Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Prison Essentials

Sweep your gaze further than the ephemera of TV's and PlayStations and you realise that one of the most powerful experiences of imprisonment is being rendered powerless.
It follows that serving a long sentence must involve learning how to manage anger and frustration. With the minutiae of our lives being regulated by, and depending upon, the actions of those appointed to the lofty station above us then their indifference and ineptitude feeds an endless reservoir of anger.
I give you glimpses of this, brief windows onto occasional events that must make any reasonable person gnash their teeth. Most prisoners are reduced to stewing in their frustration and anger; at least I have the small release afforded by writing.
The treatment of Big Rinty was shameful. As far as I am aware, his medical treatment was not poor. It was his treatment by the prison that causes anger. Taken out to hospital, to die, he was initially handcuffed with two staff. At this point Rinty could barely lift himself out of bed unaided. The handcuffs were later removed and the escort reduced to one man.
Through the vicissitudes of life, Rinty had few people close to him. On the outside, Erwin James was one, Felix the Gambler another, and one of his fellow cons here at Shepton. The prison refused to allow his friend here to phone Rinty to say his farewells.
Rinty was initially denied compassionate release, even though it was undisputed that he had only a short time to live. It was eventually granted late on Friday; Rinty died early on Saturday.
Don't be misled by the term "compassionate release" in Rinty's case. If he had died whilst "in custody", then there would automatically have been a Coroner's Inquest and an Investigation by the Prisons Ombudsman. By "releasing" Rinty, those inquiries have been avoided. This is a cynical, disgusting ploy used quite often by the Prison Service.
Having "released" Rinty, his guard left. The prison didn't bother informing Erwin James or The Gambler, leaving Rinty to die alone.
These truly shameful events are not uncommon. They are woven into the fabric of prison life, and these threads wrap around the throats of the powerless - the prisoners.
We learn to choke in silence in the face of such institutional contempt for us. We learn to hide our anger, to cling tightly to our frustrations. It twists our very souls. Riots are the raw expression of a thousand wounds.

Monday, May 30, 2011


On taking office, didn't the Government say something about a "rehabilitation revolution"? Or was that a strange hallucination, brought on by post-election fever?
Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty sure that there are Working Parties, Committees, and the whole lexicon of managerialist garbage beavering away on the issue. That's the nature of bureaucracy.
But a year on, there has been no effect on the landings. None. Zilch. And a revolution in rehabilitation that goes unnoticed by prisoners is, well, pretty bloody pointless isn't it?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Poor, honest, Ken

At no point has Ken Clarke suggested, implied or hinted that any category of rape is acceptable or to be regarded as nothing more than a minor hiccup on life’s journey.
He did have the honesty to suggest that some rapes are worse than others. Anyone who doesn't agree with that is a moron.
Ken's political enemies, and rape campaigners, instantly fell upon him and claimed that this statement that rape comprises a spectrum of harm or seriousness is an assertion that some rapes are insignificant.
Led by an unholy alliance of the Daily Mail, Labours front-bench and rape campaigners, the hounds are loose on Ken's tail. The question is, does Cameron have the stones to stick with an honest politician? Or does the petty, pathetic mob win again?

The Mobile Problem

A few of you seemed to get worked up over the piece I wrote about my involvement with mobile phones.
I said nothing that wasn't essentially known to the Parole Board already. My last hearing, late last year, was around the issue -and they were not overly exercised by the issue then.

The issue, as ever, is a simple one. The test for release is whether I pose a more than minimal risk to life and limb. Not whether I'm a perfect citizen, easy to deal with, or whether I break the odd rule here and there. It's dangerousness. And still, they can't point to any violent behaviour in 31 years. You'd think that would outweigh a brief flirtation with a mobile phone...

Thursday, May 26, 2011


The people who bleat that prisoners should have no rights never, ever take the time to state what, then, are the limits to our punishment?

So. Are we to be tortured each day? To have acid dripped in our eyes, our goolies strapped in vices? To be slowly basted in an oven and fed to dogs?

