Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pick Another Rule

Prison rule 39 has been essentially unchanged since 1968.  It deals with our correspondence with the courts and our solicitor, and states that such mail can only be opened on a Governor's order based on a reasonable suspicion that the letter contains illicit items.

Such is the will of Parliament. Alas, Erlestoke has a "local order" which treats this law with contempt.  They insist on examining all outgoing legal mail.  Given the ancient status of this rule, this isn't done out of ignorance; management know damn well what they are doing isn't lawful.

The outcome of this should be pretty obvious.  When they interfere with my legal mail then we will all be taking a trip to the local County Court where they will write me a nice cheque in compensation.

Ah, your taxes at work.  Don't you feel better for knowing how it's wasted?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Pick a Rule

Having refused to discuss my Ph.D. with me, the "Learning & Skills Co-ordinator" has ordained that I work instead in the Speedyhire workshop. Vital though lawnmowers may be to the life of the nation, fixing them isn't really my chosen career.

To complicate matters, this undermines my Sentence Plan.  SP's are assessments of our risk and the route by which we must reduce that risk of re-offending.  The only item on my Sentence Plan is to complete my Ph.D..  If we refuse or fail to comply with our SP then our privileges are reduced and the Parole Board is liable to give us a kicking.

So tomorrow I am being forced to make a choice.  If I go to Speedyhire I get penalised for failing to comply with my sentence plan.  If I refuse Speedyhire and insist on meeting my Sentence Plan target, then I am penalised for refusing work.

Such a shambles is hardly a novel feature of my life.  But the question remains - why do I end up carrying the can for a mess created by my keepers? When are they held responsible for their decisions?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Rehabilitation Joke

I have just formally applied to have my word processor in my possession in order to continue my Ph.D. research.  The Governor responded with a lifeless, bureaucratic "not approved".

With that reasoned explanation, he has rung the death knell on my research and my rehabilitation. Just a couple of words to trash my future employment choices, 3 years of work, and the money that you donated towards my fees.

Such is he nature of the rehabilitation ideal in the modern prisoner service.  It has led to a plague of very nice notices, but the reality is a sick joke.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Both Shepton Mallet and Erlestoke are category C prisons, holding men who lack the ability or urge to do a bunk, but who can't quite be trusted in open prison.

To the unknowing, then, they should be much or a muchness.  And yet...

The regimes are so much more different, as in the culture on the landings and relationships with staff. Next week I shall be exploring the sociology of the prison, helping to highlight what it is that makes every prison different even when, on paper, they are identical; and what this may mean for reducing crime.

Monday, July 25, 2011

'Elf and Safety

A genuine dwarf Lifer arrived on the wing. Who - and how - he killed was subject to wide and surreal speculation.

As we approached Christmas, and entertainment and dope needed to be arranged, we hit upon the idea of a dwarf-throwing contest. Simplicity  itself; just lay a line of mattresses down the landing and heave the little fella a few times.

The Wing Manager got wind of this wheeze and stole our dwarf away "for his own protection".

It may be relevant that this took place before we had television.  Boredom can lead to strange avenues for distraction!

Prison Economics

At Erlestoke, the price of a mobile phone bought for £10 in a supermarket is £100 on the landing.

Unsurprisingly, many prisoners are natural entrepreneurs.  I'm always amazed that legitimate businesses and investors fail to notice this pool of talent and attempt to harvest it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rich and Poor

A tiny details within the News of the World debacle is how journos nicked by the Old Bill are treated.

If you or I were to be busted for illegally accessing phones and medical records, along with corrupting the police, we could expect a van-load of helmeted goons charging through our door at dawn.

For News International staff though, this indignity is replaced by the far less inconvenient arrangement of being invited along to a police station to be arrested.

How civilised for them.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Why are we prohibited from taking our cup of tea or bottle of water on exercise periods in our compound? This is done for "health & safety grounds".

It has been suggested that I may have a malign and creative turn of mind but even I can't think of what wickedness could flow from walking about with a plastic bottle of water.

Any ideas? I promise not to pass them on to the lads.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Miserable Git

The Editor tells me that you are getting a tad bored by my recent outpouring of misery.  Fair enough!

Every decade, give or take a year, I seem to hit a brick wall that saps my resilience.  The first time it happened it led to my not eating for 44 days.  The second time, I didn't eat for a mere 3 weeks.  And this time, my third decade, it has led to my boring you all senseless.

Surely that's an improvement?! And normal services is now resumed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Parole Board

So here I go again, back in front of the parole board. A nameless bureaucrat hidden in the Ministry of Justice has decided that my taking advantage of mobile phones in prison is such a heinous crime that it warrants the Parole Board being invited to reconsider their decision to send me to open prison.

As long term readers will recall, the last visit to the board took a year and comprised of an administrative shambles.

The portents are not good.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sexist Cancer

I'm amazed at the number of female medics who talk dismissively of prostate cancer. To them, it's a minor issue, solved by ripping the prostate out.  Problem solved!

Now imagine a male doctor telling a woman with breast cancer it's no big deal; just chop her breasts off - job done!?

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Sandal Conundrum

Not since Jesus have sandals caused such sheer bafflement and consternation.

Local notices decree that we must not wear flip-flops whilst collecting our food, or whilst taking exercise in the grassy compound. However, wearing trainers is all okay.

