Saturday, June 30, 2012

Forty Days and Forty Nights

It's not just swarthy-hued prophets who wander in the wilderness. Having just returned from a brush with the more frayed and distant edge of sanity I can confirm that mere mortals are just as liable to play footsie with the station at Tooting -just short of Barking. This is also why the blog may have seen less regular posts from me over the past week or so.
Being grounded - a juvenile term that reveals precisely how we are viewed by our keepers - and all it has entailed sucked me right back into prison. Not the fluffy prison of no bars and lots of bunnies but the prison that always lurks beneath the surface here. The one we all try to pretend we have left behind...
Locked in a holding cell before being wheeled out for my Adjudication I could sense the familiarity of the situation. It was not a comforting familiarity but one that reached deep into my soul and my whole life's experience. It had a powerful effect upon me and all of my instincts came to life - a battle was in the offing and it was my most familiar terrain.
And yet it was a cognitive dissonance, an elephant on the summit of Everest. Here I am, on the verge of release, and all that I could see, all that filled my vision, was the fog of war.
The weekend was a nightmare, my periodic depression and mild mania rapidly cycling to the extent that my mates felt the need to take steps to see that I had a period of deep sleep.
I temporarily lost all sight of my potential future. I was unable to feel, smell, recall, memories of home and all that means. All I could see was an infinite view of bars and locks. Such is the effect of the ball of shite that has been mindlessly wrecking the life I have been living.
I was lucky; in the end "prison" didn't quite suck me back in but it was a close call. Many are not so fortunate. Having made their error and finding "administrative measures" endlessly crushing them, they succumb and get sucked back into "prison", making even further mistakes in reverting back to old survival instincts honed in Closed prison.
As that fruitcake  pointed out, if you stare into the Abyss for long enough, the Abyss will stare back at you. This time, the Abyss blinked first.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Inherent Dilemna of Open Prison

That it demands of us that we put our prison attitudes behind us, that we reintegrate into society - whilst simultaneously being perfect prisoners.

And management has no idea that this is even the case, let alone a source of pressure.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Crime and Punishment

So the nicking stumbled to its inglorious conclusion.  Getting in the kitchen Screw's face and expressing my views on the food situation cost me a fine of £5.  Ho hum.  Clearly the Gov hardly saw this matter as one that struck at the bedrock of prison authority.

Such is the nature of prison life that this comes under the heading of "punishment".  But that is merely the start, for a raft of other deprivations are also imposed.  None of these are punishments you understand, oh no, they are neatly filed under the heading of "administrative action".

So far, these administrative actions include:

Being evicted from my single cell into a double;
Being prevented from doing my charity work;
Being denied any opportunity to take town visits, i.e. days out at the weekend;
Being denied my home leave.

I'm also due to lose my enhanced status and all the privileges that come with that.

It's nothing personal you understand - if anyone gets nicked, for anything, this administrative steamroller flattens their existence. Call me sensitive, but I think that little lot is a touch over the top.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ben Update

I have just spoken to Ben.  He is sorry there have not been many posts recently, but he has not been feeling too good.  He lost sight of release for a few days and got very down. (I am still sitting on the post he wrote about staff corruption in Sudbury for his own protection).

Ben moved into shared cell yesterday with someone who "snores like a train", but other than that the guy is okay to live with. Ben is back in Education and has been asked to produce a second magazine.

He said to thank you for your continued support and promises more blog posts over the weekend.

Ben's parole hearing is still set for July 23rd.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

How Corrupt Prison Screws can Harass Prisoners

There are many aspects to staff corruption, and it is only the sexy end of that spectrum which grabs attention. The screws, for instance, who smuggle in mobile phones and drugs are always highlighted.  But there is the obverse to these malign activities - attempting to harm those prisoners who they dislike, or who - rarely - risk bringing corrupt activities to light.  Such is the very perilous situation in which I find myself.

Any screw who takes against a con has always had two avenues of action, the traditional activities of straightforward physical assaults, and spurious disciplinary charges.  In many cases, these go hand in hand; screws who assault a con invariably charge the victim with assault in an attempt to give the patina of legitimacy to their physicality.

The methods of harassment have developed as the prison service itself has been transformed into an edifice of bureaucracy and managerialism.  This has opened up a whole range of ways to harass any prisoner, and these have the benefit of using legal methods to meet some illicit end.

A recent example of this is when a screw here asked three Asian prisoners to step out of their cells during roll check - and then issued them all with IEP warnings for being out of their cells during roll check.  With a second bent screw as backup witness, these poor sods were nailed and had no escape.  Such is the nature of the modern prisoner service and the opportunities which its bureaucratic processes offer to abuse prisoners.

