Friday, July 9, 2010

Extrapolation

Break prison rules, break the law..

My alleged perpetual and wicked rebellion against the prison system occasionally leads me to being charged with breaking some prison rule. For a man with an anti-authority reputation, that this may happen only once a year or so should put management's paranoia into some perspective.

The charge most often relates to my either flatly refusing to obey a staggeringly stupid 'direct order', or some other technical infringement. In this prison, I am most often nicked for breaching the rule which forbids us from borrowing or lending anything to each other. Of course, we all do these things on an hourly basis but now and the some officious screw gets snotty about it.

So I get nicked for borrowing, say, a mate's Play Station. Shock, horror! The depravity of it all..

Here's the rub. The monkeys who write reports upon me, and the parole board which passes judgement, all like to play a game of make-believe which I call "infinite extrapolation".

It goes like this. "If you are unable to comply with the prison rules, how do we know you will comply with the law on release?" So, in borrowing a Play Station, I become too great a risk to be released.

Honest to god, it's that simple. And stupid. The key to everything, the central issue for me, is compliance. Utterly mindless, robotic, unthinking compliance.

And yet I cannot. Is there not a part in every person which screams to be released, a part of the spirit which writhes when presented with some officious nobody who insists on making pointless intrusive demands on their lives?

Or is it just me?

21 comments:

  1. By making it a serious rule break to borrow items from other prisoners, they are making it more difficult for bullies to take possessions from other inmates. It also helps prevent lending items out as a form of currency. Really, being caught with someone elses Playstation is quite serious, so stop moaning like it is a great injustice. You know the rules. Stick by them and get out.

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  2. Anonymous,

    Does that rule in any way actually make it harder for bullies to take possessions from other inmates? I'll save you the effort of answering, because we all know that it doesn't. It is a stupid pointless rule.

    It's probably very difficult to solve the bullying issue, I'm no expert, but I doubt there's a quick fix. However, stupid rules like this are worse than nothing because they harm those that are not bullies while doing nothing to solve the real problem.

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  3. At least you can negotiate with a bully; and isn't that what 'socializing' includes?

    Ben, you're absolutely right here: "Utterly mindless, robotic, unthinking compliance."

    In thirties Germany, they called it Gleichschaltung; here in Britain we call it 'political correctness'. It isn't just in prison that 'they' employ these petty rules, to undermine independent thought.

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  4. If prison staff are so ignorant of those in their charge that they cant differentiate between lending between mates and bullying, then they must be crap at their job.

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  5. Anon no.1, are you saying that borrowing a playstation is such a serious matter that ben should be kept in prison for longer because of it?? Weird.

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  6. Its all a bit harsh really; if you break the prison rules you are therefore breaking the law and incur further sentencing, rather medieval and void of rationality I'd say.

    I am really sorry for prisoners who have to endure such petty regimes and struggle to maintain their dignity.

    Well done Ben you are doing a good job in exposing such things. It becomes clearer to understand how it is that people can get trapped in the prison system, and how stupid it all is.

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  7. I remember a doctor in Wakefield demanding total compliance from me. He never got it. Later I heard he went off to work in Saudi Arabia, no doubt chopping parts off offenders who steal or rape, etc.

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  8. You can guess where i stand on this one!

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  9. Anon 1 - back again.

    OK, so here is the scenario for a Prison officer to deal with....

    It is bang up and the officer notices that prisoner number 1 has a Playstation in his cell, which he does not own. He asks where it came from and Prisoner 1 says he is borrowing it from prisoner 2. The officer is suspicious because prisoner 2 is generally quiet and keeps himself to himself, where as prisoner 1 is the opposite.

    It might be that they have genuinely agreed to to it, between themselves, but the officer will have to decide if there is possibility that prisoner 1 has threatened prisoner 2 into lending him the Playstation. Prisoner 2 will not 'grass' on prisoner 1, out of fear and so will tell the officer that he is ok with it. The prisoner officer has to make a decision. Someone commented that if they can't decide then they shouldn't be in the job, but I think it would be difficult to make that decision on the spot. It is never black and white, whereas the current rules make it clearly black and white and so help prevent this situation from taking place - as often as it could.

    Does this make sense? It seems pretty reasonable to me.

    But, as I said in my original post, it isn't the main, or only reason that this rule is in place.

    Lending as a form of currency is also affected by this rule.

    Also, Should prisoners be allowed to undermine the privilege system, thus making it less effective? If an enhanced prisoner can lend his Playstation to someone on basic, who should presumably be allowed to lend someone's TV, then it makes a joke out of earning privileges, such as being able to have a Playstation.

