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.


  1. You've had a "chance at something better" for about two decades now.

    It is called parole.

  2. Ben. You are pathetic. What on earth makes you think you are too good to do work like this.. Who on earth do you think you are. Again. Not a principaled stand just another barrier that you are deliberately putting in the way of getting out... ridiculous. Grow up.

  3. I do see your point, Ben. But many, many people are having to do "work placements", essentially working for nothing at something they don't want to do, because they're on programmes designed to "help" the unemployed. That's what life is like out here. You seem determined not to help yourself.

  4. Ben has plenty of meaningful work with which to occupy himself: he is studying for a PhD. A PhD that will no doubt lead to a future career of great benefit to society once he is finally released. A career far better and more useful and paying more taxes than he will ever achieve with a few hours a week forced labour in Speedyhire.

    All he asks is access to a typewriter and the peace and quiet to be allowed to do it, but for some reason those in control seem against allowing him those things currently.

    Those outside on work placements are not in that position. Ben is being forced to do a job that not only amounts to slavery but that is actively keeping him back from bettering himself. It neither benefits him nor society one jot and the only beneficiaries are those profiting financially.

    Yet, a significant proportion of the commenters here persist in propagating the myth that it is Ben himself that is holding himself back.

    I find that attitude genuinely staggering and can only assume those ranting on endlessly about it are those with a stake in keeping him down.

  5. The work placements on the outside are for people with no skills or qualifications and no job to go to. Ben is not in that position: he is studying for a PhD. All he is asking for is a typewriter and the peace and quiet to do it. Two things that his keepers seem determined to disrupt.

    I find it staggering that the seemingly endless parade of commenters we have through here currently hold Ben responsible for holding himself back when he won't submit to what amounts to slavery, but find the prison system beyond reproach even though it is stopping a patently very intelligent being bettering himself through study.

    I assure you all, Ben will be a far more productive member of society paying more taxes if he's allowed to attain his qualification and follow the career leads he has set up for himself on his release than if he is forced to do the work the prison want him to do.

    It seems pretty obvious to me that a PhD is more useful than the menial work experience that Ben is being made to do. That isn't snobbishness or believing he is better than those for whom that labour may result in useful work experience, it's a plain unarguable fact: Ben already has something better, the alternative is a backward step.

    I find it very hard not to interpret anyone arguing from the other side as either having a vested interest in keeping Ben down or being wilfully stupid.

  6. There is nothing wrong with working on lawnmowers if it will help prisoners gain valid employment on the outside. No snobbishness involved at all.

    I say let the man do his Phd - there seems nothing to lose and an awful lot more to gain all round if he completes it.

    How many of the detractors posting above would actually make the choice to fix lawnmowers rather than gain a phd? and yes he may be in prison but he should still be able to make the choice to better himself through education.

    I have to say i feel very uncomfortable about these big companies making huge profits from the 'prison pound'. Lets be honest, we already farm them out as valuable commodities to companies who force them to buy canteen goods at extortionate prices. We charge them the earth to make phone calls to loved ones and then we force them to work for cheapskate companies. I'd be interested to see if ANY of these companies ever offer former prisoners work on the outside? I think if they do not it is very difficult to justify using them in this way. Plus i cant see that menial tasks like this go any way to preventing re offending.

    In fact i think if i was forced to mend lawnmowers for any length of time, i may end up in the loony bin.

  7. Looking after prisoners isn't free Ben. Over the years you've received services worth hundreds of thousands of pounds from the taxpayer. What's wrong with expecting you to contribute to your keep?

    On the outside, many people have to work long hours in shit jobs just to keep a roof over their head and food in their belly. Aspiring to more isn't enough, you have to survive. It's no different to your situation Ben. It's not slavery, it's reality.

    You're not above menial work simply because you declare you are, and that should somehow excuse you from all the bullshit everyone else has to deal with.

  8. Arn't they breaking their agreement from the last parole hearing where support was given for Ben to continue with the PhD?

    The exploitation in prisons is scandulous and the conditions they are kept in is shambolic, so how about those making and dishing all the petty, meaningless and hurtful rules doing some proper work for a change?

    You never see the policy makers or Governors or owners of these highly exploitative companies ever doing something practical with their hands except number crunching on bits of paper from behind desks.

    Thats where the snobbery stems from, the men in suits who believe doing a proper practical and meaningful job is beneath them, that they are more important than that. The fact that they are charged less tax as a percentage of their huge pay packets compared to the average hard working person, in a more practical job, they believe is not criminal at all.

    Blah, what rubbish and what deception the owners/keepers/bureaucrats rely on to maintain their privileges over the majority of people!

