As a rule, I don’t write about other prisoners in a way that identifies them. However, I do write about things which are already in the public arena, such as films and articles, and where these put forward a false picture, I feel like I should also put forward the reality. That said, I would never want to do it gratuitously so, whilst I’m sure most of you will have an inkling of who I am talking about here, I will refer to him only as Dali. I’m sure he would would approve of this himself.
The film based on Dali’s life, and named after him, is the biggest lot of nonsense I have seen in years. Yes, some of the things depicted did happen, but the character himself is pure fantasy peppered with headlines.
On Channel 4’s Prison Night program (aired on 7th November 2015) Noel Smith said that Dali was put on one to twelve unlock, meaning that 12 officers had to be present whenever he was unlocked as this was how many officers it was believed it would take to restrain him. 12 may well have been the number at some point, but that certainly isn’t the reason. It portrays an image where 10 or 11 officers would not be enough and that simply isn’t true. Noel also said that he himself was put on 1 to 4 at one point. These days it is referred to as 4 man unlock (or whatever the number may be). Let me make it clear, I am in no way a prison ‘hard man’. I have been put in restraint just three times in fourteen years. The first time was aged 17 when I was hit by another prisoner from behind, got up to defend myself and was immediately tackled and held down. The second time was when I refused to return to my cell as I needed to see a governor and wanted to be moved to the segregation unit where I knew this would be possible. The third time was when three officers assaulted me and then held me in restraint whilst they first punched me and then stripped me naked in front of males and females, officers and governors alike. Following this, the officers concerned falsely accused me of headbutting one of them. This charge was subsequently dismissed. It was untrue. In fact, on none of those three occasions did I even fight back! Yet, after the assault on me and the officer’s false allegation, I myself was put on 4 man unlock. Not because, as Noel Smith put it, this is how many people it would take to restrain you, but because they measure it according to your willingness to lash out, and the allegation that had been made against me caused them to deem me a higher risk. It was dropped again to a standard level unlock within days. In Dali’s case, I think it probably would have taken a few people to restrain him at his fitness peak. Not anymore. Take it from someone who has met him. I won’t go into too much detail, as I don’t want to talk about the particular individual beyond what is relevant to correcting what has been falsely portrayed in the media. But I have also read articles penned by Dali’s own hand which claim that he has put all that nastiness behind him, is peaceful, should be allowed to progress, and is being oppressed by the system.
Newsflash, the system sucks. We’re all oppressed by it. Some of us are oppressed more than others, and Dali is one of those, I’m sure, but it happens to all of us to some extent. But Dali’s claims of pacifism are simply untrue. Forget meeting him, take it from someone who was threatened by him. Threatened from the other side of a fence, but certainly not threatened with him drawing a nasty picture of me. Pacifist he isn’t.
But I’m going to move away from Dali now, because actually this applies to quite a few prisoners who think they are ‘it’. Some of them once were. Some of them never will be. But all share a mentality in common. They come to a point where they are bored of prison and they want to progress. But they have grown to feel so secure with the persona of ‘hard man’ that they simply can’t let it go completely. So they all start doing the same thing. They say the right things – “I’m peaceful”, “I haven’t had a violent episode in years”, “I have put all that. nastiness behind me” – but they do it with reference to both memories and talismans of their ‘glory days’, they complain that they are still “kept in a cage and not allowed into general population” because of their past, they say that they “haven’t committed an act of violence in years”. These are references, of course, to the idea that they are changed and are now being treated unfairly – it is them who are the victims. But they are also references to the fact that these are the conditions they had to be put in, and that they could be violent, they just choose not to. Why do they never just say, “I’ve made mistakes. I was wrong. I see that now. Here’s why I did it. I know that was unacceptable. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.” It’s because they still want to be thought of as ‘hard men’ but don’t like having to put up with the consequences of actually following through on it any more. They want you to think of them as “Britain’s most dangerous prisoners” but also to feel sorry for the poor man being oppressed by the system.
Let’s get it straight, if you are being kept in harsh conditions because of something you did a long time ago then yes, that is unfair. But try being subjected to harsh treatment for things you haven’t done. That really is hell.
The fact is, Dali et al are suffering now because of their own violent actions. If they truly made efforts to show they have changed, rather than always referring back to what they used to be, then they might make some progress. Meanwhile, there are plenty who are suffering for no reason other than that the system has a grudge against them. In my case I was wrongly accused of something minor seven years ago, I fought it, and I won. But the system is never wrong. You merely got away with it. You couldn’t possibly be truly innocent. So the next time they can, the screws throw something else at you. And they keep throwing until something sticks. And, of course, every time it doesn’t stick, it becomes slightly more embarrassing for them, and the notes on your file build up further and further until the whole thing creates an entirely false impression of you. You’re labelled and you can’t escape it. Just a few weeks ago one of the senior officers on my wing actually said “you know, when you first moved onto this wing I was warned that you were a violent thug who would cause us problems every day. But you’ve never been like that on here, have you?” I replied, “No. Not here. And not anywhere else either.”
I have come up against it so many times. The people who don’t see you as being a problem at all never go around telling people that, because it simply isn’t news. But those who don’t like you, or who have a problem with you, or even who you may have embarrassed by disproving their slander, will happily tell everyone they know how bad you are. I have honestly lost count of the number of people who have expressed shock to me about how I really am compared with how they were told I would be before I even arrived.
And it is worse for some other people. I know one person who is kept in exactly the same conditions as Dali for no other reason than that he is a danger to staff, despite the fact that when he was put on trial for the incident that led to that claim, he was found not guilty! Forget about all those people who are suffering because they refuse to let go of their ‘hard man’ image. Some of us never claimed to be ‘hard men’ at all, and are still being punished.
And when you next watch the film based on Dali’s life and see the exaggerated dramatisation of it, remember that it is nothing more than fantasy and headlines. It is no documentary. And when you next read an article by him, claiming to have changed, count the times he refers back to what he did without once apologising. And when you sit back and wonder how these two images reconcile themselves, consider this: The film was made with the cooperation and contribution of Dali himself. If he was really trying to leave all that behind, would he really have not just consented but participated in it’s graphic depiction?
I know I wouldn’t.