Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Idiot Box

Well, I can begin to try to relax. It is over. I knew that the second part of the Scrubs documentary would get my goat and it didn't disappoint.

As with part one, the things I saw were probably not the things that struck you. The devil was often in the gaps, the spaces where I was pleading for some context to be inserted.

Rather than de-construct the whole hour, I will just highlight a few particular events and suggest that you ask yourselves the odd question. Note that the female Block Senior Officer, so keen to hug a con on camera last week, always refers to prisoners by their surname. The Director General told staff nearly a decade ago to dignify us with the occasional “Mr” as part of the Decency Agenda - "how would you like a member of your family to be treated in prison?" Such a small thing for outsiders, but a daily reminder of contempt to us. And the power of the Prison Officer’s Association to ignore the orders of their bosses.

As was the case in episode one, the lack of explanatory context lethally undermined deepening your understanding. For instance, the man who was said to be smashing up his cell, who had torn the hatch from his door and was charged by the riot squad. You have to be an insider to know that nearly the only cells with a hatch in the door are Hospital cells. As most prisoners in prison hospitals are mentally ill, I have to wonder if setting the riot squad on someone that fragile was a sensible, let alone decent, thing to do? There was not a moment’s negotiation, no attempt to resolve the conflict. And the claim that he was "smashing up everything" in his cell went unchallenged; except by the camera, which revealed one bed, one chair and one steel toilet/sink. All intact. Did you notice this disjuncture between commentary and actuality..? Or were you lulled into a leap of faith, to become a collaborator with the Director on the assumption that you were not being misled?

And how did this man rip off his door hatch? It hangs outside the door, getting any grip on it is highly improbable. I don't doubt that he managed it; I just wonder how long it took, and what level of staff supervision allowed him the time to work it free from its mounting?

Have you ever got in someone’s' face so much that they fear you are going to take a swing at them? Have you ever provoked someone that much? Did you have five - count 'em, five - mates standing with you when you played that hard man?

As the screws did in the Block, hassling the black guy who only seemed to want to fetch his breakfast. This is a specialist skill, honed by Block screws who are mob-handed, like to feel brave, and enjoy taking down a con.

You surround him. You hassle him. You draw a circle of control around his behaviour that is so restrictive that he cannot fail to breach it. "Don't raise your voice"; "put your arms by your side"; "you will walk at my pace"... The con didn't seem in the least aggressive, he only wanted to walk to get his grub. But he was also not in the slightest intimidated - which to bullying screws, counts as a crime of aggression.

And the camera catches everything. There were even two CCTV fixed to the wall which covered the event. But, alas for posterity, the moment when he was dropped and 'restrained' by the screws is forever lost to cinematography. In prison documentaries, what is absent often speaks louder than what is clearly placed in front of you. The screw said he felt “intimidated”. What, with all of his training and five mates to back him up? He felt that the con was about to kick off.
Which means he didn't. If the con had swung, we'd still be watching the filmed re-runs. So because a screw intimidates a con and the con wouldn't bow his head, he was dropped by the screws.

Welcome, one and all, to the sly and devious world of modern prison service brutality. You surround a con as tightly as possible (get five large men to do it to you. Right in your face. Go on. Uncomfortable, isn't it?) And that stresses the con. It is calculated to. As soon as the con gets stressed, he gets agitated. Then the screws drop him - "I felt he was about to go for me." It can be done so cleverly that it can be shown to the nation - and nobody notices.

I've never had the urge to make a documentary. Now, I'd beg for that opportunity.

1 comment:

  1. I saw both programs too, i must say it didn't reflect prison life well, after all, any con wiht any nouse about them wouldn't want to be on it anyway, so you got left with the dick-heads. All i can say, was it was not anything like my experiance of jail.