Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Another year gone...thank you all for your interest and support, your willingness to be thoughtful and your comments. If you can stick around for the next year, we may see this through to the end together!

Have a good celebration, see you next year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I was a pain, really.

My god, I was an argumentative git in my late teens. As I was devouring up to half a dozen books a day, on everything from astrophysics to mediaeval constitutional law, then I had as much knowledge as I had opinion. Which is a lot!

And so I argued. Endlessly. And I argued to win. It was an amazing intellectual exercise. And, in fairness, it could make me 'hard work'.

I recall a game of Trivial Pursuit in which the winning question was connected to the damage done by a particular size of nuclear weapon. I made my answer, only for the cards to declare me Wrong. Surely not?? So I made everyone sit whilst I went off to grab my calculator and copy of Glastone and Dolan's Effects of Nuclear Weapons, and they gnashed their teeth as I worked out the correct answer by hand from the physics. I was right. But I wasn't popular!

This argumentativeness led to one man standing in front of me and declaring that "you would argue the toss over the time of day!" With a straight face, I asked him, "do you meant GMT, solar time, sidereal time, Universal Time...?" I could see both his jaw and his fist clench as he struggled. Then stormed off.

My reputation in this period was salvaged by an astonishing stroke of luck. Sitting in a classroom in the early evening, we heard a gaggle of military jets pass overhead. I declared that these were F-lllF's on their way to bomb Libya. I could tell the make of jet by the engine noise. All utter tripe, a throwaway remark.

Turning on the radio the next morning...American F-lllF's from RAF Fairford had led an attack on Libya. For quite a while after that, I was afforded some reverence. Which I accepted without a blush!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Violent Protest

One of my lodestones in life is non-violence. This applies particularly when it comes to selecting the methods by which to challenge authority in general or specific policies. It is with some despair then that I watch the pointless flailings of protestors on the streets of London. What a wasted opportunity and how quickly political, social and media traction and capital can be vaporised. Ho hum.

But these particular protesters include the finest minds of the next generation. Surely they can evolve a better strategy...?

For example, a "superglue campaign", perhaps revolving around the slogan “Sticky Students”!

How many people would it take to close main transport arteries? Roads, runways, railways, if people superglued themselves to the roads and rails and aircraft? A few dozen? Each group dressed to a theme for media interest and general entertainment. London could be paralysed by a few dozen people, a few quid’s worth of glue -and without squandering sympathy by resorting to violence. Doh!

You can imagine scantily clad students (again, think of the media interest) who glue themselves across the doorways of important buildings - banks, ministries, police stations, newspaper offices, Harrods, McD's. Stuck in courtrooms, at police station counters...the only limit to this is imagination. All the chaos, none of the opprobrium.

MP's all over the nation spend their weekends holding constituency surgeries and opening fêtes. Students could make appointments, shake their MP's hand...and thanks to the miracle of superglue, 650 MP's could find themselves shackled to students for a few hours, each one persistently arguing their cause to the decidedly captive audience.

Sticky students could appear welded to the benches in the Strangers Gallery or the imposing statues in the main lobby of parliament. Stuck to the sides of police cars and vans. Even individual coppers could find themselves stickied with a student.

The PR would have been rather different if instead of poking Camilla with a stick, a Baywatch-clad student had welded herself across the bonnet of the royal Roller. As a strategy, this has never been tried as before. Most importantly, it is unstoppable. It can continue for as long as necessary. Or the supply of students with nerve runs out.

The present campaign can be dismissed as just another march, just another outbreak of violence. Old strategy, old news. But an outbreak of Sticky Students would be a global first and garner vast attention. It is then up to the merits of the argument to the win the day.

Active Non-violence is an exceptionally powerful tool for change. It requires imagination and personal courage. The present demonstrations would be far more effective and interesting if people could conceive of something a little less brainless than smashing the odd window.

Oh, and this is why we aren't allowed superglue in prison!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dawn Chorus

Awakening around 7am, the wing is deathly silent. Staff quietly make their way around doing a headcount, peeking through the observation panels in the doors.

Slowly, the men around me come to life. Toilets begin to flush. The water pipes that run through each cell begin to judder and squeal as taps are run and sinks are filled. Then the coughing begins. Often this is a manifestation of whichever bug is doing the rounds, but there is a strong undercurrent of smokers coughs interwoven as the first fags of the day are being rolled.

Then the doors are unlocked. Another day.

We're Back!

Thank you for all your lovely messages of support. It warms the heart to know when one's efforts are appreciated.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

There will be no new posts for a few days as the Editor is taking a break. A Happy Christmas and Peaceful New Year to one and all!

Let's make this personal

If it was your child in prison, how would that effect your view of how
prisoners should be treated?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Xmas Menu

This is a touchy subject, so let's get it out of the way. This is our Christmas Day menu.
Main - Sausage, bacon, scrambled egg, black pudding, fried bread,beans and mushrooms.
Veggie - veg sausagesX2, scrambled egg, hash brown, fried bread,beans, mushrooms.
Pork Free- Halal sausage X 2, scrambled egg, hash brown, fried bread, beans, mushrooms.
Main • Sliced Roast Turkey
Pork Free - Halal Chicken Leg
Veggie- Salmon Portion
Vegan - Lentil and Nut Roast
All served with - roast potatoes, kilted sausages, stuffing, honey glazed parsnips, garden peas, carrots, gravy. Christmas pudding and Vanilla sauce.
Tea pack, choose one of the following:
1. Cheese baguette
2. Ham baguette
3. Tuna baguette
And one of the following:
1. Pork pie
2. Sausage roll
3. Vegetarian samosa

You will also receive a pack with crisps, instant noodles, soup sachet, chocolate, fruit, biscuits, Xmas cake and drink.
NB: As ever this reads an awful lot better than it appears on our plates. The devil is in the detail. The sausage, for instance isn't a nice fat juicy one but something about 2 inches long. The bacon is a strip l\2 inches by 4. The fried bread is half-a slice. The sliced roast turkey comes from a tin. And please don't think that the cooked breakfast is a regular thing; this is the only one of the year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lesser Eligibilty

There is an argument that prisoners should live no better than the poorest in the community. So should we have a Christmas dinner, when the whole day's menu costs less than 2 quid a head?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


To feel 'sorry' for killing someone seems a little trite. It feels improper to use a word that slips out in response to dropping a biscuit on a clean floor in the context of such an immense act as killing another human being.

I have two recurring nightmares, both of which become prominent around the anniversary of my crime. The first is a terror that my victim will appear out of the darkness, a spectral avenger, to kill me. The second is to be faced with my victim’s family.

What could I say? What possible part of my life, my body or my soul could I offer up in explanation? All murder is essentially irrational and while I could offer an explanation it would seem utterly drained of real meaning.

Each lifer carries their burden differently. Small minorities live in denial or slippery self-justification. The majority carry it as a secret stain on their soul; murder is a very private, as well as very public, tragedy. Some sink into self-loathing and kill themselves.

The burden develops over time. For me, as I grew into adulthood my appreciation of life increased and with it the enormity of what I had done. I have felt slightly apart from the community since that moment. Simon Weisenthal asserted that only the victim can forgive, and so murder is a crime that cannot be expunged. It is a debt that can never be repaid, a harm that can never be undone.

Time doesn't heal the wound, no more than it does for victims. But we both share the superficial healing, the patina of normality and daily life that slowly intrudes into the pain for longer and longer moments. But a slight pause in life can be sufficient to return the raw pain to the surface.

The past cannot be undone. That suffering cannot be erased and it would be futile to attempt it. What, then, is there that can be done? For me, I determined to 'fix' the psychological flaws that

led me to see killing as a solution to a fit of panic and fear. And it is no coincidence that my studies centre on conflict and attempting to reduce violence. All that remains possible is to try to live life in such a way as to leave this earth the better for your having existed.


Ed's note: still no new blog stuff, so looking at today's blog comments I chose this one, from 24/0/09. Hopefully the post will get through tomorrow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Dancing in the Dark

Music has, for as long as I remember, held a powerful place within prisons. It offers a refuge from the sharp background of steel clanging, a soothing buffer of individuality against the collective nature of prison life.

Regardless of the architecture that surrounds it, music has an intrinsic attraction and power. I often use it to be taken on an emotional journey, a way to transform daily frustrations and anger into a more mellow view of life. It really does soothe the savage breast.

There was a standard cannon, a range of tapes that could always be found amongst long termers - Queen, Meatloaf, Dire Straits, and War of the Worlds being the most common. This was a function of both preference and restrictions - strict limits were placed on the number of audio cassettes allowed.

Playing this music was never as straightforward as it would be in the free world. A matter of a few feet separates prisoners from each other and loud music intrudes into the next man's cell - his only semblance of a private space - surprisingly easily.

The standard rule of thumb amongst long-termers is to keep your noise down after 10pm. Persistent offenders are subjected to increasing levels of social pressure, until patience wears thin. You’re likely to find your radio has been damaged; or your cell set on fire ('burned out'). Finding yourself on the wrong end of fists isn't unknown.

Until my mp3 player broke down, I lived my life to a different soundtrack to that offered by the landings. Earphones in place, I could be enervated or transported by the a thousand tunes. Behind my locked door at night, lights switched off, it was not unknown that I'd indulge in what could politely be called 'middle aged bloke dance', a vague jerking of arms and legs following the beat. Wary night staff, who peek through the observation slit, may be warned that I'd often do this naked. To 'Mambo No.5'. That's a vision you don't want stuck in your head.

Enjoy your music. Don't piss off your neighbours. This is universal, isn't it?