What should be the limit to punishment?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Self Inflicted

If people here don't want to be busted for drug smuggling, a good start would be not to have drugs hoofed over the perimeter in full view of the CCTV.

Just a tip...doh!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Stupidity of Absolutism

Prison debates often begin, and end, with declarative emotional absolutes - they should have no privileges, they should have no rights, give them nothing, life should mean life... Until we shift from these absolutes, the debate remains in the hands of idiots.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A New Principle

Should we try adopting the principle that no punishment for a crime should cause more social harm than the crime itself?

That should chop down the number of women slung into prison for minor, nonviolent crimes that cause them to lose home and children.  And that's just to begin...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Favourite Notices

The one that implores us ''to STAMP OUT bullying''. What, kick it's face in, then slice it up? What a bizzarely aggressive poster, intended to undermine violence.

The one on the back of my cell door. Well, actually, there's two identical notices there, both insisting that ''this building is designed to provide an adequate level of fire safely". What amazing foresight, a yokel builder in the 1600's being able to plan for the Building Regulations in 2011!

And then there is the one declaring that the punishment block, aka the Segregation Unit, is now to be known as the ''Care and Separation Unit" I swear to God. if my prostate wasn't so manky I'd rip it out and throw it at the fuckwit who came up with that invertion.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

For Whom the Ringtone Tolls, Part 2...

You may be wondering who the hell tries to smuggle a mobile into Open prison?? It's up there with smuggling sand to Saudi as an exercise in utter pointlessness. Well, not me. I can fairly be called an idiot, but not bloody insane.

So the truth of that day and my involvement with mobile phones. Many of you won’t be overwhelmed to learn that I’ve been connected to the internet on and off for some time, and staff have long suspected that I had access to a mobile. Quite right, I did. My first involvement with a mobile was for a few weeks four years ago. Later on, I obtained another.

What did I use this facility for? Not surprisingly, the same as you guys out there. Making calls, keeping my relationship alive, surfing, music…the usual. Most importantly, the mobile was my emotional bridge to the Editor, it sustained us and provided an oasis away from the madness of prison life. And in case you’re wondering, no I didn’t blog from the phone, although I did keep a paternal eye on your comments.

When the prospect of Open hove into view a long time ago, I disposed of my mobile. Instead I opted to borrow one when necessary, avoiding the increased risk of having to operate and hide one of my own.

The morning I was told I was off to Open, I went to the cell of Mr X to use his mobile phone to call the Editor. Then I told Mr X that I would be off that afternoon. After visiting Reception and the Library, I shot back to my cell, grabbed a few things and took them to Reception.

On my way back, Mr X told me that he’d done me a favour – he’d hidden the mobile in my word processor so that I could use it to talk to the Editor over lunchtime lock-up.

He may as well have shot me. My legs turned to jelly and it was all I could do to get back to my cell, when what I wanted to do was just fall in a heap and howl at the moon.

I am now in the hands of the disciplinary process, where it has to be shown beyond reasonable doubt that I had knowing possession of that mobile phone. Although my plea is not guilty, that the main Governor has been wheeled out to act as Judge doesn’t fill me with hope – the stench of payback is in the air! My hope lies with an appeal.

Next week, then, I should be slung into solitary for a while. This is a minor irritant. The real consequences are those that flow from being a Lifer – the loss of Open, serving more years, as all that I love and value disintegrates.

And Mr X? He has his own parole hearing later this year and isn’t volunteering to come forward to get me off the hook. And I don’t blame him; he thought he was doing me a big favour.

Every part of my life which gives meaning to my paltry existence is disintegrating. My PhD research is on a knife edge, as a floppy disc of notes has been lost during my recent travels. And yesterday, my oncologist told me that my PSA level has doubled in the last two months and there is a real concern that my tumour isn't being as helpful as it could be. As a crap 48 hours goes, this has been the worst in the sentence.

