Saturday, May 8, 2010

An Uncertain Future

I spent a while yesterday morning sitting in the yard. The sun was breaking through and the wind was, for once, resting. It seemed peaceful and it relaxed me.

I was readying myself for my parole hearing later that morning and two things struck me. Firstly, that I really should admit that my waist is no longer the slim 34 inches. Even moving the button a little hadn't altered the fact that my trouser waistline was a triumph of optimism over reality.

And secondly, I felt the disjunction between the calm of the day and the fact that in a few hours time my future would be decided. Would I be at home next year? Or would I be wandering the landings for years to come, becoming increasingly hairy and snarly?

I opted to skip lunch, rightly predicting that it would have been interrupted by The Call, hiked across the prison to meet with my barrister and psychologist... and there I must draw a brief veil over the discussions of tactics. There must be some professional secrets. Except to say that we all expected a fairly straightforward hearing. The issues were, we thought, clear: either having a relationship and briefly possessing a phone were major crimes, or not. Open prison, or not.

And then my barrister was called in to confer with the Parole Panel. Three worthies, a male Judge and two female outriders. One an ex probation officer, the other an ex civil servant with the DSS.

Barrister returns some minutes later, not happy bunny, to rain on our little parade. The Panel had decided that they wanted to be furnished with a long list of further information. This stretched all the way back to any comments the Judge made at my trial and any witness statements from my crime; some elaboration of a strange omission in the paperwork from 2002; and a psychological risk assessment. There was more, but memory fails me.

In order to preserve professional decorum I won't reveal the reactions of my barrister and psychologist. I can tell you that I was absolutely livid, blood boilingly furious at this development.

All parties are issued the Dossier of materials months ahead of the hearing and at that stage the parole board are meant to call for any further information that they felt was necessary. But this Panel had failed to do so, leaving it until the big day to wave their list of demands in our faces.

Obviously, the hearing couldn't continue. The Judge made it clear that, without this extra material, the Panel didn't feel able to make a fair decision. In law, though, I could have insisted that they continue. That would have been insane, insisting on a hearing where the Judge had prophesied a poor outcome without this extra paperwork. He had put us in an impossible position - accept that the hearing be abandoned due to their incompetence, or insist they push on having told us that it would end badly if we did. We had to accept the abandonment.

Note that these Judicial demands were not being made of me or my representatives. They were being made on the Prison Service and Ministry of Justice. We were just innocent bystanders, an audience to this theatre of the absurd.

As soon as I have finished writing this, I will begin drafting my complaint to the Chair of the Parole Board. What happened today was a mess and one created by the Panel failing to do their jobs properly and call for this extra material months ago. Because of this incompetence I remain in prison, awaiting a new hearing at some yet to be determined point in the future.

This prison, of course, had to add their portion of ineptitude. It's what they sometimes do. In April, the Judge had directed this prison to have someone from the Security Department attend the hearing as a witness. Guess what? There was no such person lurking in the room. Of the two Security staff in this place, one was in Disneyland and one was on a training course. As the prison had failed to inform the Judge of this ahead of time, then this absence would in itself have ground the hearing to a halt.

I went back to sitting in the yard, contemplating a dismal and uncertain future. The clouds and wind had returned.


  1. Ben, I am so sorry this has happened to you. What a load of incompetent wasters - and utterly immoral - playing with people's lives in this way. Take care, stay strong and I hope you have better news soon.

  2. Keep strong Ben - got similar experience - all due to incompetence of prison service. I really feel for you - I think the general public have no idea of how people are being treated by the system and would be shocked if they knew. Emotions and feelings apart - it is the tax payers money being wasted again - counting the cost of suffering is not possible.

    Thinking about you - please keep writing - one day the sun WILL shine.


  3. Ben, keep strong man.
    Greetings from Greece.

  4. I would JR the Parole Board and Sec. of State...

  5. Ben many of us are with you in spirit and like you, we feel very angry for you. The devil is in the detail - so what will happen when your barrister furnished these aliens with all the information they pretend is relevant to your parole? In the absence of you having committed another crime whilst in prison that you were charged with, how in the devil's legal words are they going to prove that you are a danger to society? This just proves that the legal system under any oppressive government is an arse - so I suppose they will dig up some gooblagoosh and use it against you. Now is the time for you and your barrister to undo this arselaw for the benefit of rationale and good common sense!

    Praying for you to remain strong and focussed!

  6. Anyone who get the Radio Times may wish to read an article by Erwin James (page 33) about the forthcoming documentary about Scrubs on ITV1. Worth noting that Erwin James served 20 years for murder, and is now "living a conscientious and contributing life as an established writer and journalist". Ben has served 30 (so far) and would probably like a similar opportunity. I have sent an e-mail to Erwin James asking for his support.

  7. Ben, I was so hoping for a good outcome, but this is Kafkaesque - whatever was behind the thinking of the Parole Panel defies belief.
    I can’t even begin to imagine your disappointment, for what it is worth I am thinking of you and wishing for better things to come.