Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dangers of Censorship

Lifers may be released from prison, but we are never free. We continue our sentence in the community, liable until death to be recalled to prison. This is a detail of our – my – existence which is rarely appreciated as I appear to be building my life liberated from the confines of bars and bolts.
The parameters of my life are determined by my Life Licence (always in my wallet) and the demands of my supervising probation officers. You can imagine the potential struggles that can arise in a fluid and complicated life. And when the Life Licence is broadly drawn and interpreted by those supervising me.

I have always campaigned for prison reform. It has been woven into my daily life for much of my adult life in various guises. From helping those suffering a miscarriage of justice, to those defending themselves against malicious staff, through to the large campaigns such as the prisoners union and the vote. One way or another, fighting for change has been the strand that has run through my life; and still does.

As well as operating in the private sphere, assisting individuals, I am one of the very few prisoners who lifted our heads above the walls and attempted to engage with the wider world. At first this was largely through the pages of Inside Time (an excellent newspaper). It was only with the launch of the blog that my voice became amplified. The Ministry of Justice was so affronted by this effort to communicate that the order was issued to prevent all and any communications from me reaching over the walls – an order unprecedented in British penal history and thoroughly illegal. Within days I had overcome this hurdle and the Ministry surrendered; the blog grew and survives to this day.

On my release in August I entered the new world of connectivity, and determined to make use of every stream of communications at my disposal. Facebook, Twitter, the blog, newspapers, television…I have engaged with them all on one prison topic or another, all with the perpetual hope of adding to the perpetual debate around imprisonment.  Hope that it isn’t too arrogant to suggest that I have a near unique perspective to insert into the national conversation.

In these efforts, my first expansion into the media came on my first day of release with an article for The Guardian. The next notable public appearance was with Jon Snow on the Channel 4 news. And it was at this point that my Probation supervisors became uncomfortable.

For I am only allowed to undertake work – paid or unpaid – with their express permission. And my recent TV appearances discussing the Prisoners Vote issue has become a tipping point in this matter. Although unpaid, this is viewed as being “work”, rather than my merely continuing the campaigning that delayed my release for so long.

In principle, speaking in front of a camera is no different than my appearing in print, on Twitter or ion my blog. If probation are to insist that I beg permission before opening my mouth or reaching for my pen then I will be denied any voice. I will suffer greater censorship than I did whilst behind the prison walls.

This situation may appear to be absurd. And it is. And yet this is the life that I live, the constraints under which I am released into society. And it makes me fractious.

I expect a formal Warning Letter to appear imminently, prohibiting my speaking in public. If I defy it, I can be returned to prison to continue my sentence.

This blogpost is my flag-waving. If I suddenly vanish from the internet, it is because I have been ordered silent. I appreciate your support and comments on this situation.


  1. You have a lot of support. To those from any statutory authority reading this, you are duty bound only to limit activities materially destructive or that significantly increase Ben's risk of re-offending. Unless there are factors of which I am unaware, Ben's activities aren't doing this. He is unpaid for all but his employment, which I understand has been authorised. There are many people who will be watching and who will, in no uncertain terms, support Ben should anything untoward happen as a result of his campaigning. Ben is clearly in a position that he must accept some limitations as a result if his offence, but he has the right to speak out unless he is causing distress to victims, witnesses or he is displaying behaviour that suggests further offending. Ben, you have a lot of support around you. Co-operate with your supervision but don't be gagged.

  2. To Ben's Probation supervisors, remember your roots in the London City Mission.

  3. I received a formal warning about one year after my release. Mine was disturbingly non-specific (arising from a civil dispute). However, after a further four trouble-free years my licence conditions were relaxed and I ceased to report to a probation officer. I am now as free as a lifer can be. Ben, you will be forgiven for toeing the line so as to stay out of prison. It is not cowardice! You have much to offer, as your extraordinary last three months have demonstrated. Once you have shown the authorities that you intend to comply they may take a less inhibiting attitude towards you. After all, some poor underpaid probation officer has to hold your licence. Would you like to be him?

  4. just read this on PFV.. you got alot of support so bring it on!!!!!

  5. Your first priority must be to retain your freedom Ben. Any battles you may face regarding whatever/whoever; will be far better fought this side of the wall.

    I was surprised when they let you out this time. But I wouldn't be, if they didn't next time....

    Good luck, in making the right choices - and *living* to fight another day!

  6. But surely if you're ordered to be silent you'll defy that order regardless of the consequences won't you?
    After all that's who you are, and such gritty determination , nay heroism in fact, is your blood and breath !!!
    Oh, of course not.... Sipping pimms with the liberal chatterati and having them hang on your every word must be quite intoxicating; so of course you'll stop blogging.
    Probably just as well, this is as relevant as a three legged greyhound, each and every post follows the same script .. Your strident claim of injustice of some sort or another which is peppered with self praise and references to your supreme intelligence and omniscience, quickly followed by several posts consisting if " yeah man, right on, smash the state" comments - plus lots of ego massaging, subsequently followed by posts saying all cons are scum etc etc , followed by a bun fight...
    Hardly unique, hardly intelligent, hardly changing the world stuff is it?
    Bye then Ben .... Obscurity - and the rest of your sentence- awaits ....

    1. I am strangely proud that you headed for your keyboard so early in the day merely to dish out some abuse :)

      Looks like some people won't only turn out to watch a 3 legged greyhound, they give a running commentary!

      Am I in your head? So sorry.......lol

    2. But 8:27 isn't early in the day, it just seems early to cons and ex-cons too I suppose... This is probably because your roots are firmly amongst the feckless and lazy..
      It's not a running commentary; it's more of an observation of something which is strangely compelling, almost like a slow motion car crash .. I note that you didn't actually disagree with my description of the sequence of events that accompanies each post... It appears that I too occupy a space in your head,.... Which is a considerable achievement given that it is obviously crammed to the brim with grey matter, or is that just ego???

    3. Ah, Anon, you are so wide of the mark that debating each and every point would take up all of my time and I have a job to do. Feckless and lazy....hmmm, as the prison regime is determined by staff rotas then I think you should complain to them if I didn't have a full working day inside. But you won't, of course.

      Nowadays I am up and out at 7am to hit the rush hour Tube across London. Feckless and lazy? Granted I have had late starts the last few days as I am laid up with shingles which keep me up at night; you weren't to know that, but your assumptions are fun to watch - they reveal your prejudices.

      A slow motion car-crash...I am sorry that I can't live down to your expectations! With a home, wide support, a job and people wanting my opinion, clearly even a self-doubter like myself knows things are going really well. Not so much a car-crash as an F1 triumph so far, eh? And why is it you cannot be pleased at this situation, which means I am contributing to society?

      It's because you are a dog-screw. My analysis software tracks your posts and compares them, and you are the guy here yesterday asserting that there was no injustice in prisons - and you still refuse to respond to my counter claims citing Frankland and Rinty.

      This is why I do not even try to refute your view of the blog. You deliberately refuse to consider any counter evidence - which makes for a dull debate.

      All you want to do is reduce things to the personal. You could have commented on the issue of censorship, which is not unimportant, but as ever go straight for the man and not the ball.

      Let me run you past the sequence of events. Each day, when time allows, I take a look at the comments posted on the blog. Blogging is a relationship with the readers, so it is expected as well as being a pleasure. If I see anything I could, should, or am moved to reply to then I may leave a comment of my own. I then logoff and continue working until the next time.

      You, on the other hand, clearly detest me. And yet you make a deliberate effort to read the blog, then leave disparaging comments. I'm here because I committed to do so when I began the blog. You are here because of a personal beef.

      You exist for me only as long as I have your words on my screen. But I exist for you, festering away in your head, until you can't help but write more bile.

      And that is all that needs saying. I enjoy your comments, they are a beautiful illustration of the screws mental pathology that I could never explain to readers second hand. Every word you write does me a favour.

      But you can't help yourself, can you? Feel free to come back, but at some point we would all be grateful if you could respond to the point - injustice? Frankland? Rinty?

    4. @Anon 8.27 Confess I'm baffled. Why is it driving you nuts that I am not sinking into obscurity and am building a successful life? I'd honestly love to know what your problem is with that.

  7. Ben, is there any chance for you to challenge the terms of your license? For example, if you receive a warning saying that you cannot blog any more, can you appeal this, as you did successfully while still inside? It would be ironic beyond belief if you end up, in some respect, less free out the outside than the inside.