But where do my sandals fit into this scheme? As sandals are not specifically mentioned, my wearing them prompts staff to engage that rarely seen attribute - initiative. Staff are not known for being independent thinkers, and in the absence of clear instructions from management there is always the danger of headless chicken syndrome.

The status of my sandals remains uncertain, and at some point I wouldn't be surprised if they became an item on a committee agenda!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Stand by Your Man

We have an excellent newpaper in prison called Inside Time.  There is a link to it on this blog.

The July issue carries a front page story about Women in Prison, not a topic widely discussed in the media. Consider this:

11,000 women are received into custody each year, and two thirds of them are sentenced to custody for a period of 6 months or less.

Over 17,000 children are separated by from their mothers by imprisonment each year and only 9% of them are looked after by their fathers. This poses the question of why men find it so difficult to look after their offspring when their partner is incarcerated.

In this prison the visits room is full of women visiting their partners and bringing the kids in to visit their dad. It is a sad fact that many women in prison are deserted by their partners, unless they also are women!

Why is it that men find it so hard to stay the course?  And when it costs around £56,415 a year to keep a woman in prison, why lock her up at all, given the fact that the cost to her family (children taken into care etc.) is even higher?

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Slow Day

Only one guy having his door kicked in and robbed, another guy being attacked, and one screw wanting to take a con into a cell for a "straightener".

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Somehow, I am very tired of all of this.  I'm tired of fighting my depression, I'm tired of waking up each day to another string of meaningless and empty hours, days, maybe years.  Tired of being frustrated, of having to battle for every little thing, trying to find something positive. And tired of being scared of my cancer.

I'm just...tired of it all.

Everything good that was happening has gone; my studies and career, writing, health - all gone.  And maybe the Cat D too.

I'm tired.


If "they" do something and I react to it, I'm told to be responsible for my reaction.

If I do something and they react to it, I'm held responsible for their reactions.

Get out of that one!

Monday, July 11, 2011

See the Sun!

Comparing prisons is always an individual process, best avoided.  But my initial impression is that Erlestoke is far larger than Shepton and strictly regulated.

It is so good to have a window large enough to allow sunlight through, and there are acres of grass and trees.  So different from the dark, tarmac claustrophobia of Shepton.

There are vast swathes of bang-up; along with the controlled movement this makes me wonder if the management are afraid of disorder.  They forget that central to good order is treating us decently, and that increasing control measures can itself provoke disorder.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


When they put their mind to it, the prison service do seem able to transfer me from A to B without my being turned away or dumped at C.

Now I just need to find someone who can tell me why I am here.  Even Lifer staff are at a  loss.  I'd like to think that there is a cogent plan behind my move, but my past experience leads me to hesitate before leaping to conclusions.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Not "cellphones"! Some private prisons have a payphone fitted in each cell.  This obviously liberates us from the dreaded phone queue and unchains families and friends from sitting by their landlines all evening.

This also neatly avoids the main problem with prison payphones, which is the inflated costs of calls.  In-cell phones reveal a failure of imagination for, liberated from the constraints of a limited number of phones, why don't they allow families to phone in to the prisoner?

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Just to illustrate that Shepton isn't alone in churning out notices which may well be collections of random words, my food ordering form here has the following printed on the top:

"Christmas day menu has changed and is served as breakfast and Christmas day lunch not lunch and dinner as stated".

And in July to boot!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Scales of Justice

A recent murder trial raised the issue of whether victims should be forced to have their evidence tested via cross-examination by the defence.

Such an experience is inevitably going to be emotionally painful for witnesses and, equally inevitably, out of compassion we would want to reduce the suffering of people who have already endured terrible experiences.

And yet...with liberty at stake, to be swayed by compassion in the adversarial process would undermine justice. Evidence must be tested, harshly, before people are convicted and thrown in prison.

Of course victims deserve compassion, but never to the extent that this undermines the rights of the defendant.  We must never forget that while the process may be difficult for witnesses, the potential consequences for those on trial are even worse.

Whether you are seeking a criminal justice degree, on trial yourself, or are involved with the criminal justice system in any way, you know that this torment is inevitable in the criminal justice process.  Its purpose is to attribute responsibility and punishment.

If we, as a society, want a process that aims to reduce additional harm, we really must seriously consider the benefits of restorative justice.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Convict TV

So Venables didn't get released at his first parole, as I predicted months ago.

The idea, thought, that he could give a TV interview from prison is new legal territory - and ground that the Ministry won't ever vacate.  It won't happen.

But should it?  Would prisoners appearing on TV help society?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Connect Brain to Mouth

"Institutionalisation" is a wonderful concept, a ready refuge for those who struggle to rise above the inane.  Before using that term, try to fulfill two criteria;

First, define what institutionalisation means.

Second, and far more fun, find some research to demonstrate its existence. And I don't mean hoary anecdotes.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Alright, who compared me - unfavourably - to Nelson Mandela? Shame on you.

I mean, kudos to him for his taste in shirts, but for anything else? Nah, never a man I'd ever be happy to be compared with.

Having read a vast amount by, and about, the man, I am still lacking a coherent explanation as to why he chose to adopt a path of violent as opposed to non-violent struggle.  Mandela doesn't appear to place a high value on human life.

And in prison, he plotted and schemed, yet all the while failing to resist his jailers.  200 years after slavery was abolished and he happily consented to be marched to the quarry every day.

Pah! Mandela... now, Mitchnik on the other hand...