Santa's Visit

Some Christmases ago we were out in the exercise yard, a fenced compound that abutted the perimeter wall. Two hundred bored, cold men huddled in groups or trudging around anti-clockwise.

Then Santa appeared. An ex-prisoner, jailed for refusing to pay his poll tax and released months earlier, appeared at the top of the perimeter wall dressed in a Santa costume, and began to throw bags of chocolates and tobacco into the yard.

As we outnumbered the screws by 20 to 1, no effort was made to remove these goodies from us. They settled for frisking us as we left the yard to check we were free of weapons, leaving us to keep our pockets stuffed with treats.

A merry Christmas was had by all.

Yo ho ho!

Snowed in!

The Editor is snowed in and the post cannot get through! I have, for the moment, run out of blog posts from Ben as these are sent in the mail.

Until normal service is resumed I shall recycle some old favourites for the benefit of new readers to this blog, starting with life in prison at Christmas time.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The MoJ response to the PB

The Secretary of State has now considered the Parole Board recommendation, and agrees with this view for the reasons given by the Panel.

The PB noted that you have not completed any group offending behaviour work, to address your risks, but that an OASYS assessment puts your risk of re-conviction as low and your risk of causing serious harm as medium. They also acknowledged that you could be from time to time difficult to manage and challenging in your attitudes, but observed that these matters should not, of themselves, prevent your progression to open conditions, unless the behaviour impacted upon your risk of violent behaviour. Until recently your conduct was not to accept what you describe as "inferior and menial" work. The Board noted, however, that since a hearing in 2006 your attitude has changed markedly, you found work in the Education Department and are currently studying for a PhD in Criminology. You have also now indicated that you are prepared to co-operate if you were transferred to open conditions and that you were now willing to adhere to a condition that you should, on release, initially live at a probation hostel.

The Board reviewed your case with care and reconsidered the whole issue of risk. They were of the view that if you are transferred to open conditions it is overwhelmingly likely that you will continue to be a challenging and difficult inmate to manage. The Board also noted that you have been in prison for many years and your re-integration into the community, if it is ever to take place, must be handled slowly and carefully. Your management must be effective and transparent; you and those responsible for your supervision must work towards a way to co-exist with co¬operation, openness and honesty. Without it, no panel could be properly satisfied that the risk you pose is sufficiently reduced to direct release.

The responsibility for addressing your risk reduction rests with you. However the Secretary of State has identified from the information contained within your dossier and the Parole Board's recommendation, the following interventions in open conditions to help you address these factors.

• Undertake further relapse prevention and risk reduction consolidation work as may be recommended for you with commitment and motivation.
• Undertake ROTLs
• To be carefully monitored in all areas of risk to ensure that
you are equipped to deal with the requirements of everyday life
in the community.
• Build a constructive relationship with your Offender Manager
and with his/her help develop and test a robust release plan.
Bearing in mind the views of the Parole Board regarding your slow and careful re-integration into the community, your review period has been set at 18 months and takes account of the following:-
• 4 months transfer and settling period.
• Relapse prevention and consolidation work including testing.
• ROTLs after approximately 4-6 months.
• Development of a robust release plan.
• Time to develop an effective and transparent relationship with your supervising officers.
Your next parole review process will be undertaken in accordance with the Generic Parole Process, a new centrally monitored review process. Your review process is expected to take 26 weeks to complete, as it involves the preparation of reports and co¬ordination of various parties, including the Public Protection Casework Section, the Prison Service and the Parole Board. Your parole review will eminence in November 2011, and the month for your oral hearing by the Parole Board is May 2012.

Bearing in mind the views of the Parole Board regarding your slow and careful re-integration into the community, your review period has been set at 18 months and takes account of the following:-

4 months transfer and settling period.
• Relapse prevention and consolidation work including testing.
• ROTLs after approximately 4-6 months.
• Development of a robust release plan.

Time to develop an effective and transparent relationship with your supervising officers.

Your next parole review process will be undertaken in accordance with the Generic Parole Process, a new centrally monitored review process. Your review process is expected to take 26 weeks to complete, as it involves the preparation of reports and co¬ordination of various parties, including the Public Protection Casework Section, the Prison Service and the Parole Board. Your parole review will eminence in November 2011, and the month for your oral hearing by the Parole Board is May 2012.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Whither Victims?"

Here is the problem. The criminal justice system is designed to be largely impersonal, magisterial and impartial. Crimes are prosecuted as being against the Crown, the State, and never an individual.

Conversely, the effects of crime are often profoundly personal. The suffering and pain carried by victims of violent and sexual crimes, in particular, are unique and theirs alone.

It is in the gap between these two domains that disputes, anger, despair and frustration fester. And bridging this gap, attempting to use an impersonal process to address individual suffering, highlights the flaw in very concept of 'criminal justice'. It just isn't designed to heal, to address suffering. The focus upon judgement and punishment has, for a thousand years, overshadowed any attempt to reform the personal bonds that crime severs.

It is no surprise that that are vociferous victims, both individuals and groups, who rail against the current system and their status within it. There is a perpetual cry that 'victims are ignored' and that 'the system protects the criminal but not the victim'. There is some truth in this. Not from malice, not from political disdain, but as a natural consequence of criminal justice as it is conceived.

Nevertheless, recent years have seen governments attempting to lever the concerns of individual victims into the framework of an impersonal justice system. A Victims Service was created, intended to guide and support victims through the trial process. Some categories of alleged victims are absolved from having to face the people they are accusing. Victims can make a statement before sentencing which expresses the effect the crime has had on their lives. Victims can choose to keep in touch with the Prison and Probation services and be consulted and informed when a prisoner is being considered for various activities. Victims can attend parole hearings and lobby the parole board. And victims can ask the parole board to include certain conditions to be included in release licences, such as the prisoner being barred from wide geographical areas.

Some of these efforts are laudable. Who ever thought that prosecution and defence witnesses, the alleged criminal and victim, should share the same waiting rooms in courthouses, for instance? Offering support to victims at points in the criminal justice process cannot be objectionable and are long overdue.

Some of these efforts, though, are political sops that risk undermining Justice and rendering it arbitrary. Should a person’s sentence or release rest upon whether the victims arrive at the courthouse or parole hearing? What if the victim was a thoroughly horrible human being and had no supporters? What if one bereaved family wails with a shriller voice than another? These are not factors that should determine the metric of Justice, and to permit this is to abandon criminal justice in favour of personalised revenge - or forgiveness.

To say that the concerns of victims have been ignored is simply not true. That victims have not had their agenda imposed upon the system is, and neither is the system designed to satisfy individual victim's demands. For example, the desire of Frances Lawrence to know the location of her husbands killer in the community was denied. As a matter of policy - and good sense -the sharing of such information with victims increases the chances of a revenge attack. Instead, the license conditions of the released criminal contains conditions that bar them - on pain or recall to prison - from entering areas where their victims may be found. Such are the compromises that must exist when an impersonal system attempts to meet individual needs, and often no one is satisfied.

In many ways there can never be a place in the criminal justice system for victims. By its very definition and design, criminal justice cannot meet the needs of the individuals enmeshed within it. To do so would be to render it arbitrary.

This is a dilemma that all of us - the accused, the offended against and the wider society - can only begin to address when we accept that impersonal justice systems can never address personal suffering. Perhaps only then, maybe, we will consider a system of justice which can solve these problems. Restorative justice, anyone?

Note from Ed: Ben has himself lost a family member to violent crime.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

MoJ Press Office Runs the Prison!

Who knew? We always thought that Governors ran the prison, overseen by a herd of line managers, accountants and audit teams. The odd activist Minister may even have a say.

But today, I learned that the Ministry of Justice Press Office (Debbie Kirby on 0203 334 3520) actually call the tune. Interesting...

A journalist from a heavyweight broadsheet wanted to visit me, and the local management said no - as is broadly permitted under the Rules. For the law geeks, that's laid out in PSI 37/2010.

The problem resolved itself when we waved Section 4.2 around. "If a journalist who is a friend or relative of the prisoner wishes to have a social visit in this capacity, the visitor and prisoner must give written undertakings that any material obtained during the visit will not be used for professional purposes." And that is the basis on which we wanted this visit - it was not to be the source of any interview, etc, and we were both willing to sign the necessary disclaimer to that effect.

Local management were happy, reassured that all involved -including they - were abiding by the rules. A Visiting Order was duly despatched and my man travelled through the snow all the way from London. To be denied access.

Some managerial type had a wobble and phoned the MoJ Press Office for clarification. The Press Office insisted that only they could authorise any journo visiting, in a personal capacity or otherwise. The governor disagreed, but in the face of force majeure agreed to ban my visitor.

The Governor was right in his interpretation of the rules. For once - whisper it not - I agree with him. The rule, 4.2 above, is perfectly clear and both I, my visitor and the Governors abided by it.

Alas, our good intentions were over-ruled by some legal pygmy in the Press Office. Bear in mind that the function of the MoJ Press Office, in relation to prisons, is to keep the media away from us. And, it seems, at any cost including ignoring the law.

And you have to wonder, is a Press Office which unnecessarily hacks off a journo at the paper of record a bright bunny? Or is it that they just don't know squat about PR??

Either way, that some ignorant herbert in a Press Office in London is over-ruling a Governor trying to run his prison is a pretty scary prospect. It was frightening enough when Governors were in charge. Add some ex-local newsrag hacks into the mix and chaos can't be far away.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Just another conversation

Leaning on the railings outside my door, I was taking the piss out of the landing cleaner and his efforts. He said he didn't mind manual work, so long as it wasn't on a production line.

