Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Rest of the First Day

The computer said NO at the Gate and I had to wait until it could be persuaded that I was actually being released. Finally....

Into my brother's car and off for destination southward, newly equipped with some "Treasury notes" - quaint prison service terminology for cash- and enough tobacco to make me a prison millionaire. With the Editor at work and my first probation appointment not until 3pm, I had the fleeting idea of stopping at every service station along the way to indulge in some treat or other. We settled upon a Costa Coffee place, usually one of my most frequently avoided places. I will never, ever, get used to paying over the odds for coffee! Sitting outside slurping and smoking, I noticed some guy attempting to take a photo. Paranoia kicked in - who the hell takes a pic of a Costa at a service station??? - and I spent five minutes with my hand over my face like some lunatic.

The Guardian called. Could I knock out a piece for the website, 800 words by 3pm? Yes, I said, taking a hell of a risk. The journey down South was quite short. For a while I wondered whether I should, could, stop at each service station along the way to stuff my face with a treat but decided that "home" had waited long enough for me.

Which didn't stop me and my brother stopping off to buy me a shiny new phone. I say new, I mean new to me. It had been sharing space with other people's loose change and trouser fluff for a while before it came my way, but the end result was a Blackberry nestled in my pocket. Something else to carry about with me - clothes just don't have enough pockets. And I refuse to carry a handbag.

Home. Two trips from the car, wheelbarrowing in my stuff under a blanket to hide the HMP bags from the neighbours. Then lunch under the pergola, my new favourite spot, with my brother - who had never knowingly eaten a meal composed solely of veg before - and the Editor. Her laptop sat in front of me, fork in hand, I had to mentally absorb these momentous events with hammering out the Guardian piece. Job done, and I duly received the traditional abuse from commenters.

I was home.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The First Day

As incompetent as ever to the end, I knew a full 4 days before the prison actually bothered to tell me that I was going to be released on 22 August. Worse, when I was given the parole board's decision I asked just how and when I would be released? "Nothing to do with us" said the nick, leaving me to wander around with a parole answer and a befuddled mind.

It was a strange feeling to have that knowledge of a release date. So many years have been spent attempting to stay approximately sane in the face of endless vistas of incarceration that to acknowledge its end left me in a somewhat befuddled state. How did I feel? How should I feel? This was a novel experience for me in every way.

The last few days were occupied with me attempting to juggle money around in order to settle my accounts with various parties around the prison. And I almost succeeded... People - I mean outsiders - have little appreciation of the prisoner society and its many interwoven strands. The idea of economic independence and isolation may appeal but in a society where poverty and scarcity are the norm (by official diktat) then an unofficial economy flourishes of necessity. Being given a handful of days to square the many circles involved in economic and social survival helped to fill the remaining few days.

There were so many people to nod goodbye to, so many best wishes for the future exchanged. Some of these were perfunctory ("who was that bloke..?!"), some deeply sincere, and others which were sad because both of us knew that their release was distant and profoundly uncertain.

Arrangements needed to be made, practicalities attended to. Top of that list was property and travel. On being discharged, the prison coughs up a travel warrant. But with my mountain of accumulated crap and paperwork, public transport was impossible. Offers to collect me by car were made and swiftly accepted. Only with difficulty though, as I had run out of money on the prison pay phone; my request that they put a £5 of my money onto the phone was brusquely refused, as if arranging my release was a procedure I was intimately familiar with and should have foreseen. Unhelpful to the end, the prison service seemed as loathe to release me from their malign clutches as I was to remain.

Thirty six hours before I was due to leave the prison finally told me I was about to be released. After a good nights sleep, assisted by Mamba (highly recommended by the way), the final full day was occupied with "the paperchase". A sheet of paper listing various departments around the prison which I had to visit and get to sign me off. Utterly pointless, particularly the stipulation that I needed to return a pillow to Reception. As pillows are as rare as rocking horse shit, this one was a mission that I failed.

On the morning of my leaving I had helpers to cart my stuff on a trolley to Reception. People going on home leaves were dealt with first. Having been ready since 6am, I finally made a trip to the gate at after 8 - only to return briefly. My property had to be dragged down the long drive past the Gatehouse, where I received my final bollocking. My brother had parked near the Gate and was wielding his iPad to take a picture of my coming out, which is positively frowned upon. That I paused and stood still to enable this to happen blew my story of "nothing to do with me, guv" right out of the water. Having loaded up his car, the trolley had to be returned and I had to sign the last pieces of paper - my Life Licence.

The Lifer Senior Officer had me read and sign a form. It ended with "Do you have any complaints?"

Ha! "Only one page for that?" I asked.

We agreed I would cover the main issues in a book, or I'd be there forever.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Getting Connected

I am now on Facebook as, surprise, Ben Gunn, busty networking. Look me up and don't leave me disappointed when I log on tomorrow!

