Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Old Farts

The perpetual danger that comes with being an all-lifer prison is that conversations can effortlessly veer off into a wandering exchange of "back in the days...".

No one explores or catalogues the shifts that take place from the perspective of prisoners, how seemingly small changes can have long lasting effects. Prisoners rarely write of such things, and staff don't notice or care. Penological researchers are not inside long enough to see.

How, for instance, do you light a cigarette? We are now allowed to buy disposable gas lighters, but prior to that lighting a fag could be a skill, an effort and supported a minor industry.

Tinderboxes, wicks, mops, flint, lighter making, matching, veneering, metalwork..none of these will spring to kind when you consider lighting a quick fag. For us Old Farts, though, they bring back tainted memories.

A Tinderbox is a tin, usually a tobacco tin, containing a piece of charred cloth. Using an illicit razor blade, a flint is struck to spark onto the tinder until it smoulders sufficient to light a fag. These were rare, even in my thirty years.
Overwhelmingly, my generation of prisoners used wick lighters. First obtain a "stem", the part of a lighter which holds the wheel and the flint. This could be sent in by friends or, more likely, scrounged off a screw.

This stem was then built into a lighter housing. Most often, these were made from matches glued together into a solid shape, then sanded, varnished and possibly veneered. This housing had two holes; one to slot in the stem, the other held the wick. Ah, wick...this was a strand of new mop-head. Operating this machine was simple - push up the wick to the height of the wheel, strike flint until the mophead smouldered, and extinguish by pulling the wick back into the housing.
In prisons with metalwork or engineering workshops these lighters took on a new level of quality. I have seen lighters made from solid blocks of aluminium and elaborately engraved.

Those without a lighter, especially short termers, used safety matches as a very poor substitute. Given the paucity of wages and the frequency of smoking, a single box of matches may have to last a long time...This was achieved by splitting the match. Using a razor blade or needle, each match was split into at least four, experts aiming for six or eight, slivers of match each topped by a very fragile piece of match-head.

We were not permitted gas lighters on "security grounds", the argument being that we would inevitably use them to blow things up. When sanity did prevail, we were mightily grateful but I can't help but wonder at the loss of the skills that helped us through those Dark Ages.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Reform and Rehabilitation

It is common to use these terms interchangeably, to the general detriment of both. To rehabilitate is "to be restored to ones previous position". To reform is "to abandon evil ways".

To reform, then, is a personal transformation, motivated by the individual's desire to change. It does happen! There comes a time in many criminals’ lives when they look back at their life and shudder at the waste of it.

Assuming that this does occur, what are the practicalities? If you decide to sort your life out, what can prison do to support that change? Is it even the place of prison to offer any support?

A prisoner intent on reform, with the best will in the world, is likely to be frustrated and inhibited. He will still leave prison ill educated and with no real training in employable skills. He will still have lost his home, his job and possibly his main relationships.

He will be rewarded for his personal transformation on release with £48, a train ticket, and a clear plastic sack with HM Prison Service emblazoned upon it to carry his possessions through the streets of a hostile society.

To chant that "prison works" is an insult to the people who want and try to change. At a cost of over £40,000 a year, that the prison experience completely fails to support individual reform should make even the most punitive politician scratch their heads and wonder.

Thank You

We have reached our total! Thank you, so much, for your kindness and generosity...both in cash and spirit! A special thanks goes to Paul Sagar for the extra publicity.

Ben will be overwhelmed.

Thank you.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Saw Ben yesterday and told him of the support being generously given by people. He was quite speechless and overwhelmed and promises to write a post about this as soon as we have reached the target. Thank you for your continued support.
We are even in the Guardian!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

message from the Editor:

It is heart warming to see such an overwhelming show of support for Ben's PhD. There is over £500 in the pot already! I look forward to giving Ben the good news when I visit him later today.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Can you spare a bit of change, guv?

This was never intended to be a personal campaign blog, nor any sort of money spinner. The donate button exists at the insistence of the Editor, who had to twist my arm! I still refuse to install a traffic meter. I have been aspiring to a purity in blogging which probably never did exist.

But now I find myself in a hole and - improbably! - a Tory activist suggests that I make the plea for help here. As uncomfortable as this makes me - and this will be reflected in the poor quality of this post’s writing - I think I'm so bereft of options that I have no other choice. So...

