Thursday, August 26, 2010

Can you spare a bit of change, guv?

This was never intended to be a personal campaign blog, nor any sort of money spinner. The donate button exists at the insistence of the Editor, who had to twist my arm! I still refuse to install a traffic meter. I have been aspiring to a purity in blogging which probably never did exist.

But now I find myself in a hole and - improbably! - a Tory activist suggests that I make the plea for help here. As uncomfortable as this makes me - and this will be reflected in the poor quality of this post’s writing - I think I'm so bereft of options that I have no other choice. So...

My PhD is about to die on its arse, unless I find £1650 in the next thirty days. Funding for my education has rested in the hands of private individuals and charities for over a decade, the prison service washing their hands of me at about the time it became really influential.

Why did I even begin a Doctorate? For many reasons, both personal and professional. Looking to my future, and the frosty arms of the society I will return to, then the broader the number of options I have to explore and the greater the chance of my being able to have some semblance of a career.

One of my options is to continue with my prison campaigning work, to be a media tart perpetually beating the drum for change. Blogging, but louder and with pictures! And, cynical but I think true, I'm more likely to be afforded this voice as "Dr Ben Gunn, Criminologist and Ex-Prisoner", rather than merely "ex-prisoner". But finding a way to make a living in the future is the smallest of reasons for my research. The most important impetus is a deeply personal one.

Ever since I killed my friend, I have struggled under the moral debt this places upon me. I have lived a non-violent life ever since that day and attempt to encourage others to do so. My research attempts to explore ways in which violence in prison - and other dysfunctional communities - can be reduced, without the powerless being further dis-empowered.

The PhD is a fundamental step, for me, along the moral journey that may mean that I leave life having added to the world and not being a detriment to it. Previously, I have been able to raise funding from supportive individuals and charities. Prisoners are refused access to the university's discretionary funds. This year, though, I have a huge problem because I have nothing to show for the last year’s worth of funding. Nothing. So putting on my Oliver Twist impression for them would be pretty insulting.

I have to quickly say that this is not my indolence or ineptitude. This prison has, to put it as mildly as I possibly can, messed me about and obstructed me to the extent that I just couldn't do my research. The Education Department sank so low as to refuse to even supply me with writing paper. This forced me into taking the year off, waiting for an improvement in circumstances.

This has now hoved into view. Within a month or two I could either be in open prison, or another closed prison, depending on the outcome of my parole hearing (which I still don't have a date for). Either move would vastly improve my research environment.

There is now just the matter of the fees for the coming year... If anyone has any ideas, or an insanely rich benevolent friend, that could enrich my university within the next few weeks then please, please email* the Editor (or hit the donate button).

I've struggled hard with this. My personal life, and its problems, was only ever meant to be a peg upon which to hang a discussion of the broader issues of prison and I hope that this intrusion hasn't sullied this blog.

I have also struggled with what I could offer in return for these monies. Bugger all. Or at least, nothing concrete, if for no other reason that the Ministry of Justice would use any such contract as a legal basis to shut down the blog. All I can say is that it is a leap of faith, a hefty vote of confidence in my abilities and future to the degree that I will be able to repay you.

*Ed’s note: the blog e-mail is


  1. Ben, I would like the honour of being one of the first. Sending a donation now.

  2. I will have a think and get back to the editor, sadly I haven't a poss to piss in otherwise I would happily donate. Everywhere I can think of will probably have already been thought of by your good self, though I may turn up something.

    On the note of crusafing in the media, sadly options are limited and those who dance to the tune, or give the impression of knowing what they are talking about get first choice. Sadly real people like yourself and those from say Unlock get pushed down the queue. I think the truth, spoken sensibly is a little too much for Joe Public to accept. The Guardian is up for it, but sadly it's the Mail readers that need educating, not the dear old sandal wearing Guardian lot.

    Oh and nothing outrages them more than someone who gained qualifications in jail. After all little Timmy had to pay a fortune for his degree yet here you are, dressed in your fine silk dressing gown, with your deep pile carpet getting an education for free!

    Good luck.

  3. Ben, you have my empathy with your plight, nothing to be apologetic for. I aborted my PhD because it led me to a dead end in terms of my aspiration. I wanted to use the Dr status to highlight the poverty that is reducing the majority of Africans into slaves. I had set my eyes to organisations like Unicef, but as I progressed it became very clear that I would not get a say in how this world is run. You have a clear vision of why you are studying for your PhD and am sure you will make good use of it. I have pressed the donate button and hope many others will do the same.

