Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Fear of Hope

Sitting in the corner of a poly-tunnel at my workplace, the market gardens, surveying my domain and trying to get all the cat hairs of my chair, I am reflecting on the nature of hope.

On two sides of me, very close, is the free world.  Within touching distance, it seems, I look at houses on one side and woodland on the other. Waiting for my parole answer sharpens my perspective.  A white butterfly is wandering between the greenhouses.

In my position, that hope grows is inevitable.  To make open prison a success then we must try to shift our focus from the narrow and introspective world that is prison and lift our gaze to encompass, even embrace, outside.  And that cannot be done without a wellspring of hope flowing with increasing power.

This hope is not undiluted.  I cannot allow it to be.  Of necessity hope must be guarded by the fear that disappointment may be the outcome.  And that blow needs to be a burden that is bearable.

Hope can destroy as easily as it can sustain.

Monday, July 30, 2012

One Moment

For weeks, writing has been beyond me.  It felt as if everything was beyond me; I have been staggering under the weight of stress from hour to hour. Now the parole hearing is at last behind me.

Sitting out at the end of the wing this evening, my back against the warm brick of the wall, I fell into the moment. The sun was setting, the sky was clear and the rabbits were popping around on the lawns.

It was the first time I have felt a moment of stillness for such a long time.

I think I am back.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Parole Hearing

As usual, I draw a veil over the details of the proceedings out of legal courtesy.

Listed to last 2 hours, the hearing ground on for well over 4.  The Board members seemed to be unusually perceptive and it quickly became clear that the issue wasn't risk of re-offending but whether I would comply with my life licence.  It is pretty much a universal view that I will be hard work to manage!

I left the hearing feeling quite positive but it is vital that I retain a grip on my hopes. To hope for too much, then suffer a bitter blow has been the end of too many Lifers.

Now we must wait.  There is nothing else to be done.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Message from Ben

On the phone this eve Ben said this: "the experience of the parole hearing seems to have broken my hideous depression and resolved my writer’s block.  Good blog stuff is on its way over the next couple of days,  and I thank you for your patience and good wishes."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Waiting Game

Thank you for all the messages of support.

Soon as the result comes, it will be on here!

Hopefully, Ben will put pen to paper in the meantime.....

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Big Day

Parole hearing tomorrow.  Big day.

I saw Ben today and he is just hoping for the best..  He hasn't got a plan B.

We are all keeping fingers crossed, family, friends and me, and hoping that the panel decide that being a bit of an "arsey tosser" at times (he has been called that, on the blog!) is not a reason to keep Ben in custody.

Well, it's not really, is it?  Ed.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Pussy Galore

Sidling into work, hiding my disenchantment, I go to "my" polytunnel.  A disgruntled ginger cat has decided to commandeer my comfy chair, but shoots away as I appear.

I feel slightly more at peace with the world when I know that there are cats about.  Even if, like Ginger, all attempts I make to introduce myself are brushed off very sharply.

But Ginger has been a busy boy - a bunch of kittens have now appeared under a bush at the other end of the nick.

Perhaps I should take one home?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I am having to grind out posts at present, the monkey of writer's block - in the form of stress and depression - has a firm grip on my pen.

Much of my writing is driven by frustration, anger, or when I am in a deeply reflective mood.  Of late, I exist in a paralysing state of stress.  The thoughts that drive the pen seem to be frozen.

Your continued patience with my drivel of late is very much appreciated and I hope that you can stick around to find out where the parole hearing leaves me. Us.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


I called in at the office to get a form signed. "How do I know who you are, Mr Gunn?"

Staff play this game at times, so I reached for my I.D. card. "We know who you are", another screw said, and not in a friendly way.

"And I try to go through life unobtrusively," I said with a smile.

"Well it isn't working" they said - without a smile.

Oh dear.  Have I said something....?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

No Win, No fee?

At work I had to climb on a table to reach some plants.  The table top collapsed, exacerbating the torn muscles in my arm and pulling my  back.

I wonder what that's worth?!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Thievery and Perks

Ramsay's crew occasionally dip into the kitchen goodies for their own ends.  An onion here, a fairy cake there.  Nothing outrageous.

Well, except to Ramsay.  Being in blissful ignorance of prison culture he fails to realise that such thievery is the norm.

Why?  Because when you have to work all hours for £10 a week, a few "perks" are needed to ease the burden.

Seems reasonable to me.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Generation Gap

"What are you listening to?" I handed over the headphones.  Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here.

"Wow! Is this some sort of Drum n' Base?"