My PhD is about to die on its arse, unless I find £1650 in the next thirty days. Funding for my education has rested in the hands of private individuals and charities for over a decade, the prison service washing their hands of me at about the time it became really influential.

Why did I even begin a Doctorate? For many reasons, both personal and professional. Looking to my future, and the frosty arms of the society I will return to, then the broader the number of options I have to explore and the greater the chance of my being able to have some semblance of a career.

One of my options is to continue with my prison campaigning work, to be a media tart perpetually beating the drum for change. Blogging, but louder and with pictures! And, cynical but I think true, I'm more likely to be afforded this voice as "Dr Ben Gunn, Criminologist and Ex-Prisoner", rather than merely "ex-prisoner". But finding a way to make a living in the future is the smallest of reasons for my research. The most important impetus is a deeply personal one.

Ever since I killed my friend, I have struggled under the moral debt this places upon me. I have lived a non-violent life ever since that day and attempt to encourage others to do so. My research attempts to explore ways in which violence in prison - and other dysfunctional communities - can be reduced, without the powerless being further dis-empowered.

The PhD is a fundamental step, for me, along the moral journey that may mean that I leave life having added to the world and not being a detriment to it. Previously, I have been able to raise funding from supportive individuals and charities. Prisoners are refused access to the university's discretionary funds. This year, though, I have a huge problem because I have nothing to show for the last year’s worth of funding. Nothing. So putting on my Oliver Twist impression for them would be pretty insulting.

I have to quickly say that this is not my indolence or ineptitude. This prison has, to put it as mildly as I possibly can, messed me about and obstructed me to the extent that I just couldn't do my research. The Education Department sank so low as to refuse to even supply me with writing paper. This forced me into taking the year off, waiting for an improvement in circumstances.

This has now hoved into view. Within a month or two I could either be in open prison, or another closed prison, depending on the outcome of my parole hearing (which I still don't have a date for). Either move would vastly improve my research environment.

There is now just the matter of the fees for the coming year... If anyone has any ideas, or an insanely rich benevolent friend, that could enrich my university within the next few weeks then please, please email* the Editor (or hit the donate button).

I've struggled hard with this. My personal life, and its problems, was only ever meant to be a peg upon which to hang a discussion of the broader issues of prison and I hope that this intrusion hasn't sullied this blog.

I have also struggled with what I could offer in return for these monies. Bugger all. Or at least, nothing concrete, if for no other reason that the Ministry of Justice would use any such contract as a legal basis to shut down the blog. All I can say is that it is a leap of faith, a hefty vote of confidence in my abilities and future to the degree that I will be able to repay you.

*Ed’s note: the blog e-mail is bengunn12612@googlemail.com

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Transfers and Coincidences

At a management meeting a governor read out a list of cons she wants transferred. By sheer coincidence, they were all the cons who have had their laptops removed on a managerial whim and are pursuing compensation claims. That's not exactly a subtle application of pressure, is it?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blog Anniversary

A year, already? It's a slightly embarrassing secret that I'm damned if I can remember how this all began. I'm pretty sure it wasn't my idea, though I leapt on it. I think the honour goes to the Editor, that force behind the scenes who has developed into a mean campaigner and unending source of motivation. Kudos!

As soon as the Blog began, though, we ran into the problem that is the Ministry of Justice. A source of malevolence that is hard to match in any other area of life, the MoJ thought it would just snap its fingers and I would go away...

Thanks to forward thinking on my part, coupled with the speedy efforts of John Hirst and my solicitors, the blogosphere were alerted to this censorship and the Ministry had a very heavy legal tank parked on their lawn. That they even thought I'd just melt away shows how little they know me after thirty years. That hurdle overcome, the real battle began! Writing a piece every single day isn't as easy as it sounds, as millions of bloggers who have abandoned their keyboards will appreciate. Of course, I have had a massive advantage - prisons, prisoners, are inherently interesting. Being the only con attempting to offer a window onto a closed world gives me an edge. And there are also those who get a vicarious thrill from the company of the wicked!

This isn't to imply that writing is a simple process. It rarely is. There is just so much to say and I constantly struggle to find some balance between the personal and the political. This was never intended to be a campaigning blog, let alone aimed at changing my personal situation. Well, campaigning in a broad sense, yes, of course; as people are better informed or challenged on their views, change may gain a little momentum.

