Sunday, September 11, 2011

Existential Crisis

How do you react when in a moment of revelation you realise that there is nothing in your life which endows it with any meaning or purpose?

When this crashed down on me the other day, I instantly manoeuvred myself into a minor nicking just to have the solitary respite of, well, being in solitary.

This is a battle within myself, a challenge to my existence.  People forget - or don't realise - that serving a life sentence takes effort.  It draws upon mental reserves.  And for me, realising that I'd run out of energy to continue coincides with a period during which nothing in my life brings to it any meaning.

Rather than chucking myself over the landing, I've stopped eating.  Starving oneself to death has its advantages.  It concentrates the mind like nothing else; and it takes long enough for circumstances - or brain chemistry - to alter sufficiently to make prison life worth living.  Until then, black tea is my only intake.

Wish me luck, or a lingering demise, as your instincts suggest!


  1. Its incredibly distressing to read this. Ben you are sick and need to be in hospital. I beg the prison authorities and those in charge to see that he goes into hospital as soon as possible. Ed, please keep us informed at all times as to what is happening.

  2. how many times is it now that you have used the non eating strategy now?

  3. Surely the meaning for your existence should be working towards release, and living the 'promised life' with your friends and family, and those (including the Ed) who seem to wok so hard for you, and have supported you through so much. They need support and comfort too. How much comfort do you think they draw from your selfish (I speak from experience) attempt to attention-seek?!! Grow up, realise that you can't have your own way, and that (shock horror), your life has meaning even when the path ain't smooth running.

    If you concentrate on the positives, not the negatives, you'd see there's plenty of meaning. If you're feeling down/lost/sad/empty, then seek help, speak to professionals. Don't give's not worked before, hence the anon comment above...'the boy who cried wolf'.

    Best of luck, but your attitude here stinks.

  4. Turning a drama into a crisis? Pull yourself together and grow up!

  5. What a stenchful set of comments this has attracted: moral outrage is truly the enemy of compassion.

    Of course I am very concerned and upset to hear this, but not at all surprised. Who but those without even the slightest quantum of feeling for their fellow humans could castigate Ben for doing this?

    Ben has no control over anything in his life, he has "concentrated on the positives, not the negatives" for 31 years; there are no "professionals" inside prison to seek help from. Or do you suggest he use his meagre allowance to pay the ridiculous phone charges and call The Samaritans?

    Ben has more knowledge about psychology and psychotherapy in his little finger after 31 years of study than any of the people you are suggesting he seek help from are likely to possess and he certainly knows a hell of a lot more about his own psyche than any of us.

    And far from crying wolf, it seems to me that hunger striking is about the only thing the prison authorities *do* listen to. If they will give a man "compassionate" release a few hours befor he dies and too late for his nearest and dearest to get to him to say good bye just to avoid the paperwork of a man dying from cancer on their books, they won't want Ben doing this for long.

    Who can blame him for taking control in the only way he still can? Well, apparently plenty of people can... shame on you all.

    What an ignorant pile of man juice these comments are.

  6. This hurling of insults at one another is really counter productive.

    Ben's blog has been excellent in highlighting many problems that exist in the prison system and has brought the prison and wider communities together, and is something that is highly desirable for both groups.

    Ben has put everything into his blog, and he has put himself into it too. No person is perfect and we are all fallable, so laying yourself so open on a blog like he has done is a dangerous activity, and Ben is now paying the price.

    I do find it distressing to see the comments here lack such compassion towards Ben. It is highly ignorant to say things like 'pull yourself together and stop being selfish' when a person is suferring so terribly that they go to the extremes of self harm.

    There are limited options for prisoners in terms of medical attention its true, and perhaps even more so for emotional problems. But there are still options available.

    Ben is sadly indicating that he has a sense of unease with himself, and rather than be in isolation, starving himself, he needs to be around others. Although I understand this might be very painful for Ben right now. It is reasonable to suggest that a hospital bed should be made available to him.

    It is not the time to be fighting against people who understand little about these issues and situations, they are wrong and they are hurtful in their comments, but that is something for Ben to deal with. The lack of compassion is so obvious that it renders their reach short.

    My concern is that Ben gets some help and soon, whatever anyone thinks of him, it is wrong to be cruel, or even to down play the psychological problems he faces.

    If someone seeks attention; they need it, and there is no shame in that, none whatsoever.

  7. Thank you Wigarse and Sophie - my heart sank when I read the 'Anon' comments above. Where is compassion and decency in those people.

    Ben - you need to know that many of us support you and understand how you are presently feeling so let yourself be carried along by the goodwill to you and let it help you lift yourself up again. Many of us would be so distressed if you do not make it out and take the opportunity to live a decent life. Please try to be strong and remember that many of us care for you deeply.

  8. I have to agree with the anonymous comments above. This is just melodramatic attention seeking, and my respect for Ben is falling.

  9. Ben,

    I know there are no words that any of us can write here that will truly help you. Very few can imagine what it is like and truly understand watching your life's purpose and ambition slide out of grasp, in fact few of us have aimed as high from as low down as you have.

    However, please don't lose sight of what you have done, and what you can still do. You have a masters degree, which is more than most. You have many friends, which is more than some. You have a voice that is heard by a great many, which is again, more than most people have.

    Yes you have done terrible things, and had terrible things done onto you. Yes your life is a struggle, and yes it may seem that you have nothing left to aim for. But whether you see it or not you can still do good. You can still change the world, whether through a return to study and academia, or though some other way you cannot yet see.

    I know many people will already have said this to you, and many will say it again, so my voice won't add much or tell you anything you haven't heard already. I am just hoping that if enough people ask you not to give up, you won't, and you will continue your fight to change the world and make it a better place.

