Sunday, September 30, 2012


Ho hum. The Editor and myself asked for permission to take a short break in Cornwall. Since my release we have both been pretty busy and some time together bonding in front of a log fire would be so good. Probation have refused permission.

Friday, September 28, 2012


Of course I am hardly unique in having a perspective on prison life. Each prisoner has his views and those views are shaped by his experience. And the way that imprisonment is felt by each person is different. In that sense, perhaps, my voice is unique. That I was the only one to have the gumption to blog adds another layer of uniqueness. That I was the only man I knew who served from ages 14 to 47, yet another unique feature. That along the way I developed an academic bent, yet another. But my voice may, because of this history, be unique but that should never imply that it has some special standing. As I said, each person who passes through the Gates develops his or her own view.

The weight of imprisonment, the "pains" are differentialy felt. A short term prisoner feels the eight less. If he has a ready supply of Private Cash (moneys sent in), even less so. He is able to sit back and take advantage of the improved physical conditions of prison whilst ticking down his calendar to his certain release. His world is a small one, concerned with his neighbours and his TV schedule. Whatever irks him can be endured easier because of the certainty of his release date.

The view of such prisoners is that prison has vastly improved over the past couple of decades. And physically, this is true. TV's, showers, in cell toilets, being called Mr by staff. The patina of civilisation has indeed grown thicker with the passing of time and on this surface, facile, understanding then some prisoners may be tempted to revert to a silly holiday camp comparison.

The reality for those who serve more than a passing sentence is far different, for they invariably become enmeshed within the modern bureaucracy of control that grew up alongside the improved physical conditions. The IEP system, for example, is a charter for staff bullying. Why risk a career by being violent when you are able to strip a prisoner of a meaningful existence with a few strokes of a pen? And the second great burden is Offender Behaviour Programmes, a perpetual cycle of demands without end, each course leading to further "problems" being uncovered that lead to...the next course.

There are those prisoners whose horizons fail to stretch further than their TV or toilet. They fail to appreciate, for instance, that the latter means that they eat and sleep in their own private loo. The voices of these are as pertinent as my own; though whether their insights can, or should, have as much weight is for their audience to decide.

Prison has changed. It invariably changes with the social and political structures within which it is situated. On the surface this can appear to be a genuine improvement. But the essence of imprisonment remains constant, and any who claim otherwise are speaking from blinkered ignorance.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Big Ears

One after the other my life is currently a tapestry of new experiences. Last night the Editor and I went out for dinner - at the proprietor's invitation - and spent a happy few hours spooning each other various taste sensations. A candlelit dinner was a first for me!

At a nearby table there was what I can only describe as a LoudMan, who was content to declaim on any subject from the morality of MP's to the global economy. That he did so without once managing to reveal any insight or knowledge only added to the entertainment. I daresay we all know such people?

LoudMen exist in every corner of our world, including on the prison landings. But sitting in a public place and having to listen to this guy declaim about "holiday camp" prisons was a first for me. If anyone on the landings started down that road I would cheerfully insert myself into the conversation, especially if it was a screw.

In my new life I have to suffer overhearing the half-baked and ill-informed along with the rest of you. Social convention prevents me leaning over and whispering in his ear, "mate, you're full of it...". Decorum and all that...

Yet this is the type of person that I most need to reach, to engage with. God forbid, I do believe that I need a column in the Daily Mail....

Friday, September 21, 2012

Days unlike prison

I have returned to Facebook after a brief hiatus.

I have been banned by from posting there, without explanation. Obviously they are free to comment here as censorship is rather repulsive to me.

My Blackberry decided to give up the digital struggle and has joined the great mound of circuitboards in the sky, leaving me sans a mobile.

Oh yes, and I applied for the position of Policy Officer at the Howard League - and have made it to the shortlist! My interview is on Monday.

I never had days so rich in the texture of living and all of its complexity whilst in prison and the contrast still shocks me.


It is taking me a little while to settle into my new existence. And that means that the place of the blog in my daily routine is uncertain, mainly because I have yet to find that routine! Your patience in returning is encouragement enough to continue blogging and I do hope that the usual, near daily, service will resume very soon.

I am also considering adding some video blogging stuff here, if the tech works. Any appeal in that?

Until then....