    The death of your friend has made you what you are. This is what made me what I am. Coming across medical doctors and other highly qualified individuals who are economically forced to leave their coutries and seek employment in European countries, only to be refused work permits or their qualifications not accepted and end up sweeping the streets. Chidren dying before their first birthday for lack of childhood immunisation. Lack of clean water leave alone adequate food in this world of plenty. Whole families annihilated by never ending wars fuelled by the arms industry. This is the true picture of how those in power rule the world and Africans and other third world countries are paying a heavy price! We need to expose these corrupt leaders and shame them!

    Its no surprise therefore that prison life is equally gloomy because the aim of those in power is to keep us as ignorant as a dead person.

    Good luck

  4. Hope you can raise the necessary funds for you to be able to pursue your PhD Ben, it would be marvelous if you could, and I really hope you can.

    The skills that you will be learning you are determined to give back to society (which is so unlike many people who undertake doctorates) and I believe you will because of how you have struggled and the vast knowledge and experience you have; I really do hope you get a chance at this PhD and I will also be donating to this good cause in the very near future.

    Although I am but a poor church mouse myself and don't know or mix with any rich people but I will try to spread the word and drum up some support and see if there are more fellow poor birds like me who would like to see someone like you do well after everything you have been through.

    There are many people who can relate to your situation, so don't despair, wishing you all the best for the future x

  5. Financial assistance (modest) on its way. I may be able to help with access to journal articles if you drop me a line. Can we send you reams of paper?

  6. Yes, can we send stuff to you for educational purposes?

    For example, i'd like to send a copy of Philip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect in case you haven't already read it. It's about the Stanford Prison experiments, and analyses the psychology of people put into positions of authority over others; it's very thorough and detailed, but essentially argues that institutions fuck people up and that prison is an environment ripe for abuse of the less powerful by default.

    For obvious reasons, I thought it might be of interest - if I can indeed send a copy I would like to do so, from one aspiring PhD student to another, so to speak.

  7. Good luck with your Phd Ben, but i regret, any spare cash i have gets sent to our 15 wonderful animal rights prisoners, who after all have given up their liberty for the voiceless. One of them sent me Inside Time this morning, and i am just about to read it.

  8. Hi Ben - I will retweet your request endlessly - I'm sure your total will be exceeded. Helen Mason

  9. Hello Ben.

    I'm deeply disappointed in the justice system for using such low level tactics - one can only assume a certain modicum of jealousy within the system. You are serving time, have shown remorse, and trying to make a small, but significant difference to society through doctoral research.

    I have quit work and returned to University for doctoral study. I can not begin to empathise with your plight against The System, but understand the difficulties regarding PhD research all to well when in a 'normal' environment.

    I'm unable to spare a lot, but a modest donation is on its way. Good Luck.

  10. Read about you in the Guardian. I hope my small donation helps. All the best!

  11. @ Paul Sagar: Thanks for your help. Just one point, your article/appeal gives the Guardian credit for the MoJ backing down. This is factually inaccurate because it was following my blog post, and sending it to the then DG of NOMS, Phil Wheatley, that he told the Governor not to proceed in his censorship attempt. Phil said to me "Once I read what you had said, I knew we were in legal trouble".

  12. "Oh and nothing outrages them more than someone who gained qualifications in jail. After all little Timmy had to pay a fortune for his degree yet here you are, dressed in your fine silk dressing gown, with your deep pile carpet getting an education for free!"

    Blogging makes stereotyping a foolish exercise. We are all capable of thinking for ourselves and beyond the manipulations of those I call chatterati. My donation is on its way along with prayers for your success.

  13. What about English PEN? They may have experience in helping people like you?


    A very good academic resource....I will help with donations next week when i get paid...YOU MUST SUCCEED BEN! The very best of luck!

  15. Just a small donation from me I'm afraid. Good luck with the doctorate.

  16. I can't promise a donation but wish you every success.

    Another Jill

  17. I also read about you in The Guardian and hope my small donation helps. Good Luck!


  18. I read about you via Old Holborn, another donation made and I wish you every success in achieving your goal.


  19. I too heard about you via Old Holborn & have made a small donation - sorry I can't afford more. Good luck with your goals.

  20. Ben, I too read about you on OH's blog. Good luck to you, you have my respect. I'm expecting some pay next week and will try to put a little (and it will only be a little, I'm afraid) towards your goal. I'll also post links on my own board, in the hopes of finding a little more for you.

  21. Hope my small contribution helps. Very best wishes. Alicia

  22. Ben, I'm not here to judge I'm just confused, you get 10 years but you've done 30, care to enlighten me please?

  23. I wish you the best of luck and hope my small donation helps

  24. To Fascist Hippy from the editor: you can find the answer to your question in the blog entitled "How to Serve 30 Years". It is in the 2009 archive. There is more on Facebook, in the FAQ's. Hope this helps.

