Wednesday, June 8, 2011
The cheap and cheerful explanation for my perpetual pushing of boundaries is that I just don't want to get out of prison, that I'm afraid, institutionalised. An equally simplistic response I could make is to point out that as the prison system has had me and attempted to mould me since I was a kid, they can hardly complain about the way I've turned out!
Obviously, I despise that simplistic view. It is to denigrate me as a human being, it strips me of any semblance of dignity and denies that I am capable of making coherent, principled decisions.
Some prison staff love the simplistic explanation; it suits their world view perfectly. The alternative is that I challenge "the system" from some deeply political or moral perspective - and if that was accepted by prison staff, it would imply that they are sometimes wrong, that they should be challenged. And that is impossible for them to admit; so the only solution, the only explanation for them, is that I'm some psychological disaster.
This silly view of my behaviour completely fails to explain my development. My first disciplinary offence was within days of being arrested, and for the first few years I racked up scores of nickings. My main objection to prison life was forced labour, and various other things which had the word "compulsory" attached to them.
There was no great political philosophy behind these acts of refusal. I was young. And I detest being restricted. For me, the struggle to expand the sphere of my personal autonomy was completely natural; it needed no coherent explanation or philosophy. It is just, well, normal to struggle against being confined. For what it's worth, when I administered Toch's Prison Preference Inventory to myself, my "freedom needs" were off the scale.
As I grew, developed, and engaged my intellect then it was equally natural that I would find myself entangled in the morass of morality and political philosophy for which imprisonment is the nexus. Only when you find yourself sitting naked in a Strongbox, the deepest part of the State's dungeons, do you truly struggle with questions of authority and legitimacy.
The deeper my understanding, then my struggles became far more sophisticated, more political. My struggles stopped being an outgrowth of my particular personality needs and instead were the expression of my political morality. The essence of my view is that I believe that all authority should be treated with suspicion, tends towards tyranny, and should be perpetually questioned and tested.
This is hardly revelatory, I know. It has been the staple of political theory for over three centuries and forms the basis for both the American Declaration of Independence and its Constitution.
The difference, for me, is that there is no gap between my personal, private sphere and the power of the State. The smaller features of my life, my existence, are regulated by people given licence to use force to ensure compliance. For even the mildest of political animals, such a situation is inevitably fraught, a perpetual challenge.
Today, my challenges are far removed from my teenage struggles. While I do engage in daily struggles over the minutiae and am always willing to help others in a corner, the range of my vision has lifted to a broader political vista. Changing my daily life is but a minor issue; I am driven to change the whole careveral machine and the socio-political landscape in which it is cited.
This blog is one expression of this drive. And I know full well that my activities, my voice, tends to perturb my keepers - and that their spiteful retaliation has been this endless imprisonment. I'm not naive, campaigning carries a price.
You may think that I must be pretty bonkers to continue. But don't forget the most important event in my life - I killed another human being. It was an essentially pointless and selfish act. Crucially, I see it as being an abuse of power on my part, and as I recoil from that in myself, I recoil from such abuses in others. My crime, my reaction to it, and my challenges to the prison system are all part of one thread. I am as driven to challenge abuses by my keepers as I challenge myself to be nonviolent. They are inseparably intertwined.
Knowing that my campaigning could cost me many more years did not particularly disturb me. Resisting abuses of power is a moral journey that should be taken, regardless of personal cost. In this view, I know that I am unusual. Before the appearance of the Editor, I had A Plan that placed release second on my list of priorities. Challenging abuses of power was first.
Now, I carry responsibilities and expectations. It would be selfish of me to drag anyone else down my offbeat path. And so release is now top of my list, and resisting abuses of power second. Or rather, the ways in which I challenge are less objectionable, more strategic, and so less likely to block release.
Even so, never expect perfection from me. I will make errors, misjudgements, and be plain obnoxious at times. I'm human, it comes with the territory. Having to put up with Governors, Probation Officers and a Parole Board that would look askance at Christ-like levels of goodness is bad enough; I hope that you are all more reasonable.