Sunday, October 31, 2010


Oh dear, it seems that the blog has now reached that level of popularity where I've been noticed by the cerebrally-challenged. Is this a sign of popularity I should celebrate?

I never insist that people come here and must leave with their initial views transformed, especially if those views are carefully reasoned. But it was always a vague hope that I might add something to the debate, for people to leave here having being prompted into engaging with their own emotions and preconceptions.
Until now, that aspiration seems to have born some fruit, as revealed by the quality of the comments left by readers. For which I thank you all! Some bloggers will doubtless be happy monitoring their traffic for validation but I prefer the old fashioned way - comments.

Now, though, there is an increasing intrusion by people, overwhelmingly anonymous, who just want to pick a select word or line here and there and worry away at it. To what end, just what is the point?

Whatever I read, it is with the hope that it either adds to my sum of knowledge or understanding, or reveals a new perspective that I'd overlooked. Who has the time - and the mentality - just to read in order to pick a pointless fight?

Still, welcome one and all. Even the most narrow-minded and hateful person may eventually leave here having learnt something!

Friday, October 29, 2010


For the third day in succession, Sammy wandered across the yard to the bench where I sat, in solitary splendour, and plonked himself down next to me.

"Good morning", he said.
"You bastard", I replied, deadpan.
"You can be a bit antisocial, can't you?" Perceptive bugger, Sammy... "Actually, you can be very antisocial, most of the time!"

I had to make some effort to defend myself against this awful slur. "This is the only half hour in the day I have which is mine. No work, no writing, no studying, no business. Just me, the sky and my coffee and notebook. And you ruin it!"

This morning, Sammy entered the yard and moved in my direction. Half way across the tarmac he paused before veering away. Solitude reigns!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

We’re all doomed!

There comes a moment when a critical mass is reached, and having learned that a thoroughly decent bloke here is added to the list of those being ravaged by cancer, that point is now. We are having an outbreak of bloody cancer!

For the regular readers, I can tell you that the original Cancer Boy is doing reasonably well. He looks obscenely healthy most days and we mock him, saying if he wants our sympathy he should look far worse! The entity devouring his internals has undergone a couple of rounds of chemo and whilst refusing to surrender, has not grown worse of late. The diagnosis remains terminal, but the date of the memorial service has become rather more fluid.

My own tests, exploring my fractious prostate, kidneys and now liver, continue.
It is the nightmare of many lifers to suffer from a major illness and, worse, to suffer the final indignity of dying in captivity. The prison service makes some effort to avoid that eventuality, with many spending their last days in a hospice. Please don't mistake this for compassion. If a prisoner dies in custody, there are official investigations. Chuck him on the street to die and the institution is free and clear. Cynicism comes with this sentence, I'm afraid.

And since the Al Magrahi and Ronnie Biggs fiascos, terminal both but clinging on endlessly, Jack Straw changed the rules for compassionate release. Being about to die isn't enough any more. Now you also have to demonstrate that remaining in prison actively damages your health. Um, how do you do that? And why should dying prisoners have to pay the price for Jack's political embarrassment?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Meandering through the Past

I'm faffing around with some autobiographical writing, and interested parties insist that I start at the beginning. They mean, of course, my childhood. For me, though, it is as if my life began at the moment that I ended another’s.

Having to look further back than that event is a strange journey and one I have probably been avoiding for thirty years. Not that I believe my childhood to be particularly awful, it was far from it. Up until my mother’s death when I was nine, I think my life was pretty good. At the least, normal!

And yet...that early part of my life pales into insignificance, has been overshadowed by the murder. Life began, in my mind, with death. This is a strange feeling, a disconnect that I have never had to examine before.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Please Sir, may I have more..?

The food that is shovelled, with various degrees of wit or sarcasm, across the servery towards us seems to exert a weird hold over the minds of tabloid editors and some silly politicians.

A new order from HQ has been revealed, apparently stating that we should have five choices for our main meal. Five! Or, as some numb-nut from the Taxpayers Alliance has it, "five star" catering. Shock! Horror!

You know what happens now, don't you? You know that beneath the manufactured outrage and grandstanding - Phillip Davies MP pops up yet again - there is a layer of truth that these blatherers neither reveal nor care to learn? It is ever so.

We are entitled to only one hot meal a day. Even But1ins does better than that and to describe this as being Five Star is a tad, hmmm, hyperbolic..?

The five choices is actually true. Normal, veggie, vegan, Halal and low-fat. So, in reality, many cons only have one choice, the only ones who can range across the menu being those on a 'normal’ diet, who opt to wander into meatless heaven on occasion.

