Some turns of phrase make total sense. Others don’t. Prison Officers tend to like the ones that don’t.
One example I’ve heard a lot lately is ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’. Except, of course, that’s rubbish on absolutely every level. If you take it literally, it’s simply wrong. Cigarettes aren’t on fire. Smouldering maybe, but not on fire. Yet the fact that they ‘smoke’ is the whole point!
So, OK, maybe it makes sense on a metaphorical level then, right? Nope. To say where there’s smoke there’s fire is like saying that whenever anyone says anything about you, anything at all, it has to be true. Well doesn’t that mean there’s no such thing as a lie or a liar? Unless of course someone actually calls you a liar. Then, since where there’s smoke there’s fire, they must be telling the truth and there is such a thing as a lie after all. In fact, you should probably check your pants because where there’s smoke…
Yet Prison Officers seem to love parroting that absurd line at anyone they can. No sooner had I been accused of being involved in trouble than I heard one of them saying “Where there’s smoke.” Innocent until proven guilty? Not in prison. Here you aren’t even guilty until proven innocent. It’s worse than that. You’re guilty until a better scapegoat comes along.
But then actual justice isn’t much part of this justice system, so why should actual guilt have anything to do with being found guilty or sense have anything to do with common sense?
I want to start this post by saying that I totally get that Wakefield is a high security jail with some of the highest risk prisoners in the country. But not all of the prisoners here are high risk.
Take some of the older prisoners here. There are prisoners who can barely walk, prisoners who are blind, and even wheelchair bound amputees who are all categorised as cat A, high risk prisoners and housed in one of the most secure prisons in the country. If categorisation were applied as it’s meant to be (based upon risk of escape and potential danger to the public in the event of escape) then how could anyone justify keeping an eighty year old blind amputee in these conditions?
It just makes no sense.
A while ago, at another prison, there was an incident where a prisoner attacked a number of officers resulting in some serious injuries. He was subsequently put on trial for attempted murder but was cleared of all charges when it was found that he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and had genuinely acted in the belief that it was self-defence. The following day the Governor of the prison appeared on the local news and stated that it was a travesty of justice and that the Courts had got it wrong.
Seeing this, I sent a letter to the prison newspaper, Inside Time, to say that whilst I wouldn’t wish what had happened on anybody, I found the Governor’s comments confusing. The prison service regularly tells those prisoners who are maintaining their innocence that prison staff have a legal obligation to accept the verdict of the courts and therefore cannot entertain any possibility of them actually being innocent unless they successfully appeal. And yet here was a prison governor disputing the verdict of the court because it had not gone in his favour. It seemed that this was a governor in denial.
The censors department intercepted my letter and refused to let me send it on the grounds that I had identified individuals by name (which is not allowed in articles intended for publication and is also why I haven’t identified them here). So instead, I sent the letter to a family member with the intention of them forwarding it on to Inside Time themselves.
Some time later, I wanted to get a copy of the letter back so I asked them to send me a copy, which they did. But here’s the funny part. When my letter arrived back at the prison, the censors department intercepted it again and said that I couldn’t have it because allowing me to read it could compromise the good order and discipline of the prison. They completely missed the fact that I knew what it said because I was the one who wrote it!
A few weeks ago I had a doctors appointment. It was nothing major, just a bit of dry skin, but the doctor’s reaction was farcical.
I showed him where the dry skin was, my left foot, and told him that I’d already tried creams to treat the symptoms but they hadn’t worked. He immediately said I needed athletes foot powder so I asked if he was going to give me it and he said that he couldn’t, I had to buy it for myself. Since there is no powder on the prison canteen list, I told him so and asked where I could get it from. He couldn’t even tell me. He just shrugged his shoulders and said “Well, people get it.” Then he said he’d prescribe more cream even if it doesn’t work!
But I’m one of the lucky ones. There’s a guy on my wing who broke his wrist and was told by the nursing staff that there was nothing wrong with it for six weeks before they finally x-rayed it and saw that not only was it broken, it had started to heal out of line. They put a cast on it, and then left the cast on for well over the four weeks he was recommended. He was still wearing it three months later! In the end he had to take it off himself.
Sometimes the mind boggles.
In the December issue of Inside Time a prisoner’s partner wrote in asking for clarification on whether prisoners are allowed to have photos taken. They had previously been banned whilst the Ministry of Justice decided what to do, but despite this ban being lifted since then, a number of prisons still aren’t allowing it.
NOMS (The National Offender Management Service) published a reply to this letter clarifying that photos can be taken, but that they are to be retained in the prisoner’s possession and not to be passed outside of the establishment to any relatives.
Meanwhile, the prison rules state separately that prisoners are not allowed to have pictures of themselves in their possession at all as this is a security risk! Some prisons overlook this, but most forbid prisoners from having any photos that the prisoner is pictured in. That being the case, what is the point of letting us have photos taken if we can’t keep them ourselves, and neither can we send them out to our families?
When I sent the first posts for this blog to my mum to put up, I had the letter returned to me by the prison censors who said that they couldn’t let me send it because “prisoners aren’t allowed to blog.” I’m sure the likes of Jail House Lawyer, Noel Smith, and (most famously) Ben Gunn who already fought for this right and won, would have something to say about that, but I nevertheless had to go through the normal complaints procedure.
I pointed out that the rules state that prisoners are not allowed access to social networks such as Facebook, but the Prison Service Instructions themselves state that prisoners may publish their writing online as long as they do not receive payment, talk about their own offences or those of others, or identify individual prisoners or members of staff. In their response, the prison service requested the website address so that they could check the site and ensure that I had not posted anything I should not have. Of course, I gave the address immediately, but had to point out that they might have trouble checking the content since it was them who had stopped me sending any content!
Even more strangely, whilst I was still trying to resolve this, my mum sent a few printouts of the site in its construction phase, with “Adam Mac: blogging behind bars” written right across the top of every page. Since, at that point, they were still saying I couldn’t blog, you’d think they’d have stopped this letter from getting to me. But no, I was given it without any argument!
Still, after a second stage complaint and an in depth check of the site (minus any actual content) the prison service relented. They said I could blog after all!
Maybe common sense does prevail sometimes.