Saturday, February 10, 2024

Shouting over the wall.

I have spoken about the birth of this blog before, but for new readers the trouble is that I wrote several weeks worth of blogposts, sent them out to the Editor, and only then told the Governor that I was starting a blog that would go live the next day. He called the Ministry, who told him to stop me having any communications. This was unprecedented in prison history, and was somewhat undermined by my using my illegal mobile to phone the Guardian, who ran the story the next day. The Ministry backed down and so I began the first blog in British prison history. All I wanted to do was wind up the Governor and it sort of grew into something more.

And, you may ask, so what? Who gives a damn about just another blog on an internet full of opinions? It matters in that prisons are a closed world. One created specifically for the State to cause people suffering. That's its point. All done on our behalf, in our name, with our money. And the Government has strained with all its might to keep prisons a closed world with the minimal amount of information flow. Gaining the right to blog blew a massive hole in those efforts, which is why the Ministry reacted so stupidly to my efforts.

I had hoped that there would be many prison bloggers. I know that there are excellent writers in prison, as can be read in the prisoners newspaper, Inside Time. But I also recognise the barriers faced by prison bloggers. The practicalities themselves are a deterrent to blogging. A prisoner has no direct access to the internet, blogs must be hand written or typed, then mailed to someone outside, who can then upload them. You can appreciate that people who have served many years have very few outside contacts, let alone one willing to type up and manage blogs.

Blogging puts a target on your back for the staff, who are suddenly having to deal with the public being informed of what they do. And there are a thousand ways that staff can mess with your life, all subtle and above board. Why adopt a path that raises your head above the parapet? Given all of these hurdles and harsh prison realities, the reality is that few prisoners have the ability to write well, have the stones to open their mouth, and have people outside they can rely upon.

One who surmounted this obstacle course was Adam Mac, whose blog was interesting but short lived. In a bizarre turn of events, this prison blog was stopped in its tracks by prisoners. Adam found himself in Grendon prison, a therapeutic community where prisoners committees have a significant effect on the daily lives of other prisoners. Despite assurances that he would respect anonymity of his peers in his blog, the prisoners voted that he stop blogging. Obviously I think this is ridiculously stupid, but here we are. Visit Adam Mac’s blog for his version, before he fell silent.

And now we are left with a void. There are no prisoners blogging. The closed world has again managed to close the gates to the outside world. This is deeply unsatisfying and highlights the barriers prisoners still face in finding their voices. I hope the risk I took and the efforts I made are not wasted and that somehow, a prisoner will again blog and drag prisons into the light of public scrutiny.

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