Monday, August 31, 2009



I suppose that mentioning that I'm taking a break from my TV to write this post will only reinforce the prejudices of those who - whilst never having been behind a locked door - feel that prison is just too damn easy.

Prisoner’s TV’s have become totemic for those who subscribe to the Butlins view of prisons. TV’s infuriate swathes of the chattering classes and the political nonentities who echo their wittering. Why? What is the problem?

It's not as if TV’s are thrown our way with breakfast. We have to earn them through good behaviour and we pay a £1 per week for the privilege. No flat-screen, HD or Digital, only some piece of basic 14 inch Korean plastic and glass. Bad boys aren’t allowed them and if, like me, you are unemployed and have an income of £2.50 per week then a TV becomes the major expense.

TV's serve two official purposes. Firstly, as a key carrot in encouraging pro-social behaviour, no other privilege has such a universal appeal. We could be beaten into compliance, of course, but it is a universal truth that people respond better to rewards than punishments.

Secondly, TV's give us a connection to the wider society that allows us to import the changing culture and mores. Whilst prisons may seem to be solitary islands, the reality is that the walls are permeable and that we have a persistent mechanism to stay connected and informed is in society’s interest. We will return to the wider society some day, and it is in the community’s interests that we feel a part of that society. Disconnected people are far more likely to commit future crime.

And TV's in cells are safer. Darkened communal TV rooms encourage an interesting culture of machismo and provide the cover for nefarious activities. Nothing spoils a good film quite as much as the man next to you suddenly keeling over after being clumped on the noggin by a bed-leg that appeared out of the gloom!

So, do you want to deprive me of my telly?

Interesting People, Interesting Places

Where else can you sit around and pass the days chatting with people who have maimed, mutilated, molested and murdered?

Prisoners are the essence of all of us. It is said that we are all capable of committing such crimes. Anybody who has fearfully peeked into the unlit corners of their mind knows that we are all haunted by the capacity to at least imagine inflicting our dark desires upon other others. Day by day we pass by each other, on the street, in the office, and hide this reality behind a wafer thin layer of civility that has to be perpetually refreshed. Prisoners don't. They wear the dark shadows of their psyche on the surface, their nightmare thoughts having become a physical reality that is paraded before the world. Prisoners are people who have been turned inside-out.

Perhaps that is why we are feared and detested. We are a reflection of your worst dreams and desires, a living reminder that the line between decency and deviancy is a matter of an unrestrained urge that can break free in a millisecond. We are the part of you that you hide away, the part of you that even your thoughts recoil away from.

This is why I find prisoners to be interesting. Individuals who have plumbed their mental and emotional depths and survived the acceptance of their whole psychological reality have a presence. They live within a reality that individuals who invest all of their conscious self denying fail to manifest.

Imprisonment is both a profound shock and a tortuous path of enduring psychological strain. The journey through lengthy imprisonment erodes the carapace that protects all individuals, and it either reveals the kernel of the true self or grinds the individual’s core to dust. It is a journey of true hope and true despair, a perilous route through existence that most on this earth gratefully avoid.

Prisons are the bowels of the State, semi-secret communities that exist within the wider society. Noticed, yet ignored, prisons are a parallel world where individuals disappear from freedom to reappear in servitude. Only a matter of a few feet on the pavement separates our world from yours.

Prisons are communities, micro-societies that reflect the attributes of the wider world which creates and nurtures them. Prisoners do not lose the spark that is individuality and autonomy and their journey through confinement is a never ending battle between the efforts of the State to demean them and individual efforts to conserve dignity. It is also a battle for freedom in a society where there are only the powerful and the powerless.

These are interesting people, interesting places.