God help me...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


This TV series, set in Brixton nick, pits a populist chef against the indifference of the prison service.

Ramsay is at war on all fronts.  Internally, he is fractured by the urge to both punish and reform.  Out of the hearing of the prisoners he is pretty abusive about them and hammers away at the idea of "payback". When with them, he is pulled by the urge to reform them, to open new opportunities in their lives.

This clash of emotion that Ramsay is struggling with is one that reflects the wider society.  Don't we all struggle with the punishment vs rehabilitation problem? Alongside this battle is the one of Ramsey vs the prison service, and we are beginning to discover that the largest hurdle to reform isn't the cons, it is the short-sighted and unimaginative prison policy.

It will be interesting to see how this struggle resolves itself.  If it ever does.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Judgement Day

Sitting around chatting bollocks is a major part of the prisoner experience. As is character assassination. Yesterday I heard the most pointed of judgements being made about another con: "He's the paedo that even the other paedos are embarrassed by."

That's pretty bad.

Friday, July 6, 2012


There is a female member of staff here whose beauty is apparently only matched by the depths of her sour disposition. A local bus shelter even carries graffiti which expresses a broad view of her in more graphic terms, which probably baffles the locals.
Having never met this woman I asked a mate who had to explain why she claimed such a place in the prison's consciousness.
"Ah", he said, "just wait until you've had dealings with her. You just don't know whether you want to fuck her or fight her!"

Thursday, July 5, 2012


My arm and back are on fire after manual work on the Gardens Party. Avoiding such pain is probably why the Doctor ordered I do not do manual labour months ago.
Still, the staff on the Labour Board seem to know what is best for me and I daresay between them they must have seen a few episodes of Casualty....so they must know best.

How Corrupt Staff Can Help The Favoured Few

Obviously, the prisoners who benefit from staff corruption are the few who either have real money or the ability to facilitate these staff activities in some way. A quid pro quo is the bedrock of these relationships. This is a common thread across all types of prison. The nature of the corrupt benefits, the "favours" given or taken are more varied according to the nature of the prison.
In Closed prisons, for example, where it can be very difficult to transport illegal items into the prison, then staff involvement in the provision of mobile phones and drugs will be the most significant aspect of corrupt activity. In Open prison, where the perimeter is no barrier, then this activity would be superfluous. The details of corruption, then, differ greatly within the prison estate. Obviously, given my present circumstances, my focus is upon Open prison.
With a par fence as the perimeter and hundreds of men moving into the community each day then the issue of staff themselves directly engaging in smuggling is moot. We are quite capable of obtaining our own phones and drugs, thank you very much. Corruption falls of necessity into other areas.
The allocation of a single cell; a decent job; a good work placement in the community; being protected from punishments; tip offs about searches; protecting drug dealers; ignoring mobile phones...the range of potentially corrupt activities is extremely broad, only limited by the parameters of the regime and the imagination and greed of all involved.
Every prison has some corrupt staff, even if it is only one or two. What I have noticed in Open is that the relationship between corrupt staff is very different from that in Closed prisons. In the latter, the corrupt staff may not be aware of each other’s existence. But in Open, where the staff pool is very small and stable over lengthy periods of time, the opportunity exists for corrupt networks of staff to form. And using their friendly influence over other staff, they have the ability to warp the experiences of their favoured - or disfavoured - prisoners without having to involve themselves directly in any decision making process.
Investigating such corruption is expensive, lengthy and resource intensive. Add in the fact that the prison service rarely has the interest to tackle such corruption then the odds of it being uncovered are extremely slim. This is a recipe for a prison with a rotten core.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Doctor

After much waiting, an appointment arrives and I present myself to the Healthcare Centre (ho ho ho...). The first words out of the Doctors mouth were to remind me that I was only permitted to raise one medical problem per appointment.
This poses a dilemma. Not being a medical chap, how am I - any of us - meant to judge which out of several problems was the most serious? Is that not the point of medical training...? In an attempt to avoid an arsey retort, I offered her the choice - chest pains, or my extremely painful left arm and shoulder.
She went for the chest pain, wired me for an ECG, checked cholesterol, is testing for diabetes, and so on. All very thorough and hardly standard practice for a prison Doctor. My arm even got a look-in, only to be met with the standard prison Lazarus mixture, paracetamol and ibuprofen.
Only depression and my crumbling back left to go. Shouldn't take more than a few weeks for that appointment...
Oh, I knew there was a point to this. We are meant to receive broadly equivalent healthcare from the NHS as we would outside. Does anybody's GP insist that they only mention one problem per appointment?