Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Another year gone...thank you all for your interest and support, your willingness to be thoughtful and your comments. If you can stick around for the next year, we may see this through to the end together!

Have a good celebration, see you next year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I was a pain, really.

My god, I was an argumentative git in my late teens. As I was devouring up to half a dozen books a day, on everything from astrophysics to mediaeval constitutional law, then I had as much knowledge as I had opinion. Which is a lot!

And so I argued. Endlessly. And I argued to win. It was an amazing intellectual exercise. And, in fairness, it could make me 'hard work'.

I recall a game of Trivial Pursuit in which the winning question was connected to the damage done by a particular size of nuclear weapon. I made my answer, only for the cards to declare me Wrong. Surely not?? So I made everyone sit whilst I went off to grab my calculator and copy of Glastone and Dolan's Effects of Nuclear Weapons, and they gnashed their teeth as I worked out the correct answer by hand from the physics. I was right. But I wasn't popular!

This argumentativeness led to one man standing in front of me and declaring that "you would argue the toss over the time of day!" With a straight face, I asked him, "do you meant GMT, solar time, sidereal time, Universal Time...?" I could see both his jaw and his fist clench as he struggled. Then stormed off.

My reputation in this period was salvaged by an astonishing stroke of luck. Sitting in a classroom in the early evening, we heard a gaggle of military jets pass overhead. I declared that these were F-lllF's on their way to bomb Libya. I could tell the make of jet by the engine noise. All utter tripe, a throwaway remark.

Turning on the radio the next morning...American F-lllF's from RAF Fairford had led an attack on Libya. For quite a while after that, I was afforded some reverence. Which I accepted without a blush!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Violent Protest

One of my lodestones in life is non-violence. This applies particularly when it comes to selecting the methods by which to challenge authority in general or specific policies. It is with some despair then that I watch the pointless flailings of protestors on the streets of London. What a wasted opportunity and how quickly political, social and media traction and capital can be vaporised. Ho hum.

But these particular protesters include the finest minds of the next generation. Surely they can evolve a better strategy...?

For example, a "superglue campaign", perhaps revolving around the slogan “Sticky Students”!

How many people would it take to close main transport arteries? Roads, runways, railways, if people superglued themselves to the roads and rails and aircraft? A few dozen? Each group dressed to a theme for media interest and general entertainment. London could be paralysed by a few dozen people, a few quid’s worth of glue -and without squandering sympathy by resorting to violence. Doh!

You can imagine scantily clad students (again, think of the media interest) who glue themselves across the doorways of important buildings - banks, ministries, police stations, newspaper offices, Harrods, McD's. Stuck in courtrooms, at police station counters...the only limit to this is imagination. All the chaos, none of the opprobrium.

MP's all over the nation spend their weekends holding constituency surgeries and opening fĂȘtes. Students could make appointments, shake their MP's hand...and thanks to the miracle of superglue, 650 MP's could find themselves shackled to students for a few hours, each one persistently arguing their cause to the decidedly captive audience.

Sticky students could appear welded to the benches in the Strangers Gallery or the imposing statues in the main lobby of parliament. Stuck to the sides of police cars and vans. Even individual coppers could find themselves stickied with a student.

The PR would have been rather different if instead of poking Camilla with a stick, a Baywatch-clad student had welded herself across the bonnet of the royal Roller. As a strategy, this has never been tried as before. Most importantly, it is unstoppable. It can continue for as long as necessary. Or the supply of students with nerve runs out.

The present campaign can be dismissed as just another march, just another outbreak of violence. Old strategy, old news. But an outbreak of Sticky Students would be a global first and garner vast attention. It is then up to the merits of the argument to the win the day.

Active Non-violence is an exceptionally powerful tool for change. It requires imagination and personal courage. The present demonstrations would be far more effective and interesting if people could conceive of something a little less brainless than smashing the odd window.