A passing wit said, "you wouldn't complain if it was a tit factory!"
The three of us stood in silence, trying to imagine just what that would look like, before wandering off into our day.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Arbitrary Insanity

Just for a moment, forget televisions and PlayStations. One of the greatest burdens of being a Lifer is that we are perpetually vulnerable to arbitrary decisions and judgements made by those in charge of our lives and progress to release. This happened to me at my recent parole hearing.

In the first few years of our sentence, we are prodded and poked about our crime until our keepers are happy that they can distil from the events our "risk factors". These are the elements in our lives, the motives for our crime. The idea then is that we address these factors during our sentence and reduce them to a level where we are safe to be released. For instance, if you are a persistent drinker and kill a man after an angry outburst in a pub, the risk factors would include 'alcohol' and 'anger management'.

I refused to talk about my crime for over a year after I was convicted. Since then, I've spoken about it, rehashed it, in a thousand interviews, to the extent that I then exhibit symptoms of PTSD. The Prison Service and their legions of psychologists listed my risk factors over a quarter of a century ago. This list has expanded and contracted a little over the years, according to the whims of staff, but usually comprises loss of control, anti-authoritarian attitude, low self-esteem, relationships and impulsive aggressive behaviour (i.e., the offence).
In fairness, most of these factors can be linked to my crime, even if very tenuously. Being anti-authoritarian is a stretch though; what's that to do with killing my mate? So prison staff chuck stuff into these lists of risk factors that have bugger all to do with the crime.

For the length of my sentence, then, both I and staff have worked from a common understanding of my crime. Not a single psychologist has disputed either the events or the analysis. Even the Home Office and Ministry of Justice have always been happy with this joint analysis. Every previous Parole Board has been happy with it. But now, it's all up in the air.

The psychologist who sat as part of the last Parole panel put me through the wringer over my motives. She was not happy with my analysis of why I killed my friend. You can say she is entitled to her view, true. But when it flies in the face of 25 years worth of prison reports, from psychologists and psychiatrists, it would be fair to insist that she base her view on more than a personal whim.

It sticks in my throat that the Parole answer then includes the line that "of critical importance no-one, including you, knows what the triggers were in your index offence." They could properly have written that "the psychologist on the parole board wasn't happy", that's fine. But to suggest that both I and everyone who has dealt with me for the last 30 years have been scratching our heads over this is a blatant lie. All the prison staff reports at that hearing, and the summary of my whole sentence put before them, all agree about my crime and my 'risk factors'. Not a single one wavers from that. Everyone knows what the triggers were in my crime - but this one psychologist isn't convinced.

Why should this matter to me, enough to bore you with it? Because it sets the clock back thirty years, it wipes out all I have done to reduce my risk. It is to say that they are no nearer understanding me or my crime than they were the day I entered prison. Though this panel then recommends me for Open prison, I am in a position of extreme danger.

I could walk through the gates and be welcomed by some trainee psychologist who could now say that without a sound understanding of my crime I'm too high a risk to progress. That I will need to do endless "work". And until this work is done, I am stuck, in limbo.

My defence against what I see as this rogue parole board psychologist is that the official response from the Ministry of Justice makes no mention of this fracas. They remain content that they, myself and prison staff understand my crime. All the Ministry want me to do in the way of 'psychology stuff' is to work on my 'commitment and motivation'. To what, they don't say.

That parole hearing came within a whisker of screwing me over and rendering the last thirty years moot. It could easily have sunk me for another decade or more. Not for anything I've done of late, not for any change in circumstances or attitudes, not for outrageous behaviour. But simply because one psychologist disagrees with every other psychologist who has gone before.

This is the nature of my sentence. All Lifers live in a state of flux, uncertainty, knowing that whatever we do we are always vulnerable to just one individual writing a bad report or taking a different view. And that halts us in our tracks.

It looks as if I dodged a bullet this time, and let's hope I manage to remain unscathed through my time in Open prison. My view of the Parole Board, though, has sunk even lower than it was before. And I didn't think that was possible.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Health, Safety and Punishment

In some prisons, without in-cell toilets, access to the loo at night is via an electronic unlocking system. This allows one person at a time out of cell and it can be hours before you get your turn.

In desperation, some men then pee into an empty plastic pop bottle and empty it the next day. It's either that, soiling oneself, or peeing out the window. Some prisons are now laying disciplinary charges against men who pee in a bottle on grounds of "endangering health and safety". Oddly, that has never occurred to staff in those prisons where the only facilities are a plastic bucket and slopping out is still the norm.

Lesson - if we do it, it’s a crime. If the State forces us to do it, that's okay.

Good to know, isn't it?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Crucial Paragraph.

There are times when I wish I could plaster my paperwork across the web for all to see. Alas, much of it also refers to other people and their role in events in my life and so - for the moment I can only share snippets with you.

Here, then, is the paragraph from my latest Parole Board answer that contains their reasons why I am not ready for release. Enjoy!

"The panel has reviewed your case with care and has reconsidered the whole issue of risk. If you are transferred to open conditions it is overwhelmingly likely that you will continue to be a challenging and difficult inmate to manage. However, the Panel is required to assess the risk you pose of re-offending which would cause serious harm to the public, not whether you are a card-carrying member of the awkward squad. The Panel is wholly un-persuaded that the risk is now so small that you could be safely released at this stage; release is not remotely an option. You have been in prison for many years and your re-integration into the community, if it is ever to take place, must be handled slowly and carefully."

So...I have to spend longer in prison in order to repair the damage that being in prison so long has apparently caused. Get out of that one!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wondering Why...

Why are we issued with razor blades and permitted hobby knives, but are prohibited from having coffee in a glass jar?

Why do the staff go barmy if they catch us having a spliff, but then dish out psychotropic medications to women prisoners as if they were sweets?

Why do Governors NEVER just say "yes" to anything?

Why, in every new Parliamentary intake is there one MP who adopts the "rent a quote" role on prisons, despite knowing bugger all about the subject?

Why are the psychologists 'treating' sex offenders invariably young women?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Times Article

There is a brilliant article in the Times today, the newspaper and online. Here is an extract: "When John “Ben” Gunn was a child he killed a boy. A troubled 14-year-old living in a children’s home, he got into a fight with a friend and hit him over the head with a piece of wood. Gunn called 999, was arrested and accused of GBH as the other boy was taken to hospital.

Four days later the boy died. Gunn was charged with murder. If someone had told him what manslaughter was this story might have ended decades ago. But he took his barrister’s advice to plead guilty to murder and was ordered to be detained during Her Majesty’s Pleasure with the tariff (the length of time he had to serve for retribution and deterrence before he could be considered for release) set at ten years."

Here is the link:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tories take the hardest road

Someone recently asked me what I thought about Ken Clarke and the general Tory line on prisons and related environs. It made me think.

There has never been a 'traditional' Tory line on prisons. Each Home Secretary (now Justice Secretary) followed a broad ideological view, true, but the influence that had on the prison landings was small. Thus we had Douglas Hurd stating that "prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse", and Michael Howard baldly proclaiming that "Prison works!". The Tory party has been a pretty broad church historically when it comes to matters penological.

This situation held true until Michael Howard. Howard retreated into a simple set of ideological assertions which happened to be both popular and populist. Electorally clever, but intellectually shoddy. He treated crime and punishment as simplistic problems which were amenable to simple solutions. And in doing so, shattered the broad post-War consensus and made prisons a highly politically charged subject.

Jack Straw continued this trend. Listening to his speeches in opposition, I was very worried by his simplistic, authoritarian tone. And, sadly, I was right to be. Labour made a spectacular mess out of prisons policy and thousands of my peers are paying that price.

The Coalition government, though, has avoided trapping itself into an ever harsher spiral of simplistic and populist policies. This may be Ken Clarke's natural inclination (he was a "mostly harmless" Home Secretary for prisoners) but the opportunities of Coalition politics offer him and his allies more room to operate. The LibDems were never going to support mindless and reactionary prison policies. With that backdrop Clarke has an opportunity of movement which, should it end in disaster, can be blamed on the necessities of coalition rather than be a black mark against the Tories. And it makes it harder for the media to pin down a target to attack; should they aim for Clarke, or the LibDems, or the whole Coalition?

This situation allows Ministers to actually think about prison. Penology is a complicated issue that requires complicated solutions. And that is a lot harder than slapping us in a reflexive act of vengeance. So far, Clarke gives the impression that he is at least willing to try to engage with the issues in a meaningful way - rather than throwing chunks of prisoners to the baying mob.

Monday, December 6, 2010


What is it with the Prison Service? Rather than deal with an issue, rather than debate or deny, they instinctively try to suppress the voice of prisoners. In this day and age, a pretty pointless exercise but then prison managers have never been famous for keeping up with the times. They just rely on old habits.

So they refuse to allow a journalist in to see me, after giving him permission to visit. Doh! And now, according to a letter in this month’s Inside Time, the management at Frankland nick tried to hide copies of that newspaper which carried my blog-post about the staff brutality in their prison.

Really?? I mean, come on, welcome to the information age! There are payphones, domestic and legal visits, letters, illegal mobiles, all supplemented by the prison is going to travel, one way or another.

Why be so silly and backward as to try to suppress it? Why not investigate the claims of brutality? Why not pop onto the blog and refute them? Welcome to the 21st century prison service -just like the 20th century one, if it doesn't like something, it tries to sguash it. Silly sods.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bloody Cold!

