Monday, October 10, 2011

The Silent Majority

I'm told that the number of visits to the blog has settled to between 18,000 and 20,000 a month. Who would ever have imagined that? At the beginning, an eventful 2 years ago, the Editor and myself were overjoyed when a single soul popped in.

In a perfect illustration of the law of unintended consequences, the blog survived a difficult birth and was only brought to the notice of the wider world by the attempt by the Ministry of Justice to shut it down. This was resisted by Jailhouselawyer and the Guardian, and from that point the existence of the blog was assured.

Gathering readers, though, is another matter!  Occasionally I do ponder about the number of "personal" blogs in existence, their readership, and how many of them are begun in a fit of enthusiasm before being left to whither.  Is my having survived for 2 years in itself unusual?

Prior to recent times I had absolutely no idea of the extent of the blogs readership. The Editor's decision to click a few of Google's clever buttons and generate statistics was a revaluation to us both.  And a source of some pressure - which is why I always resisted knowing blog stats!

Most of you remain a mysterious presence, a brief blip of electrons in the ether.  Those of you who do comment have forged a community of strong personalities and voices, which brings me great pleasure.  But the overwhelming majority of you stay silent.

I can't help wondering...who are you?  What is your interest? What are your views?  There will never be answers to these questions but it means so much to me that people all around the world take a little time to read my waffling.

For any other writer/blogger, the loss of their audience may have a significant effect on one part of their existence.  But as I write, I never forget that without you I would be reduced to talking to myself. My world would collapse to the precise dimensions of my cell.

Perhaps in this sense you, the readers, have a far more powerful effect upon this solitary little blogger than readers of other blogs.  You are my umbilicus to a wider world than the narrow corridor I inhabit.  And your efforts have such an intimate influence on my daily life.  It is astonishing to realise that someone in Basingstoke or Adelaide is - via the donate button - responsible for the paper on which I write this, and the cup of coffee at my left hand.  How many bloggers and readers have such an influence upon each other?

Your collective presence makes me feel so fortunate.  And to be fair, I do suspect that I am getting the best end of the interaction!


  1. I am a m middle aged lady living in a market town int he east of England, a sheltered existance and knew little about prison life or prisoners until this blog. It has been an education for me and given me lots of things to think about and maybe changed my views or certainly swayed them. Thanks Ben

  2. It strikes me as wise and true, whoever it was that said you should lead from the front, and, in addition to that, as the Judge said in your last thread, keep your eyes on the prize.

    As for my blog; the stats are that piss poor that after two years of it, I'm jacking, not so much because the readership is small, but mainly because all the things I wanted and needed to get off my chest in the first place, I have been able to do.

    One or two regular and dynamic commenters would have definitley helped and made a difference, as it has on your blog Ben.

  3. All right, since you asked....

    (Be careful what you wish for!)

    Middle-aged civil servant living in N Wales. Started getting particularly interested in the workings of the penal system after being outraged by the sentences handed down to the likes of Edward Woollard, Frank Fernie and 'The Facebook Two'.

    Followed the link from John Hirst's blog to here, where I have had confirmed my suspicions that the justice/prison system in this country is a total failure, characterised by petty spite and brutality. We have to do better than this.

    Stay strong, Ben.

  4. I'm a family man from Northern Ireland and I've been reading the blog for about 18 months or so. At times I've almost packed it in because I've been so frustrated at the way you manage to sabotage your chances of getting out, but then again what do I know about the stresses and strain of prison life (other than what I've learned from you!) so who am I to judge? You've opened a window on a world of which I knew little and thought of less. In part the frustration stems from imagining the good you could do on the outside, quite apart from the monumental injustice of the length of time you've served. Wouldn't it be worth keeping your head down for a year? Yes? No? Oh well. I've been fascinated and appalled in more or less equal measure, thank you so much for your efforts. Good luck with the move, please God you'll be out soon. Take care.

  5. Hi Ben,

    Why shouldn't there be a few answers to your question? I am one of the largely silent majority. Although I did fulfil the Ed's request for a postcard a while back. I have been reading for about a year. I can't remember how I came across the blog. Probably a link or article in the Guardian. I was living in Mexico City when I started reading. I spent six years there. I foolishly returned to the UK in February, and now call Bournemouth home. Not so far from your current 'home' I guess. I don't agree with everything you write, but our opinions have more in common than differences. And your opinions help shape, give context to and humanise my evolving opinions.

    What got me interested? The concept of a blogger prisoner. I find new media fascinating. I am a digital voyeur. I also had brushes with the law in my youth. I grew up before I got banged up, fortunately. Those experiences added substantially to my political ideas.

    I understand your curiosity as to whom is reading. I started my own blog in 2003. I don't quite have your readership. Nor does my blog warrant such lofty numbers. But I have my own little community. But I write not just for others, but for myself. A digital journal. Have you thought about how you'll read, use and view your blog when you're out and have the chance to read it?

    Incidentally, and this is a very irrelevant by the by, but your blog could use a nicer, more readable theme. But most of all, the Disqus commenting theme. It allows conversations to flow so much more naturally and logically. But content is king, and yours is fit to run an empire.

    Adios for now.

  6. Hi Ben,

    I'm a student from Scotland. I was directed to the blog by the Guardian website about a year-and-a-half ago. I had been interested in crime and justice before that, and often found myself despairing at the severe attitudes of many people around me towards criminals and prisoners, wondering whether the world really was black-and-white and whether I just refused to see it as it was. Your blog - together with the writings of Erwin James - showed me just how much capacity there can be for remorse and redemption, and I can't thank you enough for that. Since then I've read your blog almost every day.

    Best wishes for the upcoming move... and do please keep writing!

  7. Ben

    Thanks so much for a great post, and I hope the comments keep rolling in, as it is fascinating to find out about some fellow blog-readers.