But overall, my aim was merely to try to educate and inform. Using events from my own life can be a useful hook to illustrate this Through The Looking Glass existence, but no more than that. This is not, and God forbid it ever becomes, the journal of a solitary mad Lifer...

The hardest challenge is picking my topics (or targets...). The range is so broad, from news items, popular panics and mouthy MPs through to a discussion of the minutiae of prison life. Where should my attention alight? This is a balancing act that I know I will never quite get right and so I tend to adopt a broad scatter-gun approach. Whatever is piquing my interest or getting my goat that day is what I write about. I really can't think of a more efficient filtering algorithm.

I wonder if I have fulfilled my purpose? As a writer, I am deeply insecure. Strange for a grandiose egomaniac, but there you are. The Editor is forever battling me to have a traffic meter installed but I resist it. I don't want to know how many people read what I write, for two reasons. Firstly, if only 3 people are regular visitors, I can do without that depressing news. Secondly, I don't want to fall into the trap of chasing the numbers - writing for specific markets or interests, just to see the chart rise. I do like to know when I've added a follower, and they increase by one or two a week. That's enough for me.

Unexpected events have flowed from the Blog, not least the gathering of a band of campaigners around the Free Prisoner Ben Facebook page. This is not mine, but was created by a kind soul who saw the blog and decided that Something Should Be Done. It is heart-warming to realise that the Daily Mail mentality does not reach all sections of the population!

And I must thank you all for your patience. This is a meagre blog, one that cannot live up to most of the essential ingredients of blogging, such as the interactivity. Your persistence in bearing up under the constraints is very much appreciated.

Most of all, though, I am grateful to have the opportunity to add a strand of purpose to life. There are so few reasons to get out of bed in prison - "same shit, different day" - and having a small purpose in life helps to mitigate the corrosive effects of my situation. And without you, that would not exist. I certainly
wouldn't be sitting here writing at 8am!

And would it be mischievous of me to point out that none of the catastrophes predicted by anti-prison bloggers have come to pass? The fears of terrorism, crime, threatening witnesses or - as offered by Iain Dale - coded messages being transmitted to evil accomplices; none have transpired. And so I can only say thank you all, and "The iron cow swims at noon. Pass it on".

Monday, August 23, 2010


To the cynical outsider, prisoners comprise a predatory community who are quite happy to beat each other senseless in the cause of removing a man's goods.

As a sweeping view, this is not true. Prisoners gravitate towards a quiet life as much as anyone else. That said, bullies exist in every area of life. But in prison, they are most usually the ones with who carry a key-chain.

Different prisons have different cultures. All prisons are not the same, in the same sense that a small country village is not the same as an inner-city suburb. The culture is different; the attitudes of the people and the social bonds take different forms throughout the prison system.

Broadly, Lifers are more law-abiding and less criminal in attitudes compared to short-term recidivists. As an all-Lifer prison, then, this place is bereft of violence and bullying. The culture wouldn't support it and other cons would not turn a blind eye. A bully would be seen as being a challenge to the peaceful co-existence of the community.

In a local prison, though, with a very high turnover of population and overwhelmingly comprised of short-termers, the society and its bonds are different. If you are only in prison for a few weeks, you have no stake in the stability of that community.

This type of culture does allow for more bullying. Other cons will often turn a blind eye. More profoundly, the fractured and temporary nature of social bonds in such prisons implies that there is insufficient time for the prisoner community to apply social pressures to inhibit disruptive behaviours. Violence and the threat of violence may often be the most utilitarian option.

This isn't to attempt to unravel the official view of bullying. What you or I may characterise as a very reasonable attempt to collect legitimate debts, the prison classifies as bullying. That the prison deliberately attempts to severely restrict our access to goods or services ensures that there is a black economy, with high interest rates. This is standard economics! But attempts to collect unpaid debts are more problematic. Without a legitimate means to enforce payment - no County Court on the landings! - the debt collection may well adopt a more robust form than a snotty letter.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Thank you

Ben asked me to thank everybody who wished him well or made a donation for his birthday. He was very moved and elevated by your kindness.

(from Blog Ed, having visited Ben today at HMP Shepton Mallet).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hunting Huntley

I always hoped that Myra Hindley would win the Lottery. On a double rollover week. Not out of a desire to have the ultimate folk-devil live in luxury, just out of a desire to push the media to the edge of insanity in their collective outrage. Alas, it never came to pass.