  10. Sorry, Ben. You need to eat. We need to read what you write. So don't 'sin' against your talent.

  11. ***Ben has more knowledge about psychology and psychotherapy in his little finger after 31 years of study than any of the people you are suggesting he seek help from are likely to possess and he certainly knows a hell of a lot more about his own psyche than any of us.***

    Is that not possibly one source of Ben's feeling of purposelessness? If you're well educated about psychology, then you're likely to be constantly examining the psychology of those around you. In the normal world, you meet a wide range of people. But in prison, it can't be inspiring or healthy to be constantly examining the psychology of inmates, prison staff, etc. Isn't it likely to increase the psychological effect of institutionalisation?

    Ben truly needs to get out of there as quickly as he can. All this nonsense about being too proud to kowtow to senseless authority seems to represent a denial of reality rather than points of principle. I do wonder if his stands against unfair manifestations of authority are a way of reassuring himself that, yes he may be in prison, but he's better and cleverer than the people around him in prison.

    Ben, being more intelligent and principled than your social circle is no great shakes when that social circle is the prison system. Get out into the real world where intelligence and ideas actually mean something and aren't just things to single you out as a cut above the dross around you.


  12. Things are different in prison; out here if no-one listens to you, then you shout louder and make a fuss. You have a certain amount of power to your elbow. Inside, prisoners have to resort to desperate measures sometimes to get heard.

    I don't think Ben is a weak person, just desperate. Like the guy on the roof who had been asking time and again for somewhere to live after release, this is a last resort.

    Any Samaritan will tell you that to suggest to a depressed person that they just need to pull themselves together is a waste of time. When we get that down we can't see a way out.

    Ben has been badly let down by the Ministry of Justice who should have given him his Cat D ages ago, and who packed him off to open prison in February and cocked it up. The recommendation came through in November 2010 for god's sake! Then the over-reaction to the phone, the cancer diagnosis, the unexplained move from one C-Cat to another, and the PhD fiasco. There is a limit to how much a man can take, and after 31 years he has obviously decided enough is enough.

  13. I understand Ben's desperation more than most but, with experience on my side, it will do no good. Like Ben I was only 14 years old when the steel door limited my world and for the next 25 years the suffering contiued. Justice and human rights took wings and flew away. The wheels of the system continued to turn and grind humanity away from our daily existence. But somehow survival continued and today here I sit a proud family man. This will happen to you Ben, I am sure. You just got to hang on in there my friend. You got a big life ahead of you. You remember what I went through, let that give you hope. We all want to see you sit on a park bench with a newspaper whilst it's pissing down and no uniform to scream "No exercise" because it's raining!
    I know you like your tea, you always ran around with that half filled plastic mug with that piss weak stuff! Get eating and give us all a smile and an oppertunity to shake your hand when you are released.........believe me,son, that day is coming soon.

  14. Bens particular brand of mental strength, is I believe, what will get him through this.

    He has come too far to give up now, but sometimes, desolate situations - call for desperate measures.

    Stay strong Ben.

  15. Having been there, it sounds like a similar situation to most self-harmers. If you're stuck in a situation with very little control over you own actions, you use whatever you can do to exert control over your surroundings as a coping method. Been there, done that, got the scars.

    Hopefully something positive will come along, however slight, and change his cicumstances and outlook. I certainly hope so, anyway.

    Good luck Ben.

  16. die quickly you asshole

  17. The comment immediately above is capable of bringing all decent anons on here into disrepute.

    That would be a shame, cos we ain't all like that nutter!

  18. Seriously inappropriate comment there anon 5:22pm. You're clearly the asshole.

  19. I was just reading about trolls. Some guy got 18 weeks for posting nasty remarks about a dead teen ager. And the mistake made here is the ppl who reacted to him or her. As for Ben I wonder what type of crime gets you solitary.

  20. Ben,

    I've been lurking here for some time (for reasons which are not remotely interesting - even to me), and have seen the ups and downs of your recent life, and been angered by the callous indifference of the trolls here, which in turn mirrors the casual malice of the 'authorities' towards you, as witnessed by their (no doubt deliberate) obstructive behaviour.

    Given all that, I can understand why you have given in to a deep despair. But please may I ask you to reconsider your current course of action?

    There are two reasons for my asking this of you. The first is somewhat selfish, in that your posts give a valuable insight into how things actually *are* for prisoners in general and for lifers in particular, and those of us in favour of substantial penal reform need that evidence to counteract the 'hang 'em and flog 'em' brigade who dominate public discourse on the subject.

    The second reason is that you may have reacted in exactly the way 'they' wanted you to. They have been trying to - for want of a better term - destroy you, because what you tell us reveals the many failures of their way of doing things.

    That being so, I would ask you never to give them the satisfaction of that triumph. As difficult as it undoubtedly is right now (and I'm in no way underplaying that difficulty), please stand up, look them straight in the eye and tell them that they will not have that victory. That way you will also keep your self-esteem and dignity, which are more potent weapons than people think.

    Oh, and ignore the astroturfers from the POA and the Probation Service. Treat them as you would a minor infestation of crabs :-)

  21. Surely Ben can sue the Prison service for their failure to allow him to carry on his P.Hd.

    By allowing him to accept donations, and put money towards carrying out his P.hd, and offering ways for him to carry out his studies via the education department, I think there is a pretty strong case that he was owed a duty of care as far as his studies go, which has been breached by the negligent actions of the prison managers. In which case, he would be entitled to damages of probably at least the amount required to restart his P.hd (assuming he could get an academic of his university to testify that he was likely to be awarded the degree), and possibly an amount for loss of future earnings due to being denied the course.