Recently someone asked me what I miss most about the outside world. The answer isn’t simple. There are things big and small. But they are all things so many people take for granted.
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 have a bit of good news. After about two months in segregation, they have moved me back to the wings. To a cell on the top floor of the wing in fact. From the dungeon to the penthouse suite!
I don’t know yet whether that whole situation is all over and dealt with, or if there are still things going on behind the scenes. But at least I’m not in solitary any more.
The whole process (witnessing the fight and then everything that followed) has made me think though. I’m fed up of the violence in these places. I’ve been inside for twelve years and I’ve seen everything from handbags at dawn to the decapitation and disembowelment of another prisoner. Sure, I’ve had a few fights myself too. I’m by no means a pacifist and I do believe that everyone has the right to defend themselves – you don’t just curl up and take a kicking. But I never start a fight and will do anything I can to avoid one starting if it’s at all possible. I’m just sick of how easily some people here seem to resort to violence. And that goes as equally for staff as it does for prisoners. I’m sick of witnessing it. I’m sick of having to deal with it myself, and I’m sick of people assuming that, as a prisoner, I must be the same.
So I’d like to draw your attention to a fantastic group who try to combat exactly that.
Last month The Sun ran a story on how 1,200 lifers have been moved to open prisons alongside the heading “Lag Lunacy”. They wrote “You’d think someone would have twigged: if you want to keep serious offenders inside, it’s probably not such a great idea to put them in an open prison.”
The thing is, this just demonstrates The Sun’s own lunacy. The only way to cut the skyrocketing prison population, which The Sun frequently criticises, is to release people. So the point is that we don’t want to keep these offenders inside. We want to prepare them for a safe release. And that means open prisons need to provide a go between.
I’d have thought that that was really simple logic that even writers at The Sun could understand, but apparently not.
I’m not the kind of guy that goes around picking fights and I never have been. Sure, I’ve had a few, but most have been either in self-defence or in defence of someone else. One of these occasions ended up getting me expelled from perhaps the best school I could ever have hoped to go to.
Recently I received an email from one of the producers for Channel 5 News asking if I would be prepared to do an interview. Obviously, I jumped at the chance but the Ministry of Justice very quickly put a block on it.
I’m usually quite good with quotes. I find them really interesting and a lot of them stick in my memory. But I recently came across one that is fairly famous and right up my street, but yet I’d never heard it before.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi