Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Dangers of Censorship
Lifers may be released from prison, but we are never free. We continue our sentence in the community, liable until death to be recalled to prison. This is a detail of our – my – existence which is rarely appreciated as I appear to be building my life liberated from the confines of bars and bolts.
The parameters of my life are determined by my Life Licence (always in my wallet) and the demands of my supervising probation officers. You can imagine the potential struggles that can arise in a fluid and complicated life. And when the Life Licence is broadly drawn and interpreted by those supervising me.
I have always campaigned for prison reform. It has been woven into my daily life for much of my adult life in various guises. From helping those suffering a miscarriage of justice, to those defending themselves against malicious staff, through to the large campaigns such as the prisoners union and the vote. One way or another, fighting for change has been the strand that has run through my life; and still does.
As well as operating in the private sphere, assisting individuals, I am one of the very few prisoners who lifted our heads above the walls and attempted to engage with the wider world. At first this was largely through the pages of Inside Time (an excellent newspaper). It was only with the launch of the blog that my voice became amplified. The Ministry of Justice was so affronted by this effort to communicate that the order was issued to prevent all and any communications from me reaching over the walls – an order unprecedented in British penal history and thoroughly illegal. Within days I had overcome this hurdle and the Ministry surrendered; the blog grew and survives to this day.
On my release in August I entered the new world of connectivity, and determined to make use of every stream of communications at my disposal. Facebook, Twitter, the blog, newspapers, television…I have engaged with them all on one prison topic or another, all with the perpetual hope of adding to the perpetual debate around imprisonment. Hope that it isn’t too arrogant to suggest that I have a near unique perspective to insert into the national conversation.
In these efforts, my first expansion into the media came on my first day of release with an article for The Guardian. The next notable public appearance was with Jon Snow on the Channel 4 news. And it was at this point that my Probation supervisors became uncomfortable.
For I am only allowed to undertake work – paid or unpaid – with their express permission. And my recent TV appearances discussing the Prisoners Vote issue has become a tipping point in this matter. Although unpaid, this is viewed as being “work”, rather than my merely continuing the campaigning that delayed my release for so long.
In principle, speaking in front of a camera is no different than my appearing in print, on Twitter or ion my blog. If probation are to insist that I beg permission before opening my mouth or reaching for my pen then I will be denied any voice. I will suffer greater censorship than I did whilst behind the prison walls.
This situation may appear to be absurd. And it is. And yet this is the life that I live, the constraints under which I am released into society. And it makes me fractious.
I expect a formal Warning Letter to appear imminently, prohibiting my speaking in public. If I defy it, I can be returned to prison to continue my sentence.
This blogpost is my flag-waving. If I suddenly vanish from the internet, it is because I have been ordered silent. I appreciate your support and comments on this situation.