Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Enemy Without?

My brief engagement with the wider world over the past few days is but a reminder to the wider society that tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of prisoners and ex-prisoners wandering amongst you each and every day. You have quite possibly nodded hello or shook hands with a burglar or nonce type over the past day or so.

And why is this significant? Because you wouldn't have noticed the other persons antecedents. He or she looked and acted just like any other "normal".

Prisoners, criminals, are not the Other. We are you, only with a criminal record. Only when that is widely accepted can ex-prisoners settle into society and begin to make their contribution.

You can accept or reject us, and each has its consequences - and you have a responsibility for your decision.


  1. The ex-prisoners I have met often have a more patient and understanding disposition than average, although there are times that they can 'lose it' if for example they are unhappy, misunderstood or frustrated in life, and all of that is understandable too. They usually calm down pretty quick after they've been upset about something or other and revert back to being the patient and understanding people they more often have become.

    Interestingly, I have also noticed that some ex prisoners have not much of a clue about money and market values funnily enough, and can be more easily ripped off. That may sound odd, its just an observation and there are no doubt exceptions. (It was an observation based on my experience of market trading that I used to do, among other things.)

    But overall although the prison experience might enduce more of an empatheic stance, the experience also weakens their confidence and they do need a lot of support and understanding.

    Giving an ex-prisoner support is often worthwhile, as they are (in my experience) helpful, understanding and grateful back. i.e there is more chance of reciprocation. The classic dramatisation of this is the Magwich character from Dicken's novel 'Great Expectations'.

  2. Ben, for an intelligent man, you do show a lack of self-awareness at times. You say that ex-prisoners are just the same as the next man except for having a criminal record as if that were on a par with saying that someone is just the same except for being in a wheelchair or just the same except for being black. The criminal record is what changes people's attitudes and that's not unreasonable.

    Most people are perfectly well aware that those who've been through the prison system are just the same as them except for having a criminal record. But that means that ex-prisoners are the same as us except for having a history of not being trustworthy when it comes to normal social interactions.

    It may not be a popular thing to say on this blog where one gets accused of trolling if one dares to suggest that occasionally Ben talks out of his arse. If people on here were genuinely keen to help Ben back into society, wouldn't they try to put him right when the chip on his shoulder starts leading him astray rather than rushing to reassure him of his genius?

    The "just the same as you except for..." argument can be used for anything. A man with a history of criminal convictions for sexual assault is just the same as everyone else except for that history. Does that make it unreasonable for a woman to trust him less than a man with no such history? A man with a history of theft is just the same as everyone else except for that. But he shouldn't object if people watch their wallets when he's around.

    When a prisoner is released back into society, the onus is on him to prove himself worthy of that society's trust again. The onus is not on society to prove itself worthy of his chippiness.

    In passing, could I suggest that you stop reading the Daily Mail as your idea of how those in the outside world think of prisoners seems to be largely shaped by it.

    1. People with a criminal record have a history of *getting caught* not being trustworthy. Ben has raised this issue before, specifically with the example of speeding. All of us break the law now and again; drive at 90 on the motorway, smoke a spliff, pick up that dropped £20 and pocket it instead of handing it in, and anyone who says they haven't is probably lying to themselves. For many petty criminals, the only difference is they got found out.

      Obviously this is simplistic and it doesn't cover major crimes, but I think Ben's point is more "there for the grace of God go I". Anyone with a passing acquaintance with the Stanford prison experiments know that the circumstances we find ourselves in have an enormous effect on our actions. I'm not saying that all murders committed their crime because of outside circumstances, or that the circumstances that lead some to kill would cause everyone to do the same, but there's plenty of very solid evidence to show that the difference is much less than is comfortable for most people.

      When people draw an "us and them" distinction it's usually very black and white, based on very flawed understanding of the reality of criminal psychology and, ultimately, very unhelpful for solving the problem. Ben's post is perhaps oversimplifying the situation, but it still contains valid points.

