Saturday, January 31, 2009

Painful inches

Sitting alone, as I do most of the time, I often ponder on the words of Nicholas Sarkozy who said, amongst other things:

“Life is the same for everyone when you are alone at night in an empty room."

As often as not, if we allow it, the imagination gets the better of us and we go off into flights of fancy, build castles in the air, climb a mountain - or sometimes just go fishing. Unfortunately there are those amongst us who do not think in such positive ways but dwell on the ills done to us, as often as not imagined rather than real. This sort of thought process can lead to depression.

I don't do that.

In December of last year I was scheduled for a Parole Board hearing but it was put back, deferred, delayed, postponed and rescheduled. The reasons were never given or explained, they never are when dealing with the faceless and nameless Gnomes who are in charge of these things. I think that there are probably good reasons in many cases and if they took the trouble to actually explain then most folk would accept it with a shrug and a certain amount of understanding.

They don't do that.

My Parole Hearing was in December, then January and then it was scheduled for February 20th of this year. Wonderful - a date at last! Not that easy I'm afraid. The other day I had a letter from the Parole Board saying that it has now been rescheduled for March 12th, no explanation given but I am fu1ly prepared to accept the fact that they have a good reason.

Of course, being me, it got me to thinking. Here in the prison absolutely nothing is being said to me about anything at all, and hasn't been for years now. However, I know that out there in the big wide world of real human beans (as a young niece of mine once wrote) there are people asking questions. I know for instance that Mr Chris Mullin, MP for Sunderland South, has discussed me with the C.C.R.C. and then with Christine Glenn, the Chief Executive of the Parole Board. He then asked for a meeting with a Michael Spurr who is the Chief Operations Officer of NOMS. Now, of course, I have no idea what has been said and it is quite unlikely that I ever will, but that’s not the point. What counts is the fact that ‘something’ is being said, whatever that may be.

Now normally when people in such positions - civil servants - are asked questions about individuals they can hide behind the trite but ubiquitous phrase:

“I am not allowed to discuss individual cases.”

And of course they get away with it. Not with Mr Chris Mullin MP. He obtained a written permission from me to discuss my case with anyone he cares to and to obtain and see any document concerning me. A wise move on the part of Mr Mullin - but he understands the ways of officialdom.

So, questions are being asked - and this brings me to what I was really going to say in the first place. When I am sitting alone in my cell at night there is the temptation to think that this nightmare will never end and then I glance up at the wall. Just a few feet from my face as I sit at my table, held there by sellotape, is a piece of paper sent to me by Mrs Hilary Hinchliffe MBE a long time ago. The bit of paper is old and yellowed now, but that does not detract from the message thereon. In the words of Arthur Clough as sent to me by Hilary:

“For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the Main.”

The Voice In The Wilderness

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Welcome to my world

On March 24th of this year I have a Judicial Review in the High Court in the Strand concerning the decision of the Category A Section of the Ministry of Justice to keep me a Category A prisoner after almost a quarter of a century in prison. The fact that everyone else (including the local Cat A panel) wanted me downgraded to a Cat B cut no ice with the nameless and faceless gnomes in their ivory towers in Whitehall. In their wisdom they decided that I had to remain a Cat A prisoner because I have not proved that I am no longer a bad person. How do you prove a negative?

I've been in jail almost twenty three years now. The other day a youngster of perhaps twenty three years of age came to see me. He said that he had been refused a downgrading. He had been a Cat A now for nearly two years. What could he do? I told him that if I had the answer to that I would do it myself. Then he wanted to know if it had been easy getting through all of the years I have been locked away. What he was looking for of course was a bit of reassurance that he would survive the thirty years he has to serve, or whatever it is.

I think the youngsters around here see me as some kind of wise man, a village elder so to speak. I wish I were. They come to me with all manner of little problems and ask me what they should do. Some of them could try reading a book and actually learning something instead of battering their brains to mush with the mindless throbbing beat they call music. In fact, it would do no harm if they actually learned to read at all!

One fellow, about twenty seven, so not so young, came a week or two back and asked me for advice. He said that his gir1friend wrote to him three times a week and that she sent him money and wrote nice long letters. He couldn't write back because he had no idea what to say to her, he couldn't write long letters.

"What should I do?" he cried, moronity in action.
"Look," said I, the wise man, "The problem is easily solved."
"Simple," said I smugly. "Go to the canteen and buy her a couple of nice cards every week, they only cost 80 pence. Surely you can manage to fill a card in! Besides, it's not what you write that counts, it's the fact that you have thought about her and taken the trouble to write, THAT'S what counts."
"That's brilliant!" said he. "I'll do that. See! Frankie, that's why everybody knows that you are clever!"
Off he went, a happy punter. I should charge for this advice.

So now I come back to the fellow who complained about the fact that they had refused to take him off the Category A list. I had no words of advice. Maybe I was having an off day. All I did was sigh and say, "Welcome to my world."

The Voice In The Wilderness

Thursday, January 15, 2009

An epiphany

There is news!

It is not very often that I can say that - but this week there is news. I had a letter from Mr Chris Mullin MP to inform me that he is meeting with the Chief Executive of the Parole Board on Tuesday 13th January (four days' time as I write) and that he will discuss my situation with her. I am not clear if the purpose of the meeting is to discuss my situation specifically or if I will be brought up during the general discussion. Either way I am thankful for the intervention of Mr Mullin.

Secondly, and in fact a sort of continuation of the above, I had a letter from my solicitors' office to inform me that the actual Parole hearing has been tentatively (I think) set for Friday 20th February - another bit of good news. It was originally supposed to be in December, but we must be thankful for small mercies.