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  10. One more point...

    Yeah, so it's a good point. It seems like Ben could be kept it prison longer because he borrows Playstations.

    So if you know that you would fail your driving test by doing 40 in a 30 zone, but did it anyway, would it be unfair for you to not be allowed to pass your driving test? After all, it's such a petty rule and everyone does it.

    Ben says borrowing happens regularly, and suggests that a blind eye is turned - which it is, but dosn't have to be. Let's not be mistaken and think that screws are ruthless Gestapo agents who crack down on someone lending sugar or a tea bag. In fact, prisoners happily exchange such items in front of officers.

    The item being discussed is a Playstation. It isn't a cup of sugar or a bowls worth of porridge. It is an item allowed only by enhanced status prisoners, it is also very valuable and very sought after.

    I'm not saying it isn't petty. I'm saying that if you know the rules, and how serious a consequence they have, don't do it.

    If your spirit yearns for freedom, then maybe you should swallow your pride, keep your head down and get on with it... true freedom will come much sooner that way.

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  11. anon, thats all balls. Ben is responsible for his actions. But prison staff must be responsicle for theirs. And if they keep ben in over a playstation, they are beyond belief!

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  12. anon, what if ben is enhanced and just cant afford to buy his own? And after thirty years in their charge, shouldnt prison staff know if he is a bully?

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  13. Part of the reason for this rule, as I keep suggesting, is to try and prevent prisoners bullying items off each other. It covers everyone. No one is allowed to break rules because they are not thought to pose that type of threat.

    For instance, because of the terror threat, NO ONE is allowed to carry certain items onto a plane. It doesn't matter if you are a senior civil servant, former army Major or the head of a charity - everyone has to comply with that rule.

    Yet, you suggest that Ben should be exempt from the lending rule, because he isn't a known bully? Do you see the difficulty in deciding this for EVERY prisoner? Where do you draw the line. Imagine the problems of discrimination, bad decisions and feelings of injustice when a screw decides you can't borrow from someone.

    Again, this isn't the complete reason that such a rule has been implemented.

    Apart from the currency reason, It undermines the privilege system.

    Whether you think that a good job has been made of this, an effort has been made to implement an incentive based scheme. Allowing prisoners to break the lending rule undermines one of the fundamental features of prison rehabilitation.

    Personally, I don't think the current system works very well, but I recognise that it is in place and it has been created with good intentions. Rather than ignoring rules because you think they are petty, try taking a look at the wider picture.

    It is easy to say that enhanced prisoners can lend to other enhanced prisoners, but unless you are both on an enhanced wing/landing then how is each prisoner certain of the other prisoners status? to avoid lies, misunderstandings etc, the rule is clear cut. NO lending of items to each other.

    Just in case you think I'm some sort of draconian torturers apprentice, if Ben had posted something saying that he had been nicked for lending his next door neighbour a box of tea bags or a tin of fish - and this had held him back from say getting his Cat D and move onto open prison, and so closer to release, I would be as annoyed as the rest. Lifers are under massive pressure to stick to the rules. Even a little misdemeanour can lead to more time spent behind bars...

    unfortunately, Ben got caught doing something a little more serious. He knows this but wants to misrepresent the system and its rules to create an image of great injustice. A Playstation is not a tea bag. Ben knows this, and why he dosn't make the distinction in his blog, I don't know.

    As Ben notes himself, and I have agreed on, prisoners are permitted to break these rules all the time - over food items and the like - but a Playstation is valuable, sought after and only for the enhanced.

    Borrowing a mates playsation is a temptation I fell for myself. I used to borrow a mates from time to time, but if I'd been caught then I'd have accepted the consequences. How could I complain about getting nicked if I knew it was a nickable offence?

    If I knew my parole was coming up and a nicking could potentially prevent me from getting it - and so an earlier release - would it have been OK for me to do it anyway and then complain that I was being held back because all I did was borrow games console for the night?

    I'm sorry Ben got caught, but if he knows it might hold him back, then he can read a book or manage his finances in a way that he can save up for own Playstation.

    Let's not forget, in all this, that prison is there to punish and Liberty is restricted until release.

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  14. Part of the reason for this rule, as I keep suggesting, is to try and prevent prisoners bullying items off each other. It covers everyone. No one is allowed to break rules because they are not thought to pose that type of threat.