Eddie Murphy

A lot can happen within 48 hours. Ask Eddie Murphy. Mine has been less cinematic but equally transformative. Two days ago I was sitting in my chair at Sudbury sharing some nibbles with Stavros the Gunslinger and wondering where I could scrounge a roll-up.

Now here I am, at home, tapping away on the Editor's laptop with the Big Bang Theory on the telly - a leviathan of electro-optics. My peace is only occasionally disturbed by a cat demanding a fuss and brief forays into the garden to gulp some nicotine.

This is not like home leave. there is no ticking clock, no holiday atmosphere. This is reality, tightrope walking without the safety net. It is exilerating.

Promises, promises

I know I am failing to entertain you guys over the past few days. Several posts are in progress and will begin to appear tomorrow. I would do them today but the Editor is taking me to the seaside! I hope that you are all having a good weekend and be refreshed to dive back into the meaty substance of things soon.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

New Header

As I struggle to find my role in life on release, I have obviously had to alter the blog header. Anyone notice? Or have an opinion upon it?

The End Of The Begining

I would hope that old Winston might forgive my theft of his wartime quote, but it is as apt for my circumstances as it was for his. Great change is afoot and it is tempting to think that every hurdle is overcome, every battle won.

The largest personal struggle is over. I am as free as any Lifer can be within our State. And yet...freedom was, in itself, rarely my main aim during most of my sentence. That was displaced by the struggle to "speak truth to power", to try - as best I could by my lights - to do the right thing. And in prison, in a place where the powerful traduced the powerless, the "right thing" was often to challenge and question abuses of power.

And that struggle continues. how can it not? For I cannot forget those left behind, the prisoner society that fascinated, frustrated and yet sustained me. As powerless as ever, as vulnerable to the spasms of the populist politicians and the basest of media, the only change that there has been is my own release.

Change is possible. Change requires struggle. I can only continue to play some small role in this - for change within prisons rests on the efforts of those inside the carceral machine and not us on the outside. I can only hope that I may have been of some small use in the struggle, and may continue to be so.

Monday, August 20, 2012

First Post

Reflecting on the history of the blog, I noticed that it is nearly 3 years old.  The very first post was on the 31st August 2009, and called "Interesting People, Interesting Places".
We were so excited when we had 9 readers!

Ben asked me this evening to say a big "Thank you" to everyone.  He will be blogging live (i.e. not via me and the Royal Mail) from midweek, and maybe even on his way home on the day his is released. His brother is picking him up at the gate and has an i-pad, so it is quite likely!

Any suggestions on the new title (Ben-decompressing-from-Prison-Blog?) would be welcome!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Door Knob

The introduction of "courtesy locks", secondary locks on our doors to which we hold the key, has several interesting effects. One of which is, what to do with the damn key when out and about. I attach mine to my ID card. Some hang them around their neck on shoelaces.
And one guy decided to keep his very safe. He attaches it to his Prince Albert.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Blog

Ben is coming home next week!

He wants me to tell readers that the blog WILL continue, but the title of it may change slightly.  Ben will have lots to write about, adjusting to life in the "real" world, after 32 years inside.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Ben's solicitor called me today with the news - Ben is coming home!

The prison had not even told him so he heard it from me this evening.  He asked me to put the fantastic news on the blog along with a couple of strange/interesting facts: he cannot go until he has handed in his pillow(!) and when he comes home he will not officially exist.  Why?  Because, having been imprisoned since the age of 14 he has not got a National Insurance number.

As you can imagine, he is over the moon,  but we both agreed we need to sleep on it so the news really sinks in...


The Legal Mystery

Healthcare staff insist that they do have the authority to issue warnings under the IEP Scheme.
Such warnings have profound effects, such as the loss of money to use the phones, a reduction in visits, and a complete loss of home leaves.
Insistent they may be, but so far they have floundered when asked to point to the Rule or PSI which gives them this power.
A massive Hat Tip to anyone who can hit the prison service website and PSO 4000 and find this mystery power. Or confirm its non-existence.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thirdly, Do No Harm!

Last week a guy had a long standing medication removed and, as a result, his body revolted to the extent he required emergency hospitalisation - outside.
Yesterday, I was a witness to a man who was arguing over his insulin. An injecting diabetic, this was no small matter. A malevolent or incompetent nurse stood between him, his insulin, and the fridge in which it resided. He was reduced to using, with increasing frequency, emergency short-duration insulin that saw his blood glucose levels bounce between 15 and 25. Which, the nurse said, was all pretty good.
This man had to spend half his pay phoning his consultant to have him phone and email the nick to point out how dangerous the situation was. With the intervention of a (prison) Manager, the insulin was finally issued.
The GP sat in his room at the end of the corridor during this farce, with my man denied access to him. A nurse held his medication, his life, in her hand and flatly refused him access to either it or the only well-qualified medic in the institution.
Such are the games being played by Healthcare. And such are the dangers. To hold such ineptitude to account may doubtless upset those involved but, in truth, when we are so dependent upon them then they deserve to be forced to answer for their actions. After all, isn't that what law is for...?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Secondly, Do No Harm

