Friday, April 29, 2011


This episode is not concluded. Dave will now return to the internal
complaints procedures and the Ombudsman, requesting apologies and a
chunk of compensation for his lost laptop.

This post-script aside, this chain of events raises many issues
broader than the scope of just one man.  Firstly, the ease with which
the prison can make a serious allegation. As this event took place
outside of the formal disciplinary system, no proof was required. Even
so, a report is entered for the perusal of the parole board, baldly
stating that this guy has been illegally accessing the internet.

Secondly, it raises the sheer futility of the official complaints
process. Every complaint Dave made was brushed aside by merely
repeating the original allegation. That this huge error was not
corrected by the Prison Ombudsmen is particularly unfortunate we
expect better.

The complaints process was borne out of the riots of 1990 Strangeways,
et al. Its purpose is to address what Lord Woolf diagnosed as the
major cause of the riots, i.e. that the prison system had failed to
persuade us that we were being treated justly. There was a total
collapse in legitimacy, which a new complaints process was intended to

And yet, we have little faith in this process. Complaints are mangled,
obfuscated, delayed and denied. Black is certified as being white,
night as day.-anything is used to buttress the age old position that
staff can never be wrong. The creation of the 'independent' Ombudsman
as an external final arbiter should have been the crowning glory of
this whole schema. Dave found them unable to so much as exercise the
wit: to turn on a laptop and check the browser history.

Given the timescale of these events - well over a year now - it can be
appreciated that Dave is extremely persistent, especially when he is
in the right! Yet most prisoners aren't so energetic. And their files
fill up with snide comments and dubious allegations which have never
been proven - and which can now not be dis-proven.

Most of all, this saga reveals the sheer incoherence, ineptitude and
unprofessionalism of prison staff. Once they have read this
elucidation of their misdemeanors, though, 1 wouldn't be surprised if
the Security Department suddenly become very efficient - and begin
kicking my door in again. Watch this space!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Scandal and Incompetence.

This is the story of Dave and his laptop, the allegation that he was illegally accessing the net from his cell, and the sheer incompetence of the response from both the prison and the Ombudsman’s office. Along the way, illegality by prison staff is uncovered - read on.

Dave was one of the handful of prisoners here who had a laptop in his cell. These were carefully security checked, modem physically removed, security seals applied, etc. Obviously, access to the net was neither permitted nor facilitated.

To came about that, on the basis on ''intelligence'' the prison’s Security Department believed that Dave had managed to access the ‘net, and they removed his laptop for examination.  It was sealed in a nice shiny evidence bag, tagged, registered and numbered.
No sooner did it arrive in the Security office, these evidentiary procedures were rendered void. On no fewer than 9 separate occasions, prison staff used this laptop to load commercial DVD’s, and on 5 of these occasions the DVD'S were illegal pirate copies.

The number of staff with keys to the Security office is extremely limited. I have the precise times and dates that these DVD'S were being loaded onto the laptop. Reconciling this data with the staff duty roster, I assume that the culprit could be easily identified.

Breaking into sealed evidence, destroying the Chain of Custody, and abusing the laptop by watching DVD's, even pirate ones, is hardly eyebrow raising to those familiar with prisons. Much more significant is that these DVD'S were being smuggled into the prison by staff within the Security Department. Smuggling items into prison is a very serious criminal offence, and great efforts are expended to prevent prisoners and their visitors smuggling contraband.

