Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Life For A Life

I have never understood the proposition that if one commits a murder, one should then be killed. Note I don't call this an argument; it isn't, it's a mere assertion which, when prodded with a sharp question or two, deflates into being a T-shirt slogan.

This comes to mind whenever I briefly recall that a few months ago I found myself in a position of saving someone’s life. It has no great emotional impact, I don't see it as being a seminal point in my life. What I did took no effort, it was merely the obvious actions of any normal human being. It wasn't, from my perspective, a big deal.

In a broader moral context, this is perhaps the obverse situation to being executed for murder. And just as sterile. As execution doesn't ameliorate the fact of the original murder one iota, neither does my having saved a life lift so much as one microgram of my guilt or moral stain for having killed.

We may hope, we may search, for some equivalence in a painful attempt to find some meaning in murder. But the truth is, each life is unique. Once extinguished, no number of other saved lives repairs that hole in the human fabric; and no number of executions leads to resurrection.

Monday, November 11, 2013


A common response from everyone I have ever tried to explain the nature of prison friendships to is puzzlement.

Outsiders, those fortunate enough not to have had the gates shut behind them, sometimes imagine prison as being essentially solitary. Thousands of people confined to little concrete boxes, with a meagre interaction between them at best. This is profoundly misguided.

Prison is a rich society. Even in the deepest dungeons the State has created there is communication...shouting out of windows, through the cracks around the door, through messages left in common areas such as the shower. There are exchanges, relationships of mutual obligation... "Guv, can you pass X the newspaper?"... And these strands of common humanity may even be forged without ever actually seeing the other person. Up on the landings the society is more fluid, more laden with the potential for a myriad exchanges. Many good, some bad, but all meaningful.

And yet...even as solid bonds of friendship were forged, there is the knowledge that physical proximity is never in our control. A mindless transfer to another wing, another prison, was inevitable and sometimes sudden. Someone you had spent every spare moment with could be at the other end of the country in a blink of an eye.

This is one reason why I – and other Lifers – tended to mix with each other rather than with short-termers. With fellow Lifers there was the grapevine, the near inevitability of bumping into each other again, even with years of separation. Conversations separated by a decade could easily be continued.

I was never a social animal. Rather than lurking around a pool table, I was more likely to be found sitting in my cell with the door open on Association. People came to visit me, not I them. Poor Gerry was visiting several times a week before I offered him a cuppa – and even then he had to bring his own cup! Not that I lacked the social graces; people came to me often because I listened, if nothing else.

This disjointed, unusual social community has had it's effects. Significantly, coupled with my neurological blindspot for the passage of time, it has rendered me rather useless at maintaining relationships. Unlike prison, your mates aren't within shouting distance, there is no inevitable meeting at the hotplate twice a day. Connections have to actively worked on, maintained, repaired....

And I am rubbish at it. With the blog, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, website, email, phone, text – just how many more means of communicating does a person need – I have "met" a vast range of people over the last year or so. Gauging the depths of the connections, separating the interlinked nature of the personal and professional (boundaries are always porous to me) and maintaining, building, these connections in meaningful ways seems to slip through my grasp. And I don't just mean professionally, I mean on a personal level.

I am having to learn a new set of skills, absorb new expectations, and grapple with my time-blindness. This has been a dawning realisation and I wonder how any opportunities I have squandered, how many valued people have slipped from my life, as I make this adjustment.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sky News


Brief interview to discuss prison privileges, with a few old cell pics thrown in!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Digital Presence

Rather foolishly, I expected to be able to continue near-daily postings after my release. It has never happened; life has a nasty habit of getting in the way and my first year has been...emotional.

And I cannot deny that I have become rather taken with Twitter. But in fairness, the blog was always the core of everything and I must apologise for ignoring you guy's far too much for far too long. Whilst Twitter is excellent for many ways of communicating, it's limitations mean that I have more than once found myself embroiled in bitter arguments that were always too subtle to deal with except in a more measured, lengthy piece.

You can expect to see me back here far more often from  now, and I thank you all for your patience.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Prisoners Votes Judgement

The Supreme Court hands down a ruling tomorrow on the long-running prisoners votes case, following the victory by John Hirst in 2005 in the European Court of Human Rights.

This could be one of those crazy media days, depending on the news agenda!

I'm on BBC Breakfast debating the issue at 0740, Wednesday 15th. And who knows where else my fizzog may pop up during the day...?

Lifers Struggling Through the Process

The latest article by Ben in Inside Time, the UK prison newspaper:


Friday, September 27, 2013

Rape By Prison Staff - Call for Information

The blogpost on rape of women in detention has had interesting effects, mostly subterranean – as is the way with anything prison related. Information flows, in odd channels, carving its way through the cracks in the walls. The Ministry of Justice were extremely annoyed. Not at any revelation that women prisoners in their care were being raped, but by the accusation that they were indifferent to it. Good.

The blogpost was not only very personal; it was part of a deeper strategy for change. The shape of this is not for discussion; giving away that information, The Plan, would be to give the Ministry the avenues to scupper it. I am but one voice in a chorus on this issue, and powerful allies play their part in their own corners of the criminal justice landscape.

Now I call for information. As much information as possible relating to the sexual abuse of prisoners across the system. Prison staff are notoriously reticent and cliquish, but not a homogenous group. Prisons contain Discipline staff – screws – managers, teachers, chaplains, workshop staff, psychologists, probation officers, NHS medics....a range of individuals and professional groups who do not all buy into the mentality of denial or dehumanisation.

There are numerous ways in which I can be reached anonymously. Phone, blog, gmail, twitter...I am here. And we have the services of three senior QC's to defend the interests of any whistleblower, all willing and able to wield the law against the Prison Service in defence of anyone who shares their knowledge of these awful crimes. And the protection exists....

The law on whistleblowing is governed by the Employment Rights Act (ERA) 1996, as amended by the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) 1998. The preamble of the PIDA describes it as “An Act to protect individuals who make certain disclosures of information in the public interest; to allow such individuals to bring action in respect of victimisation; and for connected purposes.”

The law is therefore designed to protect ‘workers’ (including employees) that disclose information about malpractice at their workplace, or former workplace, providing that certain conditions are met.

The PIDA establishes two tiers of protection for whistleblowers on the grounds that they have made a “protected disclosure”:
i.                    Not to be dismissed
ii.                  Not to suffer any detriment
Since the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act (ERRA) 2013 came into force on June 25 2013, the existing legislation extends to protect whistleblowers against detriment also caused by co-workers as a result of a protected disclosure

When will a whistle blower be protected by the legislation?
For the whistleblowing protection to apply, the information provided must constitute a “protected disclosure”. In order to be protected, the information disclosed must firstly concern some wrongdoing (a Qualified Disclosure) and secondly, be disclosed by the worker in accordance with the statutory provisions.

