Friday, April 26, 2013

For one night only....

Some have complained that I rarely mention my daily doings here but instead splash about on Twitter. Fair cop. So.... Tonight I am talking at Kaplan Law School in London, having a chat with a journalist from The Economist, and attending my weekly probation appointment.

Involving a trip to London, today will invariably include a foray onto Twitter to launch my usual bitter diatribe against GWR as I travel back, and quite possibly some harsh words to those who peddle simplistic ideas about criminal justice.

Tomorrow I take possession of my new place.

There, now you know. Happy now?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

All The Best Bands Have A Conductor of Genius

Recent weeks have been a time of great turmoil. My silence here, and on Twitter, may have been the only visible clue that something was amiss. I am moving out of the home created by The Editor and into my own place, hopefully for no more than a few months.

Only the other night we were talking about the origins of the blog, and realised we couldn't recall who first thought of the idea. I think it was her. Whichever of us had that spark of inspiration doesn't really matter, because it grew into being Ours. It is her efforts and struggles that have afforded me the life that I now live and struggle to adapt to, with all its positive potential.

It shadowed our relationship, its birth, how we developed and the mess I have made of it. But the blog continues and I hope it will prosper in every way and lead me back to the obvious conclusion. That the blog, and I, need The Editor.

Watch this space.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

One Man Band

Long term readers will know that this blog has always had someone in the background   Whilst in prison, Ben could not post the blogs himself.  He sent them to me - usually typed on a word processor but sometimes handwritten - and I would scan, edit if need be, and post to the blog. Since release, Ben has not really needed an Editor. I just hunt for the odd rogue apostrophe or typo before hitting the publish button.

Sadly, Ben and I are going separate ways.  He needs to find his path and I need to pick up the threads of my life as it was before he came into it.  So please forgive him the occasional typo, for the foreseeable future at least...

Alex (the "Ed")

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Plain Nasty

There is a rather vicious strain of old Tory nastiness beginning to peep through the urbane curtain that cloaks the Minister of Justice, Chris Grayling. Those of us who were quietly hoping that he would broadly follow the course of Ken Clarke, even whilst talking tough to please the Tory Right, are having to cope with pointed reminders that the Conservative Party does contain a streak of straightforward oppressive nastiness. This was last seen in relation to criminal justice, to any great extent, with Michael Howard and Ann Widdecombe.

Jack Straw attempted to pick up their baton and did a fair facsimile, but the reality of him was that not only couldn’t he couldn’t resist the authoritarianism inherent in the Leftist ideology but he coupled it with a populism that was so barefaced and naked that he was in perpetual risk of being visited by the Porn Squad. The policy outcomes may look similar in intent, but in motivation Leftist authoritarianism and Rightist nastiness are worlds apart.

This is no consolation for those on the receiving end of Grayling’s venomous proposals. Three, in particular, strike me as being not only repellent but utterly futile – they will cause untold harm but add nothing to the social good. This is a hallmark of Conservative law and order spasms.

The bill for legal aid is high. Not staggeringly so, and given the importance of Justice to a society it would be hard to fairly say what is too much. Even so, removing legal aid from those at risk of genuine personal harm and persecution should be the last consideration of a Government in straightened financial times. Asylum seekers appealing deportation no longer have the ability to claim legal aid. A thousand miles from home, afraid to return for fear of the consequences, all of a sudden these people have to grapple not only with their personal situation but with an alien language and a legal procedure that baffles even the natives of this country. Quite how much will be saved from the bill for this, and how many will be returned to countries who will abuse them, is a calculation only the most immoral will be willing to contemplate. Grayling has chosen that mantle.

The nature of prison regimes is a perpetual bugbear, a target for the ill informed, the plain stupid and tabloid journalists. These categories are not mutually exclusive… Having trundled along for nearly 20 years with a system of earned privileges and regimes as set out by Michael Howard, Grayling has thrown this stability into the shadow of potential chaos. I wrote a blogpost on his idea – Grayling's Riot Recipe – which sums up my view of the potential consequences. And, as with legal aid changes, there is no earthly possible good that can come from this. It is simply an attempt to make people miserable, at risk of huge instabilities and suicides, with no known or foreseen reductions in crime.