The Editor insists I look after my health and that includes porridge and vitamins for breakfast as well as fresh air. Neither of us calculated on the temperature hitting minus 6C.

Still, I parked myself in the yard for two hours, so numb that the cold became meaningless. The pond is layered in inches of ice, thick enough to hold Cancer Boy when he walked across it that evening.

And in those freezing moments in the still yard, I made a mental note to tell you that I am extremely fortunate. This little existence of mine is played out in a tiny prison in the sticks, low security and largely quiet and uneventful.
Most of the 90,000 prisoners don't get to sit in the yard in peace. At best, they get to tramp around in a big circle like a herd, overseen by screws who want them off the yard as fast as is legal so that they can return to their warm offices.

Most of these prisoners won't feel the snow underfoot, exercise yards being closed due to 'inclement weather' or on dubious health and safety grounds. Even fewer will be in prisons that allow them to wear woolly gloves or hats, or decent coats.

The broad strokes of my life are those shared by every prisoner. But try not to extrapolate from the fine detail; that would be unfair on those who are suffering in far worse circumstances.

Friday, December 3, 2010

We're jammin...

Sitting in the freezing cold yard under the yellow floodlights, two members of the musical fraternity begin jamming lyrics. It quickly descended into the default cynicism of Lifers:

"Woke up this morning,
My baby was gone.
Fucking social workers..."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A lot going on

The original Cancer Boy collared me in passing the other day to suggest that I may be dealing with more than my brain can cope with, and maybe I should let something go?

There's writing this blog. Working on an autobiography. My PhD research. Open prison. Depression. Prison politics. Oh, and the cancer. He does have a point, that is an awful lot of pressure and I can't deny that there are days when I feel a tad stressed.

So I'm relying on you guys to let me know - should I start churning out mad, incoherent, sentences feel free to point out that I've finally snapped under the strain!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Financial Services

It is very strange to realise that, at the ripe age of 45, I have never had more than £150 to my name. And never earned more than £12 in a single week.

What an odd life I've lived so far.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Work, Work, Work

So the Parole Board and various prison staff take great umbrage at my disdain for "menial" work, and the efforts I make to avoid being lumbered with it.

I thought it may be informative to list all of the jobs that I have been allocated over the course of my sentence. That's 30 years, at a cost of around £1.5 million. What did I get for my time, and you for your money? In chronological order, from 1980, these are the jobs. I have excluded formal education and periods of unemployment.

Hospital cleaner
Landing cleaner
Stripping cables
Landing cleaner
Food server
Attaching pins to rings (lynch pins)
Screwing bolts into housings
Basic welding
Kitchen cleaner
Education Orderly
Landing cleaner
Workshop Cleaner
Textile checker/packer
Textile cutter
Wing No.l (tea-boy)
Education Orderly
Library Orderly
E-Commerce Strategist/SWOT Analyst
Toilet Cleaner
Nuts and Bolts packer

This is all they think I am good for. Well, not just me, any prisoner. Along the way, interwoven with this litany of the depressing, I made the effort to pass my 0-Levels, A-Levels, BSc(Hons), MA (Merit) and now into a Doctorate. Much of this study was conducted against a background of indifference bordering upon obstruction.
Now they call me an egomaniac and "grandiose" for daring to hope for more but in truth, who would aspire to the work they have allocated me over the whole of my adult life? Who would not complain at this meagre aspiration that is forced upon us?

I curse those in charge of my life who believe I should plead for no more than a shelf-stacking job for the rest of my working life on release. Worse than that, curse them for attempting to pathologise a desire to aspire. What you and I would characterise as the innate urge to achieve, to overcome our surroundings, my keepers see as signs that I am "difficult to manage" and accuse me of thinking I'm a bigger deal than I am.

I've sweated and sacrificed, had to fight and manoeuvre, to gain my education and I'm damned if I will allow the views of my keepers to deprive me of aspiring to achieve more in my remaining years. Pushing a mop around a supermarket aisle because I have to pay the rent is one thing; doing it because my masters believe that's all I'm good for is another. And I will resist it.

Whatever I do manage to achieve in life, whatever small contribution is within my purpose, will be in spite of the efforts of the prison service and its minions.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Black Comedy

So... You take a guy with a smashed leg, dubious balance and a crutch. You then take another guy who is registered Blind. You find a small cell and put them both in it.

As some might say, "You're 'avin a laugh!".

I would call it "prison management, as per normal".

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Prison Works" - An Attractive Lie

The central plank on which the argument "prison works" rests is the seemingly obvious assertion that, whilst prisoners are locked away, we cannot commit crime. There are two problems with this edifice of thought.

Firstly, it makes the crass assumption that there is no crime in prison, that as soon as we pass through the gates we are transmogrified into paragons of reasonableness. As assumptions go, this is a pretty big one. As dumb assumptions go, it's a classic. Crime is rampant within prisons, utterly rife. Prisoners lie, cheat, steal, punch, kick, stab and murder with some vigour.

Just about the only crime that is rare in prison is motoring offences...though there is the apocryphal story of the disciplinary hearing where the Governor announced his faith in the honesty of his staff. "If my Officer tells me he saw you riding a motorbike along the landings, I'd find you guilty of unauthorised possession of petrol"... That aside, crime is as much a bane in here as out there.

Or is this assumption itself based on yet another assumption? That is, that crimes committed against criminals just don't count? If that is the case, if the rule of law ends on conviction, then can I assume that we are free to leap into bestial modes of life without any sanction from that law? Or, worse, can we then assume that we are inconsequential, a sub-species whose suffering from crime is an irrelevance?

So the first plank of the "prison works" argument is riddled with rottenness. And the second assumption? That is, that if we weren't imprisoned than we would - inevitably - be out there continuing to commit crime?

Many prisoners would. But don't allow the natural outrage against this divert you from a simple yet fundamental point. That would mean that we are locking people away not as punishment for the crime which they have already committed, but instead we are isolating them for the crimes they may commit in the future.

This is a classic slippery slope, and one that should cause a twinge in everyone who has a passing acquaintance with small concepts such as Justice and Liberty. Locking people away in order to prevent crime should be universally decried. Or at least debated.

Of course many prisoners would go on to commit crime if they were on the streets. Instead, they commit their crimes on prison landings. And around a third of prisoners do not re-offend on release (for two years, at least). So we are detaining tens of thousands of people in an effort to prevent crimes which they were never going to commit.

"Prison Works!" is an excellent slogan, fitting nicely within the confines - and mentality - of a t-shirt. Take a few moments, though, to unpick the assumptions it is woven from and the fabric of the argument falls through one’s fingers like ashes.

Random Mischief

Open prisons contain the potential for a greater range of mischief, should you be so inclined. Some have suggested that I am.

Whilst at Leyhill, I spent a lot of time loitering in the Chapel. A haven of free coffee, good conversation, and a ready audience for my brand of cynicism.

Whilst the Chaplain was on holiday, the (prisoner)Orderly decided to have some fun. Each new arrival and discharge prisoner had to undertake a 'paper chase', going around each department to have their papers signed by staff.

In the absence of the Chaplain, the Orderly pointed these befuddled prisoners in my direction, passing me off as "the visiting Rabbi". As I then laboured under the weight of a Moses-like beard, they were content to ask me to sign their papers.

I wonder just how many forms now reside in the archives, signed by "Rabbi Arbuthnot Fotherington-Smythe"...?

Friday, November 26, 2010

All Change

The life of the prisoner is an incredibly dull one. Nothing much happens. There is the institutional routine, and interspersed with that are the routines we weave for ourselves as we try to shape the existence which is least uncomfortable.

Some prisoners sink into this, allowing it to dull their hopes, their pains, their vision for their future. Every minute is corroded into sameness, a torpor. Within this certainty, within these layers of routine, a security and safety beckons. It is a false paradise.

There is a comfort in certainty that must be resisted.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


God forbid this becomes a "cancer blog" but the response to my dual-news of the parole board answer and cancer has been illuminating.

Lots of people have been congratulating me on my news. Most are referring to the Open prison thing, but I suspect that a couple were happier that I had cancer.

I've suggested starting a cancer sufferers club here, given its prevalence, mockingly called The Immortals. People were even less keen when I insisted on being President on the basis that I will outlive everyone else!

And when I asked the original Cancer Boy how he manages to generate the sympathy, he mocked me for the feeble nature of my cancer. "I've had bigger tumours thrown in the bin..."

Prison humour. It's tough!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Is it possible for victims ever to be happy? Even if we are made to suffer the most bestial of torments, would that bring peace to a grieving soul?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Criminals and Victims

Why is criminal justice treated as if it were a zero-sum game, that there must be the opposed forces of criminal and victims?

It seems that for every policy that effects criminal justice, and prisons in particular, there is some call that somehow it deprives victims of something. Anything! As if a policy that seems to benefit cons must automatically take something away from victims.

Here's a thought. That it is possible to treat prisoners with decency AND treat victims with empathy and support. These are not opposing aims, the one does not detract from the other.

Unless...should victims determine the fate of those who transgress against them? As was the inclination of the last government. Or should it be accepted that criminals and victims both have an interest in Justice, even if the outcome in the individual case leaves all involved unhappy?

Monday, November 22, 2010


For a while now it has been my practice to dive out onto the yard as soon as we are unlocked in the morning. Selecting my bench, I can have half an hour to myself. It has become a brief time in which I have found some sort of internal stillness, a pleasant reminder of my Zen years.

This peace is made slightly more difficult to achieve when the weather is awful, as it was today. The worst combination of cold, rain and wind, leaving me huddled in my woolly hat, a scarf of Dr Who proportions, fleece, and gloves. As ever, there was one man striding around in a pair of shorts, making me wonder if I was a wimp or if he was a half-wit?