    That said I'm with the people above who say you should maintain your freedom. Your work with the Howard League, the communication you can have with people in influential positions on a personal, or one-to-one level, the lectures, all of these are worthwhile.

    Another thought - if the Howard League issued a press release written by you, or sent you to appear in an interview, is that not part of your job, which has been allowed?

  8. I should hope that they would not dare to make such a move but if they do I know that there are a great many of us WHO WILL MAKE A STINK, what would be helpful is if you somehow manage to get word to us of where you are, whether it be that you give someone you trust the passwords to your facebook or twitter account who is able to put word out that way, your girlfriend perhaps? or Frances Crook?

    1. Anon, "self serving"? I spent my whole adult life campaigning and fighting for others'. I served 22 years over tariff for it.

      What do you do for your community...? We would love to know.

  9. I can see a few bridges and walls with new slogans for the 21st century on them should you vanish into the quiet world of HMP


  10. With every five litres of unleaded???


  11. The Bitch Bites BackNovember 29, 2012 at 7:43 AM

    Oh Anonymous? Dear oh dear.. Where is that personality of yours? To succeed in this world, you require a pair of balls. Unfortunately I don't know of many specialist medical lawyers who can fight your corner, but anyone castrated at birth should indeed be compensated, so I wish you all the best with the fight you have on your hands. Those who are fortunate to possess a pair of balls often use them to their full ability. I offer you my personal condolences because in today's society, it is highly unlikely that bollock-less individuals are at the top of their game. Should you wish to contact me, please email: bollock-less.support@gmail.com

  12. And , dear bitch, what would you know of bollocks??
    If you are who I think you are your major experience of them has been to have them resting on your chin whilst hoping not to get caught.... But you were caught.... Poor career move

    1. I have never been lucky enough to have a pair of bollocks resting on my chin, OMG, lucky lady!!!!

  13. "....merely continuing the campaigning that delayed my release for so long."

    I have to say that sounds a tad disingenuous there Ben! I suspect the main issue was always your desire to gain release on your terms, rather than of those of the system as enshrined in the powers of the Parole Board. This was always going to pose a problem both for you and the system. Now that you are released, you are clearly wishing to carry on testing the boundaries and give your supervising PO a headache. Not a surprise at all in my view, but I think you've admirably demonstrated responsibility, if not as yet any profound thoughts on prison reform.

    Hope things continue to go well for you.

    1. the main issue was my desire to be released on the proper, just and legal criteria of "risk to life and limb" and not when I was willing to be a subservient wretch.

      I have no wish to test the boundaries with my PO. This is not a beef I brought to the table, it is one that arises from their increasing restrictions.

      Fascinating insight into the Probation mentality though - I want to continue to talk about reform in public, They want to shut me up - and you see this as a problem of my making. Interesting.....

      Censorship is despicable and that is that.

    2. As far fetched as it may seem to some, the seeds of this sorrow, could have been planted way back.

      I stand by my opinion, that Ben was granted parole *because* of his blog; and not despite it. I call it the George Davis (publicity) effect.

      Now it seems it was given in coiled rope form; in the hope it might unravel and hang him! Why else would they be making an issue out of him being gainfully employed?

      Perhaps these restrictions are simply designed to show the uppity ex-con what’s what; and who’s in charge.

    3. The publicity that followed the blog, and the emails flooding PSHQ etc, did have an effect. There is also a political backstory to my release.

      CJ agencies, the prison service in particular, seem to be ultra sensitive to both publicity and to the fact that a con has the sheer neck on insisting on having an opinion. I cannot begin to explain how much the latter outrages some staff.

      Overall, the blog has helped rather than hindered. Which is why it will continue!

  14. @ Anonymous, I indeed know quite a bit about bollocks... I have kicked plenty of them. And you?

  15. Hope things go well for you Ben! Good luck with everything mate and keep up the good work. I have read your blog for a few years now and may it continue. All the best

  16. Is Anonymous a screw or a screaming Queen? Anyway, I'm not interested in getting in to a debate about who the moron is, so I will wish Ben luck and if the situation becomes sticky, then you got my support Ben. xxxxx

  17. Nothing much I can say Ben apart from wishing you all the best and hope things work out for you.

  18. Sounds like a trip to the Administrative Court is in order. It's irrational to describe a TV interview as 'work', and rather looks as if they are making decisions based on the improper purpose of shielding HMPS from criticism.


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