Monday, March 8, 2010

Master of Go

I have been trying to play the game of Go for twenty years. This isn't helped by my only ever meeting a handful of other prisoner who had even heard of it and only one who could actually play.

In solitary, board-games are not really facilitated and I felt the deprivation. Endless hours and nothing to fill the time.

So I decided to make a Go board and pieces (stones). The board, a 19 X 19 grid, was easily scraped on the floor. The stones were made of wads of wet toilet paper, using a biro to stain one half black. There are 361 stones in Go.

Every time I went out on exercise, the screws would sneak into my cell and scrub out the board and steal the stones. Each day I made a new set.

I didn't get any better at Go, but I did fill the endless empty hours.


  1. I once made myself a Go board, but my stones were white and dark chocolate buttons. I didn't get any better at the game either, but I did put on weight.

    Perhaps one day we can have an exceedingly amateurish game. Can we use my stones though? I'm not sure I fancy playing with wads of wet loo paper; plus, as the screws scrubbed yours out, we'd have to play with my board and, as it's paper, your stones would dissolve it.

    Somewhere millennia of Go grand masters are spinning in their graves.

  2. Could someone please explain to me why the officers would rub out the 'board' every day - and what satisfaction they would get from that?

  3. Jo, we live in a society where every and any difference gets pounced on and eradicated. What about the case of Tom Daley the teenage olympic dive sensation and now teenage world champion. He was hounded out of his school by students who objected to the simple fact that he had not excelled in the one way allowed: at football.

    There are many other possible motivations apart from simple desire to be mean, to keep the other guy down. But that is just an aspect of the problem above, because 'down' is the prisoner's place and by seeking to engage his mind Ben was violating a taboo: he was 'getting above himself'. Since both criminals and prisoner officers are largely from the same community, working class, this is just de rigeur.

  4. I should add that this attitude is alien to me. Back home in New Zealand students who excelled at sport were celebrated and it was one way to earn respect. The sport didn't matter.

    I remember one girl who was a NZ rep in trampolining gave us a demonstration in the hall one day and apologised that there was some stuff she couldn't show us as the roof was too low (it was a large, high space). Respect was due and was duly accorded afterwards. It's just what we did and this was a large, ethnically mixed comprehensive equivalent serving an economically mixed community.

    Sure NZ has 'tall poppy' syndrome but that relates to forgetting who you are where you came from (or the perception of it) not about the achievements.

    Mind you the idea of a school, of any sort, without playing fields would be anathema in NZ too.

  5. Peter in Dundee, you have hit the nail on the head, I think. By "Getting idea above his station" as a prisoner, and educating himself, Ben pissed them off intensely. As a result he has been poked and prodded by psychologists, and accused (then acquitted) of having various psychological disorders. They have tried to break his spirit through solitary confinement combined with destroying his Go board - not much short of a crime in itself - and as a result of his protestations he has served 3 times his sentence. What would have happened in NZ? Don't they have restorative justice over there?

  6. @Anonymous

    Yes there is restorative justice but not for serious crimes like murder. They do have parole boards just the same and I would not like to say Ben's situation would not exist, but it is easier in a small country to kick up a stink and get the powers that be to take an interest.