Sunday, January 16, 2011

Family Support

I have lost track of the number of Lifers I've met along the years who have had huge, sometimes permanent, fallings out with their families.
These are not your normal familial spats. These rows grow out of the nature of the Life sentence. Families are forever asking "Why aren't you out yet??" - and accuse the Lifer of keeping misdeeds from them.
It is a perpetual - and tiring! - task to try to explain to outsiders, family included, that prisons are not rational bureaucracies. Being a Good Boy doesn't necessarily lead to a speedier release.
Having spent decades trying to grasp the nature of the machine that grinds away at my bones, of attempting to find some rational basis for what I see and experience, I can only come to one conclusion. It is essentially arbitrary and unpredictable. As scary as that realisation is, it really is the only explanation that covers the facts. It's like having your house run by a 2 year old.
Only when families grasp this do they fully support "their" Lifer and stop blaming him for matters outside of his control.


  1. "It's like having your house run by a 2 year old."

    That is a brilliant analogy, it is insightful and really helps those of us with little or no experience of prisons to understand and realise the extent of the problem

  2. Fundamentally I think the real cause here is separation. As someone who has witnessed allot of arguments in the world outside (in particular where the people are living in different places without the easy ability to travel between) an awful lot of them are down to "you're not here" or "you weren't their for me" and I don't think prison is any different. The blaming the person for still being inside seems very much like finding something to blame for problems that are already there. Not saying that the unending wait is not a factor in itself, but it seems likely that it is also used as a way of blaming the other person for the inevitable breakdown that separation brings.

  3. "That is a brilliant analogy, it is insightful and really helps those of us with little or no experience of prisons to understand and realise the extent of the problem"

    Of course to pass the Turing Test, the ChatBot should seem as human as possible.

  4. On 11 January 2011, Prisoners (Voting Rights) was the subject of a debate in Westminster Hall at the House of Commons. Leaving aside that this is but a sideshow, I was interested to learn the "expert" views of Mr Offord.

    "Mr Offord: The picture that the hon. Gentleman paints is of prisoners being like the fictional characters of Andy Dufresne or Norman Fletcher-I am talking about paying capital gains tax and other tax. However, if we look at someone like John Hirst, who was originally convicted and sentenced to 15 years, we will find that he served another 10 years for his behaviour in prison. That shows that not only was he not a model prisoner when he was in prison, but he was not a contributor to society when he was out of it. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that some prisoners deserve to lose the kind of rights that we have been talking about?".

    Actually, I was sentenced to a discretionary life sentence with a tariff of 15 years. No doubt somebody will correct me if I am wrong, but I have, as long as I can remember, believed that all human beings display behaviour. So, it is interesting that I was given another 10 years for something which comes naturally. Perhaps, it is a reference to my challenging behaviour?

    It is well established that authority does not take kindly to challenges whether they be legitimate or illegitimate.

    I recall that when I was sentenced I did not know what a life sentence entails. The Home Office booklet was of little help because it was designed to con the public and not assist a lifer. I was left to find out by trial and error as I went along.

    Certainly I was challenging. One of the reasons for this being the secrecy surrounding my Category "A" status and how to get it downgraded to Cat "B". For example, a Lifer governor helpfully suggested "You have to hit the target". I pointed out that I was unable to see it to hit it because I was being kept in a darkened room. He simply shrugged his shoulders and continued to twiddle his pencil between his fingers. I snapped and lunged for him and he rang the alarm bell and the Heavy Mob arrived to bail him out and drag me down to the Segregation Unit.

    Later, I was to learn that because I was on Cat "A" no Life Career Plan (later to become Life Sentence Plan) was prepared for those prisoners on Cat "A" until they were decategorised to "B". In my case case, this did not occur for over 12 years. The Prison Service was in the process of changing from LCP to LSP. Therefore, the first entry in my LSP did not occur until 13.5 years into a 15 year tariff. Was I going to get released on tariff expiry?

    The Prison Service needed more time to put me through the stages denied me at the start. This extra time ate into what should have been my freedom time by 10 years. How do you explain this incompetence/negligence to your family and friends and the public? In any event, they would not believe you because they prefer the government spin to the truth.

  5. It's like this for prisoners on short tariff IPPs - the ones with a few months or less than 2 years tariff - many of them are still in prison several years later for what might have been a 9 month tariff. Their friends and families begin to think they are hiding something when they remain in prison for several years - especially now the law has changed and they would not have got an IPP now!

  6. Apart from the effect it has on the prisoner, the awful thing is that the families of prisoners have done nothing wrong. Why do the "bang em up and throw away the key" brigade refuse to recognise this?. Loss of liberty is supposed to punish the prisoner, why, simply because of the way the prison system treats them do the families have to suffer too?

  7. The problem with that Anon is that the judges or powers that be, didnt like to be told what to do, so the IPP system was brought in and suddenly they had this sentencing guideline they could actually play around with a lot more. There were people intially recieving a 28 day IPP, which sounds nothing, but when you realise that even with a 28 day IPP, that is only the minimum tariff and the prison pc says 99 years on your sentence plan! You have to go threw the whole rubbish that a lifer does moreorless for parole!