Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My Psychology

The cheap and cheerful explanation for my perpetual pushing of boundaries is that I just don't want to get out of prison, that I'm afraid, institutionalised. An equally simplistic response I could make is to point out that as the prison system has had me and attempted to mould me since I was a kid, they can hardly complain about the way I've turned out!
Obviously, I despise that simplistic view. It is to denigrate me as a human being, it strips me of any semblance of dignity and denies that I am capable of making coherent, principled decisions.
Some prison staff love the simplistic explanation; it suits their world view perfectly. The alternative is that I challenge "the system" from some deeply political or moral perspective - and if that was accepted by prison staff, it would imply that they are sometimes wrong, that they should be challenged. And that is impossible for them to admit; so the only solution, the only explanation for them, is that I'm some psychological disaster.

This silly view of my behaviour completely fails to explain my development. My first disciplinary offence was within days of being arrested, and for the first few years I racked up scores of nickings. My main objection to prison life was forced labour, and various other things which had the word "compulsory" attached to them.

There was no great political philosophy behind these acts of refusal. I was young. And I detest being restricted. For me, the struggle to expand the sphere of my personal autonomy was completely natural; it needed no coherent explanation or philosophy. It is just, well, normal to struggle against being confined. For what it's worth, when I administered Toch's Prison Preference Inventory to myself, my "freedom needs" were off the scale.

As I grew, developed, and engaged my intellect then it was equally natural that I would find myself entangled in the morass of morality and political philosophy for which imprisonment is the nexus. Only when you find yourself sitting naked in a Strongbox, the deepest part of the State's dungeons, do you truly struggle with questions of authority and legitimacy.

The deeper my understanding, then my struggles became far more sophisticated, more political. My struggles stopped being an outgrowth of my particular personality needs and instead were the expression of my political morality. The essence of my view is that I believe that all authority should be treated with suspicion, tends towards tyranny, and should be perpetually questioned and tested.

This is hardly revelatory, I know. It has been the staple of political theory for over three centuries and forms the basis for both the American Declaration of Independence and its Constitution.

The difference, for me, is that there is no gap between my personal, private sphere and the power of the State. The smaller features of my life, my existence, are regulated by people given licence to use force to ensure compliance. For even the mildest of political animals, such a situation is inevitably fraught, a perpetual challenge.

Today, my challenges are far removed from my teenage struggles. While I do engage in daily struggles over the minutiae and am always willing to help others in a corner, the range of my vision has lifted to a broader political vista. Changing my daily life is but a minor issue; I am driven to change the whole careveral machine and the socio-political landscape in which it is cited.

This blog is one expression of this drive. And I know full well that my activities, my voice, tends to perturb my keepers - and that their spiteful retaliation has been this endless imprisonment. I'm not naive, campaigning carries a price.

You may think that I must be pretty bonkers to continue. But don't forget the most important event in my life - I killed another human being. It was an essentially pointless and selfish act. Crucially, I see it as being an abuse of power on my part, and as I recoil from that in myself, I recoil from such abuses in others. My crime, my reaction to it, and my challenges to the prison system are all part of one thread. I am as driven to challenge abuses by my keepers as I challenge myself to be nonviolent. They are inseparably intertwined.

Knowing that my campaigning could cost me many more years did not particularly disturb me. Resisting abuses of power is a moral journey that should be taken, regardless of personal cost. In this view, I know that I am unusual. Before the appearance of the Editor, I had A Plan that placed release second on my list of priorities. Challenging abuses of power was first.

Now, I carry responsibilities and expectations. It would be selfish of me to drag anyone else down my offbeat path. And so release is now top of my list, and resisting abuses of power second. Or rather, the ways in which I challenge are less objectionable, more strategic, and so less likely to block release.

Even so, never expect perfection from me. I will make errors, misjudgements, and be plain obnoxious at times. I'm human, it comes with the territory. Having to put up with Governors, Probation Officers and a Parole Board that would look askance at Christ-like levels of goodness is bad enough; I hope that you are all more reasonable.


  1. 'I am driven to change the whole careveral machine and the socio-political landscape in which it is cited'

    But the fact is you are not going to change the system are you? nor are you going to alter anything, especially in a 12 by 6 cell. It takes years for prisoners to come to their senses and you clearly haven't.

    You have become institutionalised, HMPS has become your enemy which keeps you going, but in the end you are not acheiving anything but harming yourself, so play the game and get out of prison before its too late you plonker!

  2. 'play the game' is begining to grate, its so sounding like a broken record.

