Monday, February 28, 2011

Your Comments

I should thank you all far more often for taking the time and effort to post your comments. Without them, I would be left shouting into a Void, a nightmare for any writer.
The Editor mails them to me and your responses keep me entertained for a while. And often you leave me rather frustrated and depressed, because I am unable to respond in kind. This is all the worse when someone leaves a particularly kind, or particularly stupid, comment and I'm left gnashing my teeth in impotence.
At best, I could wait for your comments to arrive, read them, write responses, mail them, and the Editor scan them and post them. The reality of this is that it could take a week or more to complete this cycle. And as the Editor works like a Trojan, squeezing in the blog when she should be putting her feet up, to find the time to perpetually post my responses would be an unreasonable imposition.
My apparent silence does not imply any disinterest or lack of engagement, truly. Quite often a comment will spark me into writing a future post on a topic. For the time being, though, this must be the limit of my engagement. Such are the difficulties of blogging without internet access! Feel free to complain to prison service headquarters...
Though this is not a permanent situation. Once I am in Open prison I will have some Net access once on home leave and the like. Obviously, we aren't trusted to have Net access within Open prison itself...Obviously. We're only there to be prepared to re-enter society. Doh!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Iain Dale - A Tory??

This rant comes you to courtesy of the Conservative commentator, blogger, publisher, journalist and broadcaster Iain Dale. Busy little devil, isn't he?!
Iain is denouncing the ability of prisoners to get access to the Courts, specifically over the issues of the prisoners vote and of being slung into solitary. Hmmm.
Even in these un-ideological times, one lodestone of Tory belief is the "rule of law". Without it, we return to rule by Divine Right and other general insanities. The rule of law is obviously - as a generality - a Good Thing.
So wedded are Tories to the rule of law that a number of them make a fair living out of kicking the crap out of criminals in general, and prisoners in particular, whenever a microphone wanders in their direction. Laws, they assert with full pompous tenors, should be obeyed.
So, where does Iain fit into this Tory pantheon? Because access to the Courts, and the ability to challenge and check untrammelled State power, is pretty fundamental to the rule of law.
Feel free to disagree with Europe, geographically, economically or just plain arbitrarily. But if a Court whose jurisdiction we fall under makes a judgement then the rule of law says that we must comply. Picking and choosing which laws to abide by is a charter for government oppression as well as giving a blank cheque to criminals.
Not that prisoners will receive a cheque any day soon. The latest domestic judgement (which Iain applauds) is that we won't be given any compensation for being denied the vote, as the government is waiting to change the law. Fine, we can be patient. But Iain decries this very effort, objects to the fact that prisoners were even able to get to the doors of the court at all. So, the rule of law is fine, so long as it doesn't apply to prisoners or governments? That must be a strange landscape for a professed Tory to find himself in.
Iain’s second beef was with two terrorist prisoners, who tried to challenge being slung into solitary on the basis of rumour and suspicion. Iain wants this type of thing relegated to prison "housekeeping", no one’s business except that of the screws. He certainly doesn't want such matters hoisted into the legal light of day before the courts.
Only someone who has never been behind a cell door - let alone been in solitary - can take such a casual view of these matters. There is a disciplinary process, where accusations and evidence can be argued and judged. It's not quite the kangaroo court it once was. But these two should found themselves slung into solitary - indefinitely - on the basis of "intelligence", which is neither challengeable not provable.

Objecting to terrorists and all their works is fine by me. Slinging nutters into prison may even be helpful. But once there, how they are treated must accord with some semblance of legal decency. Leaving prison staff to decide who goes into solitary, without any recourse by the prisoner, is to invite abuses of power of the grossest kind.
It is to revert to a long discredited belief that "the law stops at the prison gates". It not only doesn't, but it shouldn't. To object to these two men attempting to challenge their prison treatment is to hand untrammelled power to staff behind high walls. It is to argue from the basis that the rule of law should avert its eyes from prisons.
Iain is a sharp, entertaining and in no way loony sort of Tory, but on this one he could benefit from reconsidering his knowledge of the internal workings of prisons and, more importantly, his views of the rule of law.
And as an aside, is it not broadly a Good Thing that a few hundred prisoners went to court over the Votes case? Imagine, these are people universally decried for their alleged contempt of the nation’s laws, and now they seek the protection of the Courts. A person who feels that they have legal standing is empowered, is drawn back into society and its structures, even if in a tiny step. But now that the courts have told them to sod off, whatever lack of interest they may have had in society and its laws can only be weakened.
The specific cases of prisoners and the courts can be debated in goodwill. But as an indicator or social inclusion, of social meaning, of belonging, then access to the court in principle is vital.
And prisoners, perhaps oddly, have an incredibly fine-tuned sense of fairness. We know we are being screwed over by the government, which has decided to treat the law with contempt. Just what message are we meant to take away from that..?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011