  9. I am with Ben on this. I've posted before about someone i know who works for Summit Media at HMP Wolds, a private prison, where a private company had full time workers for £15 a week (each) while they keep all the profits, and the taxpayer picks up the bill for board and lodgings. Please look at the link by Campaign against prison slavery posted on the right.

    This is just lining the pockets of the boss, at the expense of the taxpayer. If i put a job ad in the local paper, for £15 a week, no one would apply, but these companies have a captive audiunce who have no choice.

  10. I do not agree with prisoners working for private companies. This has come from the USA were they are used in call centres. 15 pound is not a lot but you do not need to pay rent bills etc or tax. It costs 1250 pound to keep 1 inmate incarcerated for 1 week. If you watch nat geo. In some states of the USA prisioners get 30p a day on food and have too work in chain gangs for no money at all.

    I think it is disgraceful that the military and inmates get the same amount spent on food per day 1.50. The military are our heros How much does our politicans lunches cost. Now poor soliders, airmen,and navy return home to find out they are being laid off.

    Everybody needs to work I have a degree and have nursing qualifications, but as a full time carer I have to rely on my hubby who hates his job. I probably only could get a meanial job after caring for 10 years. If I wanted to do another degree or PHD I would have to pay for it. AS plenty of students have to do now. Why should prisioner get free degrees or PHDs. I agree they should be educated to GCSE level.

  11. Anonymous @ 11.57

    Ben isn't getting his PhD for free, nor is it at the tax payers expense. It's being paid for by, amongst others, generous contributors to this blog.

    You might want to confirm you assumptions before jumping to conclusions.

  12. Anon @11.57. Yes, i wouldn't mind so much if the company paid in tax 400 a week, per inmate, and then gave the prisoner 15 pounds for pocket money, but they don't, (plus they don't pay tax on the 15, or N.I. as it has no lagitamate place to go.) So the taxpayer gets to pay for the inmates upkeep, and companies like Summit Media trouser the profits..... and then tell you they are doing the prisoner a favor, giving work experiance. The boss of Summit Media owns a string of polo ponies and has a house worth Millions... go figure.

  13. Not true wigarse; there are people stacking shelves in Tesco with Masters degrees. Not saying it's right necessarily, but it is the way of the world. It's a question of picking our battles, isn't it? The fight may be right, but if Ben really wanted to be free he would make certain (further) sacrifices and maybe realise that his fight will be more effective from outside the walls. I speak from experience so please don't shoot me down.

  14. Whilst I do appreciate the more sensible comments here about having to take the rough with the smooth because, well, that's just what we all have to do sometimes, I also empathise with Ben because we are both in a uniquely disadvantaged position. I find it grimly amusing how similar the experience of living with a disability is to that of being in prison!

    It's a long story but basically I had a good job in the Civil Service (which I hated and couldn't wait to get out of) but when my family relocated to another part of the country, the CS couldn't find an accessible office for me to transfer to so they basically sent me a letter one day saying 'You have refused a place at ____ office, so please sign this form that says you are refusing the placement at this office and therefore you no longer work for us !' (this was sneaky because it meant *I* had terminated my employment so they didn't have to pay me redundancy, even though THEY failed in their promise to find me an accessible office).

    Did I sit on my ass and addle my brain with Daytime TV? No, I did not. Like Ben, I have worked very hard to better myself and improve my employability. I've job hunted for 17 years whilst attending college and then university and still I can't find a job because I'm disabled.

    I did have a brief period of employment via New Deal which lead to 1 year of freelance work but that ended because the department of Local County Council I worked for had it's budget cut, so the unqualified freelancer was the first to go. It wasn't big bucks but I enjoyed the work and my colleagues were nice people, which was the important thing for me, so I was very sad to leave.

    The skills I gained at University proved to me that I am more than capable of setting up my own business and this would also fit well around my disability, so of course this is what I'm trying (and failing)to get help to do. I'm not a greedy person, hungry for power or lots of money - all I want is to use my skills to earn enough money to pay my way and indulge in simple pleasures. Is that too much to ask?

    After many hours of research it appears that the DWP offers no meaningful assistance for people who know what they want out of life and are committed to putting in the hours it takes to reach their goals, and just need a little expert help. The Department of Work and Pensions does not like people who try and climb out of the box they stuff you into. Your 'choice' is to either shuffle quietly into a shitty job so the DWP can meet their performance targets or they dump you somewhere quiet so their stats look nice and tidy.

    My Disability Employment Advisor was abysmal and NONE of the jobs she made me apply for where in any way suitable for a wheelchair user. I refused to go on Incapacity Benefit (though it meant more money at the time) on principle - shoving me on IB would have got me off the unemployment register, making them look good whilst doing sod all to help me!