    Very best wishes Ben and well done for enlightening so many people on what life is like on the inside.

  8. I'm not entirely silent, but I'm an occasional commenter at best. I'm a university student in Alberta, Canada, doing a science degree and I've been reading your blog for about a year and a half now. I don't actually recall how exactly I got linked here, but I suspect it was from one of a couple of social justice blogs I read that occasionally get posts on prison and the usefulness and/or ethicality thereof. I think I mostly read because I like intelligent and occasionally snarky commentary, but I can say that it's made me reconsider some of my opinions about how the prison system ought to operate - a line that comes to mind is one from an old post about people who, despite never having been behind a locked door, nevertheless complain about prisoners having it too easy. (I had definitely been one of those people, and on consideration, it is a hypocritical position.) I think I've thought a lot more about criminal justice since I started reading this blog, which in turn gets me into interesting discussions with people I know IRL (in fact I had one just this afternoon inspired partly by this blog, so thank you.)

    Good luck with the move to open prison; hopefully you'll be able to find some minimally frustrating niche for the next year. I do hope you keep writing - I'm always a little excited when I check in and see you have a new post up.

  9. Does that count include the RSS feed? Many people read through feedreaders so never visit the page, so I suspect you are undercounting.

    I see 421 people subscribed through google reader alone, who unless they are coming over to comment will never load the page.

  10. I am an ex-con, from Kent. Did a short stint in a womans prison, very different crime, different sentence and very different experiance to you Ben, though i am always interested to hear what you have to say. I wouldn't have missed my prison experiance for anything (not what i thought pre-trial) talk about the best education money can't buy, and a glimps into peoples lives that i would have never have met otherwise. What an eye-opener, it changed my life, didn't kill me, but made me stronger.

  11. I am a 37 year old full time carer, former secondary school teacher of Religious Studies.

    In 2005 I had an incident with the Police that opened my eyes to abuses of power. I found that rather than being the paragons of Peelian principle I had built up in my mind, they were bully's and revenue collectors in uniform with a licence to F**k your S@*t up if it fulfils a personal desire for whatever reason.

    You have shown me that the reality in prison is as far removed from the principle it should be as my naive understanding of the police, pre 2005.

    I am now a big believer in the adage that; Evil is done when good people do nothing, and so although I have not been able to contribute financially, I have written letters to various people about Bens case.

    I, like many others, can't remember when I started reading but I think it was around 2 years ago.

    Thanks for your insights and I hope the comments posted here bring a bit of the outside in for you. Your experiencing the outside is well overdue and although not the same, I hope you draw strength from them regardless

  12. I came here over an other prison blogger, from Bangkok. Unfortunalety this guy is in BKK.
    All the best,

  13. I followed a link, as you do, and stayed because this is interesting stuff, and a real eye-opener. I like to find blogs written by people with very different experiences of life to me, and I'd never find out what prison is like on the inside in any other way.
    I work in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, the town of secondhand books, though I was once an archaeologist. I'm in my fourth year of my own blog about Hay - and I daren't look at my stats! Someone told me how many visitors I'd had once, and it frightened me! If I thought about that, I'd start changing the way I write.
    Wishing you all the best.

  14. I don't know when I first spotted your blog - must've been some fifteen months ago or so. Likely, there had been some coverage on your trial even in German media.

    I like your writing and find interest in the topics, since my only encounters with that hermetic world of prisons were: singing there once a year, back in the 80s, as a school choirboy.

    To be frankly, although I consider myself rather a profond person, I however limit my time spent on your blog, because it's sometimes a bit depressing due to the nature of your experiences. (It's gotta be...)

    I hope the best for you, and that you will not be kept forever for a foolishness of youth!


  15. I'm here in Brighton, the place with "Big Sand", and damn hard on your sensitive bits! Look at it like this? If they are not letting you out soon? Then you are our "Representative Inside", and "Spy" (fly-on-the-wall). Look at it this way, Ben? You know more than the Minister of (non)Justice, the Lord (non-Divine) Chief (non)Justice! How do we know all this? Because they are all freemasons, dope head!!!

  16. Hi Ben, I see the Ed has already sent the previous comments on to you so don't know if you'll get mine, I hope you do. Anyway, would you believe I am a 40 year old law lecturer at a London University. The reason I came across your blog was because a couple of weeks ago my partner was sent to prison and the whole experience has shaken my entire existence and my belief system to its foundations. Academic to the core, I started reading whatever I could lay my hands on about the system, and came across your blog which I am now reading voraciously. Talk about being shaken, no BOMBED out of my cosy little Ivory Tower! I can rabbit on and on but rest assured, I am disseminating my newly found insights to my students, because we have to hope that we can change this unbelievably stupid system, and I have one platform from which to do so. Stay strong.

  17. I started reading your blog on fb (which I'm sad to see doesn't get updated as often as it used to). I have often left comments there in the past. I'm an active death penalty abolitionist and came across reference to the blog on one of those sites.

    I guess I've taken a keener interest since I started working in the prison system. I'm an Addictions Counsellor who had to think long and hard about working inside "the system". I was finally persuaded by friends who have served sentences that I could make a difference. Some days I think I do, other days I'm not so sure.

    Anyway your blog often confirms what I see, from the third perspective; that of agency staff within the prisons. We are not made to feel exactly welcome by some of the officers!

    I've long been an advocate of penal reform and your blog has fuelled my ambition to see major changes. My experience tells me that every step forward is likely to involve a number, possibly in double figures, back.

  18. I'm a twenty nine year old Magistrate and member of an IMB based in London - I enjoy reading your blog and do, from time to time, share its contents with colleagues. I particularly liked your suggestion to check the empty cells in the block when doing an inspection!

    Kind regards etc.