And so I face the prospect of losing everything and serving several more years. Such is the frailty of life, for all of us, and it can change in a brief moment.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Do Not Ask For Whom The Ringtone Tolls…

There are moments in life, rarely appreciated at the time, which predetermine the future course of our existence. For me, one of those moments crept up on me the other day. 1 thought I had reached a pinnacle, the descent of which would be Open prison and release. In truth, the day transformed into an abyss.

I was lying on my bed, grinding my way through the Hitler biography, when a governor knocked on the door.  “When do you want to go to Prescoed?'' he asked. I pointed out that I was busy, but that I could squeeze it in this afternoon.  “Done”, he said.  A guy was leaving Prescoed and I could take his place. He assured me it wasn't a delayed April Fool's joke, this time I would actually arrive at the other end.
This was the news that 1, the Editor, and those of you who support my release had long been waiting for. I was instantly on the phone to the Editor to tell her the best news we could hope for. Unless you have served 31 years in prison, how can I possibly try to convey what it feels like to be within sight of a new life, to look down the tunnel and see the woman I love, waiting in the sunlight?

Shooting up to the Library and Reception, I went to spread the news and sort out the practicalities.  Moving, and at such short notice, isn't an uncomplicated social process. Deciding to get a headstart, I packed some box files and my word-processor and delivered them to Reception, the rest to follow after lunch.
On my way back, I took a sledgehammer the likes of which 1 have never had to experience  -  I was told that there was a mobile phone hidden inside my word-processor . I was utterly stunned, immobilised, helpless. Sitting out on the yard before lunch, trying to smile at people's congratulations, I was in internal freefall . Never has the gap between my internal state and my external presentation been so large.

All I could do was sit and wait. Would my property be X-Rayed before my move?  My mind just couldn't cope with calculations, even thinking, about the consequences that would fall if the mobile was found.

As we were being locked up after lunch, a governor marched down to the corridor, looking serious. He told me that I wasn't going to Prescoed, and that I was nicked. The details would follow later. The call I then made to the Editor broke my heart, and all I could do was leave my presence on her answering machine.  
The charge sheet was issued that evening -  unauthorised possession of a mobile phone.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Big Rinty is Free

The prison service avoided the obligatory ombudsman's investigation and coroner's inquest by granting Rinty compassionate release a few hours before he died.

The prisoner service then exhibited their compassion by failing to tell Rinty's people he'd been released so he died alone.

The compassion even extended to denying his great friend here to say goodbye by phone.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Mechanics of Writing

Well, yer just sit down with a pen and paper, innit??

If only…Does every aspiring wordsmith require the precise and perfect conditions in which to create?  The right pen, the sun at the right angle, the correct silence?
The ideas that ferment underneath what finally appear as posts flow quite freely, in any circumstances and in every possible situation. But writing, shepherding these ideas into the corral of a post is far more fragile and transitory enterprise.

My cell is too small to hold both a table and chair simultaneously. Where, how, to place this sub-Turing machine so that I can type without discomfort? How is this in relation to the light, my jug, my tobacco?

This cell receives too little natural light to read or write without discomfort. The light fitting is sited at the rear of the cell, illuminating the toilet beautifully but leaving the rest of the cell bereft. My little lamp is vital, yet restricted by the position of the power socket and the length of its lead. And curse the 'low energy' bulb and its pathetic efforts.

A11 of these are, perhaps, small things. Prison writing has been created in far harsher, literally lethal, circumstances. But tonight I have finally found a working solution that gives me some ease. Sitting at the head of my bed, cross legged, my lamp shining over my left shoulder, coffee and tobacco on the chair at my right hand. The linchpin to this arrangement is something on which to rest my machine. Earlier, I found a cardboard box, previously the home of photocopier paper which I have managed to cut down to a precise height.