Oh, and this is why we aren't allowed superglue in prison!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dawn Chorus

Awakening around 7am, the wing is deathly silent. Staff quietly make their way around doing a headcount, peeking through the observation panels in the doors.

Slowly, the men around me come to life. Toilets begin to flush. The water pipes that run through each cell begin to judder and squeal as taps are run and sinks are filled. Then the coughing begins. Often this is a manifestation of whichever bug is doing the rounds, but there is a strong undercurrent of smokers coughs interwoven as the first fags of the day are being rolled.

Then the doors are unlocked. Another day.

We're Back!

Thank you for all your lovely messages of support. It warms the heart to know when one's efforts are appreciated.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

There will be no new posts for a few days as the Editor is taking a break. A Happy Christmas and Peaceful New Year to one and all!

Let's make this personal

If it was your child in prison, how would that effect your view of how
prisoners should be treated?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Xmas Menu

This is a touchy subject, so let's get it out of the way. This is our Christmas Day menu.
Main - Sausage, bacon, scrambled egg, black pudding, fried bread,beans and mushrooms.
Veggie - veg sausagesX2, scrambled egg, hash brown, fried bread,beans, mushrooms.
Pork Free- Halal sausage X 2, scrambled egg, hash brown, fried bread, beans, mushrooms.
Main • Sliced Roast Turkey
Pork Free - Halal Chicken Leg
Veggie- Salmon Portion
Vegan - Lentil and Nut Roast
All served with - roast potatoes, kilted sausages, stuffing, honey glazed parsnips, garden peas, carrots, gravy. Christmas pudding and Vanilla sauce.
Tea pack, choose one of the following:
1. Cheese baguette
2. Ham baguette
3. Tuna baguette
And one of the following:
1. Pork pie
2. Sausage roll
3. Vegetarian samosa

You will also receive a pack with crisps, instant noodles, soup sachet, chocolate, fruit, biscuits, Xmas cake and drink.
NB: As ever this reads an awful lot better than it appears on our plates. The devil is in the detail. The sausage, for instance isn't a nice fat juicy one but something about 2 inches long. The bacon is a strip l\2 inches by 4. The fried bread is half-a slice. The sliced roast turkey comes from a tin. And please don't think that the cooked breakfast is a regular thing; this is the only one of the year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lesser Eligibilty

There is an argument that prisoners should live no better than the poorest in the community. So should we have a Christmas dinner, when the whole day's menu costs less than 2 quid a head?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


To feel 'sorry' for killing someone seems a little trite. It feels improper to use a word that slips out in response to dropping a biscuit on a clean floor in the context of such an immense act as killing another human being.

I have two recurring nightmares, both of which become prominent around the anniversary of my crime. The first is a terror that my victim will appear out of the darkness, a spectral avenger, to kill me. The second is to be faced with my victim’s family.

What could I say? What possible part of my life, my body or my soul could I offer up in explanation? All murder is essentially irrational and while I could offer an explanation it would seem utterly drained of real meaning.

Each lifer carries their burden differently. Small minorities live in denial or slippery self-justification. The majority carry it as a secret stain on their soul; murder is a very private, as well as very public, tragedy. Some sink into self-loathing and kill themselves.

The burden develops over time. For me, as I grew into adulthood my appreciation of life increased and with it the enormity of what I had done. I have felt slightly apart from the community since that moment. Simon Weisenthal asserted that only the victim can forgive, and so murder is a crime that cannot be expunged. It is a debt that can never be repaid, a harm that can never be undone.

Time doesn't heal the wound, no more than it does for victims. But we both share the superficial healing, the patina of normality and daily life that slowly intrudes into the pain for longer and longer moments. But a slight pause in life can be sufficient to return the raw pain to the surface.

The past cannot be undone. That suffering cannot be erased and it would be futile to attempt it. What, then, is there that can be done? For me, I determined to 'fix' the psychological flaws that

led me to see killing as a solution to a fit of panic and fear. And it is no coincidence that my studies centre on conflict and attempting to reduce violence. All that remains possible is to try to live life in such a way as to leave this earth the better for your having existed.