1)      Qualified Disclosure
A disclosure of information will be a qualifying disclosure[4] if, in the reasonable belief[5] of the person making the disclosure, it shows any of the following has occurred or is likely to occur:

-          A criminal offence
-          Breach of a legal obligation
-          A miscarriage of justice
-          Danger to the health or safety of an individual
-          Damage to the environment
-          The deliberate concealment of information of any of the above
Due to the ERRA, for disclosures after 25 June 2013, the whistleblower must also have a reasonable belief that the information disclosed is in the public interest

 2)      Prescribed methods of disclosure
In order to be protected, a qualifying disclosure must be made via one of the following prescribed methods:

-          To the employer: PIDA encourages internal disclosure (disclosure to the employer) as the primary means of disclosure

-          To a responsible third party: If a worker reasonably believes that the information relates to a third party’s conduct or to a matter for which they are responsible

-          To a legal advisor: If made in the course of obtaining legal advice

-          To a Minister of the Crown: If employed by a person or body appointed under statute, the worker can report matters to the relevant minister

-          To a prescribed person: Parliament has provided a list of “prescribed persons”including HMRC, the Audit Commission and the Office of Fair Trading – to whom workers can make disclosures, provided that the worker reasonably believes that:
i.              The information, and any allegation it contains, is substantially true
ii.             They are making the disclosure to the correct prescribed person

-          Wider disclosure: Disclosure to anyone else (i.e. the media) is only protected if the worker believes the information is substantially true, does not act for personal gain and acts reasonably in the circumstances. Unless the matter is "exceptionally serious", they must have already disclosed it to the employer or a prescribed person, or believe that, if they do, evidence would be destroyed or that they would suffer reprisals. Disclosure to that person must also be reasonable.

The law protects those who will share their knowledge with us. The lawyers are ready to protect, you.

All that is now needed is that those who work in prisons and other places of detention take a moment of stillness, and look to their hearts.

Talk to us. Drag the wrongs from the dungeons of darkness of secrecy into the light, so that we can see, judge – and stop these monstrous abuses.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rape of women prisoners

I had seen the story. It peeked through the gaps in my life, between furious bouts of work, depression, stress and general mayhem. The rape and abuse of women detainees at Yarls Wood, run by the security company Serco. And yet, like so many of us, the story slid away from me, displaced by my own selfish concerns, other stories.

And then I had a phonecall. The conversation was long, tinged with anger, bitterness and laden with sadness. Ghosts from the past stared us both in the face and mocked inaction, silence. But be assured – this post is fuelled not by my inadequacies and helplessness, but rather charged by my deep burning anger at what I know now. About a woman who, several years ago, was repeatedly raped by a prison governor whilst she was in his charge. A woman whose sentence was three times longer than her male co-defendents. A woman who, despite the degradations inflicted upon her by the prison service and the spineless watchdog bodies, remains in the care of those who abandoned her to her horrible fate.

I do not know this woman. I know her friend. My connection with her is the intangible one that connects all who have had to fight their fear and powerlessness in prison. I know her through what I myself suffered, and what I saw inflicted upon others. There is a place in life for a due measure of punishment, do not err into thinking that is my complaint. It is not. My anger is fuelled by the abuses I saw, fought, and know still continue. My unnamed incarceree and her compatriots deserve – at the very least – that their abuse makes us angry.

Staff at Yarl's Wood are finally being investigated. Some of the complaints go back years. The mainstream media could not discuss the story, evidence from behind bars being incredibly difficult to substantiate. The high walls may be permeable to contraband, but are quite effective at blocking the flow of information and to inculcate a sense of isolation and helplessness. Finally, The Guardian and Observer managed to break the story.....or the parts its lawyers felt comfortable with. I will always be grateful to any journalist who covers a prison story, knowing the indifference that may flow from readers. Anyone who is not moved to a cold fury or sickened disgust by the knowledge that those we charge the State – and its private sector minions – to care for has, in reality, been abusing and degrading those women.

Yarl's Wood is today’s story for us. It is also tomorrows reality for the women held there. It is also an experience being repeated below the radar at Eastwood Park prison, with women being sexually abused and racially degraded by a male Governor. Action has yet to be taken.

You will not know my anger. It is not yours, although I hope there is a common humanity that connects us in our feelings for these abuses. But my anger comes from sharing their powerlessness. Ghosts from the past for me....and yet potent spirits that stir me deeply.

When we put a person in prison we strip them of all they have. Dignity, autonomy, individuality, status, home, family...all that gives meaning to our lives is taken away on behalf of the public. That's you and I. We render them helpless. The least we can demand, insist upon without hesitation, is that these people are then cared for. Not to be beaten or raped by the guards we pay to do our sordid bidding.

Why does this happen? There must be decent guards, decent civilian staff working in these prisons, NHS staff, layers of management, watchdog bodies, and ultimately the Ministry of Justice. It happens because people are afraid to speak. Maybe selfishly, maybe pragmatically, but the end result is the same. In cells across the women's prison estate male guards are raping female prisoners. The silence may be indifference, it may be callousness, but it allows the abuse to continue.

And that goes all the way to the heart of the Ministry of Justice, the Orwellian monolith that scrabbles to hold this whole mess together. In this case, the indifference can be tracked directly back to the ruthless heart of Dr Debra Baldwin. She is in charge of "Transforming Rehabilitation" for Women Offenders. And has an office, salary band staff to add weight to her position. Dr Baldwin also has previous for her contempt for both the taxpayer. At a meeting with charities whose goal was to help women prisoners, whose goal was to reduce the female prison population – overwhelmingly a non violent collection of criminality – the good Doctor began the meeting by insisting she intended to keep locking these women up. And then chuckled.

Just a few days ago one of the warrior-women I am proud to know, who now circles the criminal justice arena like a well dressed piranha, bared her teeth at Dr Baldwin during a meeting. My friend put the charges of rape at Yarls Wood squarely to Baldwin. And the woman in charge of these prisoners and their rehabilitation looked my friend squarely in the eye and said, "it's not my problem".

It is her problem. Its the problem of everyone who knows about it and does nothing. It is certainly "the problem" for those in charge of this carceral monstrosity that allows prison guards to coerce women – disempowered at our demand, remember – into sexual submission.

I am angry. I am intensely sad. But what I refuse to feel is helpless. And if the least I can do is voice this clarion call for outrage, I have done something. To do nothing in the face of this abuse is to turn your back on humanity – and the consequences of our penal obsession.

We put these women in this situation. It is our responsibility to safeguard them. But before us and our responsibility comes that of those we pay to do our dirty work in prisons – led by the indifferent Dr Debra Baldwin.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Any Questions?

Every few months whilst I was blogging from the other side of the wall I would throw up the opportunity for readers to ask me questions. Usually these were prison related, but some were profoundly personal or contained an insightfulness that would make me draw breath.

It occurs that in the 13 months since my release, I haven't explicitly given readers that invitation to ask me about...anything. Here's your chance.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

On Power

Eleven years in...

Lying on my bed after lunch, I heard the muffled rattle of plastic approaching my cell door. There is only one thing which makes that noise - a polycarbonate riot-shield. I was about to be "extracted" from my cell... Quite why was a mystery, but one to be put aside as I contemplated my response to the imminent charge. Three screws were about to throw open the door and charge... I could fight, but there is an endless supply of staff. I chose to minimise any potential perceived threat I could be accused of presenting by sitting on my bed, arms and hands clearly away from my body and equally clearly holding no weapon.

It made no difference. The charge came with the expected whirlwind of energy, the lead - the "shield man" using his weight and the shield to smash me against the wall, wedging me as two other staff - all fully kitted in riot gear and helmets - grabbed for my arms and applied the standard wrist-locks.... It is called "pain compliance". The wrists are twisted to cause excruciating agony, wracking the body and rendering resistance impossible.

