irrelevant to the overall scheme of things.

Not that they get a totally free pass. If they are particularly petty or stupid, I am still happy to go toe to toe to argue the point. But if you took a straw poll, I think wing staff would label me as "mostly harmless". Management, on the other hand, get a rare glimpse of my political manoeuvrings (but not often) and see the potential for some difficulties coming their way. I wonder how they view me? This is by way of a rhetorical question - I so don't care.


  1. Oh dear, you need to get out more!

  2. Seconded Anonymous.

    Ben, you have just described a process of growing up. Congratulations, many on the outside never come the realisations you have. It's those who abuse the front of house staff for management's failures etc.

  3. You'll obviously never read this and know it anyway, I'm sure. But...

    There are people who have power over you. You go well out of your way to piss them off and then complain bitterly that you've been treated badly.

    You should have been out of prison years ago. Maybe you aren't half as smart as you think you are.

  4. @Ben. So, he takes them to task for abusing their power, they keep him inside in retaliation, and that is his fault? That is just vindictiveness piled on injustice. Perhaps you are right, we should all stay silent and passive while the world turns to crap.

  5. I like the basic honesty in this, revealing flaws in ones character or behaviour is hard to do in public!

  6. Tweaking the tail of authority may never be clever but it is always a wise course for free people.

  7. So the bad past is not a bad thing to memory, at least we can learn something from it and accumulate experiences to grow up in a correct direction.

    That's good.

  8. Far too many Anonymouses in here! What's really impressive about what Ben has said, I think, is what he reveals about his spirit. That it should have survived all these years of incarceration intact and unabated is (I think) remarkable and, frankly, humbling. I ask myself if I could have preserved my integrity through these many, many years of disparagement and torpor and I conclude that, almost certainly, I couldn't. I fear I would have succumbed. You?

  9. Absolutely Charles - I think this is a wonderful example of Ben's spirit - he should be out here so that this spirit can be demonstrated to others. I am absolutely cetain I would not be able to preserve my integrity like Ben has. Mind you, my son, in prison 4 years for an 18 month tariff is also showing incredible integrity and courage - perhaps incarceration has that effect. Anyway - Ben keep going - you are helping to keep me going too! Thank you.