Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Lawnmower Thing

In truth, I've no idea if Speedyhire deal with lawnmowers but I bet I'm not far off the mark.  And why shouldn't I spend my days tinkering in their workshop?

For many reasons.  I've paid my dues in shit prison jobs for 31 years and it's about time I had a chance at something better.  I aspire to more, which is an attitude my keepers hate - scumbag convicts are meant to be morons, happy for any crappy future that they line up for us.  Well, that's just not good enough.

But the two main reasons I resist working in the Speedhire workshop are ones that any sensible observer can appreciate.

Firstly, I resist being given crap work on allocation by a bureaucrat. This is the UK in 2011, not the Soviet Union in 1930!  I could accept ending up in a bad job through financial necessity, the blind hand of fate or market forces.  But to have some petty functionary decide that such work is all I'm fit for is an outrage that I will always resist.

Secondly, I have a problem with slavery.  I'm funny like that.  Being sold to work for a private company under threat of punishment, for that company and the prison to make a healthy profit - that just gets my goat.

And having read some of your comments around this, I'm surprised to note how many of you are so keen for me to accept this work situation.  Slavery is repulsive, and any of you who accept it for prisoners should be ashamed.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Just for entertainment, perhaps someone should put up two petitions for Parliamentary debate:

1  To execute the murderer Ben Gunn

2  To free the prisoner/writer/campaigner Ben Gunn.

Just for fun...?!

Sunday, August 28, 2011


It is rare for me to criticise my peers in public.  We have enough enemies as it is; why give them more ammunition? And yet it would be dishonest of me to ignore the reality of heroin and its effects on prisoners.

As a hard-line libertarian, I defend every person's right to use or abuse their body in any way they choose.

Not that I understand some of these choices, least of all a decision to become enthralled by heroin.  We all know its effects - it can rapidly turn people into selfish, lying, thieving ratbags whose whole personality becomes an extension of finding the next bag of gear. I just don't see the attraction, but if that's a life someone opts for then good luck to them.

I may be indifferent to the corrosive effects heroin has on the individual, but I care deeply about the corrosive effects that heroin has on the prisoner society.

There is a myth that "back in the days" prisoners has a greater solidarity.  My view has been that such solidarity was sporadic and temporary.  Nevertheless, in whatever degree, solidarity existed.  And such solidarity, being feared by the Prison Service, was always under challenge.  In retrospect, we did not resist as well as we could have.

Challenges to prisoner solidarity from our keepers is to be expected.  But I argue that heroin has divisive effects upon every part of the prisoner society - from our economy to our friendships - and that this is a self-inflicted blow to our solidarity.  In a community where a significant number of its members are ruthlessly competing against each other for the next bag of smack, then the opportunities for organising around prisoner solidarity are greatly reduced.  This is my concern - that the personal choices to use heroin have effects far wider than the individual.

Not only does heroin corrode prisoner solidarity, it also plays into the hands of the system which takes every opportunity to degrade and disempower us.  Humiliating searches of our families on visits is the most obvious example.

The joys of heroin are lost on me, though they obviously exist for some.  Conversely, the effects of heroin on prisoner solidarity seem to me to be obvious and negative.

This is a tragedy.  Prisoners are in a good position to organise politically, economically and legally, yet many of us have chosen to take our eye off that ball - and fix our gaze on the next bag of smack instead.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Blame Game

Some people blame me for my continual detention because I'm critical and argumentative.  They insist I shut up.
I honestly try to understand the mentality behind such opinions, really.  It seems to accept that the prisoner service, parole board and Ministry of Justice are keeping people in prison not for their crime or future risk but because of their opinions. This mentality then blames these prisoners for being subject to this grotesque abuse of power.
I try to understand this view, but I fail.  People who accept that the State does such a repulsive thing and are content with it are beyond my comprehensions.
Isn't it right that any system which abuses it power in this way is precisely the system that requires criticising the most? It is moral cowardice, a denial of all that makes us free, autonomous, human beings if we "shut up"?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Community Spirit

One consequence of Erlestoke's restriction on movement is that is places a huge physical and perpetual barrier between prisoners and decision makers.