Twisted up - bent over, wrists and arms in Aikido locks, a screw holding my head to "guide" my forward motion - I was moved out onto the narrow landing. The rest of the wing was shut down, only my screams from the viciously applied wrist- locks disturbing the post-lunch silence. The landing was long and narrow, a slow painful procession towards the stairs....from the Threes landing down to the Ones, navigating an ancient and narrow Victorian iron staircase...each step jerking my wrists and head....the pain made it difficult to stand, even when bent over.

On the ground floor I was moved with  more speed towards the Strongbox tucked away in the corner. A cell within a cell, concrete, completely empty. A small window of frosted glass brick set high. Forced to the floor, full length, my face being ground into the concrete as my clothes were wordlessly ripped from me. My legs were crossed and forced up my back, allowing one screw to immobilise me by gripping my crossed ankles as the other two ran out of the door. He leant down to my face, his helmet visor obscuring his identity. Pushing my ankles hard up my back, hand squashing my face to the unmoving floor, he said, "Don't move before I'm out of the door...or we'll be back." One last swift application of his weight onto my legs and he was gone, the iron door slammed shut. Then the outer door.

As mobility slowly returned to my limbs, the pain receding, I sat cross-legged with my back against the far wall, facing the door. I stared at the spy-hole, attempting to control my breathing each time a screw outside suddenly flicked the metal cover aside to observe me. An hour, two, passed.

The wing manager opened the door. Standing outside, his hand on the lock readied for a swift exit, over his shoulder a group of other screws. A woman governor stood at next to him. I looked across the concrete from my squatting position and said, "And what the fuck was THAT all about?!" The manager stared back. "It was an attempt to persuade you to alter your attitude..."

My legs and wrists still numb, I had to use the wall to pull myself up. Standing against the back wall, naked, hurt, vulnerable, I felt my patient contempt settle into the centre of my being.

Looking him in the eye, my flat certainty clear in my voice, I said, "Really? And how do you think this is going to go for you...?"

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Predatory Children

To the observer, there is rarely anything as entertaining as sitting back, coffee and cigarette in hand, watching a bunch of people working themselves up into a mouth-frothing state of outrage. As a general rule of thumb, I measure these things in my own way – that the level of outrage exists in direct inverse proportion to coherence. Such is the situation with a Prosecutor labelling a 13 year old girl as being sexually "predatory". That she was the victim in a case involving sexual activity with a 41 year old man only poured fuel onto this bonfire of stupidity.

The wall of loathing – and censure – that has crashed upon this prosecutor is disturbing on many levels, mostly because it rests on the assumption that 13 year old girls cannot be sexually predatory. To insist on this is to descend to such a depth of stupidity that I cannot follow the "argument" without excising a fair chunk of my cerebellum. To insist that no 13 year old girl wants sex, makes up her mind and initiates it, even enjoys it, is to spit in the face of experience, biology and history. It is to be so blinded by ideology as to deny reality – a worrying place in which people can find themselves.

Obviously, to point out that 13 year olds can be sexually predatory is to invite comment. Most of it based on straw-doll arguments. To say that such children can be sexually predatory is not to defend the men who succumb. It is not to argue for a lowering of the age of consent. And it is not to argue that "she was asking for it" (though she literally did, it seems). It is no more, and no less, to state a fact – that people under the age of 16 can have a sexual will and act to achieve it.

This is repellent to some minds. It flies in the face of their world-view, it is to challenge the sometimes twisted ideology that inveigles some crevices in the child protection movement. They cannot encompass the idea that children can be sexual, let alone predatory. I find this worrying, even frightening, that such a denial of reality can take such deep roots that to challenge it is beyond civilised discourse. Such stupidity craves challenge.

It is possible to advocate child protection whilst accepting that some children are sexual beings. It is possible to admit that some people under 16 can have sex willingly, without trauma, and yet not be advocating sex between them and adults. In short, no matter how sexually predatory a child may be, it does not excuse – even implicitly – the adults involved.

Once this is accepted, even slightly, then the Outraged move on to their ultimate argument – that children (even if sexual) are not sufficiently endowed with emotional or moral reasoning to be allowed to make sexual choices. This may or may not be true; it is largely irrelevant to my argument. For the very same people who heap abuse on anyone who dares throw the reality of biology into the faces of the po-faced are the ones who cheerfully insist that children who have sex with other children are abusers and should be thrown in prison.

Interesting.... So kids are not sexual. Or even if they are, they are not responsible. Ever. Unless we decide they are. Then we throw them before the courts and hold them accountable for the very sexuality we deny they are capable of being responsible for.

Unravel that. Then get back to me. But feel free to park your outrage and engage your brain first. If you dare.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Ministry of Justice Press Office

I've had some pretty weird phone conversations over the years. But then, I blame that on the people I mix with.... None of whom have ever come close to being as surreal as the Ministry Of Justice Press Office.

Rumours reached me that staff at HMP Mount were going around removing televisions from cells, as per Grayling's diktat, but were being met by a certain level of, hmmm, lets say "unhappiness" from the prisoners.

I called the MoJ press office to see if they knew anything. Silly idea, but as I'm now a taxpayer I can expect a certain confluence between the title and the service delivered. It was an utterly bizarre exchange. After saying what little I knew, and asking if they had any comment, I was asked, "Are you the Governor?" Um, no. "Are you a prison officer?" No... "Where are you calling from?" "My sofa."

"Well, I think you have been a bit naughty, misrepresenting yourself. Are you a journalist?" I suggested she Google me.... And the shocking idea that a journalist should be calling a press officer....the bloody cheek of it, eh?

I said I haven't in any way misrepresented myself, and goodday to you madame, and hung up. I'm still left pondering two things. Firstly, am I really paying taxes for this level of stupidity to be levelled at me? And secondly – and more worryingly – why would they think that a prisons Governor needs tp call the press office to find out what the hell is happening in their own prison? Does this happen often...?

Prison Diaries -The Verdict

My post last night led to delicate negotiations and discussions in private with Prison Diaries. Bluntly, I asked him for his name and date of conviction. A swift Google would then reveal the reality.

To the outsiders, this request is seemingly no big deal. But to those who appreciate the situation fully, it was a huge ask on my part. This is a guy who is at the start of his life sentence in a high security prison. Asking him to reveal himself to me was a huge thing, asking him to make a massive leap of faith that I wouldn't burn him. This may be one of the few situations where my being a professional pain in the arse of the prison service for 32 years actually came in handy!

Once PD had given me his name and crime then I was able to find a photo from the original media coverage. And so I then asked that he take a picture of himself in his cell. I could think of nothing less, or more, that would confirm his identity or status.

And this is just what I have received. It is a picture of PD on his prison bed, face partially obscured - trust only goes so far! - but sufficient for me to compare with the media pictures. As far as I can see, the picture I have seen is the man who was convicted of that particular crime now in his cell.

This is not to say that I am completely comfortable with all that Prison Diaries says, or claims. But these are secondary issues. The only thing in question here is, is PD a prisoner in a high security prison? And on the evidence provided, I can only conclude that he is. Or he has a Doppelganger, or a true genius with Photoshop. But as it stands, you now know what I do and can conclude accordingly.