Why give us any choice? Why not cold gruel for every meal? Because giving us a choice - we work by pre-booking meals days ahead - saves a bloody fortune. If we were just sent crap day after day, much of it would end up in the bin. By giving us some (very limited) choice, the odds are increased that we will actually risk eating what is delivered.

All of this is provided no increase in the food budget, which remains less than it costs to feed your average dog.

But of course, if ill-informed minor politicians and ignorant pressure groups actually want money to be wasted and increase the risk of our dragging our gruel-fuelled carcases onto the roof in protest, then let them have the stones to come out and say it. Loud and clear.

No? Didn't think so.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Balance of Hope

The life of the prisoner, no matter what length of sentence, is littered with events which add fuel to that most precious of internal fires - hope.

Hope that there are those beyond the walls who still remember us and care about our fate. Hope that our lives will improve. Hope that amongst the fog, the deception, the endless bureaucracy, there can be found some humanity. Hope that we will, one day, regain a semblance of being free.

And yet...the life of the prisoner is not his own and fulfilment of his hopes lies in the actions and decisions of others. The efforts to keep that flickering flame glowing are delicate. If too much weight is placed on hope, and it remains unfulfilled for yet another timeless year...there are limits to human endurance.

Hope, then, must be nurtured. Hope must be fuelled and protected. It must be hidden away, kept safe from the uncertainties and disappointments that comprise the daily reality of a prisoner’s existence. Hope must never be allowed to burn too brightly and yet never be permitted to falter.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Hidden Depths

A large proportion of matters that effect prisoners, both as individuals and as a collective, are discussed and decided far from our sight. On rare occasions, though, we get glimpses of this activity.

The other day I felt the heat of a miserable screw on the back of my neck. I felt that he was, as we say, "digging me out". We ended up in the wing office, myself, this Silverback, and another screw, arguing the toss over whether I should be locked up all day.

As we fired masked barbs back and forth, one of them read out an email. It was all about little old me, sent to all the staff in the prison, and originated with the manager who saddled me with the recent education deal. It was, essentially, a pleasantly worded "search and destroy" order; I may well be employed on in-cell education but, unlike all the others so employed, I must be locked away.

Even these two screws, not notorious for their pro-prisoner attitudes, sucked their teeth and declared that this looks like management were leaning on me. One said, "You know the problem, don't you?" I declared complete ignorance, the ways of management being decidedly strange to me... He filled in a large gap in my understanding. It seems that I had pissed off the Deputy Governor during a visit by the Prison Inspectors, by asking them a simple question - "Can you find out why I've been kept unemployed for two years as a matter of policy?”

If the screws think this, then my sporadic fits of paranoia really were hints that someone was out to get me. It explains the sudden efforts to have me banged-up that began a few months ago and which have culminated in my being saddled with a hand-crafted regime that sees me banged up all day. Good to know.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Stop talking, idiot!

Interacting with female staff can be a delicate operation, with the potential for disaster ever present. A wrong remark, a casual civility, can be misinterpreted as over-familiarity or worse. For a lifer, such an event can have serious consequences.
My solution to this is to treat women staff as men. I just ignore their gender. One odd side effect of this is that not only do I not flirt but I am unable to recognise when a woman is flirting with me. Short of her sending in a marching band chanting "take me now", I just don't recognise an interested woman.

There are occasions, though, when this blinkered view fails and a conversation does shift from the official to the personal...and it can leave me flat-footed. I stuck my head into the office to collar the manager who’s in charge of my education, the author of the recent deal to pay me and bang me up. As I was talking to her, I noticed something different about her face but couldn't quite put my finger on it.
"What's with your eyes?", I asked, peering at her. "I'm wearing mascara". A sharper man may have then made a neutral comment and moved on. "It looks weird" the words left my mouth I though, crap, I'm accidentally insulting her! Weird?!? What a choice of words.

Being in this self inflicted hole, I found myself digging deeper. I ended up telling her that it made her eyes look very good, and then cursed myself even more. Bugger, I thought, now I've gone from insulting her into flirting territory, the thin ice that is "inappropriate behaviour"...

This is why it's a lot simpler to treat women staff as men, and keep it as impersonal as possible!

Friday, October 22, 2010


Wasn't that once a term used by people shuffling around darkened public spaces in a desperate search for meaningless sex? And now, rather aptly, applied to people who bum around the net picking pointless arguments for a cheap thrill.

