Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Mobile Problem

A few of you seemed to get worked up over the piece I wrote about my involvement with mobile phones.
I said nothing that wasn't essentially known to the Parole Board already. My last hearing, late last year, was around the issue -and they were not overly exercised by the issue then.

The issue, as ever, is a simple one. The test for release is whether I pose a more than minimal risk to life and limb. Not whether I'm a perfect citizen, easy to deal with, or whether I break the odd rule here and there. It's dangerousness. And still, they can't point to any violent behaviour in 31 years. You'd think that would outweigh a brief flirtation with a mobile phone...


  1. Seems like there are some boring spammers and trolls here right now, nasty types.

  2. I hate to disagree, but this view about moving towards release is quite naive and might help explain why Ben is so far over tariff.

    'Breaking the odd rule here and there' do nothing to help convince the Parole Board that a prisoner can be trusted in less secure conditions. Similarly, 'easy to deal with' or not do not help in conveying a message that the prisoner has learnt a great deal and is making progress.

    I repeat what I said earlier. Indeterminate sentence prisoners only get released on the Parole Board's terms - some may say Ben's attitude is indicating that release can be on a prisoners terms. This is not the case and never has been.

    People can make up their minds if they feel this is either hash or common sense, but if they want to help Ben move towards release they should bear in mind that his current attitude will not be assisting the process.

    I speak from experience, am not a troll, live in the real world and would say the same to any person in Ben's situation. If you want to get out, you have no option but to co-operate, not negotiate. It doesn't work like that, and yes I do want to see him make progress.

  3. In my opinion and experience, both JB and Anon 6.48 make very good sense. But even if you don't 'play the game' by the rules, - It's essential to be 'seen' as doing so!. Ben gives too much away, and should save it for his book!

  4. This is exactly why there needs to be real reform of the penal system. How can it be right to imprison someone, anyone, for so long just because they won't 'play the game'? which, as far as I can see, is all about crushing the spirit.

  5. Queenie - Because in real life 'playing the game' means acting socially responsibly. When someone has killed, it's up to them to prove that they can behave according to the rules. that's the way the system works, like it or not. Anyone who validates Ben's actions and supports them when he breaks the rules is not helping. They are just encouraging him to stay inside.

    Ben has spent a long time inside because he has chosen to. He knows the rules. He has chosen to try and buck the system in full knowledge of the consequences. He likes to use this to try and portray himself as a freedom fighter, fighting against the injustices of 'the system'.

    This is no more than a pretension. He behaves badly and seeks to justify his behaviour as legitimate protest.

    If Ben really wanted to change the prison system, he would behave reasonably, get himself released and then campaign properly for prison reform.

    But the problem is he is stuck in a mode of behaviour that doesn't permit him to behave properly. Every inefficiency of the system or mistake made by prison staff is re-spun by him as a malevolent act, an example of the evil system that he is fighting against.

    This blog enables him to justify his behaviour. Every time he spins a story and garners sympathetic comments from readers, his position is validated and reinforced.

    Ben is imprisoned by his own reactions. What he really needs is psychological help. He needs to ask for it and submit properly to it. He needs to unravel the tangled web of thoughts and emotions that he has created in his head.

    If you, as a reader of this blog, want to help him, then just encourage him to do this. Avoid validating his interpretations and letting him build a futile sense of worth from his continued rebellion.

    I know it's tempting to sympathise. The desire to do so is a positive one designed to help.

    But it stands in the way of him adopting the balanced and non-rebellious approach that is essential if he is ever to see freedom.

    Ben has painted a picture in his own mind of himself as a romantic and heroic figure. Maintaining this image drives him to behave in ways that mean he will not be released.

    The real self-image he should have is the one that we all should maintain of him to help him. A poor, sad deluded man who just needs to ask for help and accept it.

    Otherwise he will probably die in prison.

  6. With you, queenie. But it is not going to happen in Ben's lifetime because there is no popular will for that. So Ben has to choose between realpolitik and martyrdom. If he wants to get out he has to let them, according to their own barmy rules -- which do not prevent them from freeing highly dangerous sentence-expired prisoners all the time. The justice system is not aptly named.

  7. How would you feel if you were detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure since the age of 14? And After emotional trauma that was Ben's life from about the age of nine onwards?

    Ben developed in the way that he has, bright, intelligent and with a sense of what justice and injustice is about ( as do many prisoners, and is something that he has blogged about in the past).

    As with all of us humans, he has a deficit maybe even derived from this ability ( again it is something he has himself tried to explain here).

    That is that he cannot play by rules that make no sense to him. Many people would be able to fake or feign it, but because of the orginal circumstances Ben found himself in ie incacerated since a child, he cannot. As with all problems of this sort ( mental/emotional) he would not see it as a problem for him.

    There are so many people like this, people who cannot dance to an uncertain and wonky fiddle, but they don't have to spend their whole lives in jail for it.

    Ben is not a risk to life or limb, this is something that has been and is accepted. The fact that he bends the rules should be seen as an indication of a bright and independent individual with leadership potential which is what he is.

    In life, whether in prison or not we can only be who and what we are and we should be free to live our lives so long as the ten commandments are adhered to. Ben should be a free man.

  8. Very well said rob.... And micheal just cuz I have an opinion does not make me a troll. Very small minded if someone does not agree they ate labelled as a troll or a nasty person. Ironic for one fighting a justice system. Back to you rob I agree Ben at the end of the day is a criminal who murdered. I sleep better at night knowing ppl like him ate in prison. If they are going to release them then it better be 100 percent correct he will not murder again.

  9. Its not about agreeing or disagreeing brian, its about what is in your heart, and you indicate in your comments here that your heart lacks compassion.