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Disreputable Discourse

There comes a time in every prison debate where the assertion is made, "If you can't do the time..." This, and its linguistic analogues, is often made in response to some prisoner's complaint. And it is a disgusting, cowardly response whose sole intent is to absolve all those involved in criminal justice - from the lowest screw to the highest policy maker - for any decision that they make.

Brutality in prison? Don't commit crime, then. Crap food? Then don't commit crime. Shocking resettlement services? Tough - don't commit crime. The trouble with this broad argument is that it attempts to blame every criminal for every malign, incompetent or plain malicious act or decision made by, for example, prison staff. Somehow, their limited vision and poorly delivered service is the fault of their charges. "If you can't do the time..."

This is truly contemptible. Most prisoners accept responsibility for their crime. Lifers, for instance, have a remarkably high rate of Guilty pleas. We accept the personal destruction and social damage that we caused. Those who parrot the "well don't go to prison, then" in response to any criticism of the penal system are adopting a completely converse stance.

Unlike prisoners, they refuse to accept any responsibility for their decisions or their actions. If they batter a con in Frankland block; if they serve a feeble diet; if they enforce policies which break up families; even if they follow practices which they know will increase the rats of reoffending - they blame the prisoners.

This is truly the argument of last resort for the dishonourable and dishonest, for those who take the taxpayer's shilling and then run a shoddy enterprise which they know full well produces future criminals. Whilst they bleat about caring about victims, they daily insist on running a prison system which is almost guaranteed to produce future social harm.

To blame the criminals and the prisoners for the decisions and practices springing from prison staff is repugnant. It is made worse by it being a mantra for those who then willfully refuse to examine their consciences or flex whatever neurons they posses.

Anybody who says, "don't commit the crime, then..." as an excuse for their own professional shortcomings is morally bankrupt and intellectually feeble. And they certainly should have no authority over other human beings.

The Resettlement Joke and Reoffending

I had no illusions about release. Life was not going to unroll before me like a hand-woven carpet lined by topless angels waving spliffs rolled with fifty quid rizlas. If nothing else, there would be the small matter of my having dealings with the various bureaucracies that comprise a modern society.

Having been enmeshed in the most potent of bureaucracies all of my adult life, I have a profound appreciation of bureaucracy and the individuals whose collective efforts shape them. They can be scary. Bureaucracies that are intended to "help" us mere mortals in some way are perhaps the scariest of all.

Having no existence but as an occupant of a cell, a number on the Roll Board and an entry on the PNC then I would inevitably be visiting more bureaucracies In Freedom than most. And let's be perfectly clear here - I am exceptionally fortunate as ex cons go in the level of support that I have. Friends, family and The Editor all surround and support me.

Just as well. For I was discharged with the statutory £46 quid, intended to last until either a job or benefits arrived. Being one of the leper class, a job was not high on the list of probable miracles to occur.And again, I am luckier than most, with several things "in the pipeline" as media folk would say.

Sans employment, I report myself to the Jobcentre. One of the many and varied of my new experiences and I was comforted by the design and furnishings.My mental picture of Jobcentres rests on a sketch in a 1960's comedy, so the soft chairs and PC's were a slight surprise. The service on offer was less so.

This is the moment when it should crystallise with some people (all of us who give a damn) that a con being released is in a profoundly difficult place in life. He may well have lost his family support as well as his job and home. He leaves prison with zero social capital, or any other sort of capital. If he has an address to go to, he gets -as I did - a discharge grant of GBP46. If homeless, that doubles.

This money has to cover all and any expenses. Food, clothing, rent, transport, all that life requires. It must last until either wages or benefits arrive. Which returns me to the Jobcentre...

I applies for Jobseekers Allowance weeks ago. And now I am told that it is unlikely to arrive until I have my National Insurance Number. Which I cannot get until I attend an interview to prove my identity. Which cannot take place for another few weeks. And I have no identity documents!

With friends, family and the Editor I am assured of food and a bed. I am fortunate. Many of the nearly 100,000 who pass out of the prison gates each year do not have such support and are thrown to lean on the benefits system.

And with, at most, GBP96 in their pocket which may have to last a month - and find a room for that! - then all of a sudden the reoffending rate becomes more comprehensible. For it is not what is done within prisons which has the greatest impact but what happens at the prison gate.