In a better world, never to be seen, I could have a policy of banning trolls and deleting their comments. Alas! In the prison game, there is an indistinguishable line between a strongly held though crazy opinion, and mere inflammatory trollery.

I appreciate that strong views are evoked when it comes to crime and justice, 'twill ever be so. Many of these views are ill informed, ignorant and quite childlike in their understanding. Nevertheless, the views may be sincere and should be heard here.

Banning trolls runs the risk of suppressing the mad as well as the bad, a risk I would rather not take. Readers are perceptive enough not to get drawn into the games of trolls, although mocking their sad lives and sarcastic responses should be encouraged!

Mostly, I feel quite sad for them. Their lives have so little meaning, they have nothing to contribute and find themselves trying to reach out in the most pathetic of ways - its like a child biting his sister just to get attention.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Bob fell and broke his leg, badly, and was carted off to hospital. Ten minutes later, as we were being fed, someone asked the screws who was getting Bob's dinner..?
This strain of ruthlessness over limited resources is a permanent feature of prison life, and not a pleasant one. If a man dies, the first question is whether that effects our being unlocked for association, instantly followed by who’s getting his cell?

This isn't merely a feature of heartless bastards trying to get an edge. It is also a way to distance ourselves from the misfortune suffered and the unfortunate soul. That said, it really looks awful when trying to explain this to outsiders...!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Ten days into the month and the nick is out of toilet roll, bin liners and the amorphous "green liquid" disinfectant.

Probably of greater structural significance - except to those with upset stomachs - is the fact that some 28 staff from here are being slung out on their ear. This is to be a mix of screws and civilians. The details are quite murky as staff are keeping all this as secret as possible, lest we mock their inability to get a job outside.

Of course, those modern deities - psychologists - are seemingly immune from this cull. Fifteen years of peddling 'offending behaviour courses' at a cost of hundreds of millions, with scant evidence of any benefit, seems to come without any consequence. Ho hum.

There will be severe ramifications for the whole system if these staff cuts are reflected across the prison estate. Fewer staff means a reduced regime - increased bang up, less association, disrupted work and education. All of the allegedly positive gains made in prison regimes over the past 20 years could be about to go up in smoke. It's even possible that a few prisons will as well...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Parole Dilemma

I have my long overdue parole board hearing on November llth. The three options before the board are: to leave me in closed conditions; to recommend I be move to open prison; or to order my release.

I have to decide precisely what I am going to pitch for and it's not as simple as it sounds. Obviously, I'm not going to ask to remain in closed conditions. It will be a pitch for open or release.

Everybody - staff - recommends a move to Open, although we don't yet know the Secretary of State's official View. Traditionally, this has been to leave me in closed and, equally traditionally, the parole board ignores that view. So, a move to open is the most likely result. Not a foregone conclusion by any means but as the most widely supported option then the one I should perhaps focus my efforts on achieving.

Release is more complicated. No one supports it. Not because I'm a raving loon but out of two factors. Firstly, institutional and professional inertia. It is traditional that Lifers spend a period in open prison prior to release, and staff rarely recommend skipping that stage. It's just not done. Secondly, and more personally, everybody professes to be uncertain as to how I will cope on release and so a period in open would aid this assessment. I've been in prison so long that keeping me in a bit longer is the solution...that argument has never sat well with me!

You may be wondering why I don't just blaze away for release, while accepting open as a consolation prize? Because the parole board can be a temperamental bunch, that's why! If I take up a couple of hours pitching for release, they may see me as being wildly optimistic, wasting their time...and as a result not even give me open. I could write their opinion now - "Mr Gunn demonstrates an unrealistic attitude to his transition into the community. Until he accepts his limitations, then the Panel feel unable to progress him at this point." Seriously, a mistimed pitch for release - even though I'm legally entitled to ask -could be twisted around and used to argue that I'm not ready yet. Thank god for Kafka, or I would be bereft of a word to describe this insanity I'm trapped within.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


An Anonymous comment by someone associated with prison has suggested that there are only two reasons why I haven’t been released, both being my fault - refusing to complete psychology courses, or outrageous prison behaviour. Allow me to address this naiveté and slur on my honesty?

Offending Behaviour Programmes are psychological treatments intended to cure us of our wicked ways. I have never been recommended to undertake any OBP. Not one. Ever. I have been assessed for them along the way and the persistent conclusion is that I do not suffer from the 'cognitive deficits' that these courses address. My lack of progress, then, is not based upon any need to complete more OBP or any refusal on my part to cooperate with them.