On my wanderings around the nick I always carry at least two small notebooks. One to note any stunning insights into my research and one for ideas for blog-posts or other writing. My peers are used to me pausing them as they speak while I jot down a sudden inspired thought.
Some of these notes are quite long, running to a page or more. Most often, they comprise just a few words that - hopefully -encapsulate the idea to be written up later.
That said, my notebook contains a line comprising three words, and I'm damned if I can recall what they refer to, what I was intending to write about based on them.
The line reads, "Anti-depressants. Wanking. Madrid." Any ideas?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Stuff the Census

As Parliament has rejected the proposition that prisoners are not members of the civic society, in denying me my vote, then when the Census forms are dished out soon I will be filing mine in the nearest bin.
I gather there is the prospect of a prosecution for such activity. Bring it on...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ombudsman Misses the Point

The ultimate arbitrator in disputes between prisoners and the prison service is the Prisons Ombudsman. I recommend his regular publications for those wanting a greater insight into the petty, malign and just plain stupid carceral machine.
In a recent judgement, the Ombudsman had to consider the case of a dying man. The Lifer Governor, quite decently, began the paperwork to apply for compassionate release. Alas, another manager decided not to complete the process. The paperwork was finally completed the day before the prisoner died - still in prison.
The lesson the Ombudsman drew from this was a procedural one, regarding the time from prospective death within which such procedures should be began.
This follows an established pattern of thinking by the Ombudsman’s office. It focuses overwhelmingly upon procedures and processes. This is to overlook the human element - staff make up the procedures and processes, they are not some robotic bureaucracy that powers itself.
Where is the calling to account of staff in this - and other -complaints? Why is it that, no matter how wrong, stupid or illegal the matter at hand, I am unable to find a single recommendation by the Ombudsman that staff should face disciplinary action. Ever.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Good luck!

That's the last thing we tend to say to someone who is moving on to another nick. And often that's the last decent thing that's said about the departed.
It is common that, no sooner has a bloke left, then the slagging off commences. He was a bastard, a slippery git, I hated him, he had me over, if I see him again I'll knock him out, I heard he was a wrong ' all comes pouring out.
This is at its funniest when matey unexpectedly returns, when everyone has to pretend they like him again. We are such hypocrites, though it's one of the many ways we manage to rub-along with each other.
And I can't wait to find out what's said about me once I'm gone! I'm pretty confident it will make being called an "arsey tosser" seem like a compliment.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Representation and Taxes

Are prisoners members of society or not? Because, as a lifelong smoker, I've been paying taxes at the rate of 80% all of my adult life. But I'm denied any opportunity to voice my electoral opinion as to how these taxes should be directed.
Wasn't there a revolution over a similar point in the Colonies? Perhaps I should declare secession? "We, the Prisoners..."

Friday, February 18, 2011

A fragile life

Everything in prison is hard work. Not a single thing is simple. This means that no sooner have you got your life, your cell, your routine arranged into the least annoying shape, the simplest thing can screw it up.
So my washing line broke. This was a length of string - liberated from the workshop years ago - which stretched between two screws on opposite walls. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But where did these screws come from? How were the holes drilled into the walls? Who knows, but they don't come ready-fitted.
Without my line, my routine for washing my own clothes has taken a knock. The whole procedure has had to be re-arranged and it's still not quite right.
Creating a routine which mitigates the pains of imprisonment is a major preoccupation for prisoners. But in an institution based on deprivation, scarcity and dis-empowerment, the simplest things can blow a hole through that delusion of normality.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The saddest man I ever met

In a hospital cell at Dartmoor, where I was suffering a major bout of depression, I began talking to the man in the cell across the narrow corridor.
This was made simple by hatches fitted into our doors, allowing us to talk freely and quietly across the four feet that separated us. Pulling up a chair I balanced on the back of it, feet on the seat, and settled in for a long exchange.
After listening to my rather torpid tale, he shared his. He was there as being a suicide risk. His girlfriend has just been raped, they had lost their baby, and his mother was newly diagnosed with cancer.