  10. For a convicted murderer yes I do. Sorry let me say again murderer. Compassion is certainly a thing murderers don't show for thier victims why should I show any.

  11. How easily we slip from prison as punishment centre, to prison as 'the correction gulag'. From physical crimes to thought crimes, Brezhnev would be so proud.

    Ben wrote some months back, that he thought himself a political prisoner; and the comments in this thread would echo that.

    I suspect there is another kind of politics going on also, that of propaganda. Isn't it odd that the authorities allow this blog to continue at all? Considering how petty and Draconian they are on all other issues.

    I think that the government, especially Zanu-Labour, has so completely messed up the authority of law by its 'over egging', that they must avert the public's gaze at the evidence of broken Britain. That is, if people realised that murder and rape were relatively constant, and that the ever burgeoning prison population was composed mainly of the antisocial disenfranchised young underclass, then they just might ask embarrassing questions like: "Who broke Britain?"; and "Why do we have so many more prisoners, when we can't afford them?"

    Therefore Ben's blog serves as a convenient decoy for the state, to aid the illusion that prisons are mainly concerned with the incarceration of murderers and rapists. This illusion stymies any notion of state malfeasance, because the majority of people think that they are safe from conviction, after all, they aren't murderers or rapists. And it may stop them from questioning the states efficacy, if it meant appearing to side with murderers and rapists.

    Clearly Ben's blog is not sufficient of itself, but is a cog that adds to the main catalogue, supported by sensationalising of murder and rape in the mass media, and the soaps.

    So Ben and other murderers and rapists, are far too valuable to the state as statistical buffers, to aid and abet the illusion of justice; so in prison they stay. Whereas if Ben was a raving GBH loon, he'd be out in a thrice, and haunting an alleyway near you.

  12. What is zanu.... U lost me. And maybe I have a simplistic view. Murder is the ultimate crime. It must be met with the ultimate punishment our law allows life.

  13. Rob, 5.04.
    Ben does not need psychological help. He's not nuts or deluded. On the contrary, he has kept himself sane all these years by his studies and by forging an identity for himself as a "jailhouse lawyer". He needs to demonstrate a less confrontational attitude at his forthcoming adjudication and eat humble pie, 'tis true, but his knowledge of prison law and its application to the situation he has found himself in should not be wasted for the sake of compliance. He is self educated and can be arrogant but he is certainly not the only individual in or out of prison who shouts for reform. Raising people's awareness of stories such as the recent Rinty scandal do not make him sad and deluded. Just a lonely prison writer who could do so much more from the other side of the wall, and who just wants a chance to prove himself in open prison.

  14. The 'friend' finds his secret phone, the 'friend' gets his laptop, spends 2 hours taking apart his laptop, removing the 12 screws from the back with a micro screwdriver inserting his hidden phone then replacing it and Ben not knowing all this had been done.... Good luck with that story with HMPS!

  15. It seems Anon at 10.47 knows more about this phone story... I thought Ben's story about the mysterious friend was dodgy. Sounds like Rob above knows what he is talking about.

  16. Anon @ 10.47

    There is no laptop. Ben uses an old fashioned word processor, he likes the feel of typing away at it's keys. It looks like a typewriter. No microscrewdriver. No 2hrs. No mystery.

  17. Wigarse. Understood. There wouldn't be room to put a phone inside a laptop obviously. It was the 'friend' thing I described as dodgy.

    I would guess Ben thought he could get away with smuggling it out. He probably took the case off the outside of a mobile phone and stuck it inside making it look like part of the electronics of the WP. It's an old trick.

    In all likelihood there was no friend. He just made that up for a bit of sympathy.

    No-one is going to be stupid enough to put a phone in the belongings of someone they know is moving unless it was a deliberate act of sabotage.

  18. All this apart - does the possession of a mobile make anyone a 'serious risk to society'?
    31 years in prison is punishment enough for any crime - and of course, if the system works properly Ben should be rehabilitated by now. Does it really take 31 years to rehabilitate someone?

    Please behave Ben, unfortunately you are going to have to play the game so you can get a move. Keep strong.

  19. Mary. Ben has to demonstrate that he can follow simple rules. He has demonstrated the opposite. The rules are very strict but reoffending rates for murderers are thought be in the region of 1% so the rules are thought to work. When an individuals behaviour has resulted in the death of another it's up to him to prove he can comply with basic rules - the kind of basic rules that we all have to follow in any civilised society.

    Ben has known this for 30 years but has bben unable to maintain a level of reasonable behaviour for long enough to progress to release. There is no conspiracy to keep him inside. He just needs to behave properly and prove he can exhibit self control - it's too risky to release people who have killed who are unable to contr their own behaviour.

    Unfortunately he refuses to and the consequence is therefore that he stays inside and maintains his role as tragic hero. If Ben really wanted to get out he would. Hundreds of murderers leave prison every year. Ben could too if he just behaved properly.

    His record of behaviour is truly shocking. That's why he is still inside. Don't waste sympathy on him. It's his choice.

  20. Just a point one percent reoffending rate does not sound a lot. But several hundred released per year means about another five murderss. That's five to many. Should be no second chances. Yes tough on the 99 percent but they had thier chance blew it. Again I say life should mean life

  21. @Anon May 29, 2011 7:17 PM No mate, if this latest escapade is an example of Ben's shocking behaviour then you need to be locked up for 30 years before you can justify such comments.

    Added to this the technology has improved to the extent that prisons could easily block mobile signals but they choose not to.