Physically beating prisoners is a risky proposition, and laying false disciplinary charges may fail.  There are occasional governors who have the stones to kick out dodgy charges though they are far too rare to make a difference.  There are distinct advantages to using the more bureaucratic processes to corruptly destroy a prisoner's equilibrium, or even his release.  And these advantages are hugely magnified in open prison.

The fingerprints of the corrupt screw may never even be evident on the process.  He gets one of his mates to lay a false charge and can then sit back and put his feet up while the bureaucracy does the rest. If it gets passed the governor, the risk assessment board then imposes a grounding.  The residential manager sacks the con from his job, takes his single cell and then the IEP board slashes all of his privileges.  To the untutored eye it can appear as if nothing at all improper has taken place.  And then all of this is fed into the parole process which, for a Lifer, could see him lose release.

This pervasive corruption is a malign strain that lives beneath the regular corruption of drug and phone dealing.

The modern prison service has spawned modern avenues of corruption.  To its shame, and my present distress, it has yet to develop anything approaching a modern process to tackle these insidious, poisonous practices.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Caught in a Trap?

A prisoner approaches Ben with stories of corruption within the jail.  Ben takes the view of "what's new?" and does very little, other than sniff around a bit. Nothing, readers will notice, has been published on here.

The aforementioned prisoner then goes to one of the chief suspects and gleefully tells them that "Ben Gunn is investigating".  Next thing we know, Ben is getting the evil eye from all sides.

Has someone woven a web for him to get caught in? Why was he handed a can of worms?

Ben wants nothing more to do with with the allegations of corruption.  It is being locally investigated and is out of his hands now anyway.  But the fact that he unwittingly blew the whistle, with the help of the guy who first told him about it, leaves Ben in a very vulnerable position.

Thoughts please.......


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Blog

Ben is incommunicado at the moment.

I am guessing no news is good news....


Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Technology Trap

Having been forced to write using a variety of methods and implements from across a large span of technological history, thanks largely due to the prison service refusing to acknowledge the invention of the silicon chip, I find myself trapped in a techie nightmare.
My autobiography, which obviously details all the most interesting parts of my weird existence, has largely been written on my old wordprocessor - a Verboten item at Open prison. Obviously. The WP worked in its own format but could convert files to a Rich Text Format to be read by PC's and saved to a floppy disk.
Having tried, and failed, to grab some access to this machine in order to convert the files into RTF I found the best solution was to take the machine home and do the work there. So I travelled half the length of the country humping a large clear plastic bag helpfully emblazoned with the prison service logo - standard issue for those leaving prison. Luckily, as I passed through crowds of the public, my sheer lack of embarrassment came in useful for once.
At home I beavered away, converting my floppy disks into RTF, all ready to be inserted into the PC and emailed to the literary agent. And then technology stiffed me. The disk drive on the PC is inoperable.
I'd like to claim that a magnum opus is now in limbo, denied to the world and posterity.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Dangerous Sexuality

Most of what management found unacceptable in my draft of the prison magazine related to the pictures and the commentary I added to them.
The first to go was a picture of a woman dressed in riot gear with the caption, "The Governor's wife was not impressed by her Valentines present." A weak joke, but a joke even so. Except to prison management. Ditto for the screw and his drug dog, with the caption "Civil partnerships may have gone too far". All gentle fun but far too incendiary for management.
The pictures that were mauled beyond belief were those which revealed the odd glimpse of female flesh. Such as the pop singer in a bikini top used to illustrate a piece on smoking, "Mylene says that if you don't smoke then you can get a fine set of lungs". And a fairly random pic of Billie Piper in a short dress, partially exposing an ass cheek.
This was beyond the pale and the censors pencil saw these pictures removed. Which in itself reveals an awful lot about the Mind of Management, an artefact whose very existence is regularly questioned on the landings.
Our sexuality has always been a source of huge difficulty for management, and something they view as best denied, always suppressed, and never to be spoken about. Having a pic of a woman flashing her bum circulating in an all male prison is clearly such a dangerous image that it must be suppressed!

Thursday, June 14, 2012


In a fit of patriotism the nick rearranged meal times to allow a clear period to watch the footie. Pity this overlooked the fact that 200 men working outside, returning after an 11 hour day, found the kitchen doors firmly welded shut.

Now I can add hunger and ineptitude to my long list of reasons to dislike our national game.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Durdle Door
Ben wanted me to post this photo of him at the seaside!
First dip in the sea for over 30 years....