It was such a litany of misery it almost - but not quite -sounded like a Country and Western song. He was in a terrible emotional state, incredibly and understandably fragile and all I could do was listen. And I was happy to just be there, being quite worried that without the meagre presence of another human being he may not survive the night.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


How do you listen to music? Watch TV? Dip your toe into the world of information that swarms around us? Odds-on, it's digital.
If you want music, off you go to ITunes, or wherever, and you can dump it onto your hard drive, MP3 player or phone, to caress your ears at your pleasure.
We have to find the music we want, say a particular track, on a CD. If no one has it, we can order a particular CD through the Library service for 25p a pop. A week, a month, and it arrives.
But without computers, MP3's are merely an interesting ornament, leaving us to try to nick music by copying it onto cassette tape. Remember them? And how long it takes to wind through to find the track you want to hear?
This is just an illustration of what it is like to live Unplugged, deliberately denied access to the digital world that society now lives in.
Your TV will have dozens of channels, both TV and radio. Ours is restricted to 9 mainstream TV channels. No hope of me watching a live Parliamentary debate. And no hope of finding out what's on, without buying a TV Guide, printed on paper no less. Remember them? Or are you addicted to your EPG?
Without access to the digital world, life is slow, cumbersome and frustrating. All the more so when I know just how much information lies just out of reach. Strangely, many of my peers have never even seen the Web, let alone been let lose to explore it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cost benefit analysis

If it costs 45K a year to keep a person in prison, would it be simpler just to give criminals the money and ask them not to rob in the first place?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Stop, thief.

Prison law can be an interesting pursuit and object of study. It's not for everyone, I appreciate that, but it does throw up things that should worry anyone interested in little principles like fairness and justice.

Prisoners are subject to perpetual searches. Our cells, our property, our person. All available to be prodded at random. One such time is returning from workshops to the wings.

In one prison, this involves passing through metal-detectors. This means divesting one's person of metal, like watches, for the process. The watch is handed to a screw.

What happens if, having being searched, your watch is missing? Having handed it to a screw, surely there is some recourse? Think again. The Courts have held not. This is what a more colloquial writer might call "a thieves' charter".

Friday, February 11, 2011


The Prison Service coughs up quite a few quid each year to cons, in compensation for their various misdeeds. It's instructive to take a shufti at the breakdown of last years numbers. It's your money, after all.

The grant total of compo last year was £3.28 Millions. Spread amongst 85,000 cons, that's not too awful a headline. It could be worse.

The scandal is in the detail. The highest single category was some £1.6 Million coughed up for medical negligence. As our healthcare is NHS, I only assume that these costs accrue because prison staff delayed calling for help one of us is in difficulty. Night-staff telling people with chest-pains that "its indigestion", for example, only for it to be a heart attack.

The next highest category was £535,000 paid out as a result of assaults by staff. Only £107,000 was paid out as a result of assaults by other prisoners. Some people may wonder just what the hell is going on when prison staff are brutalising prisoners a damn sight more than we beat the crap out of each other. Who are the "animals" behind these walls..?

Then there is £259,000 paid out for "unlawful detention". That is, the prisoner wasn't released when his sentence ended. This may raise an eyebrow, for the sheer inefficiency of it.

These compensation payments really are worth looking at. They reveal a prison system which is incapable of adding up the days to when a prisoner should be freed. A staff culture that is riddled with violence against prisoners. And an indifference of our health that veers way over the line of benign neglect.

What a shambles. Not only do you pay a fortune to keep us here, you pay again because those charged with jailing us are incapable of doing their job properly.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Some time ago, when the culture within prisons was based on a tolerance of cannabis on the reasoning that "a stoned prisoner is a happy prisoner", I was a total dope monster.
Forget your pills, crack, coke or smack. None of them raise a scintilla of interest within me. But wave a spliff under my nose and I'm likely to follow you as if you were the Pied Piper.
It was an enormous blow to my leisure activities, then, when I suddenly developed some weird allergy to cannabis. I only had to take a miniscule amount and I'd be physically sick. This lasted for six very long months.
And I did what every self respecting pothead would have done. Make sure there was a mop and bucket handy, and just kept smoking!