These efforts are, of course, spearheaded by the Security Department. The very department whose staff are happily smuggling pirate films into the prison to watch on a seized laptop. Having been seized, and when not being used by staff to watch films, Dave's laptop was ''examined'' for evidence that it had been connected to the net. Whilst refusing to say so in writing, in conversation it was said that this ''examination'' was conducted by Leaf, a computer company usually employed to look after the computers in the Education Department.
This was a mistake. As any first step in examining the hard-drive. It is this clone competent computer examiner knows, the PC is to make a clone of the hard-drive. It is this clone which is then probed for evidence, leaving the original drive and data unchanged and undamaged.
The company employed by the prison did none of this. They assaulted Dave's laptop with a vigour only exceeded by their incompetence. ''Since seizure, the computer has been used extensively and undergone massive and irreparable damage to the computer evidence”.  These bumblers altered no fewer than 53,000 files, including creating 1,202 new files.
On the basis of this shoddy examination, the head of the Security Department, CD Hunt, told
Dave that there was sufficient evidence to believe that he had accessed the net, and that his laptop was therefore confiscated. Hunt, though, refused to disclose the ''examiners report'' and I'm disinclined to accept the words of a man in charge of a Department whose underlings are engaged in a smuggling racket. So was Dave.
Dave complains. A lot. Dave began his appeal against this allegation and loss of his laptop. Three stages within the prison - each with no success - and then to the office of the Prison’s Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman declined to examine the laptop. Dave asked that they check the Event Log, Internet Explorer History, and Directory files. These would clearly show whether the laptop had accessed the net.
Despite such steps being both basic and extremely' simple, the Ombudsman refused to take this course and failed to uphold Dave's complaint. Being a persistent devil when he has been wronged, Dave then commissioned his own examination of his laptop, by an accredited specialist computer forensics company used by the police and other agencies. That is, a genuine computer firm who knew what they were doing.
At any time during this process, either the prison or the Ombudsman could have adopted the same course. They chose not to, leaving Dave in the position of having to organise the proper examination.
The quoted evidence above, and the details of Security abuse of this evidence, is revealed in the new, expert, report. Prepared in the form of a Witness Statement, ready for submission to any Court, the Report summary is crystal clear: ''It is my opinion that this computer has not been connected to the internet whilst in use at HMP Shepton Mallet. I base this opinion on the following evidence:

1. The Internet Browser history has not been deleted, but contains no internet history (http), only 'file' history.
2. The Windows Registry does not contain details of IP addresses lease times.
3. There is no evidence of connection to a mobile phone or 3G Dongle of any sort.
4. The Windows Events Log shows no IP address histories

I spare you the pages of detailed compuspeak that underlies this conclusion, but it is conclusive. According to this specialist computer forensics examination, Dave had not been on the 'net. The initial ''examination'' had damaged the computer. And staff were loading illegal DVD'S onto the laptop.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Big Rinty

Rinty has now gone into hospital and isn't expected back. A padlock seals his cell, and a forlorn note is attached to his cell-card, "OSH" - Outside Hospital".

The cancer that was only diagnosed a few short months ago has brought him near the end.  His friend, Erwin James, has written about Rinty the man in his books and on his blog:

This situation is sad enough.  It is made worse by some weasel Governor overriding a security assessment that says Rinty only needs to have one screw by his bedside (he can hardly walk), and instead insisting on two of the prison service's finest guarding a man at death's door.

What price dignity?

Monday, April 25, 2011


We may not want to live in them, but for long termers they are essentially our home. They do not belong to us , we may only occupy individual cells briefly and at the whim of our masters, but nonetheless they are home .

Not home in the essentially comforting sense; home as a synonym for security. Cells offer neither. But they are home in the sense of being the closest we have to personal space or a semblance of privacy. These are very significant psychological crutches, all the more so for helping to endure the strains of a lengthy sentence.

And like all personal space, prisoners share what may be an innate need to make an attempt to organise that space into the shape that is most comforting, most comfortable, and which somehow afford a small sense of mental ease.

If you entered a room containing a table and chair and were left to your own devices, would you not arrange these two items in the way which best suited you? A cell is no different. Each of us lives in a slightly different way, has a different routine and different needs. And each of us attempts arrange our cell in a way which best suits us as individuals.

This is why the recent drive to remove ''excess'' furniture riles us so much. And it illustrates the depth of the lack of understanding on the part of our keepers as to what it is like to serve a long sentence. What was a useful psychological crutch has been removed on an unexplained whim, and until and unless our keepers gain some appreciation of our lives then the prospects for change are slim.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011


A note popped under my door from Healthcare.

"This is to advise you that one or more of your prescribed medicines are known to cause an increased sensitivity to sunlight.  This may lead to sunburn when exposed to direct sunlight.

Accordingly, you are eligible to receive a bottle of sunscreen lotion from the Healthcare department to use as an aid to prevent sunburn.  You are eligible to one bottle per year".

Whoopee, a freebie from the system!  I'd jump higher, but on attempt to collect this bonus, they had run out on the first day...