Four million quid. That’s less than the Ministerial biscuit-budget. But in order to shave this off a 2 Billion legal aid bill Grayling is preventing prisoners gaining legal aid to sue the prison service for a whole range of issues. One of these is transfers. With about 130 prisons to choose from, prisoners are shuffled around the nation on an hourly basis, all to suit the particular needs of governors. It is, essentially, “bed management”. Like many internal prison issues this may seem trivial to outsiders, but consider – being transferred a hundred miles away from home, too far and too expensive for your family to visit. Children lose their father, wives lose their husbands, and society will later pick up the many costs of that. Such are the issues Grayling insists can be dealt with by the internal complaints system- that is, the prison service holding itself to account. The main cause of the riots in 1990 was the perception by prisoners that they were not being treated justly….Anyone else see the flaw in this idea?

It is being plain nasty for the sake of it. Which brings me to the latest uttering from Grayling – to make those convicted of a crime pay the costs of their own prosecution. So we take the largely disposessed and poor, sling them in prison, then release them back into a society that doesn’t want to employ them with a bill for their own punishment.

Morally, I would suggest this is ambivalent at best. Courts already have the power to make compensation and cost orders. To make this a mandatory scheme will be a structural invitation to criminals trying to go straight to just throw their hands in the air and reach for the jemmy and the shotgun.

There are ways to cut crime, to deal with illegal immigration and cut the legal aid bill. But to use the ineptitude of Government and the financial system to persecute and further exclude those on the margins and already bearing the weight of government power is repulsive. And yet, it is politically popular or Grayling wouldn’t do it. Whether it is popular with the electorate is a matter yet to be seen; but it is certainly popular with a section of the Tory party which has a nasty, vicious streak running through its psyche.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Hard Blogging

Writing a blogpost on how difficult I am finding it to write blogposts is an invitation to collapse into gibberish and insanity, but bear with me….

In prison I had my writing routine. It involved my comfy chair, bit of wood as a table, my wordprocessor and my telly. At certain times of the day – or night – I could lift myself above my situation and the words would pour through my fingers. Off into the mail to The Editor, to be scanned and uploaded. It took only an evening here and there to hack out a week's worth of blogposts.

Since I have been home, the words just have not come. I have yet to find my writing routine, and without a time and place then the creativity, the fluidity of thought, continues to elude me. Perhaps this is a matter of having too much choice. I could write in the office upstairs. Or settle in the conservatory, mocking the elements whilst surrounded  by cats. In better weather, there is the spot under the pergola, next to the pond. Or, as now, secreted away in my shed…which has remarkably similar dimensions to some of the more meagre cells. With TV, heater and laptop I could settle here for hours. Days. Weeks…

I do try. And yet there are all of the distractions and obligations that comprise “life”, that endless struggle and exploration. Each day still contains something new for me. I am working, as well as attempting to develop a new business, alongside occasional talks and, as ever, being a source of advice for many in sore need of my experience.

Writing, then, has of necessity fallen from being perhaps the most important of my daily activities. It is no longer needed as a source of continuity, a way to bring meaning to the essential meaningless existence that is prison. Living, rather than maintaining an existence, has become the focus of my days.

Adding to the new shape of my life have been the new avenues that have opened up to continue what has always been the essence of the blog – to foster debate around imprisonment. This includes talking at universities and the like, the odd media spot, and that dreadfully addictive tool, Twitter. Blogging has always been my thoughtful space, where I could ponder with greater care some of the issues.

And it will continue to be so. As my technical expertise grows,  I would hope to entwine the various ways I communicate into one place, or share content across platforms (sorry for lapsing into that gobbledygook!). In the meanwhile, I will continue to spread myself too thinly for my own comfort and struggle to find the space and time to seriously maintain all that we share.

For I always remember that blogging is a relationship. Even when my voice was constrained and held at a distance by the bars,  I knew this was fundamental. People don’t turn up regularly on the off-chance there is something to be heard. Regularity of thought, new content, is vital. And some of you have come along with me from the very beginnings of this journey – and I owe you a debt far greater than you could ever imagine.

Bear with me, then, a little longer as I find my place in this new life. I have hopes that the future may be as interesting as the past.