To be frank, if I had nothing when I left and the prospect of sod all for weeks ahead, then dusting off the Jemmy and balaclava may appear to be more by way of a sensible economic option as opposed to some personality flaw.

I have to ask. Does society have the reoffending rate it deserves?

Thursday, September 13, 2012


My 22 days in freedom, so far, have largely gone exceptionally well. Emotionally I am dealing with a range of new demands and a stream of new experiences.

Until....the other day I was sitting in one of the many enticing squares in the city of Bath, cafes on all sides, piggybacking on their WiFi. I looked around me and took a breath... It hit me like a tsunami. The contrast between this part of my life and the last 32 years suddenly became too great and I felt a profound sense of alienation.

Was this my world? I felt estranged from it, unconnected to all the other souls enjoying the space and the sun in that moment. The Editor arrived; I felt settled again.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Cell At Shepton

The following pictures were taken by my mobile whilst at Shepton Mallet. This is where the blog was conceived, written and defended without pause. Those who have followed the blog from the beginning will recall that Shepton was the site of many bruising battles on the long journey to release.

I don't miss it!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Chasm To Be Bridged

In a fit of wickedness I have joined the forums over on, where prison staff feel content to bitch and moan more than the average bunch of miscontent Lifers. I thought - you nevr know - that it may be possible that they and I may possibly learn from each other.

So far it has been a profoundly depressing experience. I appreciate that staff have little conception of the lives that prisoners lead, or of the pains of imprisonment. But the gap in perceptions is truly mindboggling in its width.

Prison staff are the people cons see the most of. they control, in various ways, the quality of every cons daily life. Their attitudes and outlook are crucial in effecting the future course and decisions that prisoners make.

Faced with indifferent staff who radiate an attitude of contempt, who believe that prison is akin to Butlins, it follows that the effect staff have on the attitudes of cons is likely to be negative.

If staff are regarded as being a virus that spreads the Daily Mail mentality - coupled with the Daily Star intelligence - then the hope that prison can be anything more than human warehousing is dead in the water.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Who's Blogging Now?

The header of my being the first, or only, prison blogger was always a stretch. I believe that Jonathan King was the first blogger - though on a website rather than a blog as such - and there have been other prisoners who have popped up in a sporadic fashion for brief periods. Perhaps a more precise description would have been that I was the only regular prison blogger who examined the broader experience of imprisonment and not just ran a personal campaign or diary.

In those terms, I stood alone. As to the quality of these various insertions to the blogosphere, I leave that to others to judge. What concerns me now is that there is no longer a prison blogger. I am now a blogger about prison, not from it, and our polity demands that the debate is enlivened and enriched by a prisoner-blogger.

This isn't to say that it is easy, there are personal and environmental barriers to overcome. Some of these are ones that all bloggers face, such as being able to both write and then write interesting material. Still, I seem to have got away with it!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Life...Don't Talk To Me About Life....

To say that I knew what my place was in the prison society is to understate the fluidity of the prisoners social structure. Broadly, in many places and for many years, my place was that of being useful to those in some dispute with our keepers - the grubby but vital end of jailhouselawyering.

This fairly constant social status is an important psychological crutch. If one knows ones place in the world, ones purpose, then there is some stability which allows for persistence and survival in the face of adversity.

And now...I find myself adrift. Where is my place in the wider society? Asking this after ten days of freedom may seem a tad premature, I confess, but it is an important point. There are ex-cons aplenty, but very few who have taken up or continued any campaigning role that they may have had behind the walls. Some are swamped by the demands of daily life, others only wish to wash the stench of prison from their lives as quickly as possible.

How large a place prison will have in either my consciousness or my life into this new future remains to be seen. But I suspect that for the foreseeable future, prison and I will remain on close terms of mutual detestation. It is the precise shape that this takes that is as yet unformed and leaves me feeling slightly unsettled.

Should I campaign openly and publicly, join Jailhouselawyer on the TV to mock Andrew Neil's hairdo? Write articles and spread them as widely as possible? Begin a reform campaign group? There are so many possibilities and none are obvious to me as yet.

The debate must continue. That the State holds so many in its dungeons must remain a source of unease on so many levels and the injection of informed comment can only turn a shooting match into a more subtle challenge. I would hope...