Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hope 2

"An expectation and desire combined".

How does one generate a sense of hope, when every forward vista is clouded with uncertainty and bereft of any sense of control? Hope could be perceived as a desire which is maintained in the face of a difficult reality. Surviving Life sentences, the essence of uncertainty, requires a perpetual balancing act between reality and hope. If the former obscures the latter, then survival isn't assured.

The parole process can stretch these abilities to the limit, and it is almost designed to be tormenting. Lifers must, by law, have a parole hearing at least once every two years once they have passed their tariff.

This is a difficult spread of time. Being knocked-back (refused release) for another two years is a big blow. And yet two years is not such a long time that it seems out of reach. It is long enough to hurt but not quite long enough to destroy. It is almost calculated to cause maximum, but not overwhelming, distress.
Approaching a parole hearing, we receive a Dossier comprising a summary of previous staff reports and a collection of current reports and recommendations. These are pored over in great detail, each prisoner attempting to discern a pattern, uncover a hidden trap. My current reports all recommend that I move to Open prison at the hearing in May.

But this is not certain. It is the three people comprising the parole panel who make the decision and their views may not concur with those of prison staff. This is as it should be, but with a pocketful of positive recommendations it would reduce my stress level if I believed the parole board would merely rubber stamp and let me move on.

I have to try to compartmentalise my hope. This hearing can lead to one of two futures and I have to envisage and expect both simultaneously. To allow oneself to be filled with hope untainted by caution is to court disaster. If I am allowed to move to Open, then I just have to grit my teeth for a year before release. My plans for my future remain intact.

If the parole board take against me, though, then I must remain in closed conditions for a further year or two. This means that release is pushed back for at least two years, probably four, and maybe much longer. If that happens then parts of my life begin to fall apart, all of my plans begin to be shredded by the passage of time.

The trick is to hope for the best outcome, whilst preparing for the worst. This does take a lot of emotional and mental energy. And hope must be fostered, even in the face of disaster.


  1. Wishing sincerely, while not having the faintest notion how you do it, that your hope and preparation are rewarded, and that May will see you on the way to freedom.

    Best wishes

    Babs G

  2. That the criminal justice system is idiosyncratic, bureaucratic, inconsistent etc. etc. is beyond doubt, but it does still operate within a framework of Law 'n' stuff. Surely there must be reasons that you are so far over tariff?

  3. @Chris J - Ben covered this in his post "How to serve 30 years".

  4. Yes I'd read it. But having worked in the prison service my instinct is that maybe there is more to 'resisting abuses of authority', 'the odd spliff, the odd argument' or whatever than Ben writes about. Not that these might not be justified/understandable or whatever. But however crap/petty-minded some people working in prison/CJS are, twenty years?? I mean TWENTY?? That doesn't happen for no reason, and I don't; or rather CAN'T believe that it happens just through the sheer bloody mindedness of some conspiracy of probation officers, landing staff, politicians or whoever. Like I said, there are LAWS about this kind of thing.

  5. Chris J,

    Have you read Eric Allison's article on Ben in the Guardian? It can be accessed here -

    Best Wishes,


  6. I can't believe that anyone who has worked in the criminal justice system still has any faith in it!

  7. Ben
    How I admire your ability to just keep going, let alone While still retaining your sense of humour.
    I wish you well with your next assessment. That you not only have to face the prejudices of your assessors, the petty spite of some prison staff, the weight of public opinion and, in this election year, the self interest of politicians is beyond imagining - that you have survived for so long is a credit to you and should be recognized by those whom you must rely on before you can move on.
    Best wishes

  8. I manage it because there is some good work going on...not a lot, but some.

    And though we may feel incredulity/disgust or whatever at the CJS we can't, whatever hyperbole we deploy, really have *no* faith in it.

    Thanks for the link, John.

  9. Reading these comments, on 'hope', I would like to urge followers of the blog, particularly Chris J,to read this recent article in the Guardian:
    Can't help wondering if the Chairman of the Parole Board has noticed that members of the public - over 300 of us on Facebook - are becoming aware of the injustices dished out to prisoners because of paranoia generated by the media.

  10. It's unpopular, but actually OSASYS is the most sophisticated predictor of reoffending currently available. Therefore no need to hide behind 'skewed thinking' of parole boards or whatever.

  11. OASys Is the most sophisticated risk prediction tool but it is still a poor one. The OGRS3 model at the heart of it claims to be able to predict future offending from 8 pieces of biographical data, which serious statisticians finds amusing. It also should never be used to predict the risk of individuals, only groups, if it is to have any statistical validity. And yet probation insist on making that mistake. OASYS is a tool for deluded professionals with no clinical judgement.

  12. Chris J,

    I don't understand why you find it so hard to believe Ben's story. It stands to reason to me that, in a system so badly borken*, at least one person will become entangled unfairly. You admit yourself that only a very small amount of good work happens and yet you have faith in the monster to correctly judge in Ben's case?

    *That was a typo, but I really like the word "borken" so I'm keeping it.

  13. Best of luck for the hearing Ben, I genuinely hope it goes your way and you get your long-overdue move to open prison.