Today, though, I found myself unable to disassociate myself from the turmoil that has descended in the last day or so. Being handed cancer and Open prison simultaneously gives rise to a combination of thoughts and feelings that I was never prepared to deal with. One thing at a time, yes, but this is just a lot to process! Interesting times...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Grand Day Out

Some of us enjoy a day out from the nick as a break in the routine. For others, it is a disruption. I've always been slightly ambivalent. Of course it is pleasant to have a change of scenery, but when you’re handcuffed to a screw and there's three of you squashed in the back seat of a car it tends to detract a touch from the experience.

These occasions are one of the very few times that we are stuck in close proximity to screws, and they with us. Whereas on the wing our encounters are distant and fleeting, each sticking firmly to our roles, when you’re stuck with someone in a confined space for a few hours then that distance tends to narrow.

Some screws sit in silence, never speaking. Others talk to each other, ignoring the prisoner who sits in between them. Those more comfortable with themselves are able to include the prisoner in the conversation, breaking away from prison gossip and the mutual disdain for management and ranging into current affairs, TV programmes and general waffle.

In fairness to my escorts of late, the staff have ranged from being pleasantly quiet to quite chatty. They have not made the experiences worse by being, well, screws!

Being the prison service, I was handcuffed. Obviously, you may think! But no. Each 'escort’ should be risk assessed. I have had a wander around the local town, been to hospital twice recently, and all the staff recommended I could be trusted to go to Open prison at the parole hearing. And yet, there I was, wedged between two screws and in cuffs. Honestly, what were the chances of my doing a runner, hoofing it down the road barefooted with my arse hanging out the back of a hospital gown? The mind of my keepers is too murky to discern at times. Actually, most of the time...

The experience reminded me of an aspect of life that I'm going to have to get used to on release - travelling. Life in prison is compact, everything is close by. Out there, travelling more than a few hundred metres to get to, say, work, is the norm. And I dislike travel. The idea of driving for an hour is not enticing, it's dead and unproductive time. Perhaps I'm a natural candidate for tele-working?

We lurked in the hospital waiting room for an age. Nothing changes! Others people there cast sly glances at the handcuffs and I can see the urge to ask a question form on at least one set of lips. But no one says anything out loud. As I stand to follow the Doctor, dragging a screw along, I have to resist the temptation to ask, "could you remove this ugly growth I have attached to my right arm...??"

Being given a diagnosis can be difficult enough. When it's cancer, and here's a lot of information to absorb, doubly so. But being wedged in the consulting room with two screws, still handcuffed to them, it becomes something more degrading.

On my return, I obviously wanted to let those close to me know the diagnosis. The Editor was sitting by her phone, sweating and stressed. With no money on my phone account, I had to ask for an 'official' phone call, that is the use of an office landline. Two minutes was all I wanted, just to pass the news along. The man in charge of the nick that evening, the Orderly Officer, refused.

Still, it was a day out.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Turning of The Screw

Staff are beginning to notice this tiny corner of the web. Perhaps their home life is so dull that surfing is their escape, or maybe they have so little to do on duty that perusing my waffle is one way to fill the hours.

This has had consequences. After a somewhat spiky encounter a couple of weeks ago, one screw asked if he'd done enough to get a mention here? Search for "silverback" to find that answer.. And this morning, a Senior Officer paused during locking me up to take me task for always referring to "prison officers" as "screws". He was politely offended, insisting that he was a professional man, a prison officer...not a screw.

The origin of the word, screw, is disputed. The most favoured explanation is that it comes from the early Separate system. Each cell was equipped with a box with a crank handle, and the prisoner had to turn the handle so many thousand revolutions per 8 hour day. Prison staff could make the turning of the handle easier or harder by adjusting a screw...

We use the term "screw" in a not particularly pejorative way, much as staff refer to us as "cons". That is, "convicted prisoners". No insult is intended; we have other terms for screws we don't like, the most common being "a dog". And so, much though this Senior Officer doesn't like it, I'm sticking to "screw". Sorry guv!
And in passing, a manager I've cheerfully baited for the last few years mentioned that he read the blog and that I "sound quite reasonable" at times. Two things struck me about that. Firstly, it shows just how much they would really know me if they actually bothered to engage with me. And more worryingly, where have I gone wrong if Governors think I'm reasonable??

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ignoring My Own Advice

Prisoners, like myself, who are approaching a parole hearing that has the potential to make a great leap towards release can fall unthinkingly into the trap of looking too far ahead.

That is, mentally and emotionally transporting ourselves into that positive future. I always caution against this, because it can be fatal. If the desired result fails to appear, then one's emotional world can collapse inwards, the Elysian Fields being reduced to four bare walls - again.

The trick is, to hope - but not too much. As ever, I'm not taking my own advice. If this Parole Board hearing goes badly, I just don't have a Plan B!

note: Ben had a recommendation for open conditions from the parole panel but still awaits confirmation from the MoJ, who have to "rubber stamp" it before he can actually move.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Got a Spare £120 Grand?

Alec has been a sporadic visitor my cell, hoping that I could shed some light on his tangled position. It's a complicate tale that spans several years.

The prison - or the trainee psychologists who rule these days -wanted him to do a Treatment Needs Analysis. This is an examination of what further "offending behaviour work" he may be required to undertake in order to progress.

This has rumbled on for three years. They have now, suddenly, decided that Alec doesn't need to do this after all. That's three years of his life and £120,000 of your money wasted.

As well as illustrating the sheer waste of human life that is imprisonment, this tale also highlights an equally important point. That no one - no one! - in the Prison Service ever takes responsibility for their decisions. Ever. And if they are wrong and waste our lives and your money, they are never held to account. They treat us all - you as well as us - with contempt.

Note from the Ed:

Recommendation for open prison by the parole board is only the first step. Ben still awaits approval from the Minster of Justice, who will also decide how long he has to stay there before applying for release. Come on, Ken…….

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Baffling Times

We have a government facing significant challenges. Historically, the Tory response to such difficulties has included retreating to inane law and order rhetoric, which invariably led to prisoners getting a kicking.

This hasn't been happening, and I can't tell you just how disconcerting this is. Just what are they up to..? Possibly, just maybe, the financial crisis is giving a more cerebral coterie of Tories the opportunity to peddle their wares, to argue a more sophisticated view of law and order?

We can only hope. And in the meantime, brace ourselves! For every Ken Clarke or Crispin Blunt there are a hundred Michael Howards waiting in the wings, their fangs glistening.

Good News and Bad News

Ben has been recommended for open prison by the parole board. Details here:

He has also just been diagnosed with cancer. More information on the Facebook pages.

Blog Ed.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Vote Thing...

My view on the Prisoners Vote issue is well known and based on two broad arguments. Firstly, that human rights are inviolate and universal - they apply to the most despised as well as those most lauded. Secondly, prisoners remain a part of society, even if tucked out of sight. I have rehearsed my views previously, over at the Guardian's Comment is Free for those who are particularly interested.

Though not many prisoners seem to be! While this issue has exercised the best political and legal minds of two governments, and they have been found wanting, prisoners sat on the sidelines, largely indifferent. The prospect of gaining the vote is merely entertaining for many of us, and an irrelevance to most. I think it's more important than we appreciate.

The Labour government bobbed and weaved in an embarrassing display of deceit to avoid facing the reality of the Court’s judgement. Jacqui Smith, their Home Secretary, admitted on "This Week" that Labour deliberately delayed. We all knew this, but they happily looked Parliament and the Council of Europe in the eye and assured them otherwise. Nothing makes prisoners angrier than being lectured on our disdain for the law by a government that treats a court judgement with contempt.

I expected the current Government to adopt a similar stance. After all, as a matter of practical politics, who wants to be the Prime Minister that gives us lot the vote?? But, politically, it was handled extremely adeptly. In blaming the financial crisis and the European Court, Cameron deflected the flack he would otherwise have received. And he was, partly, correct to do so. For months, prisoners have been filing claims for compensation with the Court for Labour’s refusal to allow us to participate in the General Election.

This was a rare opportunity to open a debate around the place of prison and prisoners in society, and it was lost. To some, it was because John Hirst became the story rather than the campaign. To others, the opportunity was squandered because the media reverted to a default position which avoided engaging with any of the genuine issues.

There will inevitably be a continuation of this battle, though. The government seem determined to restrict the number of prisoners voting to the minimum. I suspect their legal advice is telling them what everyone familiar with this judgement knows -that this will be challenged. Within the lifetime of this administration most prisoners will have the vote.

This will include Lifers and some of the bogeyman groups such as rapists and paedophiles. The legal landscape has advanced since the original Hirst judgement and, taking into account Frodl v Austria, then an almighty political embarrassment remains for the government to face up to.

Astonishing though it is that a Tory government that has done the right thing by prisoners in this, Cameron has only dealt with the initial problem. In not giving us all the vote, blaming Europe and the public coffers, he faces a second crisis when some Lifer returns to the courts and forces the government to give all prisoners the franchise.

No Prime Minister wants to be the one who gives Ian Huntley or Rose West a ballot paper. That's just politics. But it will have to be done, and avoiding this certainty for now will only make it more politically damaging later.