Prison Diaries was convicted of a crime, the media published his picture. He has shown me a picture of him now in his cell. The faces appear to be the same.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Prison Diaries - Fact or Fake?

The closed world that is prison cries out to be dragged into the light of public consideration. There is an endless list of reasons for this, all of which lay behind my decision to begin blogging several years ago. Top of my personal list of reasons is that power exercised in secret always risks becoming abusive; and that knowledge of prison could only improve the pathetic quality of public and political debate.

It is sad, then, that no blogger has taken my place in the year since I was released. Not that it is an easy path to take – it is a continual battle, even though legal, and the number of vocal, campaigning prisoners is always a very limited pool. It was with some pleasure that someone on Twitter - @Prison_Diaries – began to tweet, seemingly from the depths of the High Security Estate.

Obviously there were doubters. This involved an illegal mobile phone, and accessing social networks, even second hand, is against prison rules. Added to the difficulty of perpetually hiding a phone, it is no surprise that some thought that this was a fake account. If you like that sort of thing, The Queen has an excellent one.

As the days passed, I decided to pose a challenge – to take and post a particular picture that I thought would be very hard for someone not in prison to take. Prison Diaries came through. Alas, someone promptly faked a similar photo to make the point that the proof wasn't in. Ho hum. But on the basis of Prison Diaries efforts, I gave him my conditional support as being genuine.

Not that I was sanguine. All too often PD seemed to give away personal information that I would never do in his position, to the extent that I felt the need to warn him more than once. Without even re-reading his tweets I can recall that he is serving Life with a 24 tariff, has served between 3 and 4 years, his crime is a gun-murder, and he works on the wing servery. With just that information any decent Security Department should be able to uncover him in hours.

That they haven't found PD has been a source of increasing discomfort for me. I know that I had a mobile for four years, but I wasn't in High Security and had a very sophisticated system to keep myself safe. Even so, I would never have dreampt of tweeting. The Prison Service hated my legal blog, you can only imagine their response to illegal tweeting – every effort would be expended to shut it down, out of sheer embarrassment.

I must admit to losing interest in Prison Diaries. It was slightly entertaining, but lacked any depth of meaning or thought and so I wandered off. Only to have my attention grabbed yesterday by the accusation that Prison Diaries had been detected tweeting from an Ipad. Hiding a mobile is one thing; an IPad is another. The alternative explanation, that a screw brought in an Ipad for personal use and allowed PD to use it briefly, is one I cannot believe for a single moment. Staff are utterly forbidden from bringing such items into prison, may be randomly searched on entry, and to then allow a prisoner to use it.... That's not just the job and pension down the drain, it's criminal prosecution. I've known some dumbass screws, but even they would balk at such stupidity.

Prison Diaries has yet to deny the IPad claim, which is disappointing. The best he has come up with is to say that he has a corrupt relationship with staff which gives him forewarning of any action to find the phone (or Ipad). And this is another claim I cannot accept. It relies on public ignorance of prison life but to someone with my history, it doesn't stand up for a moment. It is absurd.

Mobiles are found in essentially two ways. The first is randomly; by a random search by wing staff, or by wing staff getting a reading on their mobile detectors and kicking the door in. Secondly, it can be found by way of a targeted search, following intelligence such as another con grassing, information revealed through tweets, or staff detecting it on their equipment.

Only one of these avenues of finding a mobile is even theoretically amenable to interference by corrupt staff. The random wing searches etc are not. Unless one has every member of staff in their pocket. The second, through targeted intelligence, is amenable if one happens to have the Security Manager in your pocket. In a High Security prison. It has never happened, and I know a lot of heavyweight criminals who would love to throw millions at that manager.

My doubts about Prison Diaries, then, are solidifying. I would love an explanation as to how he accessed an IPad. Of how he evades phone detectors and searches. And how he has the Security Department of a High Security prison on its knees.

Until then.... Prison Diaries has clearly spent time behind bars. But I doubt he is who he claims to be now. Sorry dude.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Stephen Fry Thing

If you want me to tell you, with utter contempt, to fuck off then don't throw any complicated insult at me. Just wait until my depression is biting and patronisingly suggest I just "pull myself together".

Putting aside any ancient debate about the mind-body duality, I sense that the seat my my Self, the essence of who I am lies in my brain. It resides in the physical structures, the incalculable connections of matter and electricity, bathed in a complexity of barely-grasped chemicals. And yet....out of this physical mess arises that most potent of things – "me", and all that the Self creates. The sublime to the profane, the highest creativity to the basest depravity. It is a miracle.

And we all have struggles within ourselves. In many ways, each of us lives in perpetual conflict. There are private wants and public demands, moral uncertainties and intellectual clashes. What we may glibly refer to as "the Self" may be more akin to a maelstrom than an oasis of serenity that moves through the world. This is what it means to be human.

Sometimes these conflicts can cause us pain, make us sad. We resolve the issue, bury it, or walk away from it. Such sadness is but an outgrowth of the individual struggling through a complicated and sometimes difficult world.

And this is a far cry from depression. This is not a "war of the Self", it is almost a war against the Self. For the essence of who we are, that delicate substrate of chemicals from which Self emerges becomes tainted, out of balance. This is depression, the illness.

And I sense its approach. I have always pictured it as some type of many tentacled Leviathan, a Beast that slumbers deep in my brain and I feel the foretelling when it awakes and opens its malevolent eye. It is an intangible cloud that appears on the horizon of my consciousness. And sometimes it bites. Hard. The Leviathan injects darkness across every fold of my cerebellum, bathing the whole of my vista with a sense of despair that makes my very bones ache, every cell in my body pleading for release from an unsourced pain.

This is depression. It is an illness.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

On Liberty

It has to be admitted, there are very few of us who get worked up over a little monument sticking out of a field on the banks of the river Thames. Very, very, few of us. That this spot marks the beginning of the rule of law and freedom from arbitrary State tyranny is not a matter that impinges on the consciousness of the masses. Indeed, the monument was erected by the American Bar Association – our indigenous monument being contained in jokes and riddles. "Where did King John sign the Magna Carta?"

I've often imagined the showdown between the King and the Barons in some sort of Pythonesque script. Burly bearded landowners surrounding a tyrant and being as pleasant and civil as only the very well-armed can be, gently telling him to wind his fecking neck in. It was arguably one of the most important moments in Western history. For whilst Hobbes, Locke, Mill described, defended and proposed, these semi-literates actually acted. And King John didn't sign it "at the bottom" – he affixed his seal. Just to satisfy pub-quiz addicts....

The relationship between Government and the individual is the most important in our lives. For whilst our parents, teachers, partners may send us to bed without supper – and variations on the theme – the Government insists it is the possessor of all legitimate power – and by that mean naked force and violence. Only the Government can drag you from your sofa and throw you into its deepest dungeons and claim authority to do so.

And it claims the authority from us, The People. The odd flaw in that carefully woven lie is that, once in power, the Government can do whatever the hell it likes. Literally. There is nothing – apart from their threadbare consciences – to stop MP's passing a law tomorrow to have 1 in 10 people shot on sight. No court can prevent it, no Constitution exists against which the acts of Government can be matched and found wanting. The Barons cornered a King claiming such powers and took them away. We have allowed a Parliament to resurrect the Divine Right of Kings and cloth it in procedure and baubles, blinding us to our own needs for liberty and our fear of tyranny.