  3. If you read that and still think he doesn't need psychological help - you need it.

  4. Can't you people try, just for a moment, to put yourselves in Ben's shoes? He has explained quite clearly why he is driven to try and campaign for change. Can't you understand the notion of sacrifice? As a Christian, I don't like the thought of Ben feeling he NEEDS to do all this to atone as Christ has already paid the price for him, and whether or not he achieves any reform will remain to be seen, but it is an admirable thing he is doing, yes noble even. Shame on any of us who fail to speak out about abuses of power.

    As Ben states, he has his own mind so let's not have the comments that his supporters are just delaying his release or somehow using Ben for our own agendas. He is not a saint, as he himself admits, but at least he is trying to bring some good out of a tragic situation. That takes guts when it would be so much easier to just throw in the towel.

  5. Probability OfficerJune 8, 2011 at 11:22 PM

    I think you have a valid point Ben when you say that this is the way that the Prison Service has raised you from the age of 14, and I thought your comments about the crime are wholly appropriate. I guess though that you must be giving the report writers and the Parole Board a different perspective on you. The period before the tarif is for punishment and retribution' a syou know, but you clearly feel you are being punished beyond your tariff rather than rehabilitated. Are you hoping for notoriety after your release because of your 'antics' and will therefore foresake the extra time it may condemn you to, or would you take an earlier but more discreet release?

  6. So in summary Ben you started behaving badly the moment you were put away. You weren't full of remorse, just anger. And then you read a lot of books and decided to try and represent your actions as some noble freedom fighter acting out of principle... Yeah sure. Why would anyone believe you? What changes have you achieved in 30 years. None?

  7. "Knowing that my campaigning would cost me many more years...."

    I don't think going this far over tariff has anything to do with 'campaigning' or even 'complaining' (many prisoners do that all the time) but it does have everything to do with how Ben chooses to interact with the system.

    The trouble is he appears to be universally disparaging to all staff eg "Having to put up with Governors, Probation Officers and a Parole Board that would look askance at Christ-like levels of goodness is bad enough...."

    With respect to Ben, this is nonsensical and not a comment worthy of his intellectual reasoning. We are all individuals and there are good, bad and indifferent in all walks of life. I'm sure that many professionals will have been trying to help Ben come to terms with his situation over the years, but there has to be a spirit of co-operation.

    It's really hard to come to any conclusion other than that Ben is being the author of his own misfortunes. Moving towards release is not a 'game' to be played or not, but rather a process to be engaged with honestly. Ben could do that if he wanted to because he has way above average communication skills, but as I have said before, release only comes on terms agreed by the Parole Board, not terms set by the prisoner.

  8. Jim Brown,

    With respect, Unless you can say (hand on heart)that you have reported every abuse of process by a colleague (however slight or serious!) that you have encountered in the last 25 years. - You should not be surprised when Ben finds it difficult to separate the 'good from the bad' in terms of his overall situation.

    Ben knows (as do I) that even the 'half-decent screws' turn a blind eye to the corruption (again slight or serious) of the rules on a daily basis.

  9. Yes, it is true Jim that "We are all individuals and there are good, bad and indifferent in all walks of life", and that is also true of establishment rules and regulations; ever subject to negotiation and struggle.

    Ben has grown up in a delineated system, one which is stacked against prisoners and which exercises this power over other people in a variety of ways. Children feel injustices more accutely than adults, so you put these two together and the result is someone (Ben) whose sense of injustice runs very deep.

    So, regarding the rules; Ben throws them back for all to see the reality and a hope ( although I hope not in vain ) that with light being shed on them as it is, better will be demanded and will come through wider struggle. Certainly Probability Officer who clearly has much experience of prisons seems to be suggesting there is room for negotiation by saying " ... would you take an earlier but more discreet release?"

    Although it is true that we are all individuals and there are good, bad and indifferent, (I doubt that we are static in these categories anyway), it is the system that Ben feels (and has felt since he was a child) that is in dire need of change, he is not wrong in that and has been successful in throwing out the debate about prison reform to a wider audience with the potential to make some far reaching changes, good on him.

  10. I think your blog's been hijacked today Ben.

    Hard to know what to say when faced with the blinkered view of your commentors. They don't seem to realise that our Prison Service is not fit for purpose, the Probation Service a joke, and the Parole Board is, at best, indifferent.

    Go to to read some actual horror stories.

    That you are still fighting after all this time is a testiment to your tenacity. It is up to you to decide when enough is enough.

  11. I should have, of course said some "of your commentators". Apologies to those who look further than the "it's his own fault" comments!!

