Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blog Anniversary

A year, already? It's a slightly embarrassing secret that I'm damned if I can remember how this all began. I'm pretty sure it wasn't my idea, though I leapt on it. I think the honour goes to the Editor, that force behind the scenes who has developed into a mean campaigner and unending source of motivation. Kudos!

As soon as the Blog began, though, we ran into the problem that is the Ministry of Justice. A source of malevolence that is hard to match in any other area of life, the MoJ thought it would just snap its fingers and I would go away...

Thanks to forward thinking on my part, coupled with the speedy efforts of John Hirst and my solicitors, the blogosphere were alerted to this censorship and the Ministry had a very heavy legal tank parked on their lawn. That they even thought I'd just melt away shows how little they know me after thirty years. That hurdle overcome, the real battle began! Writing a piece every single day isn't as easy as it sounds, as millions of bloggers who have abandoned their keyboards will appreciate. Of course, I have had a massive advantage - prisons, prisoners, are inherently interesting. Being the only con attempting to offer a window onto a closed world gives me an edge. And there are also those who get a vicarious thrill from the company of the wicked!

This isn't to imply that writing is a simple process. It rarely is. There is just so much to say and I constantly struggle to find some balance between the personal and the political. This was never intended to be a campaigning blog, let alone aimed at changing my personal situation. Well, campaigning in a broad sense, yes, of course; as people are better informed or challenged on their views, change may gain a little momentum.

But overall, my aim was merely to try to educate and inform. Using events from my own life can be a useful hook to illustrate this Through The Looking Glass existence, but no more than that. This is not, and God forbid it ever becomes, the journal of a solitary mad Lifer...

The hardest challenge is picking my topics (or targets...). The range is so broad, from news items, popular panics and mouthy MPs through to a discussion of the minutiae of prison life. Where should my attention alight? This is a balancing act that I know I will never quite get right and so I tend to adopt a broad scatter-gun approach. Whatever is piquing my interest or getting my goat that day is what I write about. I really can't think of a more efficient filtering algorithm.

I wonder if I have fulfilled my purpose? As a writer, I am deeply insecure. Strange for a grandiose egomaniac, but there you are. The Editor is forever battling me to have a traffic meter installed but I resist it. I don't want to know how many people read what I write, for two reasons. Firstly, if only 3 people are regular visitors, I can do without that depressing news. Secondly, I don't want to fall into the trap of chasing the numbers - writing for specific markets or interests, just to see the chart rise. I do like to know when I've added a follower, and they increase by one or two a week. That's enough for me.

Unexpected events have flowed from the Blog, not least the gathering of a band of campaigners around the Free Prisoner Ben Facebook page. This is not mine, but was created by a kind soul who saw the blog and decided that Something Should Be Done. It is heart-warming to realise that the Daily Mail mentality does not reach all sections of the population!

And I must thank you all for your patience. This is a meagre blog, one that cannot live up to most of the essential ingredients of blogging, such as the interactivity. Your persistence in bearing up under the constraints is very much appreciated.

Most of all, though, I am grateful to have the opportunity to add a strand of purpose to life. There are so few reasons to get out of bed in prison - "same shit, different day" - and having a small purpose in life helps to mitigate the corrosive effects of my situation. And without you, that would not exist. I certainly
wouldn't be sitting here writing at 8am!

And would it be mischievous of me to point out that none of the catastrophes predicted by anti-prison bloggers have come to pass? The fears of terrorism, crime, threatening witnesses or - as offered by Iain Dale - coded messages being transmitted to evil accomplices; none have transpired. And so I can only say thank you all, and "The iron cow swims at noon. Pass it on".


  1. Roger that 'Iron Cow'. 'Buttered Parsnip' in position; awaiting synchronization with 'Biscuit Finger', for go signal... Out.

  2. Same shit, different day or same day, different shit. My experience of being inside as a lifer taught me that it was good training for being dead, a fact you might bear in mind, Ben, if ever you are released.

