Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Prison Essentials

Sweep your gaze further than the ephemera of TV's and PlayStations and you realise that one of the most powerful experiences of imprisonment is being rendered powerless.
It follows that serving a long sentence must involve learning how to manage anger and frustration. With the minutiae of our lives being regulated by, and depending upon, the actions of those appointed to the lofty station above us then their indifference and ineptitude feeds an endless reservoir of anger.
I give you glimpses of this, brief windows onto occasional events that must make any reasonable person gnash their teeth. Most prisoners are reduced to stewing in their frustration and anger; at least I have the small release afforded by writing.
The treatment of Big Rinty was shameful. As far as I am aware, his medical treatment was not poor. It was his treatment by the prison that causes anger. Taken out to hospital, to die, he was initially handcuffed with two staff. At this point Rinty could barely lift himself out of bed unaided. The handcuffs were later removed and the escort reduced to one man.
Through the vicissitudes of life, Rinty had few people close to him. On the outside, Erwin James was one, Felix the Gambler another, and one of his fellow cons here at Shepton. The prison refused to allow his friend here to phone Rinty to say his farewells.
Rinty was initially denied compassionate release, even though it was undisputed that he had only a short time to live. It was eventually granted late on Friday; Rinty died early on Saturday.
Don't be misled by the term "compassionate release" in Rinty's case. If he had died whilst "in custody", then there would automatically have been a Coroner's Inquest and an Investigation by the Prisons Ombudsman. By "releasing" Rinty, those inquiries have been avoided. This is a cynical, disgusting ploy used quite often by the Prison Service.
Having "released" Rinty, his guard left. The prison didn't bother informing Erwin James or The Gambler, leaving Rinty to die alone.
These truly shameful events are not uncommon. They are woven into the fabric of prison life, and these threads wrap around the throats of the powerless - the prisoners.
We learn to choke in silence in the face of such institutional contempt for us. We learn to hide our anger, to cling tightly to our frustrations. It twists our very souls. Riots are the raw expression of a thousand wounds.


  1. Obviously the system has contempt for prisoners. Should it be any different?

    You've proven yourselves unable to co-exist in peace and with respect for your fellow man and his property. You've been removed from society because you can't be trusted not to make life worse for other people. You're an inconvenience, a nuisance that has to be dealt with at great cost.

    Why should respect and compassion for people who make life so fucking miserable for decent folk be a priority for anybody? Society owes you nothing, don't pretend that it does.

    You speak as though you're writing on a hotel 'customer satisfaction' card. Your opinion on your captivity doesn't count and nor should it. You're not there to be happy with it.

  2. @Will
    What is prison there for?

    Incapacitating criminals?

    All of the above? Well, assuming the answer is all of the above, what priority should they be given? Too great a retribution makes rehabilitation difficult. If you go beyond an eye for an eye then the prisoner becomes a victim, and then how do you rehabilitate a victim?

    Does deterrence really work? Does your average drug addled thief desperate for the next fix consider the risk of jail time? How much additional punishment should 1 person serve to prevent others serving, in effect making them serve for other crimes that could be committed by others?

    All these are serious questions, with not obvious hard and fast answer. And they explain Ben's attitude, in so far as he has a very different idea as to how the penal system should operate to best benefit society than most people on the outside.

  3. Will,

    Yes. It should be different. Not because the prisoners deserve it, but because such an attitude is society cutting off its nose to spite its face.

    We know treating prisoners with contempt increases rates of recidivism and we know locking youngsters up for minor crimes creates hardened criminals.

    When we create people that behave in this way, we have to take some of the responsibility for their acts.

    Ben is a murderer and a con. That does not mean he has forfeited his right to be correct.

  4. Will, I wonder if perhaps you are a victim of crime, to hold such views? Have you ever met or spoken with any 'prisoners'? If you do then you will find the vast majority are really no different from you or I. I have someone dear to me who is one of those 'drug addled thieves desperate for the next fix'. Knowing what I do about his childhood and years of struggle to survive since, he desparately needs compassionate help, not being cast away and punished yet again. And I say what I have said before on this blog; anyone who has ever got angry and lost their temper is capable of murder, and there but for the grace of my God go I.

  5. Blimey 'anyone who has ever got angry and lost their temper is capable of murder'! What a strange view to take. Fortunately most people have the self control to avoid killing people when they get angry.

    The ones who don't are put away for the safety of the rest of us until they can prove they are safe.

  6. @ Will & Anon 12.17

    If you treat someone in jail like an animal,- they will come out and behave like one.

    And it just might be YOU on the receiving end!