      As for calling him out when he's being a douche, not everyone who supports him agrees with everything he says and not everyone is shy about saying so when it's true. I like your point that prison is evidence of a lack of trustworthiness and people are inevitably going to use it to inform their opinions and behaviour towards people. I think asking people to forget that is overly optimistic and impractical, but the wider point (that we are more similar than we like to think) still stands, IMO.

      As for being accused of trollery, if this is an example of your usual writing style, I'd say it has more to do with the contemptuous and aggressive tone than the content.

  3. ...and you have a responsibility for your decision.

    Alas Ben, a part of present society, left behind like a Parthian fart by the ZanuLabour's 13 year Reich, is the bureaucratic stench suffered by the unemployed via the CRB check for all public sector jobs, and some real jobs also, when applying for gainful wages.

    Instead of responsibility, the HR bot becomes a mere vector to relay the pre-digested decision that the electronic flag, that will always pop up next to your files, entails.

    Old, jackbooted style fascism, relied on swastikas, pink-triangles, and yellow-stars, to 'flag-up' one from another. New, smiley faced fascism, in comfortable shoes, and air-conditioned offices, relies upon the quota filling shenanigans of the politically blessed Nomenklatura; with access to all your histories, at the speed of a switching transistor.

    At least with old style fascism, you had time to think of right or wrong, and mostly it was out in the open; whereas the new style involves the subterfuge of 256 bit encryption for databases that can never be removed.

    And if they can't remove enough men from the workplaces, because of the paucity of real criminals, despite introducing 4,000 new laws to incriminate us, then the CRB check can be made to include the legion of false accusations against innocent men, to ensure their desired quotas are met. And adding insult to the injury of reality, there are groups, sponsored by the police, who go round state schools to make girls aware of the rapist potential of boys, so that 'normal' has become suspicious.

    Welcome to your 'new' freedom Ben; and if you don't have any luck with job hunting, you'll have plenty to blog about with 'your failed' efforts, and 'their remedies' that you have to comply with, to 'earn' your state soup money.

  4. The fact someone is a criminal doesn't always define them. However, some people in prison are not nice people. That cannot be escaped from. Then again, all the people who have done extreme acts of nastiness to me in the last year (and there have been two and one slightly less nasty) have lacked convictions, although with one of them given his attitude and conduct i think it is only a matter of time.

    I have also dealt with former prisoners who have been very very friendly and trustworthy. This includes one who had been screwed over by an employer (who had been abusing the fact that he was a prisoner in the past and therefore unlikely to find other work) yet whose primary concern was the fact that employer was running serious Health and Safety risks.

    So all people deserve to be judged as an individual. However, that individual does include the fact that they have been convicted for a crime, and in some cases, that crime can be an indicator tht they are not someone you want to deal with.

  5. I think there's a judgement call to be made there. There's a gentleman who attended my church for a while who was in prison at some point. I have no idea what for, having never felt the need to ask. He's worked with the youth, and taken myself and several of my friends on outings. I would never dream of doubting his intentions, because he has shown himself to be honourable.

    On the other hand, when a child molester with (as I recall) multiple convictions and a history of using church groups to get access to potential victims started attending the same church, he was not 'accepted' wholeheartedly. My understanding is that he was not exactly told to leave, but that he was warned in no uncertain terms to stay away from the children at the church - and parents were warned that he was attending, which no doubt made them less than welcoming towards him. I know people at that church have questioned whether they were fair to him, whether they showed forgiveness, whether they acted in love, whether they did everything they could without putting others at risk. I think we need to ask those kinds of questions of ourselves, because getting complacent about being in the right is a fast track to being in the wrong - but I also don't think I can say their decisions were unreasonable. Past behaviour is a predictor of future behaviour - not a 100% guarantee, of course, but also not something to be discarded on a whim. When someone has a history of abusing trust, giving it to them again should be accompanied by a good reason to believe this time will be different - especially when you are not the one who pays for it if you're wrong.

  6. The trouble with all of this, is that common sense says that the vast majority of child abusers (all categories of law breakers, in fact), have never been found out. They have no criminal record; they have never been in prison. Thus, the way society these days piles into those who have the records, carries with it a danger of complacency addition to disproportionately circumscribing the lives of those released.

    Thus I see very well what JimmyGiro's on about above.


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