Ed's note: still no new blog stuff, so looking at today's blog comments I chose this one, from 24/0/09. Hopefully the post will get through tomorrow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Dancing in the Dark

Music has, for as long as I remember, held a powerful place within prisons. It offers a refuge from the sharp background of steel clanging, a soothing buffer of individuality against the collective nature of prison life.

Regardless of the architecture that surrounds it, music has an intrinsic attraction and power. I often use it to be taken on an emotional journey, a way to transform daily frustrations and anger into a more mellow view of life. It really does soothe the savage breast.

There was a standard cannon, a range of tapes that could always be found amongst long termers - Queen, Meatloaf, Dire Straits, and War of the Worlds being the most common. This was a function of both preference and restrictions - strict limits were placed on the number of audio cassettes allowed.

Playing this music was never as straightforward as it would be in the free world. A matter of a few feet separates prisoners from each other and loud music intrudes into the next man's cell - his only semblance of a private space - surprisingly easily.

The standard rule of thumb amongst long-termers is to keep your noise down after 10pm. Persistent offenders are subjected to increasing levels of social pressure, until patience wears thin. You’re likely to find your radio has been damaged; or your cell set on fire ('burned out'). Finding yourself on the wrong end of fists isn't unknown.

Until my mp3 player broke down, I lived my life to a different soundtrack to that offered by the landings. Earphones in place, I could be enervated or transported by the a thousand tunes. Behind my locked door at night, lights switched off, it was not unknown that I'd indulge in what could politely be called 'middle aged bloke dance', a vague jerking of arms and legs following the beat. Wary night staff, who peek through the observation slit, may be warned that I'd often do this naked. To 'Mambo No.5'. That's a vision you don't want stuck in your head.

Enjoy your music. Don't piss off your neighbours. This is universal, isn't it?

Santa's Visit

Some Christmases ago we were out in the exercise yard, a fenced compound that abutted the perimeter wall. Two hundred bored, cold men huddled in groups or trudging around anti-clockwise.

Then Santa appeared. An ex-prisoner, jailed for refusing to pay his poll tax and released months earlier, appeared at the top of the perimeter wall dressed in a Santa costume, and began to throw bags of chocolates and tobacco into the yard.

As we outnumbered the screws by 20 to 1, no effort was made to remove these goodies from us. They settled for frisking us as we left the yard to check we were free of weapons, leaving us to keep our pockets stuffed with treats.

A merry Christmas was had by all.

Yo ho ho!

Snowed in!

The Editor is snowed in and the post cannot get through! I have, for the moment, run out of blog posts from Ben as these are sent in the mail.

Until normal service is resumed I shall recycle some old favourites for the benefit of new readers to this blog, starting with life in prison at Christmas time.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The MoJ response to the PB

The Secretary of State has now considered the Parole Board recommendation, and agrees with this view for the reasons given by the Panel.

The PB noted that you have not completed any group offending behaviour work, to address your risks, but that an OASYS assessment puts your risk of re-conviction as low and your risk of causing serious harm as medium. They also acknowledged that you could be from time to time difficult to manage and challenging in your attitudes, but observed that these matters should not, of themselves, prevent your progression to open conditions, unless the behaviour impacted upon your risk of violent behaviour. Until recently your conduct was not to accept what you describe as "inferior and menial" work. The Board noted, however, that since a hearing in 2006 your attitude has changed markedly, you found work in the Education Department and are currently studying for a PhD in Criminology. You have also now indicated that you are prepared to co-operate if you were transferred to open conditions and that you were now willing to adhere to a condition that you should, on release, initially live at a probation hostel.