  22. No it's not an example at all. Obviously.

  23. I could not sit back and read this lot without saying something. The guy who hid the phone is not a myth. He exists. I know who he is, but am not in a position to name him for various reasons. Ben, for the record, wants nothing more than to move to open prison asap and start preparing for release. He does not seek to portray himself as a "tragic hero" and I would like to see anyone - anyone at all - behave perfectly every day for 30 years in, or out, of prison. Since his offence, Ben has not committed a single act of violence and prefers to maintain sanity and a sense of identity by paper protests. He does not ask for sympathy. A mobile phone is not a dangerous weapon.
    Ben could be bitter, angry and twisted but he isn't. Neither is he in need of a shrink. It is worth remembering, however, that he grew up in prison and was placed in a strip cell and in solitary as a child, yet we judge him for taking pot-shots at the system that treated him so unjustly. Strangeways happened for a reason and he had done 10 years by then. And finally, to the Anon who thinks Ben does not want to leave prison - he attempted escape once, and got an extra 4 years for it!

  24. Anon @ 7.17.

    "The rules are very strict but reoffending rates for murderers are thought be in the region of 1% so the rules are thought to work."

    I doubt very much that the reoffending rate for murderers is so low because of the rules offenders meet in prison. Rather, I think committing murder is the sort of extreme crime that, with few exceptions, is committed by an individual under the sorts of psychological duress that, mercifully, people rarely meet more than once in a life time, if at all.

    Furthermore, it is a crime the weight of which must hang heavy over a soul for the rest of their life and make a person very careful about how they conduct themselves in the future.

    I'm not seeking to defend murder or get sympathy for offenders here, I'm just trying to point out that interpreting the low recidivism rate as justification for the rules in prison may not be right.

  25. I think this has been a useful discussion and hopefully it's helped people to understand a bit more about what is expected from Ben in order to assist with a move towards open conditions.

    I feel I ought to stress though that one of the main issues will be the degree to which the system feels Ben can be trusted. That is the only basis on which an indeterminate prisoner gets to 'open' and then hopefully to release. The amount of trust given to the prisoner is increased incrementally. Lapses or 'breaking of the odd rule' are taken as negative indications and either slow or reverse progress.

    It is not solely about the absence of violence. In the end the Parole Board will only feel that risk levels have been reduced if they are comfortable in knowing the prisoner can be trusted in certain situations.

    To put it bluntly, if there are any reasons to feel that an increase in trust is compromised, there will be no progress. I suspect this has been the issue all along and partly explains the length of time over tariff. This blog will help Ben if he is encouraged to both understand this and demonstrate it by thought and action.

  26. The number and types of 'offences' Ben has committed since being locked up at the age of 14 - amount to very little over a period of 32 years.

    The Ed is right. Because of the mind-numbing pettiness of the rules, it is impossible NOT to get placed on report for SOMETHING in all that time.

    In my opinion, It's not Ben's misdemeanour's that should be under the spotlight, - but the absolute injustice of his situation.

  27. @Darby, yes I feel it is totally unjust to keep Ben imprisoned because he has been found to have a mobile phone. If his crime had been running a multi-million pound drug running business then I could understand it. Human beings are unique and surely each case should be judged on its own merits in a case like this. Surely the major factor here Jim should be whether Ben poses a risk to anyone? If using a smuggled phone is such a crime what is being done to address the large number of prison staff who, at the admission of Michael Spurr, get such items into prisons? Where is their punishment and accountability? And why is David Chaytor MP allowed out of Open Prison having served barely a third of his sentence? Total injustice.

  28. Jules,

    Assessing risk is not a science - it is based on making a judgement. In order to make that judgement past and present behaviour become relevant. History shows us that past behaviour can be indicative of future behaviour, therefore it is up to the person to be able to demonstrate that changes have been made. For example, if a high degree of manipulation is present in an index offence of murder and the prisoner continues to demonstrate manipulation throughout their sentence, that alone will make it difficult to argue for a reduction in risk. The system will require some evidence of change, or there is no progression.

    Ignore the fact that a mobile phone is involved -it could have been something entirely different -the issue is one of a possible breach of trust. The circumstances will be investigated and a view taken about what may or may not have happened and any degree of involvement or complicity with others.

    Every case is different and none of us know the full details. Lifers are released all the time, allbeit in smaller numbers nowadays, but to go massively over tariff needs good reasons and demonstrates to me that the person has some significant thinking deficits, has/is displaying behaviour that gives cause for concern, but most importantly may be on a mission either to scupper their progress (not unusual due to institutionalisation) or try and make progress on their terms rather than that of the system.

    The smuggling of drugs and mobile phones into prison cannot be prevented because of the huge sums of money to be made from the activity. Unlike determinate prisoners, any lifer must think very carefully about any involvement as it will only damage their progress more severely.

    David Chaytor and all similar low risk prisoners are an entirely different kettle of fish. They pose no risk of harm and cannot in any way, shape or form be compared to a lifer, whatever stage they are at in terms of progression through the system. I fail to see any injustice -it's chalk and cheese.

    There is a serious issue for Ben and that is the degree to which his possible distorted thinking and view of the system is being reinforced by supporters. This will not be helping him as remember release can and will never be a matter for public opinion. It can only be by decision of the Parole Board, who will carefully weigh all the evidence that supports a progressive move.

  29. There is no injustice in his situation. He's killed somebody and won't stop breaking the rules.

    What is the point in making himself a martyr over petty prison rules and inefficiencies?

    He got himself into prison by his own action and finds himself still there by his own silliness. Whatever it is, it is not injustice, he's only himself to blame.

  30. Ben killed someone when he was just 14. Nowadays a murderer of that age would not be given a life sentence and made to jump through 31 years worth of hoops. The sentence Ben was given does not even exist anymore. After spending all his adult life (and his teenage years) incarcerated, he develops an emotional bond and uses a mobile to "keep the relationship alive". Gosh, how terrible! Let's get some perspective here, people.