Which is why the monument at Runnymeade was erected by American lawyers. Americans get it – that Governments may be necessary, but they are never to be trusted. The whole edifice of the American constitutional arrangements are designed to limit Government and to draw the line in the sand that separates my life from their interference.

The British have never appreciated this. Even in the face of the most outrageous insults by Government – including detention without trial, secret courts and complicity in torture – we Brits bumble along persuading ourselves of the essential benevolence and broad incompetence of Government.

This is exemplified around the PRISM revelations (though I never forgot ECHELON...), with the sanguine "well, if you've got noting to hide..." argument so glibly rolling from so many tongues. It infuriates me, because our individual liberties, our private lives, should not have to be justified. My life is mine to dispose of, not the Governments. It is for the State to have an overwhelming need on the part of society to justify any intrusion, not us being compelled to think of reasons why the State should not poke about in our closets. Such is the dangerous British state of mind, that we elevate the State above the individual without so much as asking to check its credentials.

I write this on my sofa, my homicidal cat farting next to me and the sun pouring through the window. I await the opening of the local coffee shop, and then I will later spend the day with @fmsalexandra/The Editor in a sunny enclave. To you, this is the mundane, it hardly raises anything so grand as concepts of "liberty" and your relationship with the State.

But I spent most of my life waking up to bars, steel doors and having the minutiae of my life ordered by servants of the State. Liberties were taken. Violence was inflicted. My mail was censored, my phonecalls listened to, every piece of paper in my cell searched and read. Pulling back my foreskin – under threat of force - for some bureaucrat to check for contraband is as close and personal a relationship as you can get with Government power.

Those years of having any liberty denied and controlled, what little being dangled by petty minds, has given me a deep appreciation of both liberty and the relationship between the individual and the State. Which is why I am angry. Angry that most of us reduce Magna Carta to a general knowledge question, and shrug away the erosion of our privacy and liberty with a shocking indifference.

When I lead the prisoners union, I recall John Hirst – the blogger "jailhouselawyer" – dusting off Magna Carta in the face of the Governments refusal to address the prisoners votes judgement from the courts. Such was his fury and frustration that he resurrected the clause regarding any breach of Magna Carta – the right to wage "lawful rebellion". On my and the unions behalf, John declared legitimate war on the Government. It gave me a few sleepless nights – shades of the gallows before me for treason – but now I cannot help but wonder....

The time to challenge the States erosion of the sphere of private life is always here. But in these uncertain times, perhaps the time to assert our right as individuals in the face of Government intrusion is – now.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Probation Thing

Somewhere in the answer from the Parole Board ordering my release there is a slightly woeful passage pointing out that my Probation Officer will have their work cut out. It seems that am "challenging". Not that this is related to risk, the Board pointed out, but still – hard work to deal with.

You won't be surprised when I revealed that I am no great friend of the Probation Service. Each week I have to take half a day to trek to my nearest office and spill my gits to my State appointed keepers. It is not a situation I enjoy. And the purpose of this? It is politics, PR. For there is not a shred of evidence that supervising Lifers in the community has reduced our reoffending rate one iota. Zilch.

So when I am asked to sign a petition opposing the Government's proposals to privatise the heart of the Probation service, I had a cynical chuckle. There was even a moment when I was in discussion with one of the private companies intending to bid for Probation contracts. Welcome to the Dark Side.....

But I am, I hope, more reflective than that. Just because the Probation Service is the political tool used to molify an aggressively anti-prisoner public doesn't necessarily mean that the Probation Service is utterly useless. Dealing with Lifers is a miniscule portion of its workload and it would be cowardly of me to condemn the whole edifice due to my views of their relationship with me and my peers.

The Government proposes to put up for auction the majority of probation work, that is with criminals who are not assessed as being "high risk". Amongst others, G4S is interested in these contracts.

My – improbable, maybe – objection to this is that the Probation Service has met every target set by Government to reduce reoffending. Indeed, it is a fact that the reoffending rate for those under supervision is the lowest level ever.

I hold no brief for Government and its bureaucracies. As a general proposition, I think Government can screw anything up. And yet the Probation Service is not merely performing well, it is possibly one of the best performing public services.

In planning to break up this service and sell it, the Government is acting out of pure ideology. There is no evidence whatever that the private sector can do as well, let alone better. Indeed, the discussions I was in with the private sector revealed that they hadn't any clue how to even begin to do the job of probation.

In their ideological frenzy, the Government has blown its cover. If it had the slightest interest in reducing reoffending and protecting the public, it would allow all qualified parties to bed for future contracts. But, and this is the tipping point for me, the Government is barring Probation Trusts from even bidding for the work. The only people with any expertise in this work are being specifically forbidden from being involved in it.

I love change, I revel in innovation. These are qualities that the private sector excel. But the are attitudes, not areas of specific expertise in themselves. Allowing the private sector to bring some of its methodologies and attitudes into the efforts to reduce reoffending may well be a good idea. Yet the way the Government is about to destroy the body into which the private sector can inject its expertise.

Reducing crime is an interesting and often hypnotic political mantra. After all, who could disagree with that aim? And yet there is the temptation for policy makers to forget that every point on their charts, every number on their tables of data actually represents genuine and individual suffering. Crime is not an aggregate for politicians to toy with and manipulate, it is the collective pain of individual victims.

And the danger is, thanks to Chris Grayling, that when the laments of these victims to cut crime are wailed into the air in the hope of some genuine understanding and purposeful response, the people who respond will not be the successful dedicated specialists who have been labouring at this effort for a lifetime. Instead, the door will be opened by an underpaid, undertrained private sector worker who will be as concerned with cutting costs as cutting crime.

Writing this has been the product of a personal struggle. I hope that my lifetimes experience as a vocal critic of the Probation Service can only add some depth of meaning where my fumbling wordplay has failed. Save the Probation Service – and keep cutting crime.

Child Abuse.

"David Cameron's statement said he was "sickened by the proliferation of child pornography." DISGUSTING".

Are you just a regular bod, bumbling along through life? I am, pretty much. And, like me, that statement may cause your brain to judder for a microsecond as you try to unravel its implications. Is someone really complaining that our Glorious Leader is disgusted by kiddie porn? Is this a quote from someone who feels their ability to watch child abuse is being outrageously circumscribed by the State?

I'm not identifying the source, except to say its someone whose official career was dedicated to fighting child abuse. The quote is merely illustrative and a jumping off point for my annoyance and bafflement. He is not – despite the initial impression – annoyed that the PM is speaking out against child abuse.

Unless you are au fait with the politics and terminology of child sexual abuse – "CSA" to those in the know – then like me you wouldn't appreciate the source of this outrage. It turns out that the words "child porn" are a source of angst, objects of pain and because of that subject to a campaign which renders them verbotten from the language. Don't worry, you can still use the words "child" and "porn", but just not together.

Perhaps, like me, you scratched your head and wondered- pour qua?! Because whenever I hear the words "child porn" I know precisely what it refers to. It means pictures of children in a sexual context. And, being children, by both moral and legal definition this is firmly in the category of "abuse". "Child porn" means pictures of children being abused. Is anyone not following me? Do any of you think otherwise when you see those words?