The Board reviewed your case with care and reconsidered the whole issue of risk. They were of the view that if you are transferred to open conditions it is overwhelmingly likely that you will continue to be a challenging and difficult inmate to manage. The Board also noted that you have been in prison for many years and your re-integration into the community, if it is ever to take place, must be handled slowly and carefully. Your management must be effective and transparent; you and those responsible for your supervision must work towards a way to co-exist with co¬operation, openness and honesty. Without it, no panel could be properly satisfied that the risk you pose is sufficiently reduced to direct release.

The responsibility for addressing your risk reduction rests with you. However the Secretary of State has identified from the information contained within your dossier and the Parole Board's recommendation, the following interventions in open conditions to help you address these factors.

• Undertake further relapse prevention and risk reduction consolidation work as may be recommended for you with commitment and motivation.
• Undertake ROTLs
• To be carefully monitored in all areas of risk to ensure that
you are equipped to deal with the requirements of everyday life
in the community.
• Build a constructive relationship with your Offender Manager
and with his/her help develop and test a robust release plan.
Bearing in mind the views of the Parole Board regarding your slow and careful re-integration into the community, your review period has been set at 18 months and takes account of the following:-
• 4 months transfer and settling period.
• Relapse prevention and consolidation work including testing.
• ROTLs after approximately 4-6 months.
• Development of a robust release plan.
• Time to develop an effective and transparent relationship with your supervising officers.
Your next parole review process will be undertaken in accordance with the Generic Parole Process, a new centrally monitored review process. Your review process is expected to take 26 weeks to complete, as it involves the preparation of reports and co¬ordination of various parties, including the Public Protection Casework Section, the Prison Service and the Parole Board. Your parole review will eminence in November 2011, and the month for your oral hearing by the Parole Board is May 2012.

Bearing in mind the views of the Parole Board regarding your slow and careful re-integration into the community, your review period has been set at 18 months and takes account of the following:-

4 months transfer and settling period.
• Relapse prevention and consolidation work including testing.
• ROTLs after approximately 4-6 months.
• Development of a robust release plan.

Time to develop an effective and transparent relationship with your supervising officers.

Your next parole review process will be undertaken in accordance with the Generic Parole Process, a new centrally monitored review process. Your review process is expected to take 26 weeks to complete, as it involves the preparation of reports and co¬ordination of various parties, including the Public Protection Casework Section, the Prison Service and the Parole Board. Your parole review will eminence in November 2011, and the month for your oral hearing by the Parole Board is May 2012.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Whither Victims?"

Here is the problem. The criminal justice system is designed to be largely impersonal, magisterial and impartial. Crimes are prosecuted as being against the Crown, the State, and never an individual.

Conversely, the effects of crime are often profoundly personal. The suffering and pain carried by victims of violent and sexual crimes, in particular, are unique and theirs alone.

It is in the gap between these two domains that disputes, anger, despair and frustration fester. And bridging this gap, attempting to use an impersonal process to address individual suffering, highlights the flaw in very concept of 'criminal justice'. It just isn't designed to heal, to address suffering. The focus upon judgement and punishment has, for a thousand years, overshadowed any attempt to reform the personal bonds that crime severs.

It is no surprise that that are vociferous victims, both individuals and groups, who rail against the current system and their status within it. There is a perpetual cry that 'victims are ignored' and that 'the system protects the criminal but not the victim'. There is some truth in this. Not from malice, not from political disdain, but as a natural consequence of criminal justice as it is conceived.

Nevertheless, recent years have seen governments attempting to lever the concerns of individual victims into the framework of an impersonal justice system. A Victims Service was created, intended to guide and support victims through the trial process. Some categories of alleged victims are absolved from having to face the people they are accusing. Victims can make a statement before sentencing which expresses the effect the crime has had on their lives. Victims can choose to keep in touch with the Prison and Probation services and be consulted and informed when a prisoner is being considered for various activities. Victims can attend parole hearings and lobby the parole board. And victims can ask the parole board to include certain conditions to be included in release licences, such as the prisoner being barred from wide geographical areas.

