Friday, November 6, 2009

Why I Should Blog

I honestly didn't mean to cause such a fuss by intruding into the public sphere. My hope was, and remains, to provoke debate where there exists only slogans. So far debate has focused around my sheer existence but I hope that as time passes then what I say may overshadow my conviction. Some of the comments left on blogs have been mailed in to me and I am amazed at the variety. I must thank Iain Dale particularly for giving my existence on the web an (equivocal!) nod. From the thoughtful to the plain petty, the whole gamut of wits seems to find a place on the Web. Some comments have touched me, others have repelled me. Perhaps the following will clear up some misconceptions and help form a more informed basis for comments. I don't have direct access to the Net. My blogging is second-hand, being mailed to a friend who posts on my behalf. This may deflate those who ranted about cons having internet access, but then they should have looked at my blog before disgorging their spleen. No sound argument exists without some foundation of information. The legalities of my blogging are perfectly clear and simple, and my keepers have now accepted this fact. Such a pity they tried to stop me at all, but the petty concerns of civil servants are a mysterious realm. The legalities ultimately rest on the concept of 'rights'. This is a red rag to the True Blue, but the law is the law. One of the oddities I found in the comments is that many people argue as if the world were different. "He shouldn't have..." etc. Alas, the law says I can. The question that spears those who obviously detest me is this - many of you claim to vigorously support the law. Why, then, are you not willing to defend my right to blog? You may disagree with my having that right, but as I do, I assume that you support the law? Or is the rule of law a flexible animal, shaped to the individual’s preferences and prejudices? Many comments expressed the view that prisoners should have no rights. I'd like you to pause and consider the effects of that idea. Are prisoners to be beaten? Tortured? Starved? Denied daylight? Denied medical treatment? There is a discussion to be had about the nature, purpose and limits of punishment but that isn't furthered by trite soundbites. Let us have that discussion, from first principles. A later post will discuss the nature of 'rights' in relation to prisoners. For now, we have to work with what is, and my right to blog is a legal certainty that is unavoidable. Some comments were more interested in my biography, as if my personal qualities should determine my right to blog. This can't be proper - even the most repugnant individuals lay claim to the law; they often need it most. Even so, to help move things along, I should say more about myself. The most frequent question is, why have I served so long? The subtext I attribute to this is - am I a violent monster? Relaying the history of my sentence would bore the most assiduous blogger but I can hit the main highlights. The murder was the sole act of violence in my life. The first report stating that I would be unlikely to re-offend dates from 1982. No report has ever stated that I pose a risk to life or limb. If my having served almost 30 years gives the impression that I've been punching and kicking my way into middle age, then I have misled you. The reality is that I am an awkward man, challenging to deal with. My blog posts give you a hint of the mental grinder that my keepers have to navigate. My most potent weapon is the question "why?" Prison has the hallmarks of a totalitarian state, and no dictator easily accepts being questioned. For being a pain in the arse, attributes are thrown upon me. Specifically, if I can't comply with the prison rules, why should it be believed that I will comply with the laws outside? Not that I'm anti authority. I am anti abuse of authority, which in this closed world is rampant. That I challenge the stupidity of my keepers doesn't imply that I will run riot on release but that argument has kept me inside for 20 years past my punishment phase of 10 years. Anyone who is familiar with the management of lifers will recognise the phrase "mushroom management" kept in the dark and fed on shit. This explanation doubtless raises further questions. Some comments question whether I am reformed, remorseful. Both of these will be the subject of future posts. For the moment, I will say that I was shocked that I had killed, and repelled by what I had done. All of my life I will struggle to make meaningful amends for a crime for which there can be no forgiveness. Nonviolence is in my bones. Just because I refuse to take unending crap from those who detest me doesn't mean that I am unremorseful. It just means that I am human. My appreciation of what I have done is deepened by the fact that I too suffer the loss of a member of my family to needless violence. My sister was hit by a distracted, lazy driver. She was left lying in the road with a broken spine; it took being hit by several more cars to finally kill her. The perpetrator of this confessed but was never charged. The pain of her death lives with me and merges in some complex emotional way with the knowledge of what I did to my victim. I understand the visceral anger and hatred that grows in victims of crime, which is why I previously argued that victims should not be allowed to dictate policy. The propriety of my blogging is also affected by my sentence status. As I will explain in other posts, the punishment part of my sentence was 10 years. Low for murder, due to my age. Since then, I am legally detained on the basis that I may pose a risk in future. Given that my punishment has long ended, why should I be denied secondary access to the blogosphere? On what rational basis? My apologies for this being so lengthy. I hope that this is helpful to some people.


  1. Keep up the excellent work Ben. I don't always agree with your tone, but the world is a better place for having your uncensored words in the world. I hope that your release comes soon. Have you thought about establishing an organisation, new guidelines or standards for prisoners who want to use the web as a form of communication. Obviously there are examples where this is totally inappropriate, such as this:

    But I know prisons in New England, US have developed ecure servers to deliver email to and from kids and incarcerated parents. The scheme develops literacy for both parties as well as essential contact.