  31. The rules dehumanise prisoners and leave many of them dependant and unable to cope on release. The very hoops the prison service requires cons to jump through cause so many of the problems prisoners face after they get out.

    Ben had to make a choice: do as he was told and get out sooner but be unable to survive once he did, or fight to keep his spirit in the face of crushing abuses of power, and possibly never be released to use the skills he fought so hard to equip himself with.

    This mobile phone is one example, but it sums up the whole situation perfectly: Ben will cope far better on the outside with a functioning support network, but maintaining that network is impossible without breaking the rules.

    To suggest that Ben "finds himself still there by his own silliness" strikes me as a woeful failure to grasp the complexity of the situation.

  32. Jim Brown,

    What you say above strikes at the very heart of the issue and is the major prejudice Ben faces daily. Much of what you said boils down to "Ben has been in so long he must deserve/want to be there and so should not be released": it is circular logic.

    Instead of saying "we don't know all the facts", why don't you take the time to learn them? I'm sure Ben would be glad to answer any questions you may have if you wrote to him, or even if you fancied a trip to Shepton, and there's plenty of information on the Facebook page from both Ben and his Barrister.

    I would never base my actions on the words of one man, and Ben's "distorted thinking" is backed up by plenty of independent evidence.

  33. Wigarse,

    When I say 'we don't know all the facts' I mean we do not have sight of the full lifer file. It's an intersting idea to think you can get all the facts from the prisoner, but experience and common sense tell me that it wouldn't in fact get you any further than one half of the story. Similarly, a Barrister representing a prisoner gives you one half of a story - that's how our criminal justice system works.

    I think you'd find that all legal representatives for serving prisoners would be duty bound to recommend immediate release in every case! I've certainly heard a few in my time.

  34. Concerning the issue of a 14 year-old who murders someone currently, I think you will find that between the ages of 10, but under 18, the mandatory sentence remains Detention at Her Majesty's Pleasure with the same rules regarding the setting of a tariff. So in effect there is no difference.

  35. @ Jim. I do respect a lot of what you say but you do have a blind side as well- 'The smuggling of drugs and mobile phones into prison cannot be prevented because of the huge sums of money to be made from the activity.' Don't you find that a shocking admission to make?

    I don't compare the case of David Chaytor to lifers, but I do say that there is one rule for the rich and influential, and one for the poor. Even getting a custodial or community sentence can depend on whether you actually have somewhere to live. I have personal experience of this level of injustice so I don't take back what I said. You obviously have a lot of experience of the prison system so you will know the proportion of prisoners who were in care at some time in their lives. Can it be just that they just go from one institution to another? Nothing is going to change until we all start to put people's needs before rules that only make it easier to 'control' people who society can't be bothered to find better ways to deal with.

  36. Wigarse,

    You are clearly heavily invested in your beliefs about Ben. Why not turn your own accusations on yourself and see if they have more credence:

    'Ben had to make a choice: do as he was told and get out sooner but be unable to survive once he did, or fight to keep his spirit in the face of crushing abuses of power'

    Perhaps that statement fits with your 'strikes me as a woeful failure to grasp the complexity of the situation.'

    And just consider that you said to Jim Brown:

    'Much of what you said boils down to "Ben has been in so long he must deserve/want to be there and so should not be released'

    Now just think about it. Doesn't much of what you say boil down to "Ben has been in so long there must be some terrible conspiracy going on'

    Perhaps it really is very simple. Ben's behaviour is not consistent with that required to be progressed towards release..' If he breaches trust he can't be trusted and the public need to be protected.

    You claim to have made your mind up as a result of 'independant evidence' but I really don't think that can be true can it? You probably have just listened to Ben, his barrister and others employed by his legal team?

    Please bear in mind, if you are one of the people who have been having telephone conversations with him, then you have contributed to his continued incarceration.

    Perhaps anyone who considers themselves to be one of Ben's supporters should carefully consider their actions and decide if they are consistent with really helping Ben or if they are in fact using Ben as a stick to beat an unfair world with.

    Ben, like all long-term prisoners, is highly institutionalised. This blog provides a mass of evidence that Ben hits back at what he perceives as injustices or evil intent. He also admits that he suffers from paranoia and mental problems.

    People who have killed others and who are prone to hitting out at others as a result of their sometimes distorted assessments can be highly dangerous. The prison service, the parole board and the MOJ have a duty to protect the public from this.

    I know it is terrible that Ben is still incarcerated all these years after his brutal crime, but hitting out at the system (limited though it is) is not helpful.

    Perhaps instead you should consider trying to get him some help to understand what made him act the way he did in the first place and why he still can't demonstrate the ability to follow simple rules.

    He has to break the cycle of behaviour. As Jim Brown said 'There is a serious issue for Ben and that is the degree to which his possible distorted thinking and view of the system is being reinforced by supporters.'

    If you really want to help then get him some help.

  37. Ben I am sorry, it seems that they only appropriate action here is to pray for you and to suggest to you a song that is going round in my head at the moment that I might share with you, its a song by the Clash called "I fought the Law and the Law won", I hope you know that one and that it might give you some comfort at this time. Very best wishes and I'm thinking of you, hoping things work out.

  38. I think Ben is silly to use a mobile phone in prison.

    If every prisoner could use a mobile phone and have unrestricted Internet access in prison then criminals could run illicit businesses while inside, paedophiles and others convicted of sex crimes could approach more victims whilst in prison.

    It seems perfectly reasonable to deny prisoners use of mobiles and the Internet - isn't the point of prison to deny people their liberty?

  39. Jim & anon @ 11.46,

    You are quite correct that I have never seen Ben's parole file and I am very well aware that any information coming from him and his Barrister must be one sided.