Some of these efforts are laudable. Who ever thought that prosecution and defence witnesses, the alleged criminal and victim, should share the same waiting rooms in courthouses, for instance? Offering support to victims at points in the criminal justice process cannot be objectionable and are long overdue.

Some of these efforts, though, are political sops that risk undermining Justice and rendering it arbitrary. Should a person’s sentence or release rest upon whether the victims arrive at the courthouse or parole hearing? What if the victim was a thoroughly horrible human being and had no supporters? What if one bereaved family wails with a shriller voice than another? These are not factors that should determine the metric of Justice, and to permit this is to abandon criminal justice in favour of personalised revenge - or forgiveness.

To say that the concerns of victims have been ignored is simply not true. That victims have not had their agenda imposed upon the system is, and neither is the system designed to satisfy individual victim's demands. For example, the desire of Frances Lawrence to know the location of her husbands killer in the community was denied. As a matter of policy - and good sense -the sharing of such information with victims increases the chances of a revenge attack. Instead, the license conditions of the released criminal contains conditions that bar them - on pain or recall to prison - from entering areas where their victims may be found. Such are the compromises that must exist when an impersonal system attempts to meet individual needs, and often no one is satisfied.

In many ways there can never be a place in the criminal justice system for victims. By its very definition and design, criminal justice cannot meet the needs of the individuals enmeshed within it. To do so would be to render it arbitrary.

This is a dilemma that all of us - the accused, the offended against and the wider society - can only begin to address when we accept that impersonal justice systems can never address personal suffering. Perhaps only then, maybe, we will consider a system of justice which can solve these problems. Restorative justice, anyone?

Note from Ed: Ben has himself lost a family member to violent crime.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

MoJ Press Office Runs the Prison!

Who knew? We always thought that Governors ran the prison, overseen by a herd of line managers, accountants and audit teams. The odd activist Minister may even have a say.

But today, I learned that the Ministry of Justice Press Office (Debbie Kirby on 0203 334 3520) actually call the tune. Interesting...

A journalist from a heavyweight broadsheet wanted to visit me, and the local management said no - as is broadly permitted under the Rules. For the law geeks, that's laid out in PSI 37/2010.

The problem resolved itself when we waved Section 4.2 around. "If a journalist who is a friend or relative of the prisoner wishes to have a social visit in this capacity, the visitor and prisoner must give written undertakings that any material obtained during the visit will not be used for professional purposes." And that is the basis on which we wanted this visit - it was not to be the source of any interview, etc, and we were both willing to sign the necessary disclaimer to that effect.

Local management were happy, reassured that all involved -including they - were abiding by the rules. A Visiting Order was duly despatched and my man travelled through the snow all the way from London. To be denied access.

Some managerial type had a wobble and phoned the MoJ Press Office for clarification. The Press Office insisted that only they could authorise any journo visiting, in a personal capacity or otherwise. The governor disagreed, but in the face of force majeure agreed to ban my visitor.

The Governor was right in his interpretation of the rules. For once - whisper it not - I agree with him. The rule, 4.2 above, is perfectly clear and both I, my visitor and the Governors abided by it.

Alas, our good intentions were over-ruled by some legal pygmy in the Press Office. Bear in mind that the function of the MoJ Press Office, in relation to prisons, is to keep the media away from us. And, it seems, at any cost including ignoring the law.

And you have to wonder, is a Press Office which unnecessarily hacks off a journo at the paper of record a bright bunny? Or is it that they just don't know squat about PR??

Either way, that some ignorant herbert in a Press Office in London is over-ruling a Governor trying to run his prison is a pretty scary prospect. It was frightening enough when Governors were in charge. Add some ex-local newsrag hacks into the mix and chaos can't be far away.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Just another conversation

Leaning on the railings outside my door, I was taking the piss out of the landing cleaner and his efforts. He said he didn't mind manual work, so long as it wasn't on a production line.