My word-processor sits in front of me, lit just right, and at height that is comfortable. I can now write with something approaching ease. Imperfect, but workable. Alas, it is now nearly midnight - the prison is utterly silent, and it is only in these still moments that I appreciate how loud hunt-and-peck typing can be!  And so, having created the ideal writing circumstances, I must stop.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Just Chillin'

The location I found myself allocated on returning from my brief trip to the gated of Open prison is far removed from the one I had previously occupied. When I left, I lived on B Wing, a classic long, galleried wing of three landings that holds the bulk of the population here. Now I find myself tucked away on D Wing, home of the old execution shed and death cells. It is a tiny warren of narrow corridors and cells.

This changes the social ecology of how we interact. My enclave, three cells at the end of a corridor, entices us to hang around before periods of bang-up to talk what can only be described as utter bollocks! 

This evening’s episode focused on pubic hair. One of our number was accused of shaving his pubes, a distinctly odd occupation in a single sex environment - and another swore blind that his pubes were growing longer in prison. This led to a brief, futile, exploration of the proposal that sex wears down pubic hair...

At lunchtime, when someone off the wing was being mentioned that I didn't know, he was described to me as ''he's the paedophile  that even the other paedos are embarrassed by''!

Last week, we briefly wandered into the moral and legal complexity that is paedophiliac vampirism. If a man screws an underage girl who is actually a 200 year old vampire, is he a paedo?

Obviously, this just had to expand into the surreal - is dressing a dwarf in a schoolgirl outfit a bit, well, noncey? And just where do the Crankies fit into this psychosexual morass? There was then some general mockery over my pondering whether women get belly-button fluff?  
Given the weighty IQ's that populate our tiny corner of this dungeon, you may have hoped for more substantial material. But no; we just talk a slightly better quality of bollocks as we await being locked away.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Screws and Cons

Could you lock a man in a cell? What does that take, to carefully, regularly, routinely, inflict that punishment on another human being? Answering that question goes a long way to mapping the distance that separates cons and screws.

And distance there is. Although there is a patina of decency and humanity, occasional intersecting interests, I have never met a screw who wouldn't partake in stitching up a con if push comes to shove.

To inflict such a punishment in such a personal way, to take a place in the carceral machine, must involve a malign view of prisoners. We are, truly and irredeemably, the Other. We are sub- human in a very real way.

In casually bouncing this idea around in company, it was suggested that screws view us in much the same way as a farmer views his pigs. I begged to disagree. If we follow that analogy, I would say that screws view us in the same way that the slaughterer views his victims.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

My Sentence

I am sentenced to be "Detained During Her Majesty's Pleasure".  Well, 31 years in, I hope she's happy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Inhumanity of Man

The prison service has become adept at cloaking itself with a facade of competence and decency, hiding behind a blizzard of policies and statements that attempt to guard the gated against cynical observers. Odd, sporadic and quickly discarded stories of wickedness leach out into the world but as a broad theme, to the unfocused public eye the prison service seems to have succeeded in appearing 'modern', 'humanitarian'.-even Butlinesque.
How is it then that a man acquitted of the charges against him lies dying under the disinterested gaze of prison guards in hospital? The story of Big Rinty is one that should enrage anyone with a scintilla of decency within their body. Rinty is a Lifer who was released on licence from his original sentence over two decades ago. After spending several years in the community, he was charged with a crime. He was then acquitted of this crime at trial.

Such is the contempt that our masters hold for the legal process, that Rinty was recalled back to prison anyway. Some 12 years later, here at Shepton, he was diagnosed with aggressive and fatal pancreatic cancer. In a very short time Rinty has been reduced by this malignancy, shaven down from his large frame into a man whose skin now merely serves to hold his bones together.

Rinty is now in hospital outside, under guard, too weak to even walk. He will shortly escape his sentence in the only certain way any Lifer can, through death.

Today, we learned that he has been refused Compassionate Release. Should anyone ever dare question the utter contempt for the prison system that is forever etched in my bones, remember Rinty.

We will. And I will never cease to remind you of the inhumanity that is the cold, dull, bureaucracy that comprises imprisonment.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Prescoed or bust!

Got home from work and picked up my messages:

11 a.m. Message left on my voice mail from Ben telling me he is moving to Prescoed at 1 pm.