From where I sit, I also suspect that no Lifer will want to be the one to take this back to court and be forever known as the man who got Huntley the vote. That is also practical politics. But someone will. And that's when this story becomes a very hot topic - again. Next time, though, those of us involved in prisoners’ rights and reform should all be better prepared to take advantage of the situation and use it as a platform to crack open a genuine debate.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fighting Fog

What a strange 24 hours it has been. Yesterday, I woke up to be told that my parole hearing was in the Guardian news section. My ego was pleased but then I just had to wonder how uneventful the world must have been for my hearing to rise to significance, even if it was on page 16??

Most of my morning was spent out on the yard, sitting in the freezing drizzle, attempting to find some equilibrium for the hearing due to begin at lunchtime.

As usual, I spent a while with my barrister discussing the issues. Or what we thought were the issues! Those who have followed this saga with forensic attention will recall that I was granted a move to Open Prison about 15 months ago. And then I was busted; the prison discovering that I had been involved in a relationship with a member of staff and that I had briefly possessed a mobile phone in the previous year. As is the way, the Ministry of Justice promptly referred me back to the Parole Board for advice. This was that hearing, and we thought the issues were clear - did this new information mean that I presented too high a risk to now be moved to Open Prison?

Well...we wait to see. To my surprise, the mobile didn't even get a mention. That left the relationship. The angle that the Panel took was to accuse me of being a deceptive man. I had lied! I tried to point out that one incident of deception doesn't make me a compulsive liar across the board, but they kept hammering away at the point.

From their perspective, if I was to be managed in the community, then I needed to be open and honest with those supervising me. And so, if I am going to lie about what I'm up to, then I'd pose a real problem. I pointed out that if I'm up to no good - say, dealing in drugs, then obviously I wasn't going to admit it to my Probation Officer...and that the significant issue would be the drug dealing, not the lying about it.

Of course I lied about the relationship, what else could I do? I refuse to apologise for whom I fall in love with. The situation was wrong, the relationship was not. We had two options - to lie and allow the relationship to develop, or to stop. And stopping, when love is involved, was never an option for me. Of course I regret the situation and the need to lie.

This does not mean I'm a persistently deceptive man. I'm notorious for being stupidly honest. If I was a deceptive, manipulative man than I'd have wangled my way out the gate years ago! So I think the relationship is just one of those things, a difficult situation I dealt with as best I could. Most importantly, it has nothing to do with whether I pose "a risk to life or limb".

So, the phone and the relationship were the issues, and they were addressed. Or,in the case of the mobile, ignored. That should have been that, off to Open.

But the Panel decided to reopen my whole life, ignore everything that had been dealt with to the satisfaction of half a dozen previous Panels, and spent half the time disagreeing over the factors that led to my offence. If we can't agree on why I committed murder, 30 years after the fact, then I could be screwed.

More in Part 2…

Sunday, November 14, 2010

No Human Rights for Prisoners..?

This is a common refrain from some of the more populist political mouthpieces, as well as in the pub. It is often based upon a complete misunderstanding of human rights coupled with a profound ignorance of what the specific rights are.

What we wrote, agreed and signed up to 60 years ago was the principle that individuals have a right to insist that the State not commit certain acts against them. And that these specified rights adhere to all people, without exception. This is a fundamental point about human rights they are unearned, they accrue merely by being human. It was intended that governments would be rendered illegitimate if they attempted to single out groups that they, or the wider society, disliked and then oppressing them. Jews, communists, homosexuals, gypsies, democrats...

Rather than meander through a very long legal document, it serves the purpose to select just one of the rights contained in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

"Article 3 - Prohibition of torture.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

We can, obviously, debate the meaning of the operative words and the Courts are perpetually engaged in that discussion. But as a broad prohibition, I would hope that this prohibition is self evident and needs no justification? No government should be free to abuse its citizens.

And for those who wish prisoners to exempt from this prohibition on being misused, consider this - for every Huntley or West, there are ten thousand thieves and burglars. There are people in prison for non-payment of fines arising from not having a TV license.

Anyone who says that prisoners should not have human rights must be prepared to justify torturing grandmothers in a dispute with TV Licensing.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

PhD progress.

My brain is still sweating bullets of blood from my recent supervisory session, but it seems that your donations have not been a wasted effort!

Between me and my university supervisors, we have found a way forward that somehow doesn't bring me into conflict with the prison and yet allows me to deliver the goods at the end.

My first order of business is to refine my research questions and produce my literature review. All obvious, run of the mill stuff...except I was tying myself in knots.

Every book, every paper, I read set me off on a tangent, a new line of exploration - a fatal, and common, mistake in the early stages of research. We spent a lot of time discussing this, and guiding me to retain my precise focus. Hence, tightening up my research questions.

My main problem has been to select a schema for Human Needs from amongst the several available, providing my conceptual lens. Maslow, Toch, Burton, Galtung, Azar..I didn't want to just pick one at random! So we decided that the best course would be to use two schema of Needs, one originating from Conflict and Peace studies - Burton - and one that is rooted within the sociology of prisons - Sykes.

This is just a brief note to keep you up to date with what’s happening - after all, you did have the kindness to fund me to continue with my research.

Friday, November 12, 2010


So I have a stationery fetish...not severe enough for Psychology to take an interest, but I do love pens and paper.

And paper is pretty fundamental in my life. Letters, blog-posts, my research, general musings...without paper, I am nothing.

Finding myself down to my last few sheets, I armed myself with an empty plastic folder and went on the hunt to fill it with shiny, clean, blank A4.

You would think that Education was an obvious port of call...unless you've kept up with the endless story of my travails with that department. I came away with a measly 15 sheets and a lecture on how "we have to buy this, you know!" Urn, yes, for students to use for their education!!

In the end, it was a random member of staff who topped me up out of his photocopier. Thanks, I now have a few weeks worth. And my view of the Education Department remains as it ever was...

Note from Ed: Stationery is on the approved list of items we are allowed to send in to prisoners...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Future

One of the people involved in my parole hearing has suggested that when I reach Open prison I should stop blogging and focus upon 'resettlement’. He also believes that my blogging at all is "unwise" in terms of progressing through the maze I'm trapped within. As he spent his career in the prison service, his view reflects the official ethos and outlook.

As I perceive it, writing is a powerful route to my being reintegrated into society. Behind the scenes, the blog has led to interesting developments with significant future potential. To stop blogging, then, would be to sever myself from one of the few opportunities that I have to build a future life.

And I'm so looking forward to giving you glimpses into the Through The Looking Glass experience that is open prison... And so, short of illegal interference from the prison service or ministry of justice, I will persist in intruding into your consciousness on a near daily basis!

As for this being unwise... I hope that, no matter what you think of me, the idea that anyone should be hindered on the path to release just because he expresses his opinions is one you find repugnant.

Parole Hearing

I spoke to Ben’s lawyer, who is very uncertain about the parole hearing. They put Ben through the wringer, and it’s hard to tell how they were thinking. Everybody who submitted a report or gave evidence, including all prison reports, said that Ben did not pose a risk of future violent offending. Now we have to wait up to 2 wks for their official answer!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tories and Human Rights

I never understand why anyone dislikes the general principle of human rights. That is, to create a set of boundaries between the individual and the State which limit the States ability to oppress its citizens.

What is there to object to in that? And I would have thought that the Conservative Party, philosophically rooted in particular views of the State and the individual, would be the party most aligned to the concept of restricting the State's ability to oppress individuals. Human rights should be a Tory lodestone.

And yet, almost universally, Tories detest human rights. I suspect that if you lead each individual Tory through the principles laid out above, they would hurrumph and agree. So why their practical difficulty with the reality of human rights?

There is, obviously, the issue of sovereignty. Concepts of human rights originated in the international arena - the United Nations and the Council of Europe. Or did they? The ideas underpinning human rights - that of limiting State power - are actually born out of English political philosophy. Hobbes, Locke, Mill...and expanded through the American Revolution into their Bill of Rights.

So human rights are not only philosophically at home in Conservatism, they are as British as John Bull. So we are no nearer reaching the source of the Tory distaste.

I have a suspicion that sovereignty is a large part of it. Because our constitutional arrangements make entrenching legislation impossible, placing limits on State power through domestic legislation is impractical. Any "British Bill of Rights" can be repealed by Parliament as easy as they enacted it -hardly a safeguard against an oppressive State.

We chose, instead, to help create the Council of Europe after the War. British lawyers largely wrote the Council's Convention on Human Rights and a British government signed that treaty - 60 years ago. And we seemed pretty happy with that arrangement until lately.

This is despite the fact that Britain has one of the worst records of being found in breach of the Convention by the European Court for Human Rights. Almost from the beginning, Britain found itself being held to account for breaching the very values it not only subscribed to, but gave formal written shape to.

Many of these cases involved prisoners. Those held in the bowels of the State, separate and isolated from help, are just the type of despised minority group that the Convention intended to protect. Remember, always, that the Council of Europe and the Convention for Human Rights was born from the butchery of the War.

And it has been repeatedly found that British governments routinely failed to maintain that proper perspective between the State and the individuals in its charge. Cases which have been won include prisoners being allowed access to the Courts; being able to see the full Rules and regulations which govern our custody; and removing political interference from the management of Life sentenced prisoners.

On the face of it, what Tory could reasonably object to any of these, illustrative, judgements? On what basis should prisoners be denied access to British courts? On what reasonable argument should we be refused access to the very regulations that govern us? And why, in any State that isn't totalitarian, should a politician ever have the power to decide whether a prisoner is released?

And yet...Tories still hate human rights, and human rights applied to prisoners most of all! Can this really only be reduced to a hatred of the word "European" in relation to human rights? Even though the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights are completely different and separate entities to the European Union? Could their distaste really be due to a misunderstanding?