A passing wit said, "you wouldn't complain if it was a tit factory!"
The three of us stood in silence, trying to imagine just what that would look like, before wandering off into our day.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Arbitrary Insanity

Just for a moment, forget televisions and PlayStations. One of the greatest burdens of being a Lifer is that we are perpetually vulnerable to arbitrary decisions and judgements made by those in charge of our lives and progress to release. This happened to me at my recent parole hearing.

In the first few years of our sentence, we are prodded and poked about our crime until our keepers are happy that they can distil from the events our "risk factors". These are the elements in our lives, the motives for our crime. The idea then is that we address these factors during our sentence and reduce them to a level where we are safe to be released. For instance, if you are a persistent drinker and kill a man after an angry outburst in a pub, the risk factors would include 'alcohol' and 'anger management'.

I refused to talk about my crime for over a year after I was convicted. Since then, I've spoken about it, rehashed it, in a thousand interviews, to the extent that I then exhibit symptoms of PTSD. The Prison Service and their legions of psychologists listed my risk factors over a quarter of a century ago. This list has expanded and contracted a little over the years, according to the whims of staff, but usually comprises loss of control, anti-authoritarian attitude, low self-esteem, relationships and impulsive aggressive behaviour (i.e., the offence).
In fairness, most of these factors can be linked to my crime, even if very tenuously. Being anti-authoritarian is a stretch though; what's that to do with killing my mate? So prison staff chuck stuff into these lists of risk factors that have bugger all to do with the crime.

For the length of my sentence, then, both I and staff have worked from a common understanding of my crime. Not a single psychologist has disputed either the events or the analysis. Even the Home Office and Ministry of Justice have always been happy with this joint analysis. Every previous Parole Board has been happy with it. But now, it's all up in the air.

The psychologist who sat as part of the last Parole panel put me through the wringer over my motives. She was not happy with my analysis of why I killed my friend. You can say she is entitled to her view, true. But when it flies in the face of 25 years worth of prison reports, from psychologists and psychiatrists, it would be fair to insist that she base her view on more than a personal whim.

It sticks in my throat that the Parole answer then includes the line that "of critical importance no-one, including you, knows what the triggers were in your index offence." They could properly have written that "the psychologist on the parole board wasn't happy", that's fine. But to suggest that both I and everyone who has dealt with me for the last 30 years have been scratching our heads over this is a blatant lie. All the prison staff reports at that hearing, and the summary of my whole sentence put before them, all agree about my crime and my 'risk factors'. Not a single one wavers from that. Everyone knows what the triggers were in my crime - but this one psychologist isn't convinced.

Why should this matter to me, enough to bore you with it? Because it sets the clock back thirty years, it wipes out all I have done to reduce my risk. It is to say that they are no nearer understanding me or my crime than they were the day I entered prison. Though this panel then recommends me for Open prison, I am in a position of extreme danger.

I could walk through the gates and be welcomed by some trainee psychologist who could now say that without a sound understanding of my crime I'm too high a risk to progress. That I will need to do endless "work". And until this work is done, I am stuck, in limbo.

My defence against what I see as this rogue parole board psychologist is that the official response from the Ministry of Justice makes no mention of this fracas. They remain content that they, myself and prison staff understand my crime. All the Ministry want me to do in the way of 'psychology stuff' is to work on my 'commitment and motivation'. To what, they don't say.

That parole hearing came within a whisker of screwing me over and rendering the last thirty years moot. It could easily have sunk me for another decade or more. Not for anything I've done of late, not for any change in circumstances or attitudes, not for outrageous behaviour. But simply because one psychologist disagrees with every other psychologist who has gone before.

This is the nature of my sentence. All Lifers live in a state of flux, uncertainty, knowing that whatever we do we are always vulnerable to just one individual writing a bad report or taking a different view. And that halts us in our tracks.