The freedom of movement I had at Shepton placed management within easy reach.  In extremis, any prisoner could park himself in the yard to collar governors as they left the Admin block.  This allowed prisoners to express their views, their needs, and it resolved many issues.  Such personal contact is far more important in building community and sustaining legitimacy that some dismissive response to a complaint form.

Here at Erlestoke, the combination of restricted movement and the place being divided into compounds means that managers are rarely visible let alone approachable.  Many cons don't even know the name of the main Governor. (Conversely, if he doesn't know my name with a week of arrival then I'm not doing my job properly...)

In other walks of life such a distance between the plebs and bosses need not be problematic.  Prison is different.  It is these nebulous managers who set the parameters by which every aspect of our lives are controlled and their invisibility raises the level of frustration borne of powerlessness.  The recent rooftop protest could have been avoided by the simple attention of a manager to the man's accommodation problem.

The detached nature of management is also bad for the governors themselves, though few would admit it.  Detached, invisible managers are left to gauge the temperature of their prison over regime monitoring statistics and so only see what the Inspectorate calls a "virtual prison", where all may appear fine and dandy.

Worse, it fosters an attitude that the lives and concerns of prisoners are irrelevant, that we are mere objects to be shaped by a constant flow of memos and notices.  In extremis, only drastic action shakes managers out of this complacency.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sanitising Terminology

The recent rooftop protest by a man despairing of being homeless on release has now been reduced by the bureaucratic machine to the phrase "an incident at height".

Factually correct, but utterly failing to capture either the drama or the despair.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Silently Protest

Some of you take time out of your lives to tell me that prisoners seen as being "Un-mutual"  are penalised by the prison system.  Tomorrow, you may tell me that water is wet...

For me - and those who share my disposition - this is another reason why the prison system should be challenged.  We are here either to be punished or for public protection, and to detain us for being critical is revolting. Yet there are those of you who, via moral acrobatics, blame me for the penalties inflicted upon me by such a rotten system.  I must, you say, keep my mouth shut.

This is moral cowardice and intellectual bankruptcy.  If those in power abuse their status then each of us must decide whether to bow our heads or stand and speak.  To criticise the latter is sickening.

If I'm kept in prison because I am vocal and challenging then our ire should be directed at the institution which so willingly abuses its power.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Generations of prisoners yawned at the revelation by the Inspectors that Wandsworth nick is a cesspit.  This isn't news to us, it's been known for decades.

When will people out there notice that the common factor shared by all degrading prisons is the power of the Prison Officers Association?  The stronger the POA, the weaker the Governor, the worse the conditions and treatment.

That this common knowledge has failed to reach the outside world is anther excellant reason why prisoners should blog.

Friday, August 19, 2011


The second group on most prisoner's lists, only just being edged out by prison psychologists is probation.

A recent interview with a probation officer gave me the opportunity to point out some harsh truths:

That the evidence that being supervised by Probation reduces rates of re-offending by Lifers is zero.

That there is no evidence that forcing Lifers to live in probation hostels on release reduces re-offending.

That there is, overall, no evidence to suggest that Probation involvement in Lifer's lives on release has any beneficial effects whatsoever.

In the context of utility and rationality, my view of Probation falls somewhere below my view of astrologers.  They are, in respect to Lifers at least, an agency looking for a reason to exist.  So far, they have hoodwinked society into believing they are a good thing.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


During a passing chat with a Screw I knew decades ago, he told me "they are going to destroy you".

That's a bit strong!  What is going on???

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Communication and Control

There are two main avenues that channel this urge to control.  Firstly, to limit our physical movement.  Even though each wing sits within its own secure compound, at best we are permitted access to the outside for one hour daily.  Movement to other wings is totally forbidden.  Contrast this with Shepton where, in the 10 hours a day we were unlocked, there was free access to both the yard and other wings.

The second avenue of control is a hair-trigger IEP system.  This is an "administrative procedure", legally separate from the disciplinary process, lacking any legal safeguards.  It allows wing staff to strip us of privileges, including family visits, at the click of a pen.  A healthy prison with competent, engaged staff has little need to issue IEP warnings; a simple face-to-face conversation is usually enough to clarify or resolve an issue.

At Erlestoke, IEP warnings are issued as the first response to any problem.  So far I have had IEP's for not attending a double booked appointment and for not going to work when I was meant to be recovering from a general anaesthetic. All very unnecessary and avoidable by the simple method of talking to me.

