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.