Friday, April 22, 2011


The last batch of comments mailed in to me by the Editor contained much to inform and entertain me. Unusually, there was a thread of material which also annoyed me.
I have always insisted that there be no comment moderation, and that the freest of speech should prevail. This was my decision even in the face of an expectation that I would receive endless personal abuse.

This freedom comes, not with responsibility, but with an expectation of respect for the blog. It is my hope that commenters moderate themselves, in the sense of attempting to restrain the baser human instincts when afforded the opportunity to speak. In brief, there is an expectation to behave decently.

The strain of comment which distresses me is that which, no matter what the topic of my post, instantly and insistently raises issues of sexism and harangues feminism. This is becoming boring and is wholly irrelevant to the blog, and I would appreciate some restraint being exercised by these commenters. Equally, I would like these comments to be treated as provisional trolling – and to be ignored.

Feel free to abuse me, my crime, my sentence, or my very existence. But I will not stand by and do nothing if the integrity and the atmosphere of the blog is undermined in this way.

Another strand of comments, along with other information, leads me to think that my victim’s family are reading the blog. I would be grateful if all readers could be careful before dismissing harsh comments as mere trollery, lest these comments are the genuine feeling of those I have hurt.

Are these issues, the balance between freedom and respect, ones that all bloggers must inevitably grapple with? Perhaps I should, at the outset, have enunciated a clearer policy – that no comments will be moderated, so long as they are relevant to the purpose of this blog?

Freedom of speech. It’s complicated!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Mountain comes to Mohammed

There are odd occasions when the improbable happens in prison, and having the new governing Governor turn up at my door was one of them. The mighty rarely descend in such a way, short of dire and career threatening emergencies.

Off we wandered to an empty room and began to talk. I daresay he was trying to size me up as I was him, attempting to divine motives and intent.

The part of our conversation that remains with me is his question regarding my writing for the ‘net. “Just what” he asked, “do you believe that you have permission to do…?” I gave him a short rundown of the events surrounding the birth of the bog and the brief attempt to shut me down. The Governor is now hunting for some paperwork to establish my assertions.

I’m assuming that if he fails to find a written permission, then an attempt may be made to shut me down again. Watch this space.

And like many staff who speak to me, he doubtless wondered whether, and in what manner, he would feature on the blog. I told him that the title would be the one above and he grinned, “I’ve been called worse!”.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Laugh a Minute

Perhaps, if I want to cheer myself up a bit, I should change my current leisure reading?

Last week I was reading about the Battle for Berlin and the Kessel of Stalingrad.  This week I'm bouncing between biographies of Lenin, Hitler, and "The Emperor of Maladies" - A Biography of Cancer".

What a dumbass.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Summit Media

Summit is an E-Commerce company that operates in The Wolds prison, having previously been run in HMP Rye Hill - where I was one of their first employees about a decade ago.

Summit sharply divides opinion.  As a private company, they make millions in profit, based on the work done by prisoners who are paid around £15 a week.  You can see the moral objection...?

Yet I not only volunteered for the opportunity, I had to pass an interview and selection process.  It was a position I had to fight for.  At that time, I didn't know squat about the Internet.

The work environment was interesting, in that Summit provides a specialist service and the expectations upon our professionalism were correspondingly high.  Being treated like a capable human being is a novelty in prison.

However...Summit wished to pretend that it wasn't operating within prison, whilst relying on that very fact for its existence. If we were absent from work for exercise, visits, medical appointments - the detritus of daily prison life - then they used to bitch about it.

The largest objection to Summit is the argument it offers for paying such low pay while raking in such gargantuan profits.  Summit argues that the training it provides would be hideously expensive for us to gain in the outside world, and that the skills Summit endows would lead to good prospects upon release.

Well, yes - and no.  Summit prefers to employ Lifers and long-termers.  Assuming a normal course through the sentence, a man may leave Summit and not reach the outside world for 4 or more years.  The relevance of the skills in such a fast moving field after that length of time away from the Internet is questionable.

Summit also declines to say just what percentage of its employees leave prison and find work in the field.  That raises loud alarm bells for me.

And as a matter of equity, any company who can make millions in profits should at least pay minimum wage to its workers.  Cut through the sophistry, and it comes down to fairness and decency.  Summit stinks.