Ian Huntley lining up to sue the Prison Service for a hundred grand is the next best thing. A line of talking heads are parading across my TV screen, all absolutely livid at this turn of events, livening up what was a dull week.
I would like to say that this is a complicated issue and I'm volunteering to unravel it for you. But it really, really isn't. Either prisoners are part of society and have the protections and obligations of the law, or we don't. It's that black and white.

Some of the muppets I saw on TV actually tried to argue that we shouldn't have legal protections, no human rights, etc. Some of these were MP's, bless 'em. Um, I'm sorry, but is it seriously being suggested that prisoners should be open to having their fingernails removed by sadistic screws, and have no legal recourse. Really?? Bet they wouldn't be so keen on that if one of their family was inside.

It was flagged up, more than once, that in recent years the Prison Service has had to cough up over £15 million in compo to prisoners. A fair chunk of this is because they have a nasty but perpetual habit of losing our property. A larger proportion of that cash went in paying off the prisoners who suffered beatings, mock executions and rape at the hands of screws in Wormwood Scrubs. None of this seems unreasonable, I hope, once explained?

But Huntley is in a different category, demonised way beyond being a mere prisoner. He is the Devil incarnate. That seems to be the sole basis on which most arguments against his claim are made. There is no complex legal of philosophical musing about the position of prisoners in relation to society, it just boils down to the fact that he's a nasty bastard and shouldn't receive a penny, no matter what illegal awfulness is inflicted upon him.

For the popular spleen to be vented in this way is fair enough. From people in decent suits and employed by the public to engage their brain, such a view is pathetic. It is incoherent and childish.

For what it's worth, whether he will win is decidedly uncertain. Of course the Prison Service has a duty of care towards him, but this has to balance against trying to provide him with a semblance of an existence. They aren’t allowed to lock him up 24 hours a day which, in effect, is the only way to protect him. And if they did, he's rightly sue them for that.

The Courts have vacillated on this issue in the past, win some, lose some. Unless the Prison Service were demonstrably negligent, e.g. let a known idiot lose around Huntley with a razor blade, then I suspect he won't win. And as for the claim to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority...he won't get a bean due to their "bad character" clause.

This is all highly symbolic and enjoyably interesting from where I'm sitting. But as Huntley could only ever spend £25 a week of this imaginary hundred grand, it really won't do him much good either way. But instinctively, I support whichever target the Daily Mail is lining up against.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Time and Tribulations

I strongly argue that there is little evidence that long term imprisonment causes measurable psychological damage. Except...

My sheer inability to measure the passage of time is becoming a genuine hindrance. Not to prison life, particularly, where nothing happens with any speed, but in relation to matters outside.

Replying to mail, my studies, forging and maintaining those important connections with the world...all of these are being degraded by a part of my brain that seems to have abandoned ship.

Is the blog really a year old? It could, in my estimation, been a few months or two years ago that I began. Has that pile of mail by my side really been neglected for weeks or months, rather than the few days I allocated? Did I last receive a visit two weeks ago, or was it three?

This is really quite scary.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

If you want to get ahead...

I have been sent a Panama hat for my birthday. I have always wanted one. The question now is, do I have the stones big enough to wear it?? This is Shepton Mallet prison, not the piazza in Rome!

Turns out, I do. All morning, so far. And I am embarrassed by the low quality of the mockery dished out - Man From Del-Monte, Columbian drug lord..that's it! No inventive invective at all. Shame.

The high point was being told by a bloke that "You're having a laugh...!" As he stood there, pointing at me, with his spiky thin Mohican hair and head covered in Nazi tattoos...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Judgement Call

Let's say you're arrested for murder. Not that any of you would be of course...but it does happen!

Quite rightly, you intend to plead "not guilty" and prove your innocence. On the day of the trial the prosecution, unsure of their case, offers to accept a plea of guilty to manslaughter instead, and a sentence of 7 years.

What do you do? Do you spit in their eye and go to trial in the knowledge that you are innocent? Or do you accept their offer of 7 years rather than risk being found guilty of murder and a life sentence?

A surprising number of innocent people refuse to accept a plea. They are innocent, why should they go to prison at all? Quite a few of them then find they judged badly and are now serving life.

