Saturday, November 17, 2012
Weaving A Social Web
I was never the most sociable of prisoners. Not a recluse by any means, but endowed with only limited internal resources to suffer the company of others. It was not a significant event if I shut my door and told people to fuck off and leave me in peace.
The Editor, fully aware of my broad misanthropy, led me ever so slowly into social waters. Meeting her friends one at a time, then as couples, a dinner party, barbeque….an ever increasing frequency and aggregation of numbers of people that would not unduly perturb my inner recluse.
Out in this new world I appear to have changed. A lot. Whilst I remain wedded to the concepts embedded in “leave me the hell alone” very quickly after release I began social networking with a vengeance, as if the more I appeared across our virtual world then the more “real” I would become.
Facebook was my first step into thus digital adventure, quickly followed by Twitter. Along with the blog – which I have always seen as being a relationship and commitment to readers – these new avenues of expression opened up vast possibilities to make connections. Fleeting, profound, trite, silly….the range of these new interchanges has astonished me.
Conversations have flowed with criminologists, prison staff, entrepreneurs, campaigners…an endless variety that inevitably exists in any society. And all, in their way, enrich my existence. For a reclusive individual with a low tolerance for the inane, the net has nevertheless become an essential feature of my life. Standing outside the kitchen door sneaking a quick ciggie is now always accompanied by my Blackberry and a peek at my Twitter feed.
Virtual presence has led to real-world existence. Meeting people I have known previously only through rather vague or daft usernames has turned a rather lonely London into a more fruitful place. Coffee and the odd pizza with barristers, CEO’s of campaign groups, theatre producers and media folk has had a strange effect. Rather than draining my patience for people these have energised me for few days.
Articles have been commissioned, talks arranged, speeches timetabled…..productivity of every type has blossomed precisely because I now have developed the inner resources to “deal with people”. A quite unexpected development; one of many in this new phase of my life.
Prison, I have always maintained, is a profoundly social society in the sense that the connections made are intense, fluid, complex and often aimed at ameliorating the pains and deprivations of incarceration. A prisoner who can serve his sentence alone is a rare beast – and probably a bloody liar.
Even so, I am astonished at the richness of my life at present, and that is due to the people who help form my social topology. Wednesday saw me having some peaceable company and good food with my hosts who put me up whilst working in London. Thursday saw me giving a speech to barristers – both Baby and Senior – and then a supper in the excellent company of fellow Twitter users and criminal justice practitioners. The list of fascinating people in my address book grows almost by the hour.
One side effect of this is that I take on a huge amount of activity, commitments and work. There is the “real work”, i.e. my job with the Howard League, which consumes three days a week in London and work at home. There is the blogging and Tweeting. There is a monthly commitment to Inside Time and a little input at Inside Justice. There are talks and speeches, conferences and travel around the country. And then there is the more personal, fluid social commitment to friends and colleagues, along with being a resource for students of a myriad academic persuasions.
This is what I would have previously called a “social hell”. That I am actually enjoying it – even as it exhausts me – is revealing more about the effects imprisonment has had upon me. Someone recently suggested that I may be “running” – taking on all of this activity – in order to put of stopping to allow everything to sink in.