    However, Ben's Barrister, whatever duty she has to her client, also has a duty to the public, and she cannot tell outright lies. If she says there is not a single incident of violence on his file for the entire 31 years, then I choose to believe her.

    I am not in any way invested in my beliefs about Ben. I have said on this blog multiple times that I am invested in one belief and one belief only - that we should do whatever it takes to reduce crime and, therefor, the number of future victims of crime.

    If someone were able to present me with data that demonstrated locking murderers up for ever did that, then I would support life meaning life. Even for Ben.

    But that is not the case and, on the contrary, all the research supports the conclusion that a liberal and rehabilitative attitude is far better for everyone than a punitive and repressive regime.

    I support Ben because I do not believe he should still be inside after 31 years. That would still be true if Ben had never made the effort to educate himself, if he never fought injustice within the system and even if he occasionally got into punch-ups with other cons.

    He's none of those things, and so much more, which means I count him as a friend and that supporting him is a pleasure, but the fact remains that I would still support him if he were a less remarkable person.

    The question of whether or not Ben is institutionalised is irrelevant. Institutionalisation should not be a reason to continue to incarcerate someone. Nor should depression.

    I did not form all of my opinions on prison reform from reading this one blog and even if you showed me incontrovertible proof that Ben was beyond redemption and should be locked up for ever, it wouldn't change what I think on that subject. I am perfectly well aware there are some prisoners who can and should never be released, however liberal the system is, and if you showed me Ben was one of those people I would be sad, but it wouldn't mean the idea of reforming the prison service is wrong. But, so far, no one has shown me any evidence that comes even close.

    You are certainly not offering any evidence to support your opinions, merely you are presenting them and asking me to take yours over Ben's.

    I have made a choice to trust Ben. I made that choice consciously and deliberately. I was aware of the risk I was taking in trusting a convicted murderer and I have been shaken in that trust on a couple of occasions, as we all are now and again in all our friendships. But ultimately, Ben has always been open and willing to fully and frankly explain all the concerning areas in his background and to admit when he has made mistakes. To me, that is the main marker of an honest man, and so, until someone presents me with cold hard evidence to the contrary, I choose to take what he says on face value.

    (comment in 2 parts as it's too long)

  40. (contd)

    All the above is still utterly irrelevant to the question of whether Ben should be released or not. That comes down to a question of risk to life and limb, and even the parole board have accepted he doesn't pose that - on numerous occasions. Everything else is background noise.

    The rules about phone use, and the cost of pay phones within prisons in particular, set prisoners up to fail. It is unfair to punish them when they do.

    It is patronising of you to suggest that I "get him some help". Surely you are aware that a person must come to that decision by themselves? And as for "using Ben as a stick to beat an unfair world", you clearly haven't understood Ben at all if you think I, or any of his supporters, could compel him to do anything. Please remember, Ben has been acting this way for 31 years, without any of us standing behind him, do you seriously think he would stop if we suddenly deserted him?

    No. I think (and this is opinion only) that Ben is one of the very rare people who, for whatever reason, has decided to stand up for what is right at great personal cost to himself. He would be the first to admit it has caused him, and those close to him, harm, and I would be the first to support him if he elected to stop and toe the line.

    But the world needs people who do the right thing at personal cost, otherwise nothing ever changes, and if Ben wants to continue being that person, then who are you or I to try and stop him?

    Sorry if that's a bit long and bitty, there's a lot to say. No doubt I will find umpteen mistakes and 30 things I meant to say as soon as I've submitted it, but hey ho.

  41. Wigarse, well said, thank-you for expressing things so clearly. There IS another way and we need to keep on saying it, against all the odds.

    One final point. One of the most (if not THE most) important factor for re-settlement, well-being and non-offending for the future is a person's relationships with family/friends. The prison should look urgently at the phone situation e.g. cost of payphone calls. Prisoners are being EXPLOITED by those staff who are getting phones in for them, and then people like Ben suffer for having used them. It is totally unacceptable that the prison system can't sort this out. Where there's a will there's a way.

  42. Well said Wigarse ( 2 part comment). People who support Ben do so, on the whole, because they believe he has more than paid for the terrible events so long ago. The rest is window dressing for revenge.

  43. Wigarse,

    I appreciate that you want to support Ben. The question is how you can go about doing that and if, in fact, some of the actions that you take are ultimately achieving the opposite.

    A few points:

    Ben’s barrister is his advocate and has no duty to the public whatsoever. This is a fundamental misunderstanding. A barrister’s job is to argue for their client. That is the system. So if your ‘independent evidence’ is from the barrister then the basis upon which you are taking action is deeply flawed.

    Without having seen Ben’s file you shouldn’t expect to know why Ben has been inside for 30 years.

    Convictions for violence in prison are not by any means whatsoever the sole basis upon which a prisoner’s progression thro the system are judged. It is entirely possible that Ben may not have been convicted of any violent assaults whilst inside. However simply because a prisoner has not been convicted of hurting or killing anyone whilst in prison, it doesn’t make sense to automatically assume that they are safe to be released.

    Prisoners are not asked to debase or degrade themselves or become compliant drones to progress through the system. They just need to follow simple rules and prove they can behave reasonably.

    When I said you are clearly heavily invested in your beliefs about Ben I simply meant that you choose to trust and believe in Ben’s representations. As you say ‘I have made a choice to trust Ben’. Unfortunately, the result of that is that you accept it when Ben says he is being treated unfairly and you accept his spin on events and actions of the prison service and wider system.