  7. Darby - that's weirdly intimidating. Have a lie down sweetie. I think Will goes a bit far saying the system should have contempt for prisoners but I don't think anyone is advocating treating prisoners like animals just treating people who act like animals as prisoners. Have YOU understood that now.

  8. It's all too simple and smug to point the finger at prisoners and make them out to be 'the other', creating a false line that differentiates the good from the bad.

    No account is taken of human nature and circumstances. Some people commit a crime deliberately and some by accident for example.

    Such simplicity and reductionism in the criminological debate displayed here by anon and Will just shows how stupity and ignorance still exists and is unfortunately thriving in the current social and economic climate where the use of scapegoating is heightened.

  9. Anon at 12.17 - it is so easy to suppose that prisoners are different; that they're evil people. It makes the rest of us feel pious, but the fact is they are no better, or worse, than anyone else in God's eyes. If you don't look for the good in people why would they bother to try and change? And how you treat people makes all the difference in the world. God would sooner have one murderer who shows remorse than a hundred self-righteous people who believe they have no faults. It's offensive to many I know, but there it is. That's why they crucified Jesus.

  10. I am not sure who thinks prisoners are evil? If people kill others because of uncontrolled tempers then they get locked up for the safety of others. Are you really saying they should be allowed to go free?

    I don't think God comes into it - but did he exist I think he would take a more balanced view. I think you may have misinterpreted the bible Jules.

    Michael - The sentence fits the crime. If someone kills mistakenly then it is manslaughter not murder. Murder is bad - really accept that.

    If you want to have a 'debate' as you put it then it might help if you avoid just calling people smug, stupid and ignorant because they disagree with you. I notice its a mistake you keep making which can only lead to your own continued ignorance.

  11. @ Anon 1.45

    If everyone who went to jail was a animal, then your words might make more sense, but that's clearly not the case.

    The fact that you feel intimidated by what I wrote, suggests to me that your mind works in much the same way as the petty-minded idiots in uniform that Ben has to suffer on a day-to-day basis.

    I will hold my hands up to being uneducated and quite mentally idle. And as a consequence I'm usually more and than happy to sit back and let others more qualified make the pertinent points.

    However, having had involvement in the ’Care/Justice System’ since birth, (I was born in a mental hospital Eleven (11) years after my mothers reception!) coupled with the experience of physically abusive foster parents until age 7. Children’s Homes X2, Approved Schools x3, numerous Juvenile Secure/Unsecure Assessment/Remand Centre’s/Homes, Detention Centre, Borstal x2, YP sentences, and too many years in jail!. I obviously have some understanding of institutional procedure.

    So if I feel like saying something I'm afraid I will, - without worrying what idiots like yourself think.

  12. Darby - I think your prejudices are getting in the way here. Sorry to hear about your life. I am not saying prisoners are animals or should be treated as such. I disagreed with Will saying that prisoners should be treated with contempt.

    But killing other people because you are angry is never going to work in a civilised society. It is more 'animal' than civilised. Surely you don't dispute that.

  13. Hi

    Probably best not to feed the trolls (will)...

    They only come back for more if you do -.-

    As for the treatment of a dying man, that was an outrage against human decency and the failure to notify his friends so they could be with him when he dies stinks of petty vindictiveness.

    Anyone who thinks that's what he deserved as he was a criminal (troll), what if it were your father/brother/son? All it takes is one moment of poor judgement and anyone can be in this position, would you not want them to be treated with dignity and respect at the end of their lives?

  14. I have been occasionally reading here for some months (long enough to know that 'Ben' was just a kid when his crime occurred) ---this particular post and accompanying comments pretty much illustrate why I keep coming back to read more.

    Thanks Ben, and everyone who comments here. It's all intelligent, thoughtful stuff...and very thought-provoking.

    I just wish Ben had played the game all those years ago (and got out).

  15. @will

    "Moralizing and morals are two entirely different things and are always found in entirely different people." - Don Herold

    Don't be so hasty to judge others, when you or someone you care about could fall foul of this flawed system at any time, if your position now is one of condemnation, expect nothing less in your own situation.

    Ben may well be a nuisance (at least to the prison officers), but everyones opinion counts.

    @Anonymous 1.45
    "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering the prisons"
    ~Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead.

    Whilst some that act like animals are imprisoned, they should be treated as humans, not second class humans. Darby has a valid point, a mistreated human has less incentive to behave like one on release, than one treated with compassion and humility. I don't think he was implying a threat either just a potential outcome of that attitude.

    So yes it should be different, a contemptuous system helps no-one, least of all society.

  16. It's worth bearing in mind in this discussion that Ben was given a 10 year tariff, a recognition of his age when the offence took place. He has been in for the following 20 years because of his behaviour since then.