It looks as if I dodged a bullet this time, and let's hope I manage to remain unscathed through my time in Open prison. My view of the Parole Board, though, has sunk even lower than it was before. And I didn't think that was possible.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Health, Safety and Punishment

In some prisons, without in-cell toilets, access to the loo at night is via an electronic unlocking system. This allows one person at a time out of cell and it can be hours before you get your turn.

In desperation, some men then pee into an empty plastic pop bottle and empty it the next day. It's either that, soiling oneself, or peeing out the window. Some prisons are now laying disciplinary charges against men who pee in a bottle on grounds of "endangering health and safety". Oddly, that has never occurred to staff in those prisons where the only facilities are a plastic bucket and slopping out is still the norm.

Lesson - if we do it, it’s a crime. If the State forces us to do it, that's okay.

Good to know, isn't it?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Crucial Paragraph.

There are times when I wish I could plaster my paperwork across the web for all to see. Alas, much of it also refers to other people and their role in events in my life and so - for the moment I can only share snippets with you.

Here, then, is the paragraph from my latest Parole Board answer that contains their reasons why I am not ready for release. Enjoy!

"The panel has reviewed your case with care and has reconsidered the whole issue of risk. If you are transferred to open conditions it is overwhelmingly likely that you will continue to be a challenging and difficult inmate to manage. However, the Panel is required to assess the risk you pose of re-offending which would cause serious harm to the public, not whether you are a card-carrying member of the awkward squad. The Panel is wholly un-persuaded that the risk is now so small that you could be safely released at this stage; release is not remotely an option. You have been in prison for many years and your re-integration into the community, if it is ever to take place, must be handled slowly and carefully."

So...I have to spend longer in prison in order to repair the damage that being in prison so long has apparently caused. Get out of that one!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wondering Why...

Why are we issued with razor blades and permitted hobby knives, but are prohibited from having coffee in a glass jar?

Why do the staff go barmy if they catch us having a spliff, but then dish out psychotropic medications to women prisoners as if they were sweets?

Why do Governors NEVER just say "yes" to anything?

Why, in every new Parliamentary intake is there one MP who adopts the "rent a quote" role on prisons, despite knowing bugger all about the subject?

Why are the psychologists 'treating' sex offenders invariably young women?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Times Article

There is a brilliant article in the Times today, the newspaper and online. Here is an extract: "When John “Ben” Gunn was a child he killed a boy. A troubled 14-year-old living in a children’s home, he got into a fight with a friend and hit him over the head with a piece of wood. Gunn called 999, was arrested and accused of GBH as the other boy was taken to hospital.

Four days later the boy died. Gunn was charged with murder. If someone had told him what manslaughter was this story might have ended decades ago. But he took his barrister’s advice to plead guilty to murder and was ordered to be detained during Her Majesty’s Pleasure with the tariff (the length of time he had to serve for retribution and deterrence before he could be considered for release) set at ten years."

Here is the link:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tories take the hardest road

Someone recently asked me what I thought about Ken Clarke and the general Tory line on prisons and related environs. It made me think.

There has never been a 'traditional' Tory line on prisons. Each Home Secretary (now Justice Secretary) followed a broad ideological view, true, but the influence that had on the prison landings was small. Thus we had Douglas Hurd stating that "prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse", and Michael Howard baldly proclaiming that "Prison works!". The Tory party has been a pretty broad church historically when it comes to matters penological.

This situation held true until Michael Howard. Howard retreated into a simple set of ideological assertions which happened to be both popular and populist. Electorally clever, but intellectually shoddy. He treated crime and punishment as simplistic problems which were amenable to simple solutions. And in doing so, shattered the broad post-War consensus and made prisons a highly politically charged subject.

Jack Straw continued this trend. Listening to his speeches in opposition, I was very worried by his simplistic, authoritarian tone. And, sadly, I was right to be. Labour made a spectacular mess out of prisons policy and thousands of my peers are paying that price.