Instead, staff creep along the landing and quietly slide the IEP warning under my door.

These control measures and the attitude that underlies them suggests to me that management perceive the prison as being barely under control and that staff are too afraid of this to even attempt to engage with the prisoners.

Like all short-sighted managers, they only increase the prospects for disorder by screwing the lid on tighter.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Minor Legal Issue

After repeated asking, Shepton have finally disclosed the paperwork from my mobile phone adjudication.

And lo!  It reveals that the Governor found me guilty on the basis of "reasonable probability".  Such a pity that the legal standard of guilt must be based upon "beyond reasonable doubt", i.e. the same as criminal trials.

The appeal is currently with the prison's Ombudsman.  It is their remit to ensure that due legal process was adhered to.  So I expect them to quash my guilty finding pretty quickly.  Watch this space...

Saturday, August 13, 2011


So some of you assumed that the dwarf throwing was a type of bullying.

Actually, the little guy was a willing volunteer. Still, all us scumbag cons are just animals, eh???

Friday, August 12, 2011

Shepton and Erlestoke

Although both Shepton and Erlestoke both hold prisoners that have a Category C rating - i.e. those who can't be bothered escaping - the populations are very different.  Management views them as being a nearly separate species.

Shepton is an all Lifer nick.  Lifers tend to be older, with shorter criminal histories and  - a crucial factor - having a vested interest in the prison community.  After all, if you have to live in a place for several years then you tend to pay more attention to the nature of the conditions and regime.  There is a broad outlook that favours a quiet life.

Erlestoke has a varied population, with a wide range in sentences and ages.  Short termers predominate, and those who are merely passing through an institution have little interest in its condition or regime.  Why should they care if they will be on the street in a few months?

Management, face with such a problem, can choose between two broad strategies.  They can either make particular efforts at community building, or they can opt for even tighter control measures.

The latter always carries the risk of undermining the very "good order" that it hopes to engender.  Only very ignorant managers don't appreciate this risk.

So Erlestoke has chosen that option.  Never even bothering to attempt to build a functioning community, management choose to fall back on the lazy and risky option of control.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Riot Squad...

...who appeared suited and booted to deal with George, dressed in the latest urban chic.  And they looked so bloody gay!

Like a champion body builder covered in baby oil and wearing a tiny t-shirt, the more macho the riot squad dress then the less masculine they look.

Stop trying so hard guys, you're looking a bit silly.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rooftop Sunbathing

What was lining up to be a dull, irritating day was brought alive by the appearance of a rooftop protester above my head.  Cue lots of staff activity, the deployment of negotiators and then the riot squad.

My keen eyes and ears absorbed everything.  Ringside seats to such events and the tactics employed by the Prison Service are uncommon events.

The man on the roof - let's call him George - was frustrated because despite banging on about his accommodation on release for 5 years, is still forced into being homeless when he is released next month.

It is uncontested that housing plays a huge role in the likelihood of re-offending, and his concerns should have been listened to and a solution found.  Instead, he was neglected and frustrated.  Up the wall he went, to try to get someone to listen to him.

The negotiators were bumbling, truly pathetic, and only served to pass the time until the riot squad were ready to force the issue.

Seven hours, dozens of staff, the prison shut down, and the need for specialist riot staff.

What a waste, when the issue could have been resolved in minutes.  The governor should have dragged George's offender supervisor below the eaves and asked him to explain the efforts made to house George on release.  And if the O.S had been negligent, begin dismissal proceedings against him.

But the prison service just isn't like that.  They can admit no wrong and so George will probably spend his last few weeks in chokey, before being decanted homeless to live on a street near you.

There are days when we should all feel ashamed of our criminal justice system...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Happy Birthday

From the Ed:

Tomorrow is Ben's birthday, his 31st behind bars.

I print comments and send them in, should anyone wish to send a birthday message.  Or there is always the donate button.....

A Tale of Two C Cats

On the face of it, Shepton and Erlestoke are the same - both are category C training prisons, both lying about how much attention they pay to our welfare and rehabilitation.

Yet here I sit in my cell on a sunny Saturday, bored.  At Shepton I'd be able to take myself off to the yard or  pay a social visit to other wings.  Here, though, such freedoms are controlled far more pettily.