An interesting footnote, though.  The prison service refuses to allow us Internet access on "security grounds".  How then, does Summit manage to operate within prisons? Perhaps the income it generates may help answer that question? Or are we just uncovering yet another piece of stinking hypocrisy on the part of our keepers?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Even More Work

In a recent post I criticised the Green Paper which set out the pitiful expectations for prison work. It was then pointed out that perhaps work, even crap low paid work, was better than idleness.

In a past post “Ken Faces the Lions”, I dissected Ken Clarke’s vision for prison work and laid out the reasons as to why they were impractical.

These reasons still hold. Forget decent work for decent pay, there is no way in hell that the government will be able to employ a majority of prisoners in even crap jobs.

I can’t think of any government policy which has aspirations so far divorced from reality, unless they suddenly pass a law which declares World Peace.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Remember the Alamo

The Yank is dead, found early one morning having hung himself.  In such a small community it sounds surprising that I hardly exchanged a work with him over the years; we just mixed in different circles.

Very quickly the standard prison humour asserted itself: "It's as quiet as a morgue on this wing...., who's having his lunch?...Did he have a PlayStation?"

I didn't rise above this, although I felt unusually bitter at this death of a man I barely knew.  It isn't as if death is unusual here.  With the highest age profile of any prison in the country, people falling off their perch due to heart attacks or cancer is hardly rare.

So why did I feel uncomfortable, bitter even?  It took me days to realise that it was because The Yank was the first man to kill himself in my 5 years here.  A "medical" death is one thing - shit happens - but suicide is another matter.

Are there many Lifers who haven't, in the small hours, at least once contemplated the solution that is offered by the razor blade, the torn bed sheet, or sleeping pills?  Who knows; no-one has ever asked.

And I don't know what enticed The Yank to adopt the most permanent of solutions to life - or Life.  Perhaps we will never know.  People who spoke to him that evening before bang-up say that he appeared to be fine.  Hours later...

Maybe I'm bitter because it seems such a waste of that most valuable of things, life itself.  Maybe it's because I fear that it was his sentence, his prison existence, that became just too much to bear.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Fragility of Relationships

Moving a chair can rarely lead to a major shift in relationships, at least not in the outside world.  But in prison...

Our visits room is small, maybe 15 tables at most.  It was one of the most relaxed visits rooms in the closed estate.  It allowed men and their partners, children, families, to huddle together and share that physical affection that is so sustaining and yet whose absence is the very essence of imprisonment.

Now, our chairs have been moved.  Each table - a low coffee-type, circa 1976 - has three chairs.  One now has a shabby white cover affixed to the back and must be occupied by the prisoner.  His visitors must sit, barely within reach, on the other side of the table.  What was once a sustaining experience is transformed, thoughtlessly, into a torment.

The argument made for this change is "security" - the mantra which is the first refuge of any idiot manager.  Obviously, there is a duty to prevent contraband being smuggled on visits.  But this is Shepton; fewer than 200 men and what appears to be a proficient network of informers. Any serious smuggling enterprise is inherently doomed.

There is also a duty to help us maintain our relationships, and to reduce re-offending.  Prison visits have become a disgusting, miserable experience across the whole system in recent years, with the concomitant collapse of relationships.  Has anyone in management ever considered the balance between contraband and our relationships?  I see no evidence of it.

Their mantra could easily be "stop the spliff, kill the marriage".  Job done, and they pat themselves on the back.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cell Furniture

According to an Official Notice, the drive to strip our cells of "excess" furniture has officially come to a grinding halt.

It seems that the genii in charge of Shepton overlooked a simple issue - where do you store this furniture?  Answer - don't know, there's no space anywhere.

Honestly, this is Simpsonesque management.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Notices to Prisoners

Who, in fairness, are broadly indifferent to any missive that issue from management...

Despite this, paperwork plasters prisons.  On my small spur alone, a cul-de-sac landing compromising a mere nine cells, the corridor holds no fewer than thirty notices and signs.

My theory is that prison management confuse the issuing of a notice with actually taking action of some sort.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Reality Check

This weekend marked the anniversary of Ben's offence. Because he handed himself in and was locked up straight away, he has been "inside" for 31 years.  His release hearing is set for May 2012, and the parole board have recommended a minimum of 12 months in Cat D (open prison), which is why they need to move him there asap.