The second proposed reason for my lack of progress is my institutional behaviour. Well, I am on the highest privilege level, Enhanced, and have been for over a decade. This requires that I demonstrate a positive attitude and behaviours, along with a high level of compliance.

My formal disciplinary record is hardly one that a revolutionary would be proud of. In the past five years I've been nicked a handful of times'. For having a phone-charger; borrowing a PlayStation; possessing a set of stereo speakers someone else threw out; an unauthorised MP3 player... You get the drift. I may get nicked once a year for trivia that has no bearing whatever on my criminal or violent tendencies. These are the prison equivalent of parking tickets. They mean I am an imperfect human being, and that the prison system is incredibly petty, not that I'm a mad axe-man.

Does anything in the above justify my continued detention? The last view we had from the Ministry of Justice is that I "will not be ready for open prison or release until [I] fully comply". That's what it’s all about. Not risk, not violence, not future offending - it boils down to mindless and perpetual kow-towing. And even then, my disciplinary record shows I comply to a very high level.

Of course, I have been a lot more active than this. All within the Rules, but annoying to my keepers nonetheless. I am a deeply political animal, and head the prisoners union - the Association of Prisoners. I write frequently about prisoners rights and am a vocal cheerleader of issues such as the right to vote. On a daily basis I deal with the detritus that flows from living in a heavily bureaucratic, managerialist machine. Helping people with advice and complaints is what I've always done.

"Offences" I have committed in recent years, which aren't against any Rule or regulation, include producing a samizdat newsletter, having a relationship with a teacher...and starting this blog.

May I gently suggest that my vocal activism and jailhouse lawyer work causes my keepers more angst than any genuine petty breach of the rules I may commit? And that this is why I have not been released?

Anyone who is sentient and familiar with prisons will recognise the truth of this, even most staff. If you fail to keep your mouth shut and head down, there is a price that is extracted. It was ever so.

That some Anon fails - or refuses - to see the rotten nature of their institution is quite a feat in the denial stakes. And for some people it is easier to blame me for everything that it is to admit the possibility that the prison system is as twisted as it is permanent.

Friday, October 15, 2010


7. What are Ben's views on prison charities or other organisations supposed to represent those in custody? Which ones does he think have their interests at heart and which are just a cash cow for the employees? In other words, who is worth donating to from a prisoners perspective? (Anon)

A: Oh, come on, that question is just an invitation to upset a lot of organisations!! That I have reservations about the aims and operations of many prison reform groups is something I have written about for many years. Each has their strengths and weaknesses.

Almost universally, though, they have no impact at all on the lives of prisoners. As originators of researcher or as policy campaigners they may have some influence on a political-policy level, but their connections with prisoners and our interests are pretty tangential.

That said... The Howard League is a well oiled campaign machine, even if it can come to an issue later than others. The Prison Reform Trust originates thoughtful research under the purview of the excellent Kimmet Edgar. NACRO now bills itself as a "crime reduction charity", so I argue it falls outside of being a prison reform group at all... That's my take on the Big Three groups.

I am much more impressed by smaller, less well funded groups, who have direct links to prisoners and our needs. These include Unlock, the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC), the Forgiveness Project, Women In Prison and Miscarriages of Justice UK.

There are dozens of these small groups and I have not mentioned most of them - this is a blog, not a book! So I would urge interested readers to scout around the electronic firmament to find them directly. They do amazing work outside of the headlines and on a shoestring budget.

And I can't resist a pitch for the Association of Prisoners at this point. A benevolent millionaire benefactor would be welcome to drop me a line as its General Secretary!

The Association of Prisoners is this generation’s effort to form the only genuine prisoner-led group, directly addressing the concerns and issues that affect prisoners. Prisoners are the only people who can represent prisoners without being tainted by some organisational or wider political agenda. We are the future, and
all support will be very gratefully received.

8. Same as above, but with reference to think tanks? (Laura)

A: I have an unfair advantage, in that unlike most prisoners I actually know of these think tanks. Most prisoners don't, largely because they are an irrelevance to life on the landings.

And so, short of mentioning the research conducted under Kimmet Edgar in the back offices of the Prison Reform Trust, I have no view on any of them. Except to warn readers of the potential misuse of statistics and political motivations of think tanks. I have a particular dislike of Civitas.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Answers cont...

Q6: If prisoners suddenly had access to all the educational resources they could ever need, what proportion do you think would make use of the opportunity? (Wigarse)

A: As a general proposition, prisoners attend Education for three reasons. It's a paying job, it gets us out of our cells, and the efforts demanded are of us are low compared to other prison jobs. Note that self-advancement isn't a feature on that list!