An even more surprising number take the deal. Despite being completely innocent, they don't want to risk being saddled with a life sentence and so serve 7 years for a crime they did not commit.

If you were in that situation, what would you do? Risk standing on your innocence? Or go to prison in a calculated move to limit the damage?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Eviction Notices

The Area Manager for the South West wants to make some space here so he can ship in 35 people to do the silly, expensive and ineffective Offending Behaviour Courses. This means kicking 35 of us out.

There are two ways of doing this. The first is to stick up a notice asking for volunteers to move. You'd be surprised just how many people don't want to be here! This way, you have a bunch of reasonably content cons going from A to B without problems.

Or you could send out 60 snotty letters to cons telling them to pack their kit and get out. This way, you are guaranteed to piss people off. Everybody's solicitor starts firing in to the Governor and the receiving prison is landed with scores of highly disgruntled prisoners.

Guess which option the management here chose? And I am one of the lucky ones who received this cunningly worded invitation to fuck off.

Alas! Whenever my next parole hearing is, the judge has demanded that a witness from the Security Dept here is in attendance. If I'm in another nick, that won't happen and so disrupt the hearing. Moving me, then, would be a disaster. But I wonder...did they consider my research? At any moment did management wonder if this putative move would undermine my PhD and future career? No, of course not. Ladies and gentlemen, you pay through the nose to have prisons run by idiots.

One interesting sideline on this transfer though. A Senior Officer has been heard saying, "Ben Gunn...that will teach him...transfer...who does he think he is with his writing and his website. . ?”

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Somehow, in the last year I have managed to overlook explaining to you the mechanism that determines our daily quality of life. This is the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme, the IEPS.

Prior to Michael Howard putting this boot on our throat, we were afforded all privileges automatically, with bad behaviour seeing them removed via the formal disciplinary process, adjudications.

Howard reversed the system and added a nasty twist. Now we have to earn privileges by adhering to a "compact". These are explicitly not "contracts" as they are not legally binding, the prison service being extremely wary of being sued for failing to deliver their part.

These are broad behavioural standards, nothing particularly onerous. The greater our compliance, the more privileges we are afforded. Everyone begins on the Standard level. We can be busted down to Basic, or advanced up to Enhanced.

The influence of the IEPS is total, it determines every aspect of our lives from time out of cell, wages, visits, TV...all rests on our IEP level.

Many of you will be thinking this sounds more than reasonable. Well, yes and no. Mostly no. Because the IEPS creates a secondary, unofficial disciplinary system that places immense power in the hands of individual wing staff and without any practical safeguards.

Compare these events. If I leave my rubbish bin overflowing on three occasions, a screw could charge me each time with an offence of not complying with "any rule or regulation", i.e. to keep a clean cell. I would be presented before the governor at a formal hearing with legal safeguards. The Governor would probably hit me with a small fine, a couple of quid and a flea in my ear.

Alternatively, the screw could issue me with an IEP Warning on each occasion. Three of these in any three months leads to me being dropped a privilege level, to Standard. There is an appeal, but these are pointless.

On being dropped to Standard - which lasts a minimum 3 months - I would lose £2 a week on my wages, £10 a week on the amount of money sent in I could spend, and the number of visits I could receive from family is halved. That’s a loss of £144 and 6 visits, on the whim of a screw with the hump for not emptying a bin.

Legally and officially, the IEPS is not a disciplinary system but an administrative one. That it can savage our quality of life with no real safeguards against abuse is why staff prefer using the IEPS to the formal disciplinary system.

One particularly wicked aspect to the IEPS is that it ties in with Sentence Planning and Offending Behaviour Programmes. If you are recommended to do OBP and refuse, you cannot reach the Enhanced level. The sting comes for those who are wrongly convicted and protesting their innocence. Many of these refuse to undertake courses which require them to admit their guilt.

Not only are these people in prison for a crime they did not commit but, no matter how perfect their daily behaviour, they labour under a reduced quality of life for protesting their innocence.

Earning privileges is arguably fine in principle. In its operation, though, it is a scheme riddled with injustice and a perfectly crafted tool for staff to bully prisoners.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Lying Cons!

It wasn't too long ago that one of the many disciplinary charges that could be lumbered upon us was "making a false and malicious allegation".