Those campaigning against the term "child porn" are insisting that what we all understand by it is that it is consensual, because of the word "porn". I never have. Have you? What I understand by "porn" is sexual material intended to titilate. It is not a comment on its legality or moral status, anymore than adding the word "porn" to "rape" or "animal" makes it all kosher. No one has sat at their keyboard and thought, "hmmm, because its porn it must be okay"...and then searched for "child porn".

I dislike being told by a group of campaigners what I understand or mean by the words "child porn". I know it means abuse, you all know its abuse. But so wrapped up in their own view of the world have they become that when the PM uses it in the context of denouncing child abuse someone calls it DISGUSTING. Note the capitals. That's the extent of this misplaced attempt to warp our language.

And because these campaigners insist that what WE understand by "child porn" is that its consensual, as if we think abused kids are a succession of Jenna Jameson mini-me's, they take umbrage. Because they are rapidly persuading themselves that what we believe is that "child porn" is okay, they are feeling demeaned and insulted in having their suffering minimised.

I am not persuaded. Everyone knows that "child porn" equals pictures of child abuse. None of us ever thought otherwise. And I dislike any group telling us what we mean, wrongly, and then feeling insulted.

I think this is one of the most specious and manufactured campaigns ever, an outgrowth of some "survivor" ideology and in no way a reflection of reality. In case anyone is in any doubt about the abusive meaning of "child porn", the clue is in the name: "CHILD porn". We are not idiots. Feel free not to tell us what we mean when we know damn well.

And feel free to note the important stuff and not some bizarre lexicological debate. The Prime Mnister is decrying child abuse on the internet. That's quite important, it may lead to significant policy changes. But such is the circular, inward looking view of some people that he is abused because of their focus on the language Cameron used. Talk about wood and trees....

And in case you're wondering, the terms insisted upon instead of "child porn" are – images of child abuse, child abuse images, and variations on the theme. I offer them to you so you can avoid the seminological hole I found myself in – and just in case you were thinking that the words "child porn" meant it was all legal and consensual.

Just in case....

Friday, June 7, 2013

Rape, AIDS, and Cockwombling

No, I don't know what it means, but being labelled a "cockwomble" is the mildest of the insults heaped upon my head of late. It sounds quite friendly though, doesn't it? Never have I been so determined to ask people to think – and never have I seen such clear reasons why they need to.

Recently I have been out and about on Twitter and bumping into stranger than usual folk. Regular readers will appreciate that I do challenge the status quo around all things criminal justice and that do so for very good reasons. Chief amongst these is that when we call for the full weight of the State to be brought down on individuals, we should do so with great care and with an eye to that most nebulous (and fragile) of ideas, Justice.

And I write with some consideration to the fact that criminal justice is not an abstract, it is the aggregation of the pain of a vast number of individuals. Equally, I know that when some issues are discussed then people engage with their gut long before they engage their brain. Even so, I was taken aback by the response to my dabbling in sexual politics and the place of sexual offences in the panoply of wickedness.

It began when I saw a campaign headed "I believe her", propagating the view that all rape victims should be believed. I assumed even the dimmest or most ideological could glimpse the flaw in that idea – sometimes an accusation is false. To simply "believe" is to throw out the justice process, essentially renders the trial process pointless. Thought everyone would appreciate my concern.... Well. They didn't. People – mostly women – popped up from the wilder regions of the ideological landscape and accused me of being a rape-apologist and a danger to women.

It always fascinates me that when you question someones position, they often assume that you hold the opposite view to them. In questioning "I believe", therefore, in their minds I was coming from the perspective of a crazy rapist. Feeling massively insulted I did explain that surely a campaign to have all allegations properly investigated would be a far better – and just – proposition. Alas, to no avail. The abuse flowed freely – never from me – and being said to look as if I have AIDS was one of the milder comments.

As an experience, this was something I found shocking. And I've spent my life in a rather robust environment. It's not as if I'm a stranger to harsh words..... Although, in the prison environment, if you were to suggest someone was a nonce – wrong un – sex offender – then it was a declaration of war. You substantiate it, withdraw it instantly, or be prepared for a beating. It's a very, very serious thing to say. Not on the web, it seems, where being nonced-off is a mere flip across the keyboard.

Stupidly, instead of engaging and exploring the issues I was blasted by this wall of ideology. Some woman cheerfully told me that they hated all men, and that all men were either rapists or rape-condoners. Imagine a guy saying something like that? It was a mindset which I couldn't fathom and which wasn't interested in exploring my views.

Rape victims can get treated shockingly badly by the police and the whole criminal justice process. Some of this can and should be addressed, with better interviewing techniques and more professional investigations. Some suffering may be inevitable, no matter what our sympathy – in the trial process, for instance. If you are going to accuse a man of such a terrible crime as rape, you need to prove your case, and be challenged on your evidence.

For the women who attacked me, this was inflammatory stuff of the highest order. Due to trials, some men – "rapists" – "got away with it". That the alternative seems to be to just throw men into prison on a nod escaped them. By even attempting to explore these nuances and balances, I became a rape-apologist. Period. Either bought into their views lock, stock or I was on the side of the abuser. To them it's simple. That my actual interest is "justice" for all involved is a subtlety of thought and intent that no one wanted to hear. Ideology smothered thought – the most dangerous of situations.

No sooner had the bruises from that begin to fade, some damn teacher was reported as being cleared to teach again despite having being caught with indecent images of kids ("child porn" is now a forbidden phrase, seems it implies consent....). All hell broke loose. Most seemed to want him chucked in prison – he received a caution – and never allowed near kids. There were knees jerking all over the internet.

I asked two questions. What useful purpose would be served by throwing him in prison? And why assume he's an actual danger to kids? Because – hold onto your hats – sex offenders come in a multipilicity of shades. And evidence shows that many who use images of abused kids (which this wasn't) stay at that level, they never commit "contact offences". So – did this guy present a risk to his potential pupils? For attempting to open the door to this discussion, the ex MP Louise Mensch has called me an apologist and defender of paedophiles.

Child protection, rape, all crimes are horrible. Instinctive responses may not be the most fruitful ones. We need to talk about these things – for the sake of the very victims people claim to care about.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Daniel and the Lion's Den

I seem to spend an improbable amount of time on trains. Mostly to and from the Westcountry and Paddington, on which station I am now an expert. If you need to find a free loo or handy powersocket, I'm yer man.

Today – a rare weekend excursion – I'm off to points Northwards to the www.FACTuk.org conference. This is behind closed doors and in an undisclosed location for the obvious reasons – FACT do the excellent if unpopular work of campaigning around false accusations of abuse. My attendance as a speaker is likely to be somewhat more awkward than my usual talks, as I am attending solely to explain how and why it was I came to make a false allegation myself some 15 years ago. Once I knew the guy was actually innocent, I withdrew my claim and have banged the drum for his innocence and against the police trawling process in such cases. Nevertheless, on the lies of others – cleverly manipulated by the police – the guy was convicted and served 12 years in prison. For crimes he did not commit I expect some harsh quesioning....but it is only fair I take it and just hope that my perspective on how the police manipulated their investigation can somehow help those fighting such cases.