  12. Oh dear - I thought a debate was going on. Most people would wish to see progress and reform of many institutions including my own. As for being blinkered - see my post today.

  13. Sophie & Queenie.

    Yes and Yes.

  14. Jim, Unfortunately there's a small bunch of crazy Ben sycophants on this blog who despise any debate. As far as they are concerned the purpose of this blog is to tell Ben he is right and to push their religious agenda. Personally I am enjoying your take on all this and I think you are adding a lot. I imagine Ben will be benefiting from some of your insights. Keep it up.

  15. How about you Eric, have you got anything positive to say to add to this or any other debate on here or are you just adding mindless degredation? What exactly are your disagreements with the arguments put forward here? Or is it that you just want to reframe everything to a level of paucity in theory for your feeble mind so that it can grasp that which it wants to grasp but in fact has no bearing on reality or what is actually being articulated?

  16. Jim, you are free to give your disagreements here, no-one is stopping you

  17. I think the worse possible thing for Ben is his blog and knowing he has an audience. And by having that audience he has to feed it. And by feeding it he is making his own situation worse. But the attention he receives is addictive. It turns into a cycle or waterfall affect. Keeps on riding the rapids Going under then climbinng back up and doing it all over again. He needs to stop the blog and concentrate on one thing only release.

  18. Hmmm, saintfc, above: one could argue that all this writing on the blog is a cathartic experience for Ben, as well as generating debate around the prison system. Ben has lived in institutions since the age of 11, and picked up a lot of learned behaviour along the way. Such lifelong habits can only be un-learned with a lot of support. When/if he becomes free, he can start learning to trust people again. How hard must it be not to regard people with a "universally disparaging" view, as Jim pust it, when they carry keys and have the power to lock him up. As an adult, Ben has never known a world without control, by his "keepers". Hardly surprising he feels somewhat suspicious and resentful.

  19. Ben, you obviously see yourself as some sort of martyr for the cause, like Joan of Arc. Except there is no cause, because most cons want to just do their bird and get out as soon as possible. You have turned your sentence into a career. You are a misguided, egotistical, pompous fool. What a sad waste of a life.

  20. Oh dear the mad, one eyed one is on the rampage now. Possessed by the devil I reckon. Pray for her.

  21. So you are feeling it are you Eric? Psychology eh? There is still so much to learn. I am sure the prayers are appreciated, keep 'em coming xx

  22. Anonymous at 8.41 - I would love you to tell us your experience of prison - an inmate, staff or volunteer perhaps? Or maybe a victim of crime? There IS cause to campaign - where do you wish to start? Number of young people who took their own lives in YOIs in recent months? Percentage of prisoners who have been through the care system, or who are iliterate? Number of children who suffer through parents' imprisonment, with no effort made to consider how this will effect another generation's chances? Number of people like Ben serving many years over their tariff? There is more than enough to campaign about.

    I have to say that I think there are people out there who resent the fact that Ben is so articulate and intelligent, and that people out here have warmed to him. At least he is honest about his faults and shortcomings.

  23. Ben. You say here that you have abused power and so now campaign against others doing so. Don;t you feel that you lack the moral position to do so having abused it yourself, if you see what I mean.

  24. People do and can change Helen, and despite committing crime, you are still human and therefore make moral judgements. No human being can ever be exempt from that. We all judge; it is part of being human, however the point is to make good moral judgements and for this we need guidance from religious authorities i.e texts from the plethora of sources, advice from trusted and experienced peers and evidence.

    What Ben says is that he recoiled at his crime and that this had the effect of turning him against power abuses.

    I suspect he found plenty of power abuses in his environment, which is something that exacerbated his outrage and made him into who he is, and this is what he is trying to explain in the post.

  25. Sophie I was asking Ben. Thankyou.

  26. Sure Helen, but Ben rarely if at all comments back directly and being that comments are public, anyone can say and reply to comments as they see fit. If you want a private reply you could use the email facility or write to him directly at Shepton

  27. This blog reminds me of that man in another prison....except that David Charlton has honestly looked himself in the face and said 'I want to stay in'.

    Ben needs to take a similarly clear-eyed look at himself and admit the same thing...or work on some self-discipline so that they can release him at last.

    First step might be to have a bit of empathy re the plight of his keepers.

  28. Sophie. You seem to assume that you can speak for Ben. However your approach to life seems very different to his. Please don't respond when I ask him a question. Thank you.

  29. No, I don't assume I can speak for Ben, Helen. It is a free country and a public blog, Thank you.


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