Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Advice and Open Prison

Contrary to myth, I have been known to bend my will and listen to advice. I've even followed it, now and then. And my prospective move to Open prison has generated a flood of words from others, some knowledgeable and useful, some plain barking mad.
The consensus seems to be that Open prison will be a challenge for two reasons. The first is my attitude, approach and reputation. The second is the attitude and perceptions of staff in Open.
Things which I assume are positive efforts may be seen as being obstructive, uppity and plain wrong by staff. This blog, for instance. In a selfish sense, it has brought me to the attention of the wider world (which was not my motivation). How many other cons can bask in the glory of profiles in both the Guardian and The Times? In themselves these are trifles, tomorrow’s chip-paper. But if they could get my foot in the door of some job opportunity on release, then surely the blog would have proven to be a Good Thing? After all, one of the most important factors in a prisoner resettling into the community and staying out of trouble is employment. If I am fortunate enough to win the Orwell Prize, for instance, that would pay for the next year or two's study fees. Very useful.
Prison staff may not see it in such a positive light. My writing and minor public profile are an irritant. Cons should not even be seen, let alone heard, in public. My subject matter is not particularly relevant, the fact that I exist at all in public is their problem. Though if my writing makes Them look silly, they should consider stopping doing silly things rather than bitching at me for bringing them to your attention. Added to this is staff's attitude to aspirations. Of course, I would like my writing to lead to a nice middle class job - that is, indoors, sitting down and out of the rain. That may seem to be quite banal to you, but to the prison service this is a monstrous aspiration, one that puts me on the same social footing as Them. They want -insist - that I aspire to digging ditches in the rain. And I mean that literally.
So whereas I see my writing and profile as having the potential to leading to a settled, crime free future the prison service sees it as an indicator of my being uppity and irritating.
My studies pose a similar challenge. This is uppity in capitals. A con working towards a qualification that most prison managers couldn't aspire to?? An outrage. That it may lead, again, to settled work is irrelevant to Them. It is merely another sign of my "superiority" and "arrogance". As if their limitations are my bloody fault!
My attitudes are equally challenging. The official justification for shovelling Lifers through Open prison - and keeping us in prison longer to do so - is that it prepares us for the community, and that this reduces our risk of re-offending. If that were true, it would make sense. Alas, there is not a single statistic, not a mote of evidence, to support that assertion. Zilch. So you will appreciate that I am not impressed with staying in prison longer to pass through this process. Worse, Open prison "prepares" us for the community so efficiently that at the end of it, we are forced to live in probation hostels for more "preparation". It's an affront to anyone with half a brain.
That said...If I wasn't prepared to give Open a proper shot, then I wouldn't get on the bus. So I will go there with as open a mind as possible, prepared to be as flexible as possible. I have no intention of arriving looking for an argument. My goal is to be released in May 2012, at my next scheduled parole hearing.
This will mean that I withdraw from much of the internal politicking that I've indulged in during my sentence, which means being far more selfish in what battles with managers I indulge in. This does not come naturally.
It will mean putting up with being given crap work, both inside and outside the prison, where my abilities and aspirations are ignored as a matter of policy. They will want me to "prove" that I can do crap if the past 30 years of crap work doesn't exist. Never mind, I will have to grit my teeth if they want me to push a broom around instead of making me some type of education mentor or the like.
That said. There are two things which I treasure and which I believe hold out great potential - my writing and my studies. Released Lifers are often unemployed, or stuck in dead end low paid work. That's the nature of society and the economy. If I am to be able to build a productive and reasonable life on release, then I will have to dance cleverly and use whatever talents and contacts that I have.-And the writing and studies are, I guess, more likely to lead to something than ditch-digging.
And so I will continue with these activities. Whilst I won't pick any fights with management, if my writing or studies are threatened then I will have to defend my corner. Would that be unreasonable?


  1. Bleakly accurate appraisal. One word answer: No.

  2. Let us hope that some wise person will realise your writing and studies are the key to your future. Perhaps it will be the case that so long as you 'tow the line' in other matters, they will let you continue unhindered. To do otherwise would be pointless and vindictive, it seems to me, and therefore not unreasonable for you to defend your corner in such circumstances. Wishing you all the very best.

  3. "if my writing or studies are threatened then I will have to defend my corner." That is perfectly reasonable Ben

  4. "It is impossible to discourage the real writers - they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write. " Sinclair Lewis.

    Excellent post again Ben, we're behind you on this. Best wishes to you and may all of your dreams come true x

  5. No, Not at all unreasonable.

    I hope the staff in Prescoed give you a fair chance to achieve all you wish for.

    Best of luck in all you do xx

  6. A very thoughtful and reflective post. Open Prison will not be easy and will represent a considerable culture shock. If I were tempted to offer advice I would say try to approach this opportunity with an open mind and being as positive as possible. Contrary to some people, the 'system' really does want a long term prisoner to progress towards a sustainable release and in this regard the help of the supervising probation officer can be invaluable. I wish Ben all the best with this progressive move.

  7. Some of the negativity that that you get from the staff is deliberately designed to provoke a reaction to see if you can cope with negative situations on the outside without resort to violence. It isn't going to be easy for you on the outside either especially in the early days so you have to roll with the blows.

  8. May 2012; let us hope there is still a society left for you to face.

    If you do end up unemployed, through no fault of your own, then your experience within the prison economy, should help you cope better than other people; all other things being equal.

  9. Ben, I've lost count of the number of times you've told us with pride that you aren't prepared to knuckle under just to fit in with the whims of the authorities to get an early release. Now you seem to be taking the opposite approach. Do you now regret at all that you didn't reach this point some time ago, been a good boy and played the game? You might have been out so much earlier.

    This is a genuine question. It isn't me dismissing everything you've said in the past.