Back from the Brink (Part One)

Hello? Is anyone still there? So I’ve been gone for quite a while. That is a very long story.

But I’m back. And I have news. Fancy a catch up?

When I last wrote anything of substance I had just faced segregation and adjudication for a serious misuse of the prison telephones

I detailed that here at the time. The adjudication was subsequently quashed but, as I’ve written before, I nevertheless take full responsibility for my actions. In fact, I take even more responsibility for those actions now than I did at the time, in part because I have since found out that my breach had the unintended effect of enabling someone else to engage in far more serious activities than I ever thought would be the case. I’m not actually allowed to write about those (due to the strict restrictions on identifying other prisoners or talking about their crimes) but suffice to say, I was a bit shaken up when I discovered the knock on effects that my actions had and I will not be repeating them again.

But none of that was why I disappeared from here for so long. After that saga had run its course I received two messages from established journalists wanting information about prison life in relation to a couple of different topics. Now, the prison rules state that I am not permitted to communicate with journalists by telephone or on a visit without the permission of the prison governor but that, if I want to communicate with them in writing, I do not need permission to do so. However, knowing how angry the prison security department were at me for my recent breach of the rules, not to mention how frustrated they must have been that the adjudication was then overturned on a technicality, I thought I would make the effort to build some bridges.

I have said for a long time that I would rather work with the prison authorities than against them, but that relies on mutual communication.

So I asked a member of the security team who I’d had prior contact with to come and see me and, when he did, I told him about the messages I had received from the two journalists. I said that I intended to write to them, answering their questions and giving them information for their articles, and I told him that although I didn’t need permission to reply, I wanted to give him a chance to raise any objection the prison might have before I do so. I also made it clear that, if there were an objection I would take it into account and think carefully about what I say in my reply, but that it was a goodwill gesture, not a case of me offering him a veto. He replied that he would consult others in his department and let me know by the end of the week.

But he didn’t. In fact, two weeks later, I had still heard nothing back so, in a further attempt to make the effort, I got an officer on my wing to telephone him to ask if there was anything he wanted to contribute before I send my reply.

“No”, said the officer. “He says they have no objection to you replying to the journalists,

but they’ll confirm in writing by the end of the week.”

Ok then, I thought. I can wait until then. But no confirmation came through. There was nothing. Not by the end of that week, and not by the end of the following week. But as far as I was concerned, they had made it clear that they had no objection and, even if they had done, I didn’t need permission to write back to the journalists in question anyway, so I penned my responses.

Unfortunately, prison service timescales and journalistic timescales are about as comparable as seconds and centuries.

I had already kept the journalists waiting for about a month whilst I was busy building bridges with the security depai talent and I didn’t intend to make them wait any longer. So I dictated my replies over the telephone to my family who typed up what I said and sent it to the journalists on my behalf.

And that was it. End of story. At least, I thought it was until a month later when the member of staff from the prison security department came back to my wing to see me. He said that there was still no objection to me replying to the journalists, but asked me to hold off for just a little bit longer whilst he tries to get the confirmation of that in writing, signed off by a governor. My gut twisted.

“This is awkward,” I said. “But I already replied.”

“What?” he asked.

“Well, I was told you had no objection and, since I don’t actually need permission to reply in writing, I thought that your confirmation was just a formality.”

“Yeah.”

“So I waited a couple more weeks and when I didn’t hear anything I sent the replies.”

He wasn’t happy. But he wasn’t angry either. He simply said that it was frustrating that he’d been running around trying to get it signed off when the replies had already gone but it was true that I hadn’t broken any rules so, in future, we should both just be a bit better at communicating. I agreed and, actually, I felt quite good about the conversation. I had said for a long time that the stumbling point in such matters was poor communication and, if there was a possibility that that might be about to get better, then I thought that was fantastic.

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