It was a long day yesterday. Still no parole answer, and the crazy, stressful juggling that accompanies every payday, recently. So the last thing I needed was for my boss on the gardens to tell me that Healthcare had altered my medical status from Labour 3 ("officially a wreck") up to Labour 2 ("only slightly knackered").
Those with long memories, or access to Google, may recall that last December the GP swiftly listed me as Labour 3 on arrival and rescued me from the Carps workshop and into Education. To be told that this had changed, without so much as a cursory examination by someone who knew what a medical school looked like, was both frustrating and annoying. New and laborious gardening duties hove into view, with the prospect of significant pain or a nicking for not working. This had become a Big Deal.

Fair do's on my boss, who shoved me in the direction of Healthcare to try to sort this out. All afternoon I was up and down to Healthcare, trying in vain to get them to speak to me. Three nurses, a practice manager, and the GP all with their feet up in an otherwise empty building telling me that they were "too busy". They remained too busy when I reappeared at "treatment time" (shades of Nurse Ratched).
They were still too busy all this morning. They did find the time to talk to several staff about this, but not a second spare to talk to me. And I had only two simple questions - who altered my status without any examination? And on what medical basis?
Instead of dealing with the crap they had unleashed, they have been hiding away, a huddle of selective mutes. That in itself suggests that they feel they may be on thin ice.
I am fed up with being dismissed by nursing staff who view prisoners as an inconvenience. A paperwork blizzard is going to be coming their way, possibly including a writ for misfeasance in public office, unless they sound a swift retreat and begin to act like healthcare staff. With men too afraid to book appointments lest they forget them and get hammered, with men having long standing medications removed, and with men being spoken to like dirt, then it is only reasonable that we prisoners hold these petty tyrants to account.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

First, Do No Harm

In a "total institution" it can be expected that we are, as a matter of policy, rendered completely dependent upon the institution for the most basic of services. And in many respects, this is quite true. It is through such dependence that control is exercised.
Food, for instance, is fundamental and a perpetual source of discontent. We must attend the dining hall twice daily to collect grub. Yet this activity highlights a crack in the control and dependence mechanisms, in that a man with access to enough money can easily obtain food from other sources (legitimate and not) to allow him to avoid the institution's offerings. In such a way, a tiny sphere of independence can be carved out within the total institution.
There are many such activities where, with skill or resources, the prisoner can avoid dependence on his keepers. But there is one "service", one aspect of imprisonment which inevitably demands dependence, through a total lack of other options. And that service is Healthcare.
No matter what resources the con can wield, no matter how wise in the ways of jailcraft, no matter his level of deviousness, Healthcare looms large and inescapable on his horizons. For, save heroin and adjuncts used for pain relief, Healthcare has a monopoly on the specialist medical knowledge and treatments. And this is why I insist on holding Healthcare staff to a far higher standard than just about any other department in the prison.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Even when I am released, I am forever yoked into the conceptual box of "offender". I may be an ex-prisoner, but to the probation service I will always be an "offender". . Despite not having being convicted of any crime in 32 years.
Never an "ex-offender". I find that to be a highly revealing of the official mindset. And I despair. Because to always view us as specimens in a jar, to regard us as mere carriers of "criminogenic needs", denies us any status as human beings.
And without that status, how can we ever rejoin and embrace the community? If we are held at a distance with a shitty stick, is it any wonder that so many ex-prisoners find it impossible to build a legitimate existence on release?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Week that Was

This is it.  On Monday I see my oncologist to check on the progress of my cancer and choose one of the lousy treatment options.

And maybe I'll get my parole answer.  Rarely have I felt so much pressure.  And rarely has the future course of my life - and its length - come down to two decisions in such a short space of time.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Greece is the Word

Just when I thought my dire finances couldn't get any worse, I find that my credit rating has collapsed due to my prospective parole answer.

Is this a vote of confidence in the parole board?!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ben's Birthday

Ben's birthday this Friday. Will he spend it in prison?

Still no news.....


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Thank You, NHS

I made an appointment to see the GP which, as the problem resolved itself, I later cancelled.  I used the proper form and in plenty of time.

Despite this, Healthcare issued me with an IEP (behaviour) warning for not attending the appointment.  That warning triggered a Review Board, which dropped my level of privileges from Enhanced down to Standard.

This halves the number of visits I can have, limits my town visits to one per month, knocks 40% off the money I could use to phone home and - lastly - prevents me from taking my home leave until September.

Thank you, NHS.