In my work at Inside Justice one of the types of cases that cause me to groan with frustration are those characterised as "historical abuse". There are no forensics, rarely a clear alibi, and the whole thing reduces to "he said, she said". It is difficult to move such cases forward, especially once you realise that the Court of Appeal  does not exist to correct a clearly insane jury verdict. No matter how mindboggling the verdict may be on the face of the evidence, that is not a ground of appeal. Being innocent isn't a persuasive argument to gain a hearing before their Lordships.

It is important, then, that those like myself who have been on the inside of such cases and investigations stand up and give an account of not only our own actions, but a clear analysis of how it is that the police can take an innocent man and marshall enough evidence out of thin air to have them incarcerated.

If attempting to redress these injustices at the end of the criminal justice process is so very difficult, perhaps it may be better to try to prevent them in the first place.

Off to take my lumps now. Ho hum.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


No sooner had I bitched about Grayling and the broad thrust of Tory prison policy then the man himself decided to make the nightmares come true. The first I really knew about it was when a couple of media orgs contacted me to see if I was available to comment on Graylings announcement the next day. Unlike the rest of us, media folk are given copies of ministerial waffle a day in advance, on the understanding that it is under embargo until a specific time. These were duly winged my way, and I went to sleep with a nasty taste in my mouth at what was to come on awakening.

Whizzed down to London I duly popped up on the ITV daybreak programme at the unearthly hour of 0640. A time I had previously existed only as a myth. The green room there on the south bank is populated by two long sofas and a coffee bar. The latter is the most essential item. The sparse population of guests for the programme at that hour were all seated, being shuffled between makeup, coffee and nibbles. As is the way in TV land, I was accompanying a victim of crime into the studio. Mrs X’s son had been killed in a particularly empty assault and, unsurprisingly, she had views that diverged from mine. We met in the green room and chatted quite pleasantly I was was pleased to learn that she was keen on education and training, albeit in a punitive environment, and not a dull person filled with blind hatred.

At the appointed moment we were gently molested by those tasked to administer microphones about our person and led into a corner of the studio. The presenters were about their business and, as a video tape played, we were ushered onto the sofa. A few words of greeting and straight into the questions… here’s a secret. I never prepare responses; I never try to fathom what may be thrown at me and pre plan any response; neither do I have prepared points I wish to lever clumsily into the exchange. My working theory – and its succeeded so far – is that there isn’t a single issue around prison that I haven’t spent years considering, and so my responses flow from that history spontaneously. The danger in this is that a question may floor me completely, but we shall see!

Time takes on a different meaning before a camera. I know, objectively, that the telly puppet masters are controlling the whole environment down to the last second but in the moment I somehow fail to recognise this in that I don’t try to squeeze in as much of what I want to actually say as possible. I just talk. When time runs out every guest feels slightly bereft, left knowing there was so much more to say…

I shot out of the studio like a jackrabbit, knowing a car was awaiting to scuttle me across the Thames to the BBC – Radio 5 Live Breakfast with Nicky Campbell. It was one of the grand artdeco buildings the BBC still clings to – thankfully – and I shot up the grand staircase to reception behind schedule. Radio 5…breakfast..Ben Gunn…guest…” and the guards pointed this wheezing apparition to the next floor. Where I found, in the corner, an incongruous room that leapt from grander days but was now fitted with headphones, mikes and the paraphernalia that wafts disembodied voices across the airwaves. Max from thePpolicy Exchange was already there and we faced each other across a small table. No idea where Nicky Campbell was, not even in the same county as far I ever knew. Voices of producers and presenters streamed through our headphones and we said our respective pieces. Somewhere in all of this I'm pretty sure I also spoke with Nick Ferrari on LBC. Forgive me, this was all absurdly early and very rushed!

That episode concluded, off up the stairs several minutes late to the sky breakfast studio. Shoved into a cubicle to be faced with a monitor, camera and microphones I felt slightly disembodied as Eamonn Holmes spoke to me. Item concluded, I sat for a moment…no one came. TV folk assume everyone knows what’s what but this was all new to me. Rather timidly I pulled the door open to be faced with….Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling. Yep, it was himself. And a flunky. Probably a PPS or the like, but anyone trailing behind someone I recognise carrying pieces of paper falls under the heading of “flunky”.
Grayling extended his hand and said good morning. I grinned, shook his hand and said, “Just so you know, ‘ve just given you a kicking in there.” Unperturbed he replied, “that’s alright, I’m on in 10 and will return the favour…” I shot off to the exit and the next car, wondering just what the hell I could say to him in a few brief moments that could convey the depth of my meaning.

On the pavement TWO cars awaited. Like an idiot I forsook the Mercedes for the Prius (Clarkson, forgive me…) and shuddered back to ITV for round two at the coveted 8.10 spot. Essentially a repeat of the earlier exchange, but made more interesting by the appearance of Julian Clary into the Green Room. I pondered. And couldn’t resist. Leaning around the PA who sat between us I spoke. “Mr Clary, did you ever meet Norman Lamont?” Alas “No”. And if you need the potential humour in that meeting to be explained, you’re way too young.

And here my mind begins to fade, my memories fragmenting. It was only just past 8am and I had already done 3 TV and 2 radio interviews. Something else happens here, another interview to fill an hour of my time? Because I knew I was due at Portland Place for the Beeb again at 10 till 1130. No snazzy green room with nibbles and coffee at the Beeb, just straight into a “sound pod” which made a cell seem spacious, to give 9 back to back interviews with local radio stations.

By the end of this I was in need of coffee and sleep. Or either. Instead I found myself being led into the lower levels of the building to the News 24 studio, where I bumped into my old boss from the Howard League who was also giving interviews reacting to Grayling’s proposals. In response to my bemoaning this treadmill he told he he had recently given 25 interviews in a single day. Blimey.

Without any experience of TV studios we have a mental image of how it must be. Presenters, technical people and, obviously, cameras and camera operators. All of my experience to date only reinforced that picture, until I came face to face with what I can only call a robotic studio- BBC News 24. The presenters sit in front of a glass wall with the floor of the Beeb dedicated to news hustles and bustles behind them. The circular desk at which they sit has monitors recessed beneath the glass surface. So far, not so odd. But as I was led in I noted only one other person…and four cameras whizzing around on semi-circular rails, televisual C3PO’s that popped up next to you without warning. It was weird.

After saying my piece and backing away from the robots, it was back upstairs for two further radio interviews and then to re-enter the normal world. I stood in a small alley behind the nearby church at Portland Place and felt utterly and completely drained. The alley was full of piss smelling cardboard, and I won’t deny that the idea of just laying down to go to sleep didn’t cross my mind!

Not an option…I had to catch up on a dozen voicemails and phone my long-suffering probation officer. And explain just why I wasn’t sitting in her office as per established appointment. For amongst this chaos my travel plans had gone massively awry. It’s fortunate that I have never even come close to never making any previous appointments and oil was poured upon the waters to everyone’s satisfaction.

Which still left me exhausted. So I wended my way across London to the Howard League, turning my mobile off for respite, to catch up with the bits and pieces  do there with students and youth. This gave me a few hours calm. At some point I made the error of switching my phone on, to find myself with engagements for Channel 5 News and then the Iain Dale phone-in show on LBC.