What factors determine the differences between two seemingly similar prisons? Both rest on the bedrock that is the national core regime. Both labour under national profiles and performance targets.  And yet both prisons seem to have a completely different ethos and culture, which often expresses itself in ways that our keepers fail to appreciate.

Shepton, for all it varied problems, is actually ranked as the second best performing prison in the country.  Erlestoke is so far down the performance table that only miners have seen that depth.  Managerially merging these prisons with Erlestoke in charge may seem a tad stupid then.  But that's what they are doing.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Perils of Reading

Do all people with cancer read up on their condition and treatments? I've found it a quite meagre experience, never supplying the hoped for Golden Bullet of peace of mind.

This isn't to say that there aren't surprises to be found.  One is the sensitivity of the prostate to hormones.  As a desperate measure, there are hormonal treatments to obliterate testosterone.  Alas, this involves also growing breasts and having one's goolies removed!

And what the books never say is what happens to the separated objects.  Are they handed over in a glass jar to be kept on the mantelpiece?

I will be giving these options a miss, my curiosity isn't that strong.  And walking the landings with boobs? All that can be said for that scenario is that I'd never go short of tobacco!!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Human Zoo

I use the term "Keepers" to refer to staff because - as a group - they tend to view us as barely evolved or restrained animals. And so it is keepers as in "zoo keepers", meant to be mockingly insulting.  The zoological analagy encompasses managers, who tend to display all the talent and ability of a shaved monkey levered into a cheap suit.

I hope this clarifies my misuse of the English language!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What a Day

Any day that involves being knocked out and ending up naked with your arse in the air can't be good!

My irritation button was pushed when our Healthcare told me that I was off outside for another biopsy.  The nurse called me "Gunn", not Mr Gunn.  A small thing, I know, but it gets my goat when NHS staff who work in a prison pick up nasty habits and attitudes from prison staff. They begin to treat us as prisoners rather than patients.

The day only got worse when I arrived in hospital to be told that I was getting a general anaesthetic.  It was a surprise, because the prison healthcare had hijacked the letter from the hospital and not bothered to tell me the details.

And in the hospital, I was interested to discover that they called me Mr, even having a form to detail how I prefer to be addressed.  I went with Ben, obviously.

NHS staff working in prison take note - we have a whole institution to talk to us as prisoners rather than people.  You can feel free to treat us as patients first.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


All that need to be said is:

All who hold power should always be regarded with a jaundiced eye and cynical gaze.

In dealing with those in power, one should perpetually re-examine one's conscience lest the proximity to power tugs us away from our natural morality.

The Australian continent is home to the largest selection of poisonous creatures on earth.

Only the vain, stupid or power-hungry forget these truths.

Note of Thanks

Just a note of thanks to those of you who donate to this blog.  The money sent in to Ben enables him to purchase toiletries, stamps, writing paper, baccy and the occasional bar of chocolate, which I'm told tastes particularly good when coming off hunger strike!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Gold Standard

The economic gold standard is the half ounce packet of tobacco.  In days past this was Old Holborn, now it is Golden Virginia.

The tobacco half ounce has always been the bedrock medium of economic activity, and this has not changed in the force of the influx of heroin.  For whilst in some locations there may be more economic activity in drugs as measured in GBP, the price of a ten quid bag of smack is largely tied to tobacco rather than natural £10 GBP notes.

The reason for this is that tobacco is a legal item and there are vastly more smokers than heroin users.  As a result, tobacco is easily and conveniently used as the medium of exchange, even by non-smokers.

The illegality of heroin, conversely, limits its availability and it is not used as an economic medium by non-drug users.  Hence a prison may contain a greater GBP value of heroin over tobacco, whilst the latter remains the general medium of currency.

Prisons holding young prisoners forbid tobacco.  I'm fascinated to know what, then, is the bedrock of their economy   How does this affect their socio-economic structures?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Prison Economics 2

Can it be said that whenever two or more people engage with one another then economic activity will arise? The economic life of prisoners is a long-neglected aspect of prison sociology and penology, even though our economic life can give a powerful insight into our social life and structures.

Over the next couple of weeks I shall be posting a series of pieces attempting to give a glimpse into this decidedly murky world.