Education is something of a bug, either one catches it or not. It took me until my late teens to really crack some books. Some people never do. And prisoners are generally not drawn from the most scholarly class.

The present educational opportunities are very limited and what is offered has nothing to do with our desires and everything to do with the institution's agenda. Basic skills rule. Worse, education is the lowest paid position in any nick.

If, however, the curriculum were broadened to encompass opportunities that interested us, then I suspect that many more would take advantage of the opportunities.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Answers cont...

Q5: To what degree do you genuinely feel as a middle aged man that you are responsible for the actions of a 14 year old boy in a fit of anger? I mean, sure, that collection of cells eventually became the collection of cells that now constitute "you", but aren't you essentially different organisms: your brains do/did different things, you believe different things, and the current you probably dislikes the person "you" were in that moment enormously. Given that, does the State reeeallly have the right to imprison you now on account of the immoral actions of a different you? (Andrew F)

A: Hmmm, I see what you are saying,..but! Even though there is not a single cell in my body that is the same as the one that committed murder, there is that indefinable essence of "I" that is a constant. And I'm as responsible for what I did today as at the time.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Answer Time (cont...)

4. I expect a "pecking order" goes on with respect to crimes that people are inside for and which are deemed of "higher status" than others. However, an insight into that "order" and maybe a rationale would be very illuminating. (Nathan)

A: This is a PhD in its own right! I would recommend you read "The Prisoner Society" by Dr Ben Crewe (OUP) for a real treatment of this topic, because it is way too large for me to address properly here.

Prisons are fluid and diverse, with each prison being its own small community. What may be a valuable personal attribute in one may be worthless in another. Whilst one's crime and sentence is a constant, the meaning and influence of that attribute cam vary enormously.

In a prison full of short termers, having Life on one's cell card may accrue some small status. In this prison, where we are all Lifers, it is meaningless! I have never come across a Grouty figure, a "daddy"! No matter how tough a man may be, if he steps out of line he can be taken down - one way or another.

The sources of power and influence are subtle and various. I have been in prisons where I had some influence amongst my peers, but they were 'activists' and politics were feverish. In this prison, which is moribund, then I am merely a useful source of information on prison law and the like.

The most recent transformation in the social structure has been "poder power" - the ability to acquire and supply heroin. But this power is temporary and extremely fragile.

And social structure may be more honoured in the breach than is actually professed. I recall when Roger was transferred. Within minutes of his leaving, my mates at the time began slagging him off as a scumbag, a man who had killed his young child. "Hang on", I said, "How come no one ever told me this before...? Oh, I know, its because he had a great supply of dope and we were all too busy sitting in his cell smoking it..."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Any Answers? cont...

2. Are you a virgin? (Anon)
Nope. I am no longer allowed to work alongside female staff, such is my reputation for seduction... This is terrible slur on my reputation!

3. What proportion of people in prison claim to be innocent, what proportion genuinely are, can you tell which is which and how? (King Queen)

The proportion of innocent to guilty varies from nick to nick, but even the most cynical of observers - such as myself - accepts that the criminal justice system does manage to lock up mostly guilty people.

I have my own personal method for judging a man's claim of innocence. Is he prepared to suffer for his stance? In the case of Lifers, if a man continues to maintain his innocence past the ten year mark, he is either insane - or innocent. Because his stance leads to him being denied progression to release.

Talk is cheap, and people do claim innocence. Maybe they are truthful, maybe not. But if alongside their protestations they actively campaign and assert their claim, then I am more likely to give their claim credence. Not that my opinion matters a damn! And I recommend the organisation Miscarriages of Justice UK (MOJUK) for further information.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Any Answers? Part One

1. What does Ben think he would be doing with his life if "that day" hadn't happened? (Anon)

It’s a strange thought, but being imprisoned has lifted me outside of the normal social structures and limited horizons. Without being in prison, the expectations and horizons I would have been confined within were firmly of the council estate. University was unheard of in our street, or my family.

Any life presents its own particular hurdles and opportunities. The one I have lived has forced me to examine my existence in ways that would otherwise have been irrelevant. It has also provided particular opportunities.

It's impossible to guess what my life would have been...but my future, oddly, seems to contain more opportunities and potential than my previous one.

Answer Time

Over the next few days I shall be posting Ben's responses to "Question Time". Sorry it has taken a while, but we rely on the post office! Ed.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ken Faces the Lions

It's not often that I await the moment when one of our leaders takes to a podium to begin waffling, but the speech by Ken Clarke at the Tory conference has been eagerly awaited.

