Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Governor in a Panic

The effect of The Times article has been interesting, especially coupled with a governor's fear for her position.

The No.1 Governor has buggered off for a week, leaving us in the care of the Deputy, Cruella de Ville. Cruella discovered that a certain man had booked to visit me - and took exception. An emissary was sent to deliver the news that I wouldn't be allowed to see him as he 'may be connected to the media’. I explained that he'd been visiting me for several months, was a mainstream political activist and a businessman. Nothing to do with the media.

I pointed out that this turn of events was highly illegal. Prisons can't go around banning people "just in case" they are journalists, they have to know so before they act. And I threatened to inflict the full weight of legal and media embarrassment upon them if they continued this game.

Nothing more was heard that day. Next day, another emissary arrived from Cruella, one of the Matalan Army of Governors in Training (GiTs). As he entered, I asked if the piece of paper he was waving was either a compensation cheque or a big fat apology? Alas, neither. It was a Disclaimer they insisted I sign, saying that nothing discussed on the visit would end up in the media. Again, very, very illegal and possibly unprecedented in British prison history.

I flatly refused. I will sign a disclaimer, as per the rules, if the visitor is a journalist visiting in a personal capacity, but never otherwise. This may seem like a minor admin matter, but never underestimate the deviousness and maliciousness of the prison service. If one signs these disclaimers and then stuff ends up in the media, one sanction is to refuse to allow that visitor into the prison in future.

Imagine the scenario. If I was having a hard time of it - e.g. a governor had lost the plot and was acting illegally - and told a visitor to pass the word on, and it ended up on the blog. As the visitor had signed the disclaimer, they would be perpetually banned from visiting ever again. As the blog Editor is my most frequent visitor, this would be a clever way to sever our contact, would it not?

This type of activity by prison managers is repulsive, just the sort of llegitimate manoeuvring I've been challenging all my life. It still makes me as angry today as it ever did, and it is just as repugnant.

My reading of the situation is this. Having given Damian Whitworth of the Times permission to visit, this governor then turned him away at the gate. Damian had enough material from letters and speaking to others to write his article anyway, as he did. Along the way, he wrote that it is easier to visit a man on Death Row in Texas than it is to visit little me in a low security nick in the sticks.

Was that embarrassing to someone in the prison service? Hopefully. And now, with Cruella being in sole charge this week, I think she is extremely paranoid that a journo may sneak in to see me under her nose. In a fit of mindless panic, she then acts way outside of the rulebook and tries to ban anyone who visits me from speaking to the media.

Either way, I'm actually happy that this has happened. It's a fight the prison will inevitably lose, given it's blatant illegality. And it affords me the opportunity to reveal to you the shenanigans that happen behind these walls. It reinforces my belief that prisoners blogging, shedding light into this gloomy corner, are vital.


  1. It takes a degree of calm courage to conduct yourself as you do, Ben. Serene obduracy. I respect that.

  2. A personal blog could never be cast as media; so I dont think you need worry unduly. Alhough I appreciate the fact that you have experience that makes you err on caution.

  3. I initially misunderstood your post, have just re-read it and it seems that what at first struck me as your being a little paranoid about the disclaimer could indeed lead to the problems you are thinking of. So apologies and ignore my comment above.

    Gosh nothing is ever simple is it?

  4. @ Charles Cowling. I counldn't agree more.
    It is your endurance Ben,in the face of all they throw at you that drives them to distraction. Keep on blogging, and informing.
    If our prison system is so afraid of the media then what are they got to hide?

  5. Apologies for the typo, should of course read...

    If our prison system is so afraid of the media then what have they got to hide?

  6. @ Queenie, I am not saying its right and I remain indignant about it, but there are lots of employers who forbid workers from going to the press about anything; my own employers included. Its a sack able offense in their eyes. I don't like it but I have just got used to it over the years. Incidentally my employers are so draconian they won't even recognise a union although they have earmarked a list of exceptions to this but I have forgotten what they are.

  7. @ Sophie, You are right of course, what a world we have!!
    This just seems to be so petty, an inside view of our prisons should be encouraged, if the truth was shown maybe things would change, again what have they got to hide?

  8. @ Queenie, quite a lot I should imagine

  9. I believe in a free press, and part of that is that the press need to have the ability to interview people and report on what they find. As such I think that it is wrong to prevent a journalist from visiting a prisoner to interview them, never mind trying to prevent anybody from visiting who may decide to talk to the press. This is not about the rights of the prisoner, but rather about the rights of a free press. After all the journalist is perfectly free to report that the prisoner is the scum of the earth and should never be granted parol if he wants to (not that I am suggesting that this is the case here).