    The discipline of daily writing plus the outreach your blog creates are both good pro-life things which (naturally, says the cynic) are part of the reason you are still there. If and when you decide to humble yourself to walk under every yoke – yes, including the very last one – the powers may allow you to practise your skills outside in the sunshine.

    I enjoy a short article as much as a longer one, especially one that gives a glimpse of prison through a personal slice-of-life narrative. It is rude to criticise what you get for nothing, so I will not comment on the heavy politics.

    Never mind, you do a good job wherever you are. Congratulations on your anniversary.

  3. Congrats on reaching the 1 year mark. Keep up the great and informative writing.

  4. @ YagiBird "It is rude to criticise what you get for nothing, so I will not comment on the heavy politics."

    This comment has really intrigued me. We are born into this world and as a result of our accident of birth, what is it we get for nothing?

    For many people they get a variety of things from a slap in the face for nothing to degradation and the dole queue for nothing (for some / many this is even from the cradle to the grave with maybe only a few interjections of fortune).

    It doesn't seem fitting to accept or defend the world we are born into as giving anyone of us something for nothing.

    This world; its leaders and rulers take all from the vast majority of people for nothing, our blood, sweat and tears not to mention the toil; from the gross exploitation of prison work to the unpaid work of carers in the family and all the rest of it.

    Those privileged few in the society we are born into obtain their wealth from exploiting us and its not right to humble and be grateful to them for any crumbs they either hand out to us or that fall from their table. Nor should we place flowers on the chains that they use to bind us.

    The people are crying out for freedom, as they have done ever since there has existed the system of inequality, exploitation and oppression of the many by the few.

    Ben I love your blog, it always triggers something in me that I just cannot keep to myself!

    YagiBird I hope you don't mind my homing in on your comment like I did, its nothing personal, I just love to debate!

  5. "Prisoners, are inherently interesting" you say Ben, Well i agree, about 20% are, the ones that have got themselves educated, and the old school criminal, who will always have you on the edge of your seat with their stories, however, about 80% of the prison population are not,listening to them braging about petty crime, pails after a few moments, after all, there are only so many ways you can rob someone or steal a car, and it pails after a few moments, And my pet hate, the cons on thier pity pots,

    Still, i've dined out for a long time on my prison stories, and if i drop dead tomorrow, at least i can say "it wasn't dull".

  6. All the best to you Ben, and thank you for your very interesting and thought-provoking insight into the system - without you, many people and I wouldn't have the foggiest what it's like "on the inside." Respect from a fellow victimised thorn in the side... from different circumstances but it's amazing what parallels I have felt with you.

    I hope this year brings ever more fulfillment for you in whatever form it takes.

  7. If you make too much noise about oppression people may think you only recently discovered it. Equally you may be in urgent need of help.

    Sophie J, I see that you love Wild Swans. The book, to me, is a case in point. Our Hong spoils her fascinating personal story with unrelenting denunciations of Mao. Mao was a selfless revolutionary who was hard to live with. Change demands patient sustained work.

  8. Yes, I think 'Wild Swans' is a beautiful book and illuminates the reality that faced the people in China under Mao's regime. He himself may have written some revolutionary stuff in his 'little red book' (my parents kept a copy of it), but it isn't just about what you say or write, its about what you do, and there Mao did fail to orchestrate real and sustained change in favour of the majority as Yung Cheng's auto biography shows. The duping and often forced hero worship of the man meant that the reality of the situation was not clear to most people, Yung Cheng had the intelligence and bravery to rise above it, and it is an incredibly moving story.

    If you are hell bent on quashing criticism of existing power hungry and privileged elites, sure, they might give you a bit of preferential treatment or maybe a few dollars here and there, but you'd be doing nothing to further the cause of humanity, which is what we are really here for.

    Congrats on your 1st anniversary of Ben's Prison Blog Ben, keep up the good work:- you and the Editor, and don't let the b**stards grind you down.