It is not uncommon that a speech at that venue has had direct and harsh effects on the prison landings. Few political speeches have such a powerful and immediate impact. Michael Howard's "prison works" speech heralded the introduction of a daily regime and restrictions which we still endure. Leon Brittain had a similar effect in the very early 1980's. And so what the Home Secretary - now Minister of Justice - has to say is deadly important to us.

This is not a natural home for Ken Clarke, with many of his audience tuning out from any speech that fails to include the words "capital punishment" or "the birch". And our Justice Secretary is a more thoughtful man than Howard, or at least less tempted by cheap populism.

That said, his speech was littered with the word "tough". Thankfully, it wasn't welded to any particular policy or practice and so our daily lives should remain unscathed. Perhaps he took refuge in that mantra, used it as a shield of sophistry to lull the audience into a state of Tory hypnosis...lest they noticed the absence of any real Hush Puppy being placed on our throats.

The central point of Ken Clarke's speech was actually a relaunch of an idea propagated by Ann Widdecombe under John Major (sorry for the image that may provoke...) - the Prisoners' Pay Act. This is law, but has never been activated, laying in the overstuffed draw that contains innumerable policy wishes.

The idea is frighteningly simple and - largely - uncontentious. Prisoners should work a full 40 hour working week, in activities which are productive and which develop our skills and training. For this effort, we would be paid the National Minimum Wage and so pay taxes and National Insurance. It has always been intended that a large chunk of this wage would be removed and handed to victims. It is with some regret and cynicism, then, that I have to declare that this idea is a dead duck. Allow me explain.

The present working regime currently provides work for maybe a third of the prison population, say 30,000 people, for a maximum of eight hours a day - in theory. Only a small minority of these workers are actually engaged in genuine, productive work, that is have some good or service to present at the end of the working week. Most are in Education or ancillary services - cleaners, kitchen, stores, orderlies, and so on. And of those actually producing some tangible product, most will be creating goods for the prisons internal market - furniture, clothing, plastics, etc which have always been the staple of prison industries.

In order to bring to life the policy announced by Ken Clarke, it would require the whole daily regime of each prison to re-jigged around providing an 8 hour working day. Very few prisons are able to do this, largely because the staff working hours and shift patterns do not bend in that direction. And the Prison Officers' Association is unlikely to ever allow it to be so changed. One tiny illustration of the regime barrier to a full working day is the fact that staff lock us up for an hour and a half every lunchtime, in some prisons its two hours - for staff to have their lunch. Any other jobs in life that offer a lunch break of that length?

Assuming the Prison Officers Association can be dragged into the 21st century and a daily regime created that has space for a real working day, there is the matter of infrastructure. Prisons are not all the same. There are local prisons, high security prisons, training prisons, open prisons...and the physical structures in each differs. In local prisons, city centre edifices, where can the land be found to build the workshops to hold up to a thousand men? And who is to pay for these structures, which would need to be built in every one of the 130 odd prisons? This is a huge investment at a time when there is the least amount of cash available.

Assuming we can crack the staff problem and the physical investment problem, we hit the largest difficulty. Most prisoners are not put to work because the work just isn't available, not as a policy decision. And where is this work to be conjured from, when it has been impossible to find for the last fifty years?

Already, the press are complaining that giving prisoners genuine work would deprive the law-abiding of those jobs - as if we would ever be given the work anyone else would do!

Employers would have to be found which would be content to invest in establishing a workshop, possibly in the face of that prison having a highly transient population. Training and skills would be a side issue, over-ridden by some managerial target to get us out of our cells and into work, no matter what. Even so, assuming we could crack the staff problem, the physical infrastructure problem, and the work supply problem...

We then enter the murky world of law, morality and politics. Legally, prison work is forced labour. Slavery. Many companies wouldn't want their image tarnished by that association, even though the European Convention or Human Rights ("the prisoner's friend"!) gives a dispensation from the ban on slavery in respect of prisoners!

This issue is complicated by the fact that thousands of prisoners, such as myself, are no longer held in prison for punishment - we are past our tariff. What is the legal and moral position of forcing us to work on penalty of harsh punishments for refusing?

Again, assuming we can resolve that issue, along with the others, there is the matter of the 'victims tax' on our wages. This has always caused me difficulty. The criminal justice system is impersonal, our offences are against the Crown, not the individual victim. This is why victims are not represented in court.

