Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sticks and Stones

We call it "being killed off on file". The power of the written word in the modern managerialist prison service is immense. Some cons even state a preference for more brutal times - a beating passes quite quickly, whereas the written word remains forever.

My file is littered with comments that are less than flattering. Some are plain misunderstandings, some true, some are half-truths and others are blatant lies.

Quite innocuous phrases can carry a cryptic meaning, one that can be dusted off and used to hold up our release for years. Much of the time, this is unintentional, some bureaucrat quickly scribbling a few lines before heading off home. Who would imagine that such a thing could lead to profound disasters in future years? For what was written is repeatedly re-read by other bureaucrats and the meaning they discern need not be the one originally intended.

One report a few years ago stated that I "have not completed any offending behaviour courses". These few words could be the kiss of death for progress to release. A few moments with a pen could cost years in prison.

And that statement wasn't a lie. I haven't done any of these courses. And yet the Report failed to explain the context - that I have been assessed as not requiring the courses. Such a casual use of words could have caused me terrible problems.

This danger inherent in judging us by whatever has been previously written is completely overlooked by staff. If it is on paper, then it takes on the status of being Gospel. Any suggestion that the writer was lazy, incompetent or plain malicious is obviously instantly dismissed. If staff write it, it must be true. All that is left for future staff to do is weave the prior ‘facts’ into their own interpretation and, like magic!, another layer of 'truth' is added to the file.

1 comment:

  1. The casual power of the prison file is astonishing. I can recall then when I worked the system, a comment could endure even after tragic death, a someone with power to determine cause looking up from reading to say to me, 'Well, this one is hardly going to be missed.'

    It occurs to no one to remember that much of what is entered on the F2050 or whatever is casual and short-term. One governor of my acquaintance proposed that they be weeded for irrelevancies and what he called "yesterdays" once a year. The proposal was turned down.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.