You can imagine how it was used... A screw assaults you; you gird your loins to make a complaint...The result was not only the original injuries but a spell in solitary for being a liar.

My view of cons who lay complaints against staff, especially serious complaints, differs widely from the view held by staff. The screws insist that they are subject to a perpetual barrage of false allegations, that staff are so professional that 99% of what is alleged must surely be a litany of malicious lies.

From my perspective, any con who lays a complaint against staff is either a blithering idiot or a brave soul. Occasionally, both. Because the retribution that staff can wreak can be overwhelming. When every part of your daily existence lies in the hands of other people, they have the ability to mess you about endlessly. This is not confined to the small things, it can include the large things. Such as finding yourself in a prison too far away for family visits and undermining any chance of parole.

Given these consequences, the idea that cons throw in allegations against staff out of sheer mischief or boredom begins to look a tad wobbly.

That particular Rule, making false allegations, was eventually withdrawn. Now the field is open and, guess what? The numbers of complaints against staff has hardly increased.

Is this because staff are suddenly as professional as they claim? Or is it because the retribution they can apply for complaining pales into insignificance compared to the official punishment?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Beware, humanitarians about!

Certain people ought to be looked upon by prisoners with some lightness of heart. Are not Chaplains and Doctors there to offer us various types of succour and relief?
And yet they are not the most popular people in prisons. There are many, many reasons for this but one has always stood out for me. That is, their deliberate turning away from the certain knowledge of brutality inflicted by staff.

Under the Rules, a civilian medic and the Chaplain must, every day, visit those prisoners who are held in the punishment block (or, in an Orwellian homage, what some nicks now call their "Care and Separation Unit").

If a prison has any hint of staff brutality, the block is where you will find it first. Isolated from the rest of the prison and staffed by hyper-masculine body-builder types, the potential for a toxic staff culture to develop is always present.

Every day, doctors and chaplains visit the cons held in these blocks. Every day, they see the bumps, scrapes, bruises and despair. And every single day, these doctors and chaplains eclipse the tenets of their vocation and walk away, saying nothing.

Dartmoor had a brutal block for decades. As did Scrubs, Wandsworth, Winson Green, Armley...and now Frankland. The list is a long one. In all those years of daily visits, not a single peep of protest was raised by these men and women who had adopted a humanitarian vocation.

This is why Doctors and Chaplains are regarded with suspicion or outright contempt. In my thirty years I cannot recall one medic or chaplain walking out the gates to kick up a stink about the brutality in their prison. Not bloody once.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Brutality and Frankland

The reports of brutality and racism from the steroid-fuelled screws in the punishment block at Frankland keep leaking out, to be ignored by the mainstream media.

The local police are refusing to even investigate the prisoners’ allegations of being assaulted by staff. Seems they feel it’s none of their business.

And the “watchdog”, the Independent Monitoring Board, continue to ignore the screams whilst having tea and biccies with the Governor.

When you next hear of a con stabbing a screw, or a hostage situation, or even a riot, please, please look beneath the headlines and ask yourself why some prisoners feel that they have no other options left.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Innocence Abounds

Now and then I have joked that I'm the only guilty man in the prison. No ifs, no buts, I did it. This is to mock the popular misconception that there are hoards of prisoners who invariably claim that they were fitted up by the Old Bill.

This just ain't so. Most prisoners admit that they did the crime that led them to these grey halls. Many will grumble at the quality of their lawyers, the jiggery-pockery by the police, and the evasiveness of witnesses. Many of these complaints will be true, but even so their protest isn't of their actual innocence only that they shouldn't have been found guilty on the evidence.

These complaints provide a perpetual background mumble to prison life and are largely ignored. The people I listen to are those who are not bitching about the trial outcome, they are the ones who bitch about their actual, genuine, gold-plated innocence.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Blog Titles

For a couple of days this blog was entitled, 'Ben's Blog'. I liked the alliteration. Sans net access though, I'd failed to realise that so did a lot of other Bens. It was John Hirst (jailhouselawyer) who persuaded the Editor that Google would be much kinder to "Ben's Prison Blog", so a quick change took place.

Ever since, I've been toying with alternatives, the titles that
never were… "No.6 Speaks..." is my favourite. Any other
suggestions? None of which will be used, you understand, as I'm
not making my Prisoner Ben T -shirt redundant!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A cup of tea for my Birthday.