If his release hearing is successful and he is out next May/June, he will have served over 32 years.  Ed.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Jug

If I'm known for anything amongst my fellow prisoners it's for being absurdly opinionated - and for my jug.  Or, The Jug.

For reasons that remain a medical mystery, I dehydrate extremely quickly.  To stave off this dry mouth, decades ago I discovered that drinking a constant supply of tea and coffee was the only sensible way forward.

And I mean, constantly.  To such a degree that a mere cup, or mug, is but a toy.  I drink out of a one litre water jug, at the rate of around ten litres a day.  My coffee bill is eye-watering!

And in the way of connoisseurs, I hold that scrubbing the jug clean has the same detrimental effect as scrubbing the inside of a teapot.  Valuable tannins are lost, the flavour badly effected.

This leads to The Jug...unscrubbed for about 6 years, its inner surface is dark brown.  It really does look disgusting. So wedded am I to my jug that I take it on transfers, to avoid the problems that may accrue if that prison doesn't issue these water jugs.

It has served me well.  Along with my tobacco tin, it has kept me company and shared many, many experiences.  They may be the only artifacts of prison that I take home on release.  The Editor is not impressed!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Enemy Within

Having yet another lunchtime interrupted by a raid by Security in their perpetual hunt for a mobile phone that I don't possess is something I'm getting used to.

This time, though, I have solid information that this move wasn't prompted by an annoyed manager, but rather it led from "information received" from one of my fellow cons.  In plain terms, I've been told that someone is out to do me in.

The temptation is these circumstances is to try to work out who the grassing bastard is.  It is rare to ever pin down who's been pointing the finger and so to yield to this temptation is to enter a Looking Glass world of paranoia and suspicion.  It can poison you against people you mix with, lead you to look askance at all around you.

I've never been inclined to follow that route.  I have no phone, and someone wants to do me harm...that's all I need to know to stay on guard.

It is depressing to know that there are those prisoners who willingly sell their soul to the institution by trying to damage the lives of their peers.  Why?

Thursday, April 7, 2011


The census form was delivered, and remains untouched.  It's arrival coincided by a drive by the Main Stores to cut down on the amount of loo paper we need.

Can they print the next Census on more absorbent paper, please?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Miserable Git

Listening to other people's music has always bugged the hell out of me.  Thumping, ignorant noise is probably the largest cause of inter-prisoner violence across the estate.

Sitting, dumbly, in my cell I was interrupted by loud music. Unusally, it was classical rather than drum-n-bass, but an intrusion nonetheless.  I opened my door and followed my ears...

To find myself standing in the yard, faced with a classical concert party.  They beavered away at their strings, gazed upon by prisoners, four wicker deer and a six foot high stone seahorse.

I forgave them.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Apologies if my recent introspection has become reflected here. I am being led to re-examine various parts of my life, from the personal to the political, as I move towards open prison and the next stage of my life.

Or perhaps it's a mid-life crisis. Just what is the prison equivalent of a sports car and a toupe?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cancer Days

Some days I write off as being "cancer days".  These are days in which my mind dwells rather more than normal, and not at all prductively, upon that malign bundle of cells which may develop the urge to do me in.

It's a strange situation for me. Having spent my life attending to external difficulties, having to look within as well just becomes annoying.

And I keep returning to the treatment options. As anyone familiar with this type of cancer knows, the options are uniformaly crap. If anyone waves a tin under my nose on release, asking for a donation to cancer research, I will pin them with a cynical eye and demand to know what the hell they have to show for the billions they have used over the last 40 years!

Sunday, April 3, 2011


There must be a temptation for all bloggers to apply a little polish to their public patina, to give themselves a rather more glowing persona than may be strictly true.

I have tried to resist this, but not with complete success.  There are swathes of my private life which remain from view, and must remain undiscussed whilst what I write can effect my progress.

This is just a gentle reminder that I am human, subject to the normal range of human passions and flaws, and that whilst my voice and position may be unusual, it should not be elevated.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


I'm hardly eating and sleeping, spending my days frozen in inactivity. It's a strange state of affairs.

And neither common, nor easily explained.  It isn't a savage, paralysing depression.  It is more like a fugue state, where both brain and body have shut down.

This will pass...but if there are gaps in the blog, now you know why!