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Benefits of Prisoners Voting

Amidst the heat and waffle generated by the Prisoners Voting case, there has been a dearth of argument regarding the practical benefits of implementing this judicial decision. In ignoring the judgement the Government has already taught us that ignoring laws we don't like is apparently a moral and just thing to do; but then as criminals we hardly need another bunch of pseudo-crims to preach that particular lesson. Unlike the Government, at least most criminals have the honest decency not to try to dress up their misdeeds in a cloth of obfuscation and deceit!
Rather, it has always been my strong belief that instituting the prisoner's franchise can have positive practical consequences, as well as the democratic and moral imperative of inclusive citizenship. It is these practical benefits that have been ignored for far too long.
It is, I hope, a given that the debate around imprisonment is often trite and invariably rather ill informed. Those who avoid these pitfalls tend to be "insiders", but they have an audience limited to other "insiders". Amongst the wider media and in Parliament the debate is debilitated not only by a lack of information and understanding but by being hijacked by those with the most strident voices.
There is an institutionalised neglect of prisoners in the political process. Not only are we denied the vote, we are denied any voice, any input into discussions which profoundly effect us both as prisoners and as members of society, susceptible as all others to perturbations to the economic and social life (and should anyone feel the urge at this point to claim that prisoners are not members of society, can I ask them to stop taxing us please?). As most Government consultation papers - including the one on our voting rights - are only published online, that it is only within the last few months that these have been made available to us only highlights the depth of this neglect.
And it is on this point that our having a vote could have the greatest impact. In instituting the prisoner's franchise then MPs would have an interest in reversing their refusal to visit this particular constituency. Firstly, the perpetual vote-grabbing quest. In reality, any franchise involving prisoners will be so manipulated as to have only a marginal effect, regardless of the proportion of voters prisoners comprise in any constituency. Nevertheless, a vote is a vote and MPs may be forced to tout around their local nick.
Secondly, there is a certain moral and possibly legal duty on MPs to make themselves available to all constituents. Given the difficulties that prisoners have with travelling, I don't think that it is too great a burden for MPs to hold the occasional constituency surgery within their local prison.
And therein lays the benefits of prisoners voting. For whilst most MPs will, at one time or another, pop in for a cup of tea with the Governor, they sail past prisoners with a disinterest that is breathtaking. They learn nothing and teach nothing, such meetings being nothing more than the mutual appreciation that exists between all State functionaries with gold-plated pensions. MP's knowledge of prisons and prisoners is marginal and extremely partial and this is reflected in the shockingly poor level of debate within the political class.
In being enticed - or forced - to enter prisons and hear the concerns of their new constituents, MPs will receive an education in penology that will shock most of them. They will discover the sheer waste of human life, the squandered money, the ineffectual management and paralysed policy-making machinery. I doubt that a single one would leave their first surgery without being subjected to the thought, "this must change."
At a bare minimum, then, enforcing the prisoners franchise would increase the knowledge from which MP's debate. And that, surely, can only lead to better quality legislation as MPs begin to see through the mendacious and obfuscatory waffle that they are presently fed by Prison Ministers.
Prisoners should have the right to vote for many reasons. As a route to inform policy makers and to challenge the Executive is the reason which, I would hope, very few could disagree with.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Belated Eulogy

Vaclav Havel died a little while ago and I was far too busy to reflect fully upon the influence that this Czech playwright has upon my life.
Over a decade ago I began to struggle with formulating a strategy for change within prisons. The new "security paradigm" has, I argue, removed the possibility of "reform through riot" and I had concluded that the best strategy would be centred on non-violent direct action. After all, prisons only function because prisoners cooperate; the prison system is extremely vulnerable to non-violent direct action and has no counter-strategy to contain such a prisoner movement.
My stumbling block was the religious basis for non-violent direct action. Those giants, Gandhi and King, demonstrated what could be achieved without violence but they rooted their core beliefs in religious faith. Peddling such ideas around the UK prisoner population, an irreligious bunch at best, would be utterly futile.
Havel - and others, such as Michnik - offered an avenue of action that was not based upon religion but upon political ideas (democracy, freedom) and utility. Like prisons, totalitarian States have an overwhelming preponderance of hard Power and violent resistance to that power is likely to end rather badly.
But like prisons, all totalitarian States are vulnerable to non-violent direct action. After all, when the individual is stripped of everything, all that remains is their ability to decline to cooperate, the ability to say, "No". This is a massively underappreciated point in terms of the British prison population.

Havel rescued me by liberating non-violent direct action from its reliance upon Faith and revealed that such a strategy can be successfully used even if the protagonists use it out of expediency. And, just as in the totalitarian States of Eastern Europe, I argue that such methods can be used within the prison system.

