Friday, June 25, 2010

Bitching from a Backwater

Today is one of those days when I feel compelled to grab you by the collar and talk endlessly, like some Ancient Prisoner boring the pants off the passers-by.

Why? Because I need to tell you, quite forcefully, that what I tell you in my posts is but a glance at prison life, a brief dip into the shallowest pools of experience.
I can do no other but share my (mostly) contemporary experiences, and it continually haunts me that most prisoners do not get to share their experiences with the wider world. In particular, those in the high security prisons where the weight of confinement bears down the hardest and most sharply.

My voice can never be more than that. Whilst I can point to stupidities and injustices across the prison system, it can never be my place to claim some over-arching authoritative voice. You hear mine only because it is one of very few available. The voices of those who could more personally speak of contemporary harsh experiences are silent - and silenced.

And so the wider world relies on the media. The secret about the mainstream media is that they are, broadly, incredibly lazy. They will cut and paste Reuters stories, nick material from other news sources and cheerfully rehash press releases. But do they dig? Do they ask informed questions?

And so you are served up partial, half baked stories about prison, quoting the usual suspects. Very often the idiots in charge of the Prison Officers Association get their face into the story. Journalists tend to forget, or don't care, that the POA is a union and it has an agenda. It spins like a whirling Dervish on speed. As a basic mix of ingredients for a story goes, this guarantees a pile of crap being served up as if it’s a Heston Blumenthal masterpiece. And the unknowing wider world eats heartily of it.

My morose, angry and somewhat bitter mood has been prompted by news reaching me about developments in the Segregation Unit at Frankland prison. It is a situation that cries out for the prisoners voices to be heard, preferably via the web.
Frankland hit the news recently due to three screws being stabbed. It seems that a lot of staff are being assaulted by cons in that punishment block. Oddly, a high number of these attacks are, it is alleged, being conducted by Black or other minority prisoners.

The events at Frankland are much the case of "he said, she said". The screws claim they are being assaulted. The cons claim that the screws are beating them. The problem with Blocks is that the numbers are wholly on the screws side. With cons only being unlocked one at a time and escorted by up to eight screws, who in their right mind will take a swing? The odd madman I can accept but it seems that Frankland's Block is chocked with an improbably high proportion of insane cons who just want the crap kicked out of them.

Trust me here, please. My experience of Blocks is that cons rarely swing for screws, let alone when a certain kicking is the response. Only under extreme provocation does this happen. Conversely, block screws bullying their charges is a constant. It always has happened and it always will - unless strong measures are taken to prevent it. They rarely are.

In this situation, the cons can't win. If a screw assaults a con, the screws cover their back by accusing the con of assaulting them. It's the word of half a dozen screws against one con. And so the mainstream media and the POA rehash stories of mindlessly violent cons and you, who pays the bill for all of this, never find out any different.

There is one immediate solution. The watchdog body, the Independent Monitoring Board, could park one of their members in that Block, 24 hours a day. They have, by law, unfettered access to any part of the prison. Then, if the number of assaults allegedly made by cons drops, it proves the point. After all, a mad, violent con isn't to be deterred by a civilian watching. But on the other hand, violent screws just may be.

So, Frankland IMB, are you willing to grow a spine and do your job? Or are you going to remain, as ever, in the pocket of the institution?

Apologies for the angry tone of this post, but the unchallenged rottenness endemic in prisons occasionally gets to me.


  1. This is a really good post, its great to read your comments on the events in Frankland prison.

    It isn't right that the media never gave the prisoners there a hearing from their perspective during the spate of stabbings.

    The guy from the POA just kept blathering on about how something had to be done and that they were short staffed, but as you say the fact that it was not an isolated incident leans to there being structural or cultural issues there.

    The question unanswered therefore is 'what lies beneath'? Since the prison officers and the prison service seem intent on leaving this questions out, everyone is bereft of any fair reconciliation for the time being.

  2. I agree with Sophie J, a very good post.

  3. Yes, a very good and powerful post - and a very acute last para by Sophie J. This is something the IMB should have responded to long ago.

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  5. It's both cynical and tragic, that we live in a society whereby the authorities spend good money and bad time, on convincing us that the bogey man is out to get us. They cover our towns with CCTV for our "safety"; and assure us that only the 'bad' people need fear this.

    Then when we try filming or recording the said same authorities in action...?


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