    To make the assumption that the system has failed to make the correct decision to release Ben for the lasts 20 years is, I understand, made in support of your choice. But it’s not based on a balanced assessment of the facts because you don’t have access to them and you don't, as you previously claimed, appear to have any independent evidence. Instead it’s based on an assumption that the fact that he has been in prison for 30yrs proves that the system must be wrong... that is simply not logical. A circular argument as I think you put it.

    Perhaps you can better support Ben by looking more critically at what he says and, as his friend, help him to take a less cynical view. Perhaps as a result his attitude will soften and he will see that whilst the system is not in any way perfect, it does function in the way it does for a reason.

    If Ben can start to look at the world from other perspectives perhaps he will start to understand why the rules are there and perhaps he will decide to follow them because he will see that whilst imperfect, they do make some sense to him.


  44. The idea that Ben is ‘fighting against injustices’ is a compelling romantic notion. But I am afraid, that is all that it is, a notion. Ben is not changing the system. He is just complaining. He may have lots of direct experience of the system but he only sees it from one perspective and seems not to be able to see it from others. As a convicted murderer he doesn’t argue from a position of any moral authority. The harsh reality is that some of the people least likely to achieve change are convicted child killers and their ‘supporters’.

    I am not suggesting that you desert Ben. Quite the opposite. But I would suggest you try and encourage him to get some professional help. I think after 30 years, Ben has probably proved he needs it. He could benefit from someone helping him to examine his own thinking and you could help if you can encourage him to accept help.

    I know you want to believe that Ben ‘has decided to stand up for what is right at great personal cost to himself’ but do you really think he is achieving anything other than constantly extending his incarceration.

    As evidenced by his blog. Ben is an angry caged animal. Some readers of this blog wander past his bars and look at him curiously but choose not wind him up. Others make derogatory comments to him that probably wind him up, briefly. And others encourage him to be angry and to perpetuate his anger by casting his behaviour as some great heroic and romantic act. They have the most impact on his behaviour. They tell him it is right and good to act in the way he does. These people’s efforts help keep him caged.

    Ben is not Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. He is just a sad and ageing man who needs help. He killed a little child when he was a teenager. He committed a brutal and vicious act of murder. He needs to prove by actions not just by words that he no longer is a risk.

  45. As someone who has been a probation officer for many years and been responsible for numerous
    lifers at all stages of their sentence, this blog and debate is absolutely fascinating, not least because the general public know very little about the process. Discussion and debate are a very good thing and along with wanting to shed light on the whole subject, I also started blogging out of a sense of pent-up anger.

    Contrary to opinion held in some quarters, all probation officers want to see their lifers make progress, but consistent with the need for public protection. I have supervised people very similar to Ben who are massively over tariff for all kinds of reasons ranging from the wheelchair-bound geriatric that no community facility will accept, to the difficult, argumentative and unco-operative.

    In the case of the latter I tried in vain to get the Parole Board to accept that he would never change his attitude and that therefore, exceptionally, we ought to try and make assessments in his case using different criteria. They made it plain that they couldn't and wouldn't.

    Most people reading this blog want to see Ben make progress, including myself, and in commenting I'm trying to offer the benefit of some 25 years experience working with lifers. By nature I'm probably more of a cynic than many people, but I have to say that at this 'top' end of the Criminal Justice process the system is pretty much open, honest and just.

    I suspect that one of Ben's problems is that either he doesn't believe this or chooses not to believe it. He has a choice in how he engages with it though. Either positively, which means he makes progress, or negatively, which means he doesn't. That's the way the system works and no amount of public campaigning will alter it.

    My worry is that by encouraging Ben to believe otherwise is reinforcing his distorted thinking patterns and this will hinder further progress.

    On the point of the Barrister, her responsibility is towards the client and not the general public. For example, if the defence commission a specialst report that comes back suggesting that their client might be a danger to the public, they have no duty to release it to the Crown. Indeed they could be held in breach of their duty if they allowed the Crown to see it. Similarly if the author allowed the Crown sight of the report, they would find themselves in very serious trouble indeed.

    Finally, on the subject of institutionalisation
    - this is a very serious problem and would most definitely be an issue that the Parole Board would have to consider. They simply could not take the risk of releasing someone that they felt could not cope adequately back in the community without this issue being addressed, firstly in open conditions and then in a supervised hostel.

  46. Jim,

    Thank-you for joining this debate. It is very good to hear the opinions of someone with more direct experience, because sometimes this blog can become an echo chamber. I appreciate your weighing in.

    On the point of Ben's Barrister, ok, "duty to the public" was poorly chosen wording. But the point remains that she cannot (or perhaps should not) tell us outright lies. Anyhow, I strongly suspect that were anything Ben has said substantively untrue it would have leaked by now, but I know that is far from proof.

    Still, it's a largely irrelevant point, because whether Ben is or is not a pacifist it not what's up for debate here. The question is whether he poses a risk to life and limb, and we are not reliant on Flo Krause for that information, because we have it that he is not from the parole board directly.

    I think I broadly agree with you that, at the top end, the system is pretty much open and honest, and I can even accept that, for most people, it is also just. But there are, as you have said your self, a subset of very over-tariff lifers for whom the system is simply not suited. People who, because of who they are or the circumstances in which they find themselves, are trapped by it.

    I understand what you are saying: Ben's attitude is holding him back and if he would only give in and learn some humility he might finally get released. I also understand your point about institutionalisation.

    Here's the thing: keeping someone inside because they've been inside so long they can no longer cope is a very bad reason for keeping someone inside. I know that's how it is, but it shouldn't be.

    Furthermore, it seems to me that the metrics used by the service to judge whether someone is institutionalised are the very things that cause the institutionalisation in the first place. Let me put that another way...

