Back from the Brink (Part Two)

Yesterday I wrote about how the lack of communication between me and the prison authorities here led to a frustrating situation for all concerned. Today I want to tell you about how that frustration became discipline and punishment.

The member of staff from the security department who I had been liaising with had made it clear that, as frustrating as the situation was, I hadn’t actually broken any rules. But one of the governors had other ideas. The following day I was called into the wing office and informed that, once again, I was being placed on telephone restrictions (only being allowed to use the prison telephones by booking a ten minute call first thing in the morning which would be listened to live by a member of staff). Then, to make matters worse, I received a Notice of Report informing me that I was being placed on adjudication by one of the governors for breaching the Prison Service Instruction (PSI) regarding communications. To be specific, they said that the PSI in question states that:

“a prisoner may not ask, in writing or otherwise, another person either inside or outside the establishment they are held in, to make on his or her behalf a communication which he or establishment they are held in, to make on his or her behalf a communication which he or she would not be allowed to make direct”.

They said that, by asking my family to type up and send my replies to the journalists in question, I had breached this rule and would therefore be punished. However, my defence was simple. The rule states that a prisoner cannot ask someone to make a communication on their behalf which they would not be permitted to make directly, but there is no rule against a prisoner asking someone to make a communication on their behalf where the prisoner is permitted to make that communication directly. For example, prisoners cannot ask their friends to pass a message to the victim of that prisoner’s offences because the prisoner would not be allowed to contact their victim directly. However, a prisoner is allowed to ask their father to pass a message to their mother because the prisoner is (generally) permitted to do so directly. In my case, yes, I did ask my family to make a communication on my behalf, but there is no rule against me sending written replies to the journalists directly, so neither is there any rule against someone sending those replies in writing on my behalf. However, the governor was not convinced.

Although I think that my defence was well justified on a sound and logical interpretation of the stated rule, the governor kept talking himself in circles.

“Yes,” he agreed. “You are permitted to write to journalists directly without permission, but you didn’t write to them directly, you asked someone else to write to them on your behalf and that isn’t allowed because you can’t ask someone to send something on your behalf if you are not permitted to send it yourself directly and although you are permitted to write what you did directly, you are only permitted to do that directly if you actually do it directly and not indirectly like you did.”

“What?” I asked.

“You’re guilty,” he replied.

Following the guilty finding against me I put all online activities on hold. I stopped blogging, stopped tweeting, stopped replying to e-mails. I stopped everything. And I sent a letter to the member of the prison security department who had (originally) agreed that I had broken no rules before being overruled by one of the governors. I wrote that I wanted us to all get on the same page as to what is allowed and what is not because, until this adjudication, I believed that what I had done was perfectly fine and within the rules but that, clearly, they interpret the rules differently to me (and arguably, to any fan of rationalism). I then set out the rules I believed applied to my various online activities and what my interpretation of those rules was. I asked for him to read what I had written and to reply to me, correcting anything about my interpretation of the rules that he might disagree with and stating that, if there is any disagreement, I will be happy to operate within his interpretation of the rules rather than my own until the differences can be ironed out, but that I cannot be expected to follow his interpretation if he does not share it with me.

That letter was attached to an application and sent to him on the 28th of June 2017. The standard deadline for application responses is five working days. I did not receive the reply to this letter until the 14th of September 2018, over 300 working days later. And here is the summary of what I put to him, along with his verbatim replies:

I am permitted to publish my writing online whether on my blog or on Twitter and third party sites, but not on social media sites such as Facebook.

The reply: “Though you disagree, I believe Twitter is a social media site therefore posting is not permitted, you are permitted to post on your blog site.”

He made no mention of third party sites so I can only infer that he had no objection to that. Court rulings have held that Twitter is actually ‘new media’, ‘short form blogging’, and ‘a method of self-publishing’, not a social network per se, but we will split the difference and, as promised I will stop posting on my Twitter account. Control of my Twitter account has therefore been given to a third party who is free to use it as they see fit, and I will not ask them to post anything there unless and until this disagreement is ironed out.

I am permitted to receive e-mails, comments, Twitter messages and tweets, and other communications that have been sent to me.

The reply: “Yes, you are permitted so long as they adhere to related PSI’s”

I am permitted to reply to communications sent to me in the above formats etc., provided they adhere to standard rules regarding permitted content.

The reply: “Unsure”.

That’s it? Just, “Unsure”? Again, how am I supposed to operate within their interpretation of the rules when they haven’t even decided what their interpretation is yet? Well, all I can say is that no objection has yet been raised and, on that basis alone, no rule against this has been communicated to me.

I detailed my interpretation of what is and is not permitted in regard to the content of communications.

The reply: “I agree. A lot of points are open to interpretation therefore it is very difficult to give you a definitive answer”.

Again, what am I meant to do with that answer? If they aren’t clear on the correct interpretation, how is it possible that I’ve been punished for not following their opinion of the correct interpretation?

Finally, I set out my interpretation of what methods of communication are permitted, including my view that dictation over the telephone is permitted.

The reply: “Security would prefer for all blog posts/articles to be sent via censors”.

Prefer? Is that what it says on the tin – simply a preference – or is it an order? In this case I’m going to operate under the belief that it is an order. But at least this part of his reply is a bit clearer.

And so there we have it. Official approval of me being permitted to blog has been given in writing. I can blog but I cannot tweet. I can receive communications and there is no objection to me replying. These communications must be sent out in writing and not dictated over the telephone. And the rules on content are “difficult to give a definitive answer” about but, again, no objection to my own interpretation has been raised. But I’m back. And, like I said yesterday, I have news to share. Good news. But you’ll have to wait for my next post for that.

One thought on “Back from the Brink (Part Two)

  1. Glad you’re back. Keep writing. So much is rotten in this system and the whole machine of government but change can only come from shining a light and letting everyone see. I talk to anyone who will listen about the awful, grinding injustice of the prisons, which do a disservice to all those residing and working within them. Your blogs are more grist to the mill and will be shared by me and hopefully others. Looking forward to that good news!

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