    For instance, because of the terror threat, NO ONE is allowed to carry certain items onto a plane. It doesn't matter if you are a senior civil servant, former army Major or the head of a charity - everyone has to comply with that rule.

    Yet, you suggest that Ben should be exempt from the lending rule, because he isn't a known bully? Do you see the difficulty in deciding this for EVERY prisoner? Where do you draw the line. Imagine the problems of discrimination, bad decisions and feelings of injustice when a screw decides you can't borrow from someone.

    Again, this isn't the complete reason that such a rule has been implemented.

    Apart from the currency reason, It undermines the privilege system.

    Whether you think that a good job has been made of this, an effort has been made to implement an incentive based scheme. Allowing prisoners to break the lending rule undermines one of the fundamental features of prison rehabilitation.

    Personally, I don't think the current system works very well, but I recognise that it is in place and it has been created with good intentions. Rather than ignoring rules because you think they are petty, try taking a look at the wider picture.

    It is easy to say that enhanced prisoners can lend to other enhanced prisoners, but unless you are both on an enhanced wing/landing then how is each prisoner certain of the other prisoners status? to avoid lies, misunderstandings etc, the rule is clear cut. NO lending of items to each other.

    Just in case you think I'm some sort of draconian torturers apprentice, if Ben had posted something saying that he had been nicked for lending his next door neighbour a box of tea bags or a tin of fish - and this had held him back from say getting his Cat D and move onto open prison, and so closer to release, I would be as annoyed as the rest. Lifers are under massive pressure to stick to the rules. Even a little misdemeanour can lead to more time spent behind bars...

    unfortunately, Ben got caught doing something a little more serious. He knows this but wants to misrepresent the system and its rules to create an image of great injustice. A Playstation is not a tea bag. Ben knows this, and why he dosn't make the distinction in his blog, I don't know.

    As Ben notes himself, and I have agreed on, prisoners are permitted to break these rules all the time - over food items and the like - but a Playstation is valuable, sought after and only for the enhanced.

    Borrowing a mates playsation is a temptation I fell for myself. I used to borrow a mates from time to time, but if I'd been caught then I'd have accepted the consequences. How could I complain about getting nicked if I knew it was a nickable offence?

    If I knew my parole was coming up and a nicking could potentially prevent me from getting it - and so an earlier release - would it have been OK for me to do it anyway and then complain that I was being held back because all I did was borrow games console for the night?

    I'm sorry Ben got caught, but if he knows it might hold him back, then he can read a book or manage his finances in a way that he can save up for own Playstation.

    Let's not forget, in all this, that prison is there to punish and Liberty is restricted until release.

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  15. Anonymous,

    From your long description it would seem that most of the reason for the failure of this rule lies with inconsistent application of it by the guards. If you don't know when it should and should not be applied, and seem to be going on some sort of gut feeling over when an invisible line has been crossed (which no doubt differs from screw to screw), then how on earth are the prisoners supposed to know what is and is not ok?

    Your explanation for why the rule exists would be compelling, except we already know it doesn't work. It doesn't matter how good a rule looks on paper, if it isn't doing what it is supposed to do then it is a useless rule.

    Your example of the playstation found in prisoner 2's cell is reasonable, but if Prisoner 1 and 2 are both enhanced lifers and best mates who have frequently leant such items to each other happily in the past, then will you turn a blind eye the way you do when tea and sugar are exchanged? If you wouldn't, can you state with certainty that none of your colleagues would?

    I'm sure bullying occurs over tea and sugar as well, probably more because it is more consistently ignored. So why ignore it? Because it costs less? But you said this wasn't about money, it was about bullying...

    That's the reason Ben doesn't differentiate between a Playstation and a teabag in his blog: in this case, there isn't one!

    Either a rule is there for a good reason and must be consistently applied, or it is a stupid rule and should be consistently ignored. If you ignore it under some circumstances and not others, you shouldn't be surprised when things like this happen. You certainly don't get to blame the cons for not knowing where the grey and blurry boundary lies or to castigate them for crossing it when the thing they are doing was not deemed to cross it last week by someone else!

    Banning all lending is clearly impractical, so how about this as a solution:

    There is a board kept by a broker with the names of everyone who would like to borrow something and what they would like to borrow written on it; they are not allowed to request anything they have not earned the right to posses independently. Everyone can see the board and, should they wish to lend an item on it, they go to the broker and give it to them and the broker then passes it on to the desired recipient together with a slip with the owners name and agreed duration (except comestibles obv.). Should a prisoner be found with an item they should not have or cannot produce a valid slip for, the item is confiscated and returned to the owner. ALL exchanges must be through the broker - even tea and sugar - or, like the present system, this will also fail.