The Coalition government, though, has avoided trapping itself into an ever harsher spiral of simplistic and populist policies. This may be Ken Clarke's natural inclination (he was a "mostly harmless" Home Secretary for prisoners) but the opportunities of Coalition politics offer him and his allies more room to operate. The LibDems were never going to support mindless and reactionary prison policies. With that backdrop Clarke has an opportunity of movement which, should it end in disaster, can be blamed on the necessities of coalition rather than be a black mark against the Tories. And it makes it harder for the media to pin down a target to attack; should they aim for Clarke, or the LibDems, or the whole Coalition?

This situation allows Ministers to actually think about prison. Penology is a complicated issue that requires complicated solutions. And that is a lot harder than slapping us in a reflexive act of vengeance. So far, Clarke gives the impression that he is at least willing to try to engage with the issues in a meaningful way - rather than throwing chunks of prisoners to the baying mob.

Monday, December 6, 2010


What is it with the Prison Service? Rather than deal with an issue, rather than debate or deny, they instinctively try to suppress the voice of prisoners. In this day and age, a pretty pointless exercise but then prison managers have never been famous for keeping up with the times. They just rely on old habits.

So they refuse to allow a journalist in to see me, after giving him permission to visit. Doh! And now, according to a letter in this month’s Inside Time, the management at Frankland nick tried to hide copies of that newspaper which carried my blog-post about the staff brutality in their prison.

Really?? I mean, come on, welcome to the information age! There are payphones, domestic and legal visits, letters, illegal mobiles, all supplemented by the prison is going to travel, one way or another.

Why be so silly and backward as to try to suppress it? Why not investigate the claims of brutality? Why not pop onto the blog and refute them? Welcome to the 21st century prison service -just like the 20th century one, if it doesn't like something, it tries to sguash it. Silly sods.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bloody Cold!

The Editor insists I look after my health and that includes porridge and vitamins for breakfast as well as fresh air. Neither of us calculated on the temperature hitting minus 6C.

Still, I parked myself in the yard for two hours, so numb that the cold became meaningless. The pond is layered in inches of ice, thick enough to hold Cancer Boy when he walked across it that evening.

And in those freezing moments in the still yard, I made a mental note to tell you that I am extremely fortunate. This little existence of mine is played out in a tiny prison in the sticks, low security and largely quiet and uneventful.
Most of the 90,000 prisoners don't get to sit in the yard in peace. At best, they get to tramp around in a big circle like a herd, overseen by screws who want them off the yard as fast as is legal so that they can return to their warm offices.

Most of these prisoners won't feel the snow underfoot, exercise yards being closed due to 'inclement weather' or on dubious health and safety grounds. Even fewer will be in prisons that allow them to wear woolly gloves or hats, or decent coats.

The broad strokes of my life are those shared by every prisoner. But try not to extrapolate from the fine detail; that would be unfair on those who are suffering in far worse circumstances.

Friday, December 3, 2010

We're jammin...

Sitting in the freezing cold yard under the yellow floodlights, two members of the musical fraternity begin jamming lyrics. It quickly descended into the default cynicism of Lifers:

"Woke up this morning,
My baby was gone.
Fucking social workers..."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A lot going on

The original Cancer Boy collared me in passing the other day to suggest that I may be dealing with more than my brain can cope with, and maybe I should let something go?

There's writing this blog. Working on an autobiography. My PhD research. Open prison. Depression. Prison politics. Oh, and the cancer. He does have a point, that is an awful lot of pressure and I can't deny that there are days when I feel a tad stressed.

So I'm relying on you guys to let me know - should I start churning out mad, incoherent, sentences feel free to point out that I've finally snapped under the strain!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Financial Services

It is very strange to realise that, at the ripe age of 45, I have never had more than £150 to my name. And never earned more than £12 in a single week.

What an odd life I've lived so far.