Tories are renowned as the party of law and order, believing that the rule of law is a bedrock of a stable state. Yet they resist and bemoan having to implement a legal judgement - our right to vote. After two hours of writing, I'm no nearer to comprehending why the Tories hate human rights. All the more so when it leads them into tortuous knots where they reject their core beliefs -individual sovereignty and the rule of law.

Any ideas that would help to unravel this would be appreciated!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Therapeutic Deception

The infestation of psychologists into prisons which began about 15 years ago has had many unforeseen consequences. One of which is, if a prisoner is a fluent liar then he is more likely to be released than is an honest critic.

The cognitive psychology courses that we are forced through ("it’s voluntary" - you just won't get released if you don't do them) are riddled with psycho-babble jargon. After passing through a few of these courses, some cons become very fluent in both the jargon and in discerning just what it is the psychologists want to hear.
And so they lie. They present themselves as being 'cured' by these psychological treatments, clothing themselves in the façade that the psychologists crafted for them. And they wear it well.

So well that people we know are devious, slippery bastards that we'd never live next to outside persuade staff and the parole board to release them.

And then there are people like me... I don't manipulate and I don't lie. If I did, I wouldn't still be sitting here. When I disagree, it's with good reason and I will defend my position. The price paid for this is many extra years in prison.
How can a criminal justice system become so self-absorbed, so twisted, that it conspires to accept blatant lies which please them whilst hammering the honest critic?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Crystal Balls

It has been shown, in comments relating to IPP sentences, that some prisoners have committed awful crimes after their release. This is as undeniable as it is deplorable.

IPP sentences are based on a simplistic idea - that some (many thousands) of criminals should be detained until they can demonstrate that they are safe to release. This is more than sentencing with the aim of incapacitation. This is explicitly rehabilitative sentencing, detaining people not for the crime they have demonstrably committed but for the crimes they may commit in future.

There is an obvious objection to this, though it can be dressed up in an infinite variety of sophisticated clothing. The objection is the basis for the sentence, which is a fundamental shift in sentencing philosophy. Sending a person to prison for their past acts is one thing; continuing to detain them on the basis that they MAY commit future crimes is, to me, fundamentally objectionable.

Not only is it repulsive on a philosophical level, it is also nonsense on the actuarial level. If this sentencing philosophy is to be clothed in the most meagre scraps of sanity, it must be possible to demonstrate that future offending is predictable at the individual level.

Obviously, on the aggregate level this can be done. A careful analysis of the histories of prisoners highlights factors which suggest a higher chance of future offending. More prisoners have been in local authority care and have poor educational attainments than non prisoners, for example. And so, on this actuarial level, it can be honestly said that people with those biographical attributes are more likely to end up in prison.

Yet this is a far cry from being able to pick any individual with those attributes and predict their chances of committing crime. This is an impossible prediction to make, though the prison and probation services refuse to face that mathematical truth.

IPP sentences, keeping people in prison for what they may do in future, is based on a statistical lie that attempts to mask a philosophically repugnant shift in sentencing policy.

Of course, some prisoners will commit crimes after release. This is a price individual victims pay in order to protect society from near-arbitrary sentencing. These victims bear a heavy cost, a reminder that that freedom itself must be paid for. A price also paid by thousands of prisoners, kept in prison for what they may possibly do in future.

And yet, I would argue that sentencing should be based upon the crime that a person has committed and never on what he may do in future. At the end of that punishment they should be released. Their future conduct must then be judged on its own merits.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tories Give Crims the Vote

Not a headline I'd ever thought I'd be writing, but it proves my general thesis that life is bloody weird.

Hats off to Cameron, et al., for having the stones to make the decision that the Labour government shied away from in fear of their media masters turning on them. He who lives by media management, lives in fear of it...

This was legally inevitable. Even a half witted lawyer would have known this for five years. It was coming down to paying prisoners a fortune in compensation every election, being slung out of the EU, or just swallowing a minor political spasm and give us the vote. Labour were too spineless to make the decision.

I didn't think the Tories would be any better, to be honest. And yet this government has been a bundle of surprises on the criminal justice front from the beginning. For a man who suffered the wrath of Michael Howard, this is all quite disconcerting!

An unexpected development was being collared by a screw, with way too much time on his hands, who had the opportunity to dig me out for John Hirst's celebratory video... I gather it was not a nuanced, politically adept, response to the government's announcement! Whilst I can, to some extent, appreciate the outburst of a fellow Lifer who has been jerked around by the previous Government for five years, as the head of the Association of Prisoners, I can hardly condone public drug use.

This will all blow over, it always does. For now, anyway, because this is only the first part of the battle. The government intends to limit the franchise to the smallest number of prisoners, probably those serving under 4 years.

The one obvious problem with this is that there are several thousand Lifers who are past their tariff. That is, the punishment element of their sentence has ended – so why should they be denied a vote? But of course, this group comprises a fair number of rapists, murderers and paedophiles...the group most vilified by the Daily Mail etc.

It therefore follows that these people should have the vote, no matter how politically inconvenient that would be. And the question in my mind is who is going to be that Lifer who takes this back to Court if the government decides to deny them?

This is a skimpy response to events, I know, but I have made my arguments around the vote several times over on the Guardian's Comment is Free...and I won't bore you by repeating them here.

Ed Note: There are some links to Ben’s thoughts on this issue below. Whether you agree or disagree on the issue, I think you will accept that Ben makes a compelling and very reasoned argument:

Friday, November 5, 2010

My body isn't mine

There are very many aspects of imprisonment which are extremely difficult to explain. While the wider world focuses its sporadic attention upon the easily visible artefacts of menus and TV’s, the actual experience of being a prisoner comprises intangibles.

It is taken for granted that everybody exercises sovereignty over their own body. Hundreds of years of legal argument has honed this into a deep strand of law; assault, negligence, murder, rape, medical ethics...all stand as testament to the socio-political belief that our body is inviolate. It is ours, trespass at your peril!

None of this is true for the prisoner. Our persons are liable to be searched and examined at the whim of staff, if necessary by the use of force. It is a loss of privacy, a degradation that cannot be surpassed unless a mind-reading machine is invented.

Prisoners are searched as we move about the prison, leaving a wing, moving to work, before and after receiving a domestic or legal visit. This is often a 'pat down' search, with the screw rubbing his hands around the body over the clothes.

Less frequently, we are strip searched. Leaving visits, during cell searches, drug tests, transfers...all involve stripping naked. The screws examine your clothing and your body, sometimes to the extent of insisting we squat over a mirror, lift our testicles and pull back our foreskin.

There are various responses to this intrusion, a number of emotions evoked by this systematised degradation. Often, all parties work in silence or attempt to mask the unpleasantness with irrelevant chatter. This is determined by the level hostility which motivates the search. Some strip searches are accompanied by forthright mockery, the con waving his body at the staff and accusing them of taking a perverse sexual pleasure in the process.

Pat down searches, a rub down, are often conducted with a certain level of indifference, even irritation, as being a mere institutional requirement that amounts to a pointless interruption to the daily flow.

The loss of bodily sovereignty is merely one aspect of the loss of privacy that comes with the status of 'prisoner'. It is a degradation which can often be conducted in an inoffensive manner. But it is never accepted, it is never comfortable, and it should never become a mere bureaucratic process.

It is these intangibles, these daily experiences, which are the essence of what it means to be a prisoner. These are the strands from which our daily life is woven. To overlook this is favour of the more easily grasped physical items, such as TV’s, is to wholly miss any opportunity for understanding.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Inspector's Report

The Inspectorate of Prisons have now published their report from their inspection of this backwater earlier this year. Obviously, I disagree with large chunks of it. One particular disjunction illustrates the level of brainpower behind their analysis.

The Inspectors assert that there is, essentially, no drug problem in this prison. Not having found a spliff in years, it is with some regret that I can confirm this.

In response to this non-existent problem, they then recommend that a screw be stationed at the dispensary in Healthcare to stop us trading medication.

In an era of huge cuts in resources, it's good to know that the prison service has enough slack to be able to allocate a screw to stop a problem which doesn't exist.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Big Rinty is Dying?

Those familiar with the writings of Erwin James, either in the Guardian, his books or his blog, will know his friend Big Rinty.

Rinty served his sentence and was released on Life License. Several years later he was accused of committing another crime, but was acquitted at trial. Such is the malign nature of the system, though, that Rinty was nevertheless recalled back to prison. Over a decade later, he remains in prison, now living a landing or two below me. The injustice of his situation is enough to torment the sanest of minds.

Rinty is now wasting away. A naturally broad man, he is now visibly melting before our eyes. Erwin has written about this on his own blog.

Speaking to Rinty yesterday, bouncing around ideas for how the system could release him to die in freedom, the thought of chemotherapy came up. Pancreatic cancer is not particularly receptive to treatment, but I thought he may squeeze another few months out of life.

Rinty made what is really a blindingly obvious point. Why should he attempt to extend his life with chemotherapy, when that only means he remains in prison a little bit longer?

How can a system which has in its Statement of Purpose the phrase "it is our duty to look after them with humanity.." bring a man so low as to think such thoughts?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Staff Training...

Staff undergo regular training sessions, in everything from self-defence to diversity issues. This usually means we are locked away for the duration. And they never seem to get any better at their job!

I was tempted to type up a fake notice about the latest training day. In the light of the staff cuts and their unemployment on the horizon, I was going to suggest that this training was to explore the various ways of them asking, "Do you want fries with that...?".

Wiser heads prevailed upon me...