    Obviously that's not a perfect solution, and bullying can still happen. But it means the broker knows who is lending stuff to whom and, if they think it might be forced, they can keep a closer eye on those involved and watch out for any behaviour that suggests coercion.

    We already know that the other alternative (of banning lending absolutely anything) will be perceived as pointless by screws and cons alike. Where people perceive a rule as pointless, it will fail, regardless of how important it may be under some circumstances, as we have seen.

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  16. Oh and briefly on the other important point Ben made:

    Breaking prison rules is breaking prison rules, it isn't breaking the law.

    It should result in an immediate prison-based punishment, such as loss of privileges, and then it should be forgotten about. It should not result in a punishment that would normally be handed down for committing a crime, such as an extension to a sentence.

    So much of what Ben writes about here is examples of prisoners being given such unjustified and unreasonable punishments. They are inside as a punishment for a crime committed in the past, they should not be judged more harshly than you or I for minor rule infractions committed since and such infractions have no place in a parole hearing: they should not be included in the evidence.

    IMO that may be the root of many of the ills in the prison service and, if it were stopped, things might start to get better.

    It is an all pervading culture within the prison service that says it is ok, but it isn't and there is no moral or logical justification for it.

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  17. All this talk about bullies, you'd think the places were overrun with them. The only saving grace being the intervention of the screws to keep order. I doubt that very much. And it sounds a lot like what we Joe public are supposed to imagine what its like in prison, I am sure the reality is very different.

    I have some experience, not of prison thank God, but of hostels for people with special needs ( I lived in one for about four years), the regime could sometimes be strict, but what struck me was the generosity of the people in these places.

    There were dominant characters but on the whole people lived as best as they could side by side; survival means cooperation more than bullying and vying for domination.

    I certainly found that to be the case. There were times when you might just be sitting with someone in their room, you might look or glance at something of theirs and they would then say :- oh, do you like that? well you have it, its yours. That happened many times to me, sharing things; borrowing, lending or giving was just part of living together.

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  18. So back to the point I keep making time and time again. There isn't a blurry line for lending and Ben isn't the victim of a grey area. Everyone knows you can't lend a Playstation out. It is well known and black and white.

    Bullying isn't widespread, but to help make sure some prisoners don't get their Playstation taken off them, you are not allowed to lend them out.

    Again, it isn't the only reason and the time I;ve taken to try and offer another point of view on it should not be taken as an indication of its importance.

    So to sum up my point. I think there is reason and logic behind this rule and I belive that Ben knew full well that he was breaking the rule and so can't really complain about an injustice.

    It's ok to complain about the rule and argue against it in principle, but I think Ben is slightly misleading and isn't giving a balanced picture.

    On a serious note, the idea that breaking prison rules means you can be held sounds stupid. So as it works, you need to be enhanced, on a good wing, good job etc to stand a better chance at 'moving on'. If you are not in those positions it is because you havn;t bothered or have broken rules and lost these privaladges.

    I really don't know what another system would look like? Any ideas?

    If there was no behavioral incentive to 'progress' through the system, I'm not sure what the consequences would be. It's complicated, but does need addressing, I agree.

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  19. anon, we know what the system would be like without incentives for good behaviour. It existed for 150yrs up to 1995. It worked ok, thanks. The IEP Scheme is just a blank cheque for bullying screws. And lending playstations is not black and white at all, particularly amongst long termers.

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  20. What madalbert said. How can the situation for Playstations not be blurry when the situation for tea bags is? It's the same situation.

    There's no point arguing any more. Anon's mind is decided and anything we say is just going to convince them more that they are right.

    If there is the slightest chink of an open mind in there, though, I'd recommend you do some general reading about psychology and incentives and get a feel for just how misaligned the system is compared to the best way for getting prisoners rehabilitated.

    And check out Ben's new post on restorative justice; that's another example of a scheme that doesn't work on incentives but that definitely works.

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  21. No, the tea bag playstation situation is not the same. Tea bags for all, playstations for enhanced only.

    Im not sure what you mean by long termers and the rules surrounding them regarding borrowing being blurry. Surely it depends on the jail and in most they are just another face on the wing which is subject to the same rules.

    As for being open mined, I seem to be the only person here capable of considering opinions other than those expressed by Ben.

    I have tried to explain why I think Ben was punished and the reasoning behind it and also that I think Ben has written a misleading article for this particular post.

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