The judge in any case can order that we pay compensation to our victim, along with any other punishment. In my case, they did not do so. Victims can also sue us in the civil courts for damages, and receive money from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

Why should a politician usurp these judicial functions and try to fine me thirty years down the line? And where is this money to go? The suggestion is, to 'victims groups'. Does this mean the groups who campaign for the likes of me to serve literally life, or be executed, or live a terrible daily existence? I hope you can appreciate my objection to being forced to fund a campaign to kill me??

The final hurdle that this whole policy has to overcome is a social one. Assuming all goes perfectly and hordes of newly skilled prisoners hit the streets. Will employers queue up to take us on, or shun us in perpetuity? And if the expectations of prisoners is raised, to be shattered on release...guess what the re-offending rate may be?

That most prisoners don't work is a situation that has existed since time immemorial, and it is not a situation that any are happy with. Changing the estate into a hive of industry, though, has proved impossible in the past.

Ken Clarke may give this policy an impetus that was previously absent and so force through some significant change. To underestimate the structural, financial and legal barriers, though, is to fall into the error of "the finger pointing at the moon". A declaration isn't reality, and it will be interesting to see if Ken Clarke has the necessary steel toecaps in his Hush Puppies.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Suspect

There was a bloke on the wing who we thought was a grass. But how to flush him out?
Nicking a sheet of official notepaper and using the printer in Education, I wrote him a letter. "Dear Mr Bloggs, we are instituting a formal scheme for prisoners who wish to inform on their peers..." It went on to detail the possible rewards, ending with an invitation to approach a named screw, Mr Mac, if he was interested. Signed, the Governor.

Official and internal mail was delivered by screws, who dropped it on our beds while we were out at work. So my dropping this letter, in a brown envelope, onto Bloggs's bed added an extra official patina.

Three days later I was awoken by Mr Mac. Kicking my door open, he stood there with the letter in hand. "Was this your work, you cheeky bastard?". Bugger, I'd forgotten to prime him on my devious scheme!

"Cheers Mr Mac. I take it he did approach you to sign on then..??" We had found our mole.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Contemporary Life

The astute reader will note that whilst I cheerfully describe -some - of my own contemporary activities, the people around me rarely get a mention. My egomania aside, this is something I struggle with.

If I were to begin to describe those around me, and retell their tales, then it would be incredibly easy for staff to join the dots and make positive identifications. The last thing I would want is for something I wrote to be used as ammunition against any of my peers. We know that the blog is monitored by Security Group in Prison Service Headquarters.

This does deprive us of a very rich source of entertainment, and I wish it were otherwise. The best I presently feel able to do is extrapolate from my peers experiences, use the contemporary as a base for a broader point or as a prompt for a past experience which has the same elements. Although as I feel more able, the bods around me may well make guest appearances, when possible.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Too Much Information??

My health has always been good. I've never spent more than one night in hospital, never broken a bone and - my dodgy serotonin levels aside - I've bumbled through life pretty unscathed.

And then my semen turned brown. As events likely to perturb a man go, this is up there with being Bobbited. The problem righted itself, but off to the Doctor I went. Blood tests followed, and suddenly I appreciated the idea of ignorance being bliss.

My PSA level is elevated, as are my sodium levels and cholesterol. So my prostate, kidneys and ticker are all deciding to be troublesome. At best, this is a minor glitch. At worst, this is cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

This is why men rarely trouble their GP. If we don't know, then we have nothing to trouble our serene existence. I should have stuck to my gender trait!

Of course, the fact that I have to be carted off to hospital for a medic to stick a finger up my bum is giving my mates vast entertainment. But apart from the general indignity of it, the fact that I will be handcuffed to one of the Prison Service’s finest for the procedure only adds to the appalling prospect.

Monday, October 4, 2010


The Mohicaned guy who recently took the piss out of my panama hat has come in for some minor mockery from the lads, who thought my story particularly funny (it was reprinted in Inside Time). It seems fair that I portray this guy in one of his finer moments as recompense!

Tony, an old-ish lifer of little physical presence, was walking the exercise yard in his local prison. A gaggle of short term cons took a liking to his watch, and took it from him.

We were outraged. Short termers mugging a Lifer? What the hell? In the event, it was the man who, today, is the Mohicaned mocker of my Panama hat who actually acted.

Cornering the short-termer on the exercise yard, he persuaded him to hand the watch back. There may be a suggestion that blood curdling threats of violence were made...who could say??

The mugger had tried to play it safe and had hidden the watch up his arse. And so, in the middle of the exercise yard, he was forced to squat and retrieve it.

Job done!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Risky Job.