    Dignity is the only thing any of us really have have to call our own. All people like Ben and I are asking for is to be afforded that little bit of respect and dignity that others are lucky enough to be able to take for granted.

    If we all just throw up our hands and said 'it's the way of the world' we're screwed. Like Ben I refuse to throw up my hands and accept below-par treatment, not just in my own interests but also in the interests of those who come after me.

  15. I with Ben on this one. I spoke to my husband yesterday who told me he has "applied" for the position of - can't remember the title - but basically it means he has the pleasure of cleaning the prison officer's toilets. What? This is my husband, an intelligent guy trying his best to educate other whilst inside, and is actually "pleased" to be able to apply for this position? He also said he could get a job making teas and coffees for the wardens..... talk about an education. Is this not a job for a cleaning company? Oh no, of course, there's cheap labour on the inside. Ben, you hit the nail on the head when you talked about UK 2011/Soviet Union - same thing went through my head.

  16. @ ottomummy, with all due respect, your hubby has applied for a job doing something to help run the prison, the same way a job in the kitchens, garden etc. Part and parcel of prison life i am afraid. My gripe is with the companies like Summit Media who run a profitable company, on the back of prison labour. Just because they have a source of cheap labour.

  17. That Will...Him a battyman?

  18. @Kevin Wbster: is there really any need for homophobic abuse?

    Some of you might be interested in the fact that over the past few years Speedy have increased the number of prisons that they run tool hire workshops in to 4 prisons (HMP Glenochil in Scotland, as well as HMPs Erlestoke, Garth and Pentonville in England - amounting to something like 200 work places) whilst at the same time closing 37 depots and making 300 workers redundant. One wonders if it is due to the 'economic downturn' as the company claims or the fact that they only have to pay prisoners mere pennies (56p an hour at Glenochil)?

    This story originally appeared in the Scottish Sunday Post [behind a pay wall. However, an online version of the same story is available here:]

  19. Joe, I was merely enquiring as to the nature of the sexual orientation of the poster going by the name of Will. No homophobia here.

  20. Society would doubtless be appalled to learn that it was conniving at kidnapping (holding someone against their will). But we do it all the time. It’s just that, with criminals, we call it judicial imprisonment.

    While we may differ widely in the degree to which we each believe that prison “works”, very few of us deny that society has the right to imprison some of those it deems to be a danger to their fellow citizens.

    When they’re essentially the same thing, what makes kidnapping an outrage but judicial imprisonment acceptable? It’s the rights of the people to whom these things are done. We accept that there are actions which justify society curtailing the rights of its citizens. By committing certain crimes, criminals surrender certain rights which are second nature to the rest of us. That’s the social contract we all accept every day of our lives.

    To be blunt, being put to work against your will for the profit of another is only “slavery” for those in society who haven’t forfeited the right to determine their own lives for themselves. Along with their physical freedom, criminals surrender the right to determine how their lives are run while in prison. We can argue about whether the lawnmower work is a productive or rehabilitative use of an individual criminal’s talents but we’ve already accepted society’s right to put those criminals to rehabilitative work. The fact that the lawnmower work may not be any good at rehabilitating a criminal is a case of society running its prison system badly. It’s not a case of society arrogating to itself a power to which it has no moral right.

    For many years in my youth, society forced me much against my will into state institutions where I was made to work for no profit for myself but for what I was told was for my own good and would eventually make me a more useful member of society. On the surface, it seems ridiculous to compare compulsory schooling with imprisoning criminals but the parallels are there. We don’t allow young children to do what they like nor to choose whether they want to do their homework. Because society at large accepts that young children can’t make such decisions for themselves and that society has a duty of legal guardianship over them. Haven’t serious criminals shown that they cannot be trusted to run their own lives as they please and haven’t their crimes given society the right to assume a form of power of attorney over their lives?

    Of course this always seems terribly unkind and reductive in Ben’s case and that’s the problem with his blog because we like to have our cake and eat it. Most of us feel a degree of sympathy with Ben for the age at which he committed his crime. That’s only natural because, as I’ve said, we don’t hold children to be entirely responsible in certain things. However, while feeling this degree of sympathy, we’re also being asked to extrapolate his situation across the board in the prison system. If Ben had been in his 30s when he committed his crime, I doubt that we’d be anything like as ready to listen to complaints of the boring work he was being put to or how parole boards lack understanding.

    We should beware of an instinctive sympathy for Ben’s particular circumstances leading us to the conclusion that society has no moral right to infringe on the rights of criminals in general.

    The arguments we should be having are the best way to run a prison system and a justice system, not how we're tantamount to slave-owners by even considering that society may have a right to compel certain behaviour from those of its citizens who infringe upon the rights of the rest of us.

  21. @KevinWbster - WHY were you interested in his sexuality?


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