12-ish Message from Ben "this is the worst of news.  The Governor came to see me and told me they found something in my property and I am not going to Prescoed".

Forgive me for not doing any more on the blog tonight.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Editor’s Day Out

The Editor got to escape from the PC where she works her magic on my efforts, to attend the knees-up that was the unveiling of the was Orwell Prize Shortlist.

Alas, I failed to make the leap from the Longlist to the Shortlist and must be slightly glad that I couldn't attend.

I’d have been forced into broadcasting some cactus smile as I applauded those who marched upwards towards the prime, while inwardly wishing that their swonicles would catch fire.

The Editor acted with far more grace and spent her time schmoozing, collecting business cards, compliments and free drink, adjourning for a pizza with a gaggle of other attendees before vanishing back into mysterious obscurity on the last train...

The crushing blow to my monstrous ego aside, I am extremely pleased to have even reached the Longlist for the Orwell Prize. For a few moments my name shared space with those far more established, lauded and polished. Just wait until next year!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

No Peace For.....

Questions have been asked today: "Are you still here?" Six times.  "Are they serving dinner yet?" Twice.
And "Who made thalidomide?" Flummoxed...!

Thursday, May 5, 2011


The bin outside of admin caught fire.  The last person seen disposing of a fag there?

The fire safety officer.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Nonce Humour

One of the guys was obsessed with his appearance, his clothing, and a manic gym attender. Someone asked him why he made all this effort?  He said that he wanted to look good to attract women when he was released.

A passing wit chipped in, "Haven't you heard of Rohypnol...?"

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Cancer, again

The idea that a positive frame of mind has any effect on the course of the disease is utter tripe. Both myself and Cancer Boy take a dim view of this, not only on grounds of evidence but on the basis that it essentially blames the dying for their fate.

Remember, we overwhelmingly tend to hear about the 'positive' people who have had cancer. Well, they survived it, they have a reason to be cheerful! The miserable sods who died are silent. An obvious point? Granted, but one not to be forgotten.

The course of my own little malignancy lies in the hands of Fate and medicine. Probably more the former than the latter. It's not going to try to kill me any time soon, and may never.

But a confounding factor is my age. Being 45 with prostate cancer screws up the treatment options and prognosis, I'm just too damn young! Radiotherapy is off the table, because of a concern that - in 25 years - that therapy itself may trigger another cancer. If I was 60, these things would be a lot more straightforward. Many men of that age die with prostate cancer and not because of it.

I'd love to know the stats for 45 years olds who get it. Anyone? As for surgery-.they could chop out the cancer in a flash, no problems. Well, to the extent that the cancer would be gone anyway. But surgery carries very high risks of causing permanent impotence and incontinence, and I'm damned if I'm leaving prison with a penis-pump and a nappy. And hence my recent jibe against the progress in cancer research.

So, I've decided adopt the stance of all sensible cowards. Do absolutely nothing, and hope for the best. Cancer Boy himself has lived several times longer than originally expected. Having being labeled as essentially intractable, he has found a surgeon who is at least willing to explore whether he can be usefully spliced-and-diced and given longer to live. Just don't tell him it's because he's ''positive''...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Day

Today is the first of May.  Ben's release hearing is set for May 2012, but he is expected to complete a minimum of 12 months in open prison first. He is still in HMP Shepton Mallet.  Lord David Ramsbotham wrote to Crispin Blunt about Ben's failed move to open prison and got an apology back.  Lord Ramsbotham forwarded this letter to me and I sent it in to Ben.  Crispin Blunt apologised for the "distress" caused by the "administrative error" and promised that Ben is top of the waiting list to move.  An apology is all well and good, but 8 weeks down the line and Ben is still in Shepton.

In an e-mail last week, Lord Ramsbotham told me he is intending to write to Ken Clarke about Ben's situation and to remind him that not only is the system in a shambles, but this man has served nearly 32 years.  If readers of this blog would like to add their voice to his, please visit the Facebook site where you will find a template letter.

Thank you for your support.