Tag Archive | Prison

Bagram Better than Britain?

It used to be the case that prisoners in Britain were entitled to a minimum of one hour in the open air each day, not including time walking to and from work. However, this has changed in the last few years and now prisoners here are entitled to just half an hour, including the time taken to walk to work.

Compare this to Bagram high security prison in Afghanistan. There they are still entitled to a full hour outside every day!

I find it amazing that an Afghani prison provides their inmates with better treatment than we do, in any way. And we tell them how they should live! How has it come to this?

No More Maccy D’s

I wish I’d never written the post about being able to see McDonald’s from my cell window. As much as I hate the place, it kind of felt like a connection to the outside world. A familiar reference point if you like.

Well, not any more. They recently moved me onto a different wing. I’m now at ground level with a fantastic view of a brick wall and some razor wire. I can still see the sky though. But only if I crane my neck. Still, I’m not complaining this time (I totally am). I don’t want them to move me again and end up with an even worse view. The next step has to be a dungeon.

Common Sense Alert! 5

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!

Prioritise Prisoners

After writing about how the arts in prisons are under threat I spoke to a couple of people, prisoners and officers, about how prison funding is managed and prioritised. We didn’t all agree about how money should be spend, but we unanimously concluded that it wasn’t being spent right at the moment. Continue reading

Punishment or Rehabilitation?

It’s an age-old debate: What do we want from our justice system? Punishment or Rehabilitation? For the past few Governments, it would seem that the aim has been both, but this may be why neither has been achieved very effectively. Continue reading

Common Sense Alert! 4

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.

Common Sense Alert! 3

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?

The Shawshank Redemption

Last year I mentioned that I had an idea whose time had come. It’s probably a little too early to divulge at the moment. But I can say that it all comes down to the power of writing. This extract from the Shawshank Redemption shows exactly what I mean.

Andy was head librarian for twenty-three years and I saw him gradually turn one small room lined with ‘Readers Digest Condensed Books’ and ‘National Geographics’ into the best prison library in New England.

He began to write to the state senate in 1954. Andy’s weekly requests for library funds were routinely turned down until 1960 when he received a cheque for two hundred dollars. The senate probably appropriated it in hopes that he would shut up and go away. Vain hope. Andy felt he had finally gotten one foot in the door and he simply redoubled his efforts; two letters a week instead of one. In 1962 he got four hundred dollars, and for the rest of the decade the library received seven hundred dollars a year like clockwork. By 1971 that had risen to an even thousand. By the time Andy left, you could go into the library and find just about anything you’d want. And if you couldn’t find it, chances were good that Andy could get it for you.

From ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’ by Stephen King

Happy New Year!

You’ll have noticed that I took a break over Christmas. I find it’s a strange time of year for prisoners, and not just for the reasons you might think. Sure, we all miss our families, but what’s new there? What seems to bother prisoners even more at Christmas is how their routines are upset.

Prisoners have so little control over their lives that we react by building strong routines so that, even if we can’t control it, at least we know where we stand. Here at Wakefield we get unlocked for association at twenty to five, and get banged up again at twenty-five past six; we work from Monday morning through to Friday morning but get Friday afternoons off; we get gym three times a week on set days, depending on your wing; and we select our meals from a four-week menu cycle. If for any reason we are unlocked late for association, not unlocked for work, dropped off the gym list, or given a meal we didn’t order, it can be a really big deal. Not because we particularly care, but because we’ve built up a psychological reliance on knowing where we stand and what to expect. Upset the routine in any way, and you’re really upsetting the entire mental balance.

Christmas is the epitome of that effect. It’s a Wednesday but we’re not at work; the association times have changed and we’re getting unlocked late; the gym staff are off and the session’s cancelled; and don’t get me started on the meals. When the Daily Mail et al say we get a turkey dinner with all the trimmings they don’t mention that the turkey is two slices of cold cuts whilst the trimmings consist of three burnt potatoes and five grey sprouts.

Upset prisoners routines that much and you’re asking for trouble. That’s why the screws hate change even more than we do. They know that times of change are times of discontent. In fact, the only thing worse than when things change is when they stay the same! Boredom can be even more dangerous.