There are those who think about the nature of the world in which we live. And there are those whose actions change that world. Vaclav Havel was one of the rare few who straddled both thought and action and the society in which he lived has changed forever because of his existence.

Few of us can ever be granted such a memorial.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


There does seem to be an ever increasing herd of backbench MP's who "demand" that the Government
ignores the judgements of the European Court, most recently in an effort to get rid of various Islamists.
This is an attitude to the rule of law that is exhibited perfectly by many of my peers, the great criminal classes. Wouldn't we all like to ignore laws that hinder our search for personal satisfaction?
Well, perhaps we should. And when we are hoiked before the beak, maybe some of these MP's would care to pop along and explain just why adhering to the rule of law should be an optional exercise in citizenship?
As Jailhouselawyer repeatedly and rightly protests, flinging our past crimes in our face is an irrelevance in the present situation. It is the law-makers who are now the law-breakers.
Long live crime!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Ben is broke so we are considering advertising on the blog.  AdSense say they tailor the ads to the content.  Before we give it a try, Ben asked me to invite your comments; for or against?


Tuesday, June 5, 2012


So the Government is going to force newly released prisoners without jobs to enrol upon their schemes for
the long term, intractable, unemployed. Should we decline this kind offer, we lose our benefits.
It obviously hasn't occurred to them that the reason we are unemployed isn't related to interview techniques or presentation. It has everything to do with employers not wanting to take on people with criminal records.
And there just isn't a course run by the JobCentre that addresses that social attitude.

Monday, June 4, 2012

One Hiccup Avoided

On home leave I must report to the local probation office who always ask, "Any problems"? And I am always tempted to tell them that no, there are no bodies under my patio and I resisted the urge to hijack a car to get to this appointment.... Not known for their sense of humour, they have to make do with a plain "No problems" from me.

But this time, due to a lack of coordination between probation and the prison, my time and day to report to probation coincided with my return to the nick. If I was being a smartarse I could have avoided this appointment, pointing to the details of my Licence.

In a fit of reasonableness, though, I made a couple of phone calls and a new appointment was set and I duly turned up, slightly early. Probation were in a minor fizzle, as they had me down for a different day. It seemed to be a glitch in the system that won't effect me. This time.

Such are the seemingly minor details of my life that could trip me up. The net that holds me may appear to be drawn of thinner threads but any one of them is capable of halting my progress in an instant.

There lies the strain of this process leading to release. And, as ever, it is not as much in my control as may be popularly believed.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Inside, Outside

The boss at work had a birthday and all were chipping in for a prezzie. I dug deep through my pockets and presented a contribution of 62 pence, which was pityingly declined by the organiser of the knees-up. This was an open recognition of the penurious state of Lifers undertaking unpaid work in the community.

We are sent out and about to test us, to reintegrate us. And yet we are separated by so many invisible barriers, so many prison policies and practices, that exist as a glass wall preventing us from fully acting as free citizens when we are mingling amongst them.

This is a decidedly odd state of affairs.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Tabloid Fiasco

I was upstairs, steam ironing at work, when a shout came up the stairwell for me to pop down to the shop floor. It took no time at all to spot the two screws lurking at the checkout. My first instinct was to scan their hands - if this was a bad situation then clocking a pair of dangling handcuffs would nail it.

No cuffs. But "we have to take you back to the prison, the Governor wants to see you". I pondered all of my possible misdeeds but damned if I could think of anything that could warrant being lifted in such a way.

It turned out that I had done bugger all. The Daily Star had lifted a piece from the blog and in their malign way twisted it nicely to have a pop at me. Ho bloody hum, I thought, lazy journalism was hardly my fault.

Having persuaded the security governor that I hadn't prompted the story, and that the picture they used was blatantly stolen from Inside Time (where does Levenson stand on such outright copyright violation?), the discussion then moved on to the legality of my blogging at all.

Haven't we been down this path often enough in the past? Until the matter was resolved, my Licence to leave the nick was "suspended". Or, as the files show, I had actually been Grounded. It took me hours to trawl through dozens of box files of papers to find the original paperwork generated from the battle in 2009, revealing that the Ministry of Justice and prison service had surrendered and accepted that my blogging was legal and unstoppable. It was fortunate that I did find them, or my home leave would have vanished and my progress to release scuppered.

Such is the casual nature of malign journalism. And such is the nature of Governors that they react with such a spasm at such a petty little story.

The Nature of Fame

I have had a double page spread profile in The Times (no less...) and another in the Guardian. Only when the Daily Star filled part of a page under the heading "Whinging Lag" did this publicity make any impact at all on the prison landings.

Is this a comment on the literacy levels of us cons???