At Channel 5 I bumped into Max from the Policy Exchange again, who somehow forgot to mention that he had designed the IEP Scheme in several prisons…but a fair opponent in these debates. And as is the way when time is vital, in the car to LBC I hit every set of red lights across London. Dripping sweat I ran up the
stairs 20 minutes to late, to be welcomed by the always urbane Iain Dale. This was a phone-in, a new experience for me and one fraught with potential to be a vicious engagement. It wasn’t.

I finally staggered into bed at midnight. This was the most hectic and gruelling day I have experienced since release and if nothing else increased my respect for those celebs touring to flog us their wares. And then I had to ponder quite why I said yes to any of these things , rather than no.

This is a serious business. There are so few ex prisoners able or willing to stand in public and risk speaking, especially when that message may not be the one most popularly received. Prison is in my bones, perhaps inevitably, and whilst I no longer feel the sharp anger of the prisoner there is rarely a conversation where I don’t inadvertently say “we” rather than they. I am a prisoner, albeit on license, and I also have the outrage of any sensible person when faced with populist political interference in prison life.

The core issue at hand, whether prison life is too hard or too soft, is to be distracted from the true path. The question Grayling should be asking – if need be on the insistence of the electorate – is whether anything he proposes will actually reduce future crime.

And that is the question our politicians won’t go near, for fear of popular dissent. The assumption is that people prefer “tough” to effective”. If that is right, then the consequences fall on our heads and consciences and we should be ashamed of ourselves for swapping the pain of future victims for a brief atavistic twitch of glee rooted in prisoner-hating.

Friday, April 26, 2013

For one night only....

Some have complained that I rarely mention my daily doings here but instead splash about on Twitter. Fair cop. So.... Tonight I am talking at Kaplan Law School in London, having a chat with a journalist from The Economist, and attending my weekly probation appointment.

Involving a trip to London, today will invariably include a foray onto Twitter to launch my usual bitter diatribe against GWR as I travel back, and quite possibly some harsh words to those who peddle simplistic ideas about criminal justice.

Tomorrow I take possession of my new place.

There, now you know. Happy now?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

All The Best Bands Have A Conductor of Genius

Recent weeks have been a time of great turmoil. My silence here, and on Twitter, may have been the only visible clue that something was amiss. I am moving out of the home created by The Editor and into my own place, hopefully for no more than a few months.

Only the other night we were talking about the origins of the blog, and realised we couldn't recall who first thought of the idea. I think it was her. Whichever of us had that spark of inspiration doesn't really matter, because it grew into being Ours. It is her efforts and struggles that have afforded me the life that I now live and struggle to adapt to, with all its positive potential.

It shadowed our relationship, its birth, how we developed and the mess I have made of it. But the blog continues and I hope it will prosper in every way and lead me back to the obvious conclusion. That the blog, and I, need The Editor.

Watch this space.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

One Man Band

Long term readers will know that this blog has always had someone in the background   Whilst in prison, Ben could not post the blogs himself.  He sent them to me - usually typed on a word processor but sometimes handwritten - and I would scan, edit if need be, and post to the blog. Since release, Ben has not really needed an Editor. I just hunt for the odd rogue apostrophe or typo before hitting the publish button.

Sadly, Ben and I are going separate ways.  He needs to find his path and I need to pick up the threads of my life as it was before he came into it.  So please forgive him the occasional typo, for the foreseeable future at least...

Alex (the "Ed")

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Plain Nasty

There is a rather vicious strain of old Tory nastiness beginning to peep through the urbane curtain that cloaks the Minister of Justice, Chris Grayling. Those of us who were quietly hoping that he would broadly follow the course of Ken Clarke, even whilst talking tough to please the Tory Right, are having to cope with pointed reminders that the Conservative Party does contain a streak of straightforward oppressive nastiness. This was last seen in relation to criminal justice, to any great extent, with Michael Howard and Ann Widdecombe.

Jack Straw attempted to pick up their baton and did a fair facsimile, but the reality of him was that not only couldn’t he couldn’t resist the authoritarianism inherent in the Leftist ideology but he coupled it with a populism that was so barefaced and naked that he was in perpetual risk of being visited by the Porn Squad. The policy outcomes may look similar in intent, but in motivation Leftist authoritarianism and Rightist nastiness are worlds apart.

This is no consolation for those on the receiving end of Grayling’s venomous proposals. Three, in particular, strike me as being not only repellent but utterly futile – they will cause untold harm but add nothing to the social good. This is a hallmark of Conservative law and order spasms.

The bill for legal aid is high. Not staggeringly so, and given the importance of Justice to a society it would be hard to fairly say what is too much. Even so, removing legal aid from those at risk of genuine personal harm and persecution should be the last consideration of a Government in straightened financial times. Asylum seekers appealing deportation no longer have the ability to claim legal aid. A thousand miles from home, afraid to return for fear of the consequences, all of a sudden these people have to grapple not only with their personal situation but with an alien language and a legal procedure that baffles even the natives of this country. Quite how much will be saved from the bill for this, and how many will be returned to countries who will abuse them, is a calculation only the most immoral will be willing to contemplate. Grayling has chosen that mantle.

The nature of prison regimes is a perpetual bugbear, a target for the ill informed, the plain stupid and tabloid journalists. These categories are not mutually exclusive… Having trundled along for nearly 20 years with a system of earned privileges and regimes as set out by Michael Howard, Grayling has thrown this stability into the shadow of potential chaos. I wrote a blogpost on his idea – Grayling's Riot Recipe – which sums up my view of the potential consequences. And, as with legal aid changes, there is no earthly possible good that can come from this. It is simply an attempt to make people miserable, at risk of huge instabilities and suicides, with no known or foreseen reductions in crime.

Four million quid. That’s less than the Ministerial biscuit-budget. But in order to shave this off a 2 Billion legal aid bill Grayling is preventing prisoners gaining legal aid to sue the prison service for a whole range of issues. One of these is transfers. With about 130 prisons to choose from, prisoners are shuffled around the nation on an hourly basis, all to suit the particular needs of governors. It is, essentially, “bed management”. Like many internal prison issues this may seem trivial to outsiders, but consider – being transferred a hundred miles away from home, too far and too expensive for your family to visit. Children lose their father, wives lose their husbands, and society will later pick up the many costs of that. Such are the issues Grayling insists can be dealt with by the internal complaints system- that is, the prison service holding itself to account. The main cause of the riots in 1990 was the perception by prisoners that they were not being treated justly….Anyone else see the flaw in this idea?

It is being plain nasty for the sake of it. Which brings me to the latest uttering from Grayling – to make those convicted of a crime pay the costs of their own prosecution. So we take the largely disposessed and poor, sling them in prison, then release them back into a society that doesn’t want to employ them with a bill for their own punishment.

Morally, I would suggest this is ambivalent at best. Courts already have the power to make compensation and cost orders. To make this a mandatory scheme will be a structural invitation to criminals trying to go straight to just throw their hands in the air and reach for the jemmy and the shotgun.

There are ways to cut crime, to deal with illegal immigration and cut the legal aid bill. But to use the ineptitude of Government and the financial system to persecute and further exclude those on the margins and already bearing the weight of government power is repulsive. And yet, it is politically popular or Grayling wouldn’t do it. Whether it is popular with the electorate is a matter yet to be seen; but it is certainly popular with a section of the Tory party which has a nasty, vicious streak running through its psyche.