Every nick has a con who labours under the title of being "the video rep". Before in-cell TV, this was the guy tasked with providing suitable entertainment on the communal telly, sourcing videos and recording the stuff we missed through being banged up.

With the provision of in-cell TV, this job has now morphed into being in charge of a single channel. We have 9 channels, plus a spare. The "video rep" has access to the digi-box and its myriad Freeview channels, and selects from these what is piped through to the spare channel.

It is a thoroughly unrewarding job, on the basis that you can't please all the people, and in some nicks being video rep carries genuine physical risk. Not in this backwater, though. Just as well, as the job is about to be vacated and I'm thinking of applying. It's an extra three quid a week.

Anyone want to take bets on how long I will survive if I follow my natural inclinations and opt for BBC4 and the Parliament Channel?

The Baby Thing...

Did someone really suggest that the story about the dead baby was a weird joke?

Prison humour is lethally dark, but not something I share with you - that was a straightforward telling of a factual event.

The Editor suggested I fill in the blanks, though. The teacher had "borrowed" the baby from her husband, a hospital pathologist. It was intended to be a teaching aid of some kind.

I was outraged and appalled, and went straight into the Education office to kick up a stink. The baby was removed, the lesson continued.

Horrible things happen in prison, and I'd be remiss to remind you of that on occasion. And anyone who thought it was a joke should look to their conscience!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Heart Attack

Civilian nurses were being introduced into prisons, overturning the reign of indifferently trained prison staff. This meant pretty nurses! The length of the "sick parade" on my wing was directly related to whether a certain blonde nurse was on duty.

For reasons lost in the depths of time, I was shuffled in front of the Doctor to have my pulse and blood pressure taken. As he prodded away, I couldn't help but let my eyes drift past him to the nurse sitting in front of me. And the fact her uniform had ridden up to expose a vast expanse of very nice thigh.

What I thought was unobtrusive perving was captured by the Doc's measurements. My pulse rate had shot up to the degree that I left with a diagnosis of palpitations and a prescription for beta-blockers!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sarah's Law and Communities

When I was a kid, my friends and I always knew that the bloke at the end of the road was "dodgy". We didn't even know the word paedophile, or anything about sex for that matter, but we knew damn well to steer clear of that bloke.

That was a small Welsh community, settled and cohesive. The community held its memories and made its social judgements. No formal charges need be made, no official pronouncements or registers demanded. I daresay that this remains the way of things in small communities.

Equally, in larger and more unsettled areas, then such social information and judgement must be absent. When people do not know their neighbours, how can they know whether they are Good or Bad?

This effect of social mobility and isolation must play a part in the reasoning underlying Sarah's Law. If it is, then it has the distinction of being the only strand in this mess that has any coherence.

On the face of it, it is obvious that we should be told if there is a danger in our midst. There are two huge flaws in this. Firstly, it assumes that a person’s future actions can be extrapolated from their past. They cannot. Human beings do not dance to some Newtonian clockwork mechanism.

The second flaw is rather more fundamental and fishy. Kids are far more likely to be molested once they reach home, rather than being kidnapped by a stranger on their journey.

Sarah's Law distinguishes itself in its deliberate and wilful mis-direction as to the danger. It isn't so much the sex offenders who have already been captured, punished, released and registered who pose the problem. It is those who remain unknown, in their homes that are the risk. But now everybody is looking in the wrong direction.

And has Sarah's Law had a positive effect? According to the papers and its supporters, yes. According to keener eyes - has it hell!

Is it the fragmented nature of modern life that has forced us to rely on the State for information about our neighbours, rather than our being able to tap into stable social networks? And, one for futurologists, will social networking on the Web replace a little of the networking that used to take place on the streets?

I apologise for mixing themes in this piece - communities and Sarah's Law - but they are profoundly connected. A purer, more focused piece would have pointed out that Sarah's Law is a testament to the will of the tabloids and some victims’ groups, and nothing to do with actually protecting children.

And a separate piece would have pointed out that our fragmenting society no longer acts as it did as a channel to carry useful information within communities. Rather than a new boyfriend being placed in a context, a known history of rumours and pub talk, leaving us to make our own we have to rely on the State to gather than information and make the judgement for us. In this sense, Sarah's Law is more pertinent to a discussion about the nature of communities than to child welfare.

And here's the kicker. If you do inquire of the police about a new partner or child minder, they won't tell you straight if that person has dodgy antecedents. No - they only tell you if they believe that he poses a future risk. With a lack of information on our part, we surrender our judgement and discretion to some minor State bureaucrat. Strange way to protect kids.