So, the monkeys in charge of our lives have decided to withdraw goods in glass jars from our list of purchasable goods. The stupidity of inflicting this on a Cat-C prison due to a stabbing in a maximum security prison is obvious.

What it means for me is that I may have to give up drinking coffee. At present, the cheapest coffee is 89p and I try to buy a jar a week. Alas, this coffee comes in a glass jar.

The replacement cheap coffee, in a plastic jar, costs £1.66. On a wage of £2.50, minus a quid for the TV, it looks as if I'm reduced to crappy prison tea from here on in.

It's a bit much when I can't even celebrate my birthday with a decent cuppa!

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Turned out the parole board did receive my complaint about the way the judge messed up my last putative parole hearing, causing it to be abandoned. They just didn't bother acknowledging my letter.

Their newly received response is a tad slippery. Seems the hearing was abandoned because the prison Security Dept. couldn't attend. That's true, they were on holiday.

But half the story. The judge also requested, on the day, a mountain of material that he should have asked for months earlier. Even if Security had been there, the hearing would have died on its arse because of the judge’s other, late, demands.

This response bugs me for a particular reason. Parole boards love to hammer us for everything that happens in our lives, forever harping on about our “accepting responsibility” - even for things which are demonstrably not our damn fault.

Now, when one of their members has wasted months of my life and tens of thousands of taxpayers’ pounds, “accepting responsibility” is a mantra that is much more muted. It's the hypocrisy of it that grates.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Poor Crispin

The Prisons Minister seems to spend every other day being slapped either by his bosses or by the Daily Mail. Either he is trying to break out of old, failing, policies or he's a blithering idiot. Time will tell, I expect.

One of the issues he has seemingly had to retreat on is overturning Jack Straw's order on "public acceptability". You may recall that The Sun ran a story, a couple of years ago, about a Halloween Party held by some of the women in Holloway. Straw, as was his way, instantly promulgated an order that no activities in prison should be allowed that could not satisfy a test of "public acceptability".

That this was utterly spineless is just same old, same old. That was Straws way. What irritates me most about this order is that it assumes that The Public have any bloody idea of what goes on in prisons. An opinion is only as valid as the information and understanding on which it is based, so any test of public acceptability regarding prison activities will almost always be worthless in the face of general ignorance.

Crispin Blunt wanted to withdraw that order, returning to Governors the leeway to decide what was acceptable in their prisons. Or, as the Sun and Mail put it, "taxpayers pay for prison parties". The Dynamic Duo at No.10 slapped that idea straight down.

Undeterred, Crispin then declared a push for restorative justice and was promptly parodied by the media morons as "prison terms cut for saying sorry". Never thought I'd sympathise with a Prisons Minister...

Restorative Justice

The Big Problem with the criminal justice system is that it is firmly wedded to the idea of causing mutual harm - you hurt me, so I hurt you back. That so few people recognise that this merely increases the sum of human suffering and social harm is an indictment on the popular imagination. Or a testament to the resilience of our atavistic urges to lash out at those who hurt us.

Restorative justice moves away from the idea that crimes are offences against the State and humanises them. Crimes are mostly about breakdowns in human relationships, a tear in the social fabric. And once re-conceived in this way it becomes more obvious that the solution is to try to repair that harm.

Restorative Justice schemes have a remarkable - and I mean stunningly so - effect on the re-offending rate. It's time to get our head away from prison and look back into our communities for solutions to social harm.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Summer hols

Blog Ed is having a little holiday. Normal service will be resumed by Friday, when I shall have internet access again. Sorry. In the meantime, maybe a stroll around the archives would be fun? My personal favourites are Dancing in the Dark, Remorse and How to Serve 30 Years, all from 2009. Ben's Blog is almost a year old! Enjoy.

The Pond

The pond has become an object of obsession for a handful of my peers. Not in their appreciation, but in their perpetual fussing around it. Some people are straightening the flowers, polishing the stones, if it can be faffed around with, they will do it.

It is a very nice pond. It has turned a Colditz style yard into a place where loitering can even be present. For the first time in a decade, I even have a suntan.

Nice as it is, though, it will forever remain a pond. Just a pond. Watching these guys fart about with it all day, every day, makes me worry about their sense of perspective.