And so the wheels of 2009 begin to grind exceeding slow, as the bible would have said if it hadn't said the bit about the mills and the grist. However, welcome as the above news may be, the real point of this particular cry in the wilderness is to point out that I have had an epiphany, my very own road to Damascus.

There I was the other day, sitting here in my little kennel and minding my own business, when it occurred to me out of the blue (and in conjunction with a recent missive) that, while I am not a whinger as such, I may come perilously close to it.

There was a difference of opinion and during the course of it I had cause to take issue with a prison warder, guard, kangaroo - call him what you will. The details don't actually matter, they very rarely do in fact. What matters is that the following exchange took place.
Me: What did you do THAT for?
Him: I've got no choice, it's my job.
Me: That's just bollocks! It's not your job to make people bloody miserable.
Him: I've got to do as I'm told just like you.
Me: Right. You do what you are told, do you?
Him: I have to, it's my job.
Me: So if they told you to put your head on a railway line for a train to run over, would you do it?
Him: Don't be silly, of course I wouldn't.
Me: No, of course you wouldn't. But you'd put MINE on it, wouldn't you?
That was it really. He said there was no point talking to me if I was going to be like that and off he went.

And now I have managed to work it out - I'm not a whinger, I'm a grumpy old man who is sick in the head and I probably need some sort of intense counselling.

The Voice In The Wilderness

Saturday, January 03, 2009


Well, it is the New Year at last. It comes every year of course - at the same time too! But we always act surprised and delighted. I suppose it is the fact of getting rid of the old and the bad year that has passed and opening the way to hope for the new. Something like that. We are all basically optimists, although it is trendy these days to be quite the opposite. So what we all try to pretend to be is a sort of hybrid - and a contradiction in terms. We all become pessimistic optimists - we expect the worst but hope for the best.

So, it is now 2009, two thousand and nine years since the birth of Christ according to the Gregorian calendar. The Jews don't agree and neither do the Muslims, but they never agree with anything the other says anyway. Whichever way we look at it, the new year is here and it is the time when we all look forward to a bit of luck, a change in our fortunes, an improvement in our health or, in some cases, just for Spring to get here and warm the place up.

Me? Well, shall I say, I have prospects.

I've got the parole hearing either this month or next. Then I've got a Judicial Review in March. There are discussions going on about pub1ishing - and my cholesterol seems to be coming down, gradua1Iy. Things like that - I count my blessings.

It has just occurred to me that also this March,(March 9th in fact) will see the start of my twenty-fourth year in durance vile, and that is only one year short of a quarter of a century. That's a long time, no matter how quickly you say it.

However, none of the above is the point really. The point I was headed for before I sidetracked myself (as is my wont) was the point that it is at this time of year that people feel this urge for a new start to go with the new year. To this end they make what we term New Year Resolutions.

I'm no different, I do it too.

Every year I resolve to be nicer to those around me, but it has never lasted as long as noon on New Year's day. This year was no different. I resolved 1ast night (as I got into my pile of straw in the corner of my dungeon) to get up in the morning and be nice, friendly and cheerful to everyone.

It didn't last long.

The mechanics are matterless. Someone said something silly and I was quite rude in response, which is normal for me. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't offensive, but I was rudely short.

This brought to mind the words of Stephen Grellet who said:

"I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creatures, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."

I would love to live by that, but never mind. I'll have another go at it next year.

The Voice In The Wilderness

A Christmas Story

Well, that's it then, the Christmas holiday is over for another year and just the New Year celebrations to come now. Mind, by the time this gets through the post it will be getting on for Easter, and they want to charge us even MORE for postage stamps. Only this country could charge more for a lesser service. But I am wandering again. Have to watch that.

It's over! Not that it matters a great deal in these places of course, people do their best but in reality there isn't a great deal of cheer in durance vile. Normally I seem to manage to ignore the whole thing and let it drift past in a sort of distant haze. I know it is going on - I see it on the telly! - but it has very little to do with the denizens of Lizzie Windsor's hotel for society's rejects.

Speaking of society's rejects, there was an interesting discussion the other day, Christmas Day in fact. There I was, sitting in my kennel and playing with a Game Cube, when the door opened and in came one of my contemporaries, a nice enough fellow who seems to be of the opinion that I am wise and therefore worth listening to. Ha! If only he knew that I am a bungling fool who staggers from drama to crisis daily, unsure of anything and merely hoping for the best. Like Mr Micawber, I am sure something will turn up. It hasn't so far but who knows what the future holds?

So, in he came, my erstwhile visitor from upstairs, and he sort of had his proverbial cap in hand.
"Good morning!" said I, "and a merry seasonal greeting to you!"

It turned out that this fellow had been given the opportunity to purchase something from another party and wanted advice on the subject - should he buy or should he not?

I said, "Well, to begin with, it has nothing to do with me, and to be quite frank about it, I don't want anything to do with it. But that's not the point, is it?"

"What do you mean?" asked he.

"Look," said I, "It is perfectly clear to me that you don't need my advice, you have already made your mind up anyway."

"No! No!" protested the fellow.

"Silence peasant!" said I and he grinned. "Uncle Frank is talking. Thank you. Now, you have no desire for my advice, as I say, you made your mind up long before you came in here. No, what you really want is for me to tell you it is a good idea and to go ahead. Then, if, or when, it all goes to buggery, you can blame me! You can say tnat I told you to do it. I'm not that stupid really. You are over twenty-one, so you say, so make your own decisions. How's that for
a bit of Christmas advice?"

He grinned at me. "You're not daft, are you?"

Said I, "A lot of people would argue with you on that. Now, is there anything else I can refuse to help you with? Off you go, feel free to visit me at any time when you need to be abused. Come back when you've got less time to spare."

"That's it!" cried he, pointing a finger like an Exocet missile at my face. "That's who you remind me of