    He could have been out by the age of 25 instead it looks unlikely that he will be out before he is 50.

    Those who judge harshly would say that it is simply Ben's fault that he has been in so long. Others would acknowledge that having been in prison since his teens he probably hasn't had the guidance and support to enable him to behave in a way that means he is not viewed as a potential risk.

    Once someone has served the punishment element of their sentence, surely they should be given the rehabilitative support they need?

    It would be interesting to know what kind of psychological support Ben has been given. The trauma of killing someone must be incredibly difficult to deal with and must affect the views and outlook of an individual hugely.

    If Ben hasn't had some intensive professional help then it's not really any surprise that he can't behave properly.

    Does anyone know what kind of psychological help he has had?

  17. Hi Anna,

    Ben has blogged regularly about the psychological services available to prisoners. There are many blog entries on the subject, one of them is titled 'Theraputic Deception' and is from November 9th 2010.

  18. @ Anon 3:05

    Jules appears to be pretty well up on his bible. Probably the most obvious example of that attitude is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18, but it's a pretty strong theme in the new testament. Screwing up is allowed, and can be forgiven - it's refusing to admit you've done wrong that gets you in trouble.

    Also, there are degrees of "mistakenly." If you intend to hurt, but not kill, is it murder? What if you knew there was a chance of death? if you take the chance of killing someone, and they happen to survive, what is it then? Intent isn't always that clear-cut.

    On another note...can you lovely anonymous people please please please pick out a name and use it within a given discussion? the name/url option is your friend. Just 'cause it gives us something to call you besides referring to your posting times

  19. Will a battyman?

  20. Jess, I suppose I am pretty well up on my bible, but there is always more to learn. I am currently studying the Gospel of Mark, and for Mark Ch 2:17 my study commentary translates the original Greek thus: 'My ministry is directed to just such people as you think outsiders, rather than to those who are confident that, because they have scrupulously observed all the external details of the law, they have obtained righteousness'. Your example of Luke 18:9-14 is a good one too.

    The 10 commandments were given to show us the standard God expects, but that we can never achieve on our own. Jesus came and paid the price for all our sin (from murder to gossip), so anyone who seeks forgiveness and wants to change can have abundant life. Through the prison letter-writing ministry I'm involved in I am in touch with many prisoners who have found great peace through this belief. One in particular, in a YOI for murder, is a great source of encouragement to me.

    I will also point out that God greatly used men who had committed murder e.g. Moses, David. I never said all murderers should be released, but forgiveness and compassion are needed, not condemnation.

    I would like to say thank-you to Darby for telling us about your experiences, and yes you do have every right to say just what you think.

    Jules (female by the way Jess!) :)

  21. Oops! sorry...I guess I'm used to thinking of it as a male name. I do apologize for that - I shouldn't have assumed.

  22. What I find most remarkable about Ben's 'story', is the fact that he has coped with his 32 years of incarceration without resorting to anything other than peaceful protest. His 'state of mind’ after this length of time is also, in my opinion, very impressive indeed.

    Unfortunately however, neither of these things will be of great consideration when it comes to the Parole board making a decision regarding Ben's future. And as such, I believe he has to seriously rethink his strategy if he hopes to achieve his liberty. Put simply, once you are trapped in ‘the system’, you MUST play the game to get out of it.

    One of MY favourite 'survival tricks' (although as a lifer,(and pacifist) it wouldn't work for Ben!) would be for me to have a couple of fights with ‘the bullies’ early on in my sentence, but then modify my behaviour gradually as my parole date drew closer. This would have the desired effect of making it look like my conduct had improved dramatically, which in turn made my ultimate goal of freedom much more likely.

    People might bulk at this admission, but to me it was my duty to myself to use what common sense I had for my own well-being. This meant getting out of jail (by hook or by crook!) at the earliest opportunity without compromising my own morals and principles. I understand that Ben thinks very differently to me, but he really needs to get out before the world he’s been a part of for such a disgustingly long time, actually consumes him!

    I have now been free of ‘the system’ for about fourteen years, and although life has its challenges, I wouldn’t swop ‘watching my children grow’ for any (in the main unnoticed!) stances I might have made in the past (in prison) in protest of the abuses of justice/process.

    It’s time for Ben to think of himself. It’s time that Ben went home!

  23. Rinty should never have been in prison a second time, he should never have died the way he did, he should never have had to pay the price hie did. What I feel about him and how he was treated I can never expain but he is with me every moment of every day and my guilt, my sorrow and my love are one with him. I failed him and I miss him


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.