    Also would you comment on the recent ban of PLN books in the Texas Prison system?

    Best, Pete

  2. Might I suggest that most of the officials you deal with are incapable of understanding you? As far as I can see you are a couple of levels above the average in terms of conceptual understanding, and it is known to be difficult (and frustrating to try) to understand someone more than one level above. It is a big problem in business and politics (Gordon Brown is a classic example; he is way out of his depth, and gets angry when he can't understand people more capable than his very ordinary ability).

    You are talking about rather esoteric and abstract concepts as if they were your normal, everyday thoughts. Some of the stuff you are talking about would be really tricky to most people, as some of the comments attest (not that disagreeing necessarily means that someone has misunderstood, but there are comments that make it clear people are unable to understand your perfectly clear posts).

  3. I hope you don't take this amiss Ben but is almost a pity that your position is so unusual. This makes this first prison blog perhaps less than ideal in terms of casting a light into a dark place.

    However having said that, any light cast on a dark place is better by far than none at all. Thankyou for the light casting you have done thus far and it is good that the powers that be have decided not to infringe your rights.

    I do hope the blog is not taken and used as evidence against your suitability for release though. In my judgement it should taken as evidence in favour.

  4. Some people only support what suites them and/or whatever they can wrap their minds around. For some people piety is all they have so they can't allow themselves to entertain or warm to a point of view or section of society that - to them - compromises their 'morality' because their morality and propriety is at the core of their being. It's not because they necessarily cruel or bad people, they just don't want to be seen as 'immoral' people by others if they open up their hearts a little to someone like you. That kind of person used to make me furious until I connected the dots and now I just feel sorry for them.

    As far as rights go, I'll always defend my right to be offended! Haha I absolutely believe that if you are offended by anything you always have the right to choose not to watch or read it. I'd rather change channel (or 9 times out of 10 not watch TV at all) than deny someone else the right to watch or do something as long as it doesn't cause harm a child, animal or non-consenting adult.

    What you were saying in a previous blog about the quality of life for prisoners incarcerated beyond their tariff - when they have been punished but still deemed too dangerous to leave prison - made sense to me. Anything else just seems purely vindictive for no logical purpose to me - some may even say evil?

    The fact that you understand the enormity of your crime and 'the penny dropped' as it were, leading to your devotion to non-violence tells me that the 'job' of putting you in prison has been done. I can well believe that some people never take responsibility for what they've done or truly learn from it, continuing instead to feel justified in blaming others for their actions and seeing themselves as the victim (lets face it, even people who've never committed crimes or been in jail will find ways to make their actions other people's fault and refuse to 'own' them). For them, the penny will never 'drop' and personally I wonder if they DO need to stay in the criminal justice process until such times as that happens.

    I also agree with 'Doubting Richard' I think your mind is too sharp for a lot of people and I too understand the loneliness and frustration that can bring.

  5. In the film Escape from Alcatraz there is a scene where the Warden Patrick McGoohan is leafing through Clint Eastwood's prison record. It stated that he has superior intelligence, and that this is equated with dangerousness.

    Certainly, Phil Wheatley, DG of NOMS, has observed more than once that I am very bright. He was stating that this leads to problems. As the average IQ is 100, and mine is 155 and I suspect that Ben's is in the same region, it can baffle prison officers who do not tend to be too bright.

    I am reminded of the time that the only job on offer was on a building site, and I am not really a practical sort of man at all. At tea break in the hut I read the Guardian whilst all the others read the Mirror, Sun and Star. It meant I stood out. Anyone different is an easy target.

  6. Your punishment ended 20 years ago, so for the time since then you have chosen to behave in a way which has kept you in prison. Are there special rules in place which make it impossible for you to be released?

    'Mushroom management' was invented, and continues to be perfected, outside of your prison walls. How do you see yourself dealing with shit once outside?

  7. Dear Ben,

    Nobody ever talks about this openly, but it is a common strategy of rule-making that you seem to be oblivious to:

    Some rules are *intentionally* unreasonable and silly. The only reason they exist at all is to preoccupy anti-authoritarians who think it is clever to break rules. You are breaking the rules to make a point, but actually you are making a fool of yourself. You keep yourself trapped in prison where you can't really achieve anything significant, and you agonise over what you *should* be doing. Meanwhile the mechanisms of authority remain secure, while you are locked up, and taxpayers pay for it! The biggest sucker is you.

    Please stop contemplating your navel, and try to be self-aware!

  8. These needs are natural and you seem deprived in prison. Are you unconsciously using the blog as a means to serve these needs?

    attention seeking
    sense of efficacy
    identity building
    group belonging and separation
    expression of anger

    I hope somehow to give you this experience:

    (Dear editor, could you include the cartoon from this page?)

  9. @max. To say that prisoners cannot make a difference whilst inside reveals your ignorance of the history and effects of prisoners struggles. Still, if you are reading this blog, you will get educated over time, and so your future comments may be more substantive!

  10. @anon 43.1pm So with those characteristics, I make Ben just your regular blogger...


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