    In order to show he can follow the rules on the outside Ben must demonstrate he can follow the rules on the inside, except the rules on the inside are pernicious and illogical and arbitrary: they are nothing like the rules on the outside and following them actually hinders a cons ability to understand and follow the rules society presents them with on release. For the record, that is a view I have come to quite apart from knowing Ben and reading this blog.

    Most prisoners follow the rules and get out, and for them the system is "just". I strongly suspect they are lesser people, more likely to reoffend and less likely to contribute to society because of it, but they are at least out.

    Ben also believes this, and so he has chosen not to sacrifice himself on the alter of "following the rules". You see that as "distorted thinking"; I respectfully disagree.

    I think if the system was set up to make all prisoners more like Ben, and not to try and force Ben to be more like other prisoners, then we would all be better off for it.

    I understand that the parole board have to consider institutionalisation and I know that they have in Ben's case in the past; I just happen to think that is the wrong way to solve this problem.

    I think it is entirely up to Ben how he deals with this, and if he choses to deal with it by trying to change the system (however doomed to failure that may be), then I support him in that. I would also support him if he chose the oposite path, because "support" is the operative word here, and I will not presume to tell Ben how to deal with a situation that I can never understand.

  47. Anon,

    (why don't you just use your name? I'm pretty sure I know who you are: if these are your convictions, have the courage to stand by them)

    You are erecting straw men.

    It would be true that my belief that Ben has been inside for too long so the system must be wrong would be circular, if that were what I believe. But it isn't.

    I believe that Ben has been inside AND that the system is wrong. The two are entirely independent.

    I believe the system is wrong because I have read extensively around the subject and I have also read a lot about psychology. And although I would never claim to be an expert on either subject, I have read enough to form a certain view of prisons and the way they make people (both inmates and officers) behave. It's enough to make me interested in learning more and, because this is the kind of person I am, to fight for a more evidence-based approach. We need to get ideology and politics out of the criminal justice system and logic and research in. I don't know what the answers are, but I know that right now we are moving away from them, not towards them. Although Ken Clarke gives me some hope.

    I am arguing from a standpoint of "strong opinions weakly held", or "argue as if you are right, listen as though you are wrong". I argue my case enthusiastically, because I want my debate opponents to bring the best counter evidence they have to the table so that I can listen to it and form the best judgement I can.

    So far, all you have brought to the table is straw men, the fact that I have not read Ben's parole file and the assertion that he needs therapy. As my belief that the system needs reform has nothing to do with Ben and everything to do with things like the stanford prison experiment*, that is insufficient. I am listening though.

    As for my belief that Ben has been in too long, well that comes from my contact with Ben, with the editor and from reading this blog. It is based on much less hard evidence and so it is shakier. But I refuse to disbelieve him because he is a con and cons cannot be trusted, which is essentially what you are asking me to do. That is the safe and easy option, and I will not chose it. I am going to give Ben the benefit of the doubt, and if you want me to change that attitude, you will have to present hard evidence to the contrary. At some point, someone has to stand up and take the leap to trust prisoners (cautiously) or nothing will change.

    The fact that I have not seen Ben's file, and it may therefor contain all sorts of hidden things that I am unaware of is not enough to make me change my mind.

    Ben has given explanations for every set back that accept where he has made mistakes and that have the ring of truth. Maybe it is spin, maybe I am fool, but so far, the scales are tipped in Ben's favour.

    If you want to change my mind, you need to come equipped with more than what ifs and straw men.

    * I know the arguments against that too, it's just the best known example

  48. Jim,

    I wrote you a separate answer post, but it has disappeared :/ I will try and track it down.

  49. Wigarse,

    Oh dear - that's a shame - I suspect you might have to redo it.

    In the mean time I'd like to comment on a line from above "At some point, someone has to stand up and take the leap to trust prisoners (cautiously) or nothing will change."

    Pretty well that describes what I think a probation officers job is and it's how I've approached it. The key issue of course is connected with the word 'caution'. In essence it's mostly about risk and assessing that is not a science, but rather the exercising of skill and judgement.

    Increasingly the system and PO's, in particular newer officers, have become much more risk averse. It's therefore even more important that the officer and prisoner work closely together in providing the Parole Board with a sound case for progression. It's the key relationship in the process because the Parole Board are invariably heavily influenced by the PO's recommendation.

  50. Wigarse,

    I will adopt the name Bill (previously Anon) if it helps. I can't give you my real name. I don't think we have ever met and I don't suppose you could know who I am - please appreciate that I, like others, have to keep my identity concealed for good reasons.

    I am not sure I can add much more to this but you could ask Ben to request a copy of his file from the parole board and (separately) from the Ministry of Justice.

    I don't think anyone would suggest that the Justice system is perfect. I would support your idea of separating the two issues.

    Ben has behavioural problems, a behavioural psychologist might help if he can be persuaded to submit to their help.

    I can see from your comments that you are doing some soul-searching. My advice is not to abandon Ben or care too much if what he says is true or not. Prisoners live in a dishonest environment.

    If you want to campaign for prison reform then I would suggest speaking to Prison Governors and other senior personnel as well as prisoners first.

    But this is very unlikely to help Ben. The approach towards release of lifers is cautious for good reason and is unlikely to change without substantial proof that earlier release is beneficial to wider society.

    Ben now has a very long way to go. The possibility of release has now become much more distant. Having failed to make his move to Open this time he will have to fundamentally and noticeably change his behaviour to be given another chance in the future.

    A new attitude and a move to another prison where he can forge a new approach would be a good idea now.

    But if Ben prefers to stay where he is (in attitude and location) then he will not progress - he knows this and may, for all his protestations, ultimately be happy with this. This is the sad implication of institutionalisation.

    Whatever the fact, you can only help by discouraging him from delusions about 'fighting the system'.