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Oh dear, it seems that the blog has now reached that level of popularity where I've been noticed by the cerebrally-challenged. Is this a sign of popularity I should celebrate?

I never insist that people come here and must leave with their initial views transformed, especially if those views are carefully reasoned. But it was always a vague hope that I might add something to the debate, for people to leave here having being prompted into engaging with their own emotions and preconceptions.
Until now, that aspiration seems to have born some fruit, as revealed by the quality of the comments left by readers. For which I thank you all! Some bloggers will doubtless be happy monitoring their traffic for validation but I prefer the old fashioned way - comments.

Now, though, there is an increasing intrusion by people, overwhelmingly anonymous, who just want to pick a select word or line here and there and worry away at it. To what end, just what is the point?

Whatever I read, it is with the hope that it either adds to my sum of knowledge or understanding, or reveals a new perspective that I'd overlooked. Who has the time - and the mentality - just to read in order to pick a pointless fight?

Still, welcome one and all. Even the most narrow-minded and hateful person may eventually leave here having learnt something!

Friday, October 29, 2010


For the third day in succession, Sammy wandered across the yard to the bench where I sat, in solitary splendour, and plonked himself down next to me.

"Good morning", he said.
"You bastard", I replied, deadpan.
"You can be a bit antisocial, can't you?" Perceptive bugger, Sammy... "Actually, you can be very antisocial, most of the time!"

I had to make some effort to defend myself against this awful slur. "This is the only half hour in the day I have which is mine. No work, no writing, no studying, no business. Just me, the sky and my coffee and notebook. And you ruin it!"

This morning, Sammy entered the yard and moved in my direction. Half way across the tarmac he paused before veering away. Solitude reigns!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

We’re all doomed!

There comes a moment when a critical mass is reached, and having learned that a thoroughly decent bloke here is added to the list of those being ravaged by cancer, that point is now. We are having an outbreak of bloody cancer!

For the regular readers, I can tell you that the original Cancer Boy is doing reasonably well. He looks obscenely healthy most days and we mock him, saying if he wants our sympathy he should look far worse! The entity devouring his internals has undergone a couple of rounds of chemo and whilst refusing to surrender, has not grown worse of late. The diagnosis remains terminal, but the date of the memorial service has become rather more fluid.

My own tests, exploring my fractious prostate, kidneys and now liver, continue.
It is the nightmare of many lifers to suffer from a major illness and, worse, to suffer the final indignity of dying in captivity. The prison service makes some effort to avoid that eventuality, with many spending their last days in a hospice. Please don't mistake this for compassion. If a prisoner dies in custody, there are official investigations. Chuck him on the street to die and the institution is free and clear. Cynicism comes with this sentence, I'm afraid.

And since the Al Magrahi and Ronnie Biggs fiascos, terminal both but clinging on endlessly, Jack Straw changed the rules for compassionate release. Being about to die isn't enough any more. Now you also have to demonstrate that remaining in prison actively damages your health. Um, how do you do that? And why should dying prisoners have to pay the price for Jack's political embarrassment?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Meandering through the Past

I'm faffing around with some autobiographical writing, and interested parties insist that I start at the beginning. They mean, of course, my childhood. For me, though, it is as if my life began at the moment that I ended another’s.

Having to look further back than that event is a strange journey and one I have probably been avoiding for thirty years. Not that I believe my childhood to be particularly awful, it was far from it. Up until my mother’s death when I was nine, I think my life was pretty good. At the least, normal!

And yet...that early part of my life pales into insignificance, has been overshadowed by the murder. Life began, in my mind, with death. This is a strange feeling, a disconnect that I have never had to examine before.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Please Sir, may I have more..?

The food that is shovelled, with various degrees of wit or sarcasm, across the servery towards us seems to exert a weird hold over the minds of tabloid editors and some silly politicians.

A new order from HQ has been revealed, apparently stating that we should have five choices for our main meal. Five! Or, as some numb-nut from the Taxpayers Alliance has it, "five star" catering. Shock! Horror!

You know what happens now, don't you? You know that beneath the manufactured outrage and grandstanding - Phillip Davies MP pops up yet again - there is a layer of truth that these blatherers neither reveal nor care to learn? It is ever so.

We are entitled to only one hot meal a day. Even But1ins does better than that and to describe this as being Five Star is a tad, hmmm, hyperbolic..?

The five choices is actually true. Normal, veggie, vegan, Halal and low-fat. So, in reality, many cons only have one choice, the only ones who can range across the menu being those on a 'normal’ diet, who opt to wander into meatless heaven on occasion.

Why give us any choice? Why not cold gruel for every meal? Because giving us a choice - we work by pre-booking meals days ahead - saves a bloody fortune. If we were just sent crap day after day, much of it would end up in the bin. By giving us some (very limited) choice, the odds are increased that we will actually risk eating what is delivered.

All of this is provided no increase in the food budget, which remains less than it costs to feed your average dog.

But of course, if ill-informed minor politicians and ignorant pressure groups actually want money to be wasted and increase the risk of our dragging our gruel-fuelled carcases onto the roof in protest, then let them have the stones to come out and say it. Loud and clear.

No? Didn't think so.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Balance of Hope

The life of the prisoner, no matter what length of sentence, is littered with events which add fuel to that most precious of internal fires - hope.

Hope that there are those beyond the walls who still remember us and care about our fate. Hope that our lives will improve. Hope that amongst the fog, the deception, the endless bureaucracy, there can be found some humanity. Hope that we will, one day, regain a semblance of being free.

And yet...the life of the prisoner is not his own and fulfilment of his hopes lies in the actions and decisions of others. The efforts to keep that flickering flame glowing are delicate. If too much weight is placed on hope, and it remains unfulfilled for yet another timeless year...there are limits to human endurance.

Hope, then, must be nurtured. Hope must be fuelled and protected. It must be hidden away, kept safe from the uncertainties and disappointments that comprise the daily reality of a prisoner’s existence. Hope must never be allowed to burn too brightly and yet never be permitted to falter.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Hidden Depths

A large proportion of matters that effect prisoners, both as individuals and as a collective, are discussed and decided far from our sight. On rare occasions, though, we get glimpses of this activity.

The other day I felt the heat of a miserable screw on the back of my neck. I felt that he was, as we say, "digging me out". We ended up in the wing office, myself, this Silverback, and another screw, arguing the toss over whether I should be locked up all day.

As we fired masked barbs back and forth, one of them read out an email. It was all about little old me, sent to all the staff in the prison, and originated with the manager who saddled me with the recent education deal. It was, essentially, a pleasantly worded "search and destroy" order; I may well be employed on in-cell education but, unlike all the others so employed, I must be locked away.

Even these two screws, not notorious for their pro-prisoner attitudes, sucked their teeth and declared that this looks like management were leaning on me. One said, "You know the problem, don't you?" I declared complete ignorance, the ways of management being decidedly strange to me... He filled in a large gap in my understanding. It seems that I had pissed off the Deputy Governor during a visit by the Prison Inspectors, by asking them a simple question - "Can you find out why I've been kept unemployed for two years as a matter of policy?”

If the screws think this, then my sporadic fits of paranoia really were hints that someone was out to get me. It explains the sudden efforts to have me banged-up that began a few months ago and which have culminated in my being saddled with a hand-crafted regime that sees me banged up all day. Good to know.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Stop talking, idiot!

Interacting with female staff can be a delicate operation, with the potential for disaster ever present. A wrong remark, a casual civility, can be misinterpreted as over-familiarity or worse. For a lifer, such an event can have serious consequences.
My solution to this is to treat women staff as men. I just ignore their gender. One odd side effect of this is that not only do I not flirt but I am unable to recognise when a woman is flirting with me. Short of her sending in a marching band chanting "take me now", I just don't recognise an interested woman.

There are occasions, though, when this blinkered view fails and a conversation does shift from the official to the personal...and it can leave me flat-footed. I stuck my head into the office to collar the manager who’s in charge of my education, the author of the recent deal to pay me and bang me up. As I was talking to her, I noticed something different about her face but couldn't quite put my finger on it.
"What's with your eyes?", I asked, peering at her. "I'm wearing mascara". A sharper man may have then made a neutral comment and moved on. "It looks weird" the words left my mouth I though, crap, I'm accidentally insulting her! Weird?!? What a choice of words.

Being in this self inflicted hole, I found myself digging deeper. I ended up telling her that it made her eyes look very good, and then cursed myself even more. Bugger, I thought, now I've gone from insulting her into flirting territory, the thin ice that is "inappropriate behaviour"...

This is why it's a lot simpler to treat women staff as men, and keep it as impersonal as possible!

Friday, October 22, 2010


Wasn't that once a term used by people shuffling around darkened public spaces in a desperate search for meaningless sex? And now, rather aptly, applied to people who bum around the net picking pointless arguments for a cheap thrill.

In a better world, never to be seen, I could have a policy of banning trolls and deleting their comments. Alas! In the prison game, there is an indistinguishable line between a strongly held though crazy opinion, and mere inflammatory trollery.

I appreciate that strong views are evoked when it comes to crime and justice, 'twill ever be so. Many of these views are ill informed, ignorant and quite childlike in their understanding. Nevertheless, the views may be sincere and should be heard here.

Banning trolls runs the risk of suppressing the mad as well as the bad, a risk I would rather not take. Readers are perceptive enough not to get drawn into the games of trolls, although mocking their sad lives and sarcastic responses should be encouraged!

Mostly, I feel quite sad for them. Their lives have so little meaning, they have nothing to contribute and find themselves trying to reach out in the most pathetic of ways - its like a child biting his sister just to get attention.