Sunday, April 22, 2012
Dai the Taxi
Part of my home leave journey was by taxi and the driver had no illusions as to my general identity: "To the prison, my man, with all speed!", slinging my kitbag on the seat beside me. And we began talking. Once we had established I'd been on home leave, done decades of bird and "seem to be a bright man", it was interesting to be asked what I thought could be done to make prisons more workable (so to speak).
I had to pause and ask my own question - the answer to improving or altering prison depends, obviously, on what you want prison to deliver? Do you just want harsher punishment? Or do you want to reduce the future crime rate? And what if the two are incompatible, what if treating men like crap only increases the future chance of offending?
In our short journey there was only time to scratch the surface, to begin to bridge the chasm between prisoner and freeman. And yet I found it to be one of the most enjoyable chance encounters I've had for quite a while. I daresay Dai's views and mine would rarely overlap, but it was the fact that he was asking questions, that he was thinking and trying to engage with the issues which I found so enjoyable. I can only hope that he took up my suggestion of peeking at the blog now and then, and that he continues to think - so few people do, especially about criminal justice.
He also made me ponder a deeper point, one that strikes at the heart of much of my activity and the purpose of the blog. That is, how do prison campaigners such as myself engage with the broader mass of people, such as Dai?
I try to keep abreast of the many activities of what may broadly be called the "prison reform lobby". This is a wider spectrum than you may first think, encompassing radical anarchists through to mainstream politicians. And yet I am all too aware that this can sometimes be a closed loop, a circuit of endless conferences where the guest list is a repeat of the last, a collective of likeminded souls all preaching to each other - the converted. On the basis that a con can be lured anywhere with the offer of a cup of coffee and a biscuit then I fully expect to take my place in this collective.
And yet... it is not others within this movement that need to be engaged in debate. The most important activity must be to somehow engage with the concerns of the wider community, to talk with the masses. Bless 'em, they deserve a more nuanced analysis than that provided by the Daily Mail.
This is why I made a deliberate decision to, in some small way, make this blog "personal" and not shy away from the issues that appear to fire up people the most. Issues about the nature of murder and murderers, about the purpose and limits of punishment, about... you get the idea. Talking about these in the abstract is all very well but there is an added sharpness, a new avenue of engagement, when the guy doing the talking is himself an (ex) murderer. If nothing else, my existence shows that stereotyping criminals is just plain lazy and deceitful.