  51. Wigarse. I too posted a reply but it has disappeared. How strange.

    I can't recall exactly what I said now but I am afraid I can't give you my name. I don't suppose you could possibly know who I am. I have to keep my identity private for good reasons so I will use the name Bill from now on. Hope that helps.

    Having said that, I am not sure I can add much more to what I have already said. I am not saying you should disbelieve everything Ben (or any other prisoner) says. But I would suggest you keep an open mind and bear in mind that he looks at things from his own perspective and wants to maintain support from others. There may be other ways of looking at things.

    He does seem to fundamentally misunderstand the issues surrounding progress and release, as Jim Brown has explained.

    I can't offer you more information than the comments and observations I have already supplied. You could ask Ben for his Parole Board and MOJ file. That's really the only way you could pursue the evidence based approach you mention.

    I appreciate you are doing some soul-searching. I wouldn't be too concerned about what Ben says is true and what is not. I doubt if your support is entirely conditional on this anyway.

    As far as psychological support is concerned, Ben clearly has behavioural problems (or he would be out) as far as the system is concerned. So perhaps a behavioural psychologist may be able to help.

    I hope this helps. Please take it as it's meant. Well meaning advice.

  52. Bill, above. Just to let you know that nothing has been deleted.

  53. Ben is delighted at the amount of debate going on here because it means the blog is doing what is says on the tin. I have printed off and mailed to him all the comments to this post and he told me on the (prison!) phone today that he will be writing a response. Tomorrow morning he will face the Governor and go through the adjudication process over the mobile phone issue. When I know the outcome I'll post it here. Ed.

  54. Jim,

    It's probably stuck in the spam filter, as sometimes happens, it may reappear later. It was a bit verbose though and, with 24 hours to refine my thinking, I can probably be more concise now, so I'll try again.

    Thanks for getting involved. This place can be an echo chamber and it is valuable to have an alternative perspective.

    We've also covered some of this ground in the past and so I apologise if sometimes I seem a little brusque - I forget that not everyone has been here since the start or has read every comment.

    What I said previously boiled down to the fact that I don't believe Ben is delusional about what the service is requiring of him. In fact, I think he's tackled the question specifically on a number of occasions on this blog; it seems to be, understandably, something he thinks about a lot.

    I think he believes the system is mistaken, and that the very rules that are supposed to ensure a prisoner is fit for release actually create the institutionalisation that is then used as a reason to keep people inside longer. I know that's the way the system is, but it shouldn't be.

    I agree with Ben that changing the system is something worth fighting for. Nothing is set in stone and if Norway can achieve a progressive and rehabilitative justice system, I see no reason why we can't as well some day (not soon though, certainly not soon). What *is* certain is that it won't change if people like Ben don't try.

    I can quite understand why Ben would choose to rebel and keep his psychological independence intact. I don't think saying that is reinforcing "distorted thinking patterns" because I don't think it's distorted thinking - that may well be something we have to agree to disagree over.

    I certainly don't think he needs any behavioural psychologist to get him on the straight and narrow, because I think he's there already. I think warping him to fit the system would make him a lesser person, even though I accept it would smooth his path to release.

    I do agree with you that, for the most part, the top end is open and honest although, as you said yourself, there are a number of people like Ben for whom it has not been just, for whatever reason. I happen to think that if instead of trying to make Ben like all the prisoners who have successfully achieved release, the service worked on making all prisoners more like Ben, then perhaps we'd all be better off.

    I know institutionalisation is a problem that the parole board have to consider, but dealing with it by keeping prisoners inside longer does not strike me as the most logical cure! Furthermore, the metric used to judge institutionalisation are the very rules that, IMO, create it in the first place.

    Just because that's how things are, doesn't mean they are right.

    (not shorter this time around either, sorry.)

    I will be away from the internet for the next 10 days or so and so I have to leave this debate now. Thanks, it has been good to have :)

  55. Darby,

    Your story is a very interesting one; it's great to have you and your perspective here.

    For me, what you say above sums up the biggest problem with the system perfectly - in so many ways, the processes put in place create the behaviour they are supposed to be preventing.

  56. It is nice to read all these views. People's offerings as to why Ben is still inside is good food for thought and there is an element of truth in each thread. What some individuals fail to understand is that prison is a very artificial "society" to live in and the pitfalls that exist behind those walls are totally different to the ones faced in general living. The threat of violence is constant and the prisoner has no "other side of the road" he could cross to to avoid trouble. The average Officer hates an intelligent inmate since he may pose a threat to his decisions. Believe me there are a lot of local decisions made that are out of line with the official policy set by the management. An intelligent inmate will challenge these decisions and thus making local decision makers feel uncomfortable. This is the plank Ben has often fallen off. It does not take much to frame someone in jail and the consequences for someone in Ben's position are severe. The "hang them" brigade do not really understand the intension or the spirt of the Law. As Gandhi said if an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth train of thought were to be taken to conclusion then half the world would be toothless and the other half blind. It is a great victory for our society and law when those who have wronged actually manage to climb out of the pit and enbrace the higher echleons of human behaviour.Ben has become a capable man and he deserves a chance of freedom. You may be amazed as to how much of a contribution to the greater society he may make. The youth of today may avoid going down the same road as Ben did as a 14 year old when fed with the facts of Ben's life so far. prem

  57. Prem.

    Thanks for getting involved.

    I read a case judgement you won at the European Commission of Human Rights last night, - an impressive victory!

    In my opinion, (and in reality) there are only two sides of the fence in life, and unless you’ve lived on both – you will only ever really know (and understand) one side of the story.

  58. It took years to put the case and when the judgement came.......... There were a lots of ups downs on the way. Anyway, our common aim is to see true justice done for Ben and others like him. prem


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