  25. Thank you, I don't do 'Facecrap' but I'll take a look at the blog.

  26. Sending you a small donation now. Best of luck with your PhD

    Dr Alana Lentin
    Sociology, University of Sussex

  27. Ben, I'm sorry it can't be more, but hopefully all our little donations will add up to what you need. Best of luck with the PhD. I hold you continually in my prayers.

  28. Ben, as an avid follower of your blog it is my honour to help you. I have read throughout your blog about your PhD but may I be so bold as to suggest you publish a summary of your PhD and what you intend/hope to do with this most noble of ventures.

    Kind Regards Friend.

  29. I'll chip in mate. Good luck. Only just found your blog via Twitter via the Grauniad.

  30. Sorry it can't be more, but every little helps. Good luck with the PhD.

  31. Do you delete any comments that dont meet the grade? Im just wondering why there are not more negative comments on this blog - its free speech right?

    And your are a murderer right? So I can only assume that the negative comments are coming in at least as reguarly as the positive ones?

    IMHO opinion you shouldnt be released from jail - this shit is liberal gone crazy - money for murderers.

    Studying for a PHD is not a human right is it?

    Is not a revenge thing - its a consequence thing.

    I ended another mans life, but im sorry about that - can you lot help me better my life.

  32. Anonymous, if you read Ben's blog and his story, you will see that he is nowhere near as flippant as you suggest in your comment: "I ended another mans life, but im sorry about that - can you lot help me better my life."

    Yes, there are consequences for our actions. Ben has suffered consequences -- 30 years of them.

    There is free speech -- your comment has been posted on this blog.

    Those of us who have donated to assist Ben with regard to his PhD are those who feel that he can contribute something to society; that doing so is the best way to, for lack of a better way to phrase it, atone for what happened. It is doing no one any good for him to continue sitting in jail after 30 years. Remember, too, that this incident happened in childhood.

    You are entitled to your opinion and are free to enunciate that, but, unlike you, I believe that people can be rehabilitated. Allegedly, that's what the prison system was designed to do.

  33. Since commenting I have read his blog - its well written, informative and certainly interesting.

    And I most certianly do believe in rehabilitation - I just dont really believe in it for murderers.

    Rehabilitation is possibly beyond the point though - he got 10 Years - so he should indeed be out of jail by now - for all intensive purposes anyway.

    However just because thats the consequence her majesty decided was correct - its doesnt mean it was.

    Ben may of got out and been a pillar of the community after serving just 5 Years - however that doesnt mean he inherently deserves the right to be so.

    I guess you beleive in rehabilitation above all else? If a man murdered your mum, but was deemed to be rehbiliated after 30 days, should he be released? Would the contribution to society really be that great? Who would the contribution serve most beneficial for? The ego of the convicted or the society he is serving?

    Ok This isnt cut and dry, Ben was 14, and only for that reason I think he deserves a second chance.

    But in the same breath, I know if I killed someone when I was 14, I would of deserved to go to jail for life for it.

    Yes I am a completely different person now, so what? If I killed a man when I was 25, again same thing - I am a completely different person now. The ideal just doesnt cut it for me.

    My views are not specifc to Ben in anyway - just murderers and idealistic liberal views on crime and punishment.

    So yes, hes done his time, let him out already, but donate to his PHD - again its liberal gone crazy and more than a step to far - its actually insulting - a national paper calling out for donations - what a just cause.

    I will keep my eye on this blog in the future and maybe my hardline a-hole views will be changed.

    Who knows -

    GL to you ToniLou and GL to Ben.

  34. Anonymous,

    It's great when someone takes the time to actually read the blog and it's even better to hear you have changed your mind slightly because of it - so often people come here and leave negative comments that show they haven't and then disappear again. You are obviously much wiser than them!

    Two points on what you said:

    1. Locking everyone away for life might be your preferred option, but the data show that it doesn't work.

    Crime goes up, the costs of keeping all those criminals inside goes through the roof, successful convictions go down (juries won't convict a person if they think the punishment is too harsh, even if they believe them guilty) and the number of victims goes up.

    Personally, I don't support Ben because he was a child when he did it, or because he's 20 years over tariff, but because I know rehabilitation and a more liberal view to prisoners reduces the number of future crimes and victims - it might feel wrong to be kind to criminals, but it's the right thing for everyone else too.

    2. Ben doesn't consider his PhD a "right", he's not asking government or the taxpayer to foot the bill. He asked for donation on his blog and many of us you support him were happy to oblige; you don't have to if you don't want to :)

    Again, personally, I wanted to donate, at least in part, because he secured funding for the last year and was robbed of it by the system refusing to let him study. I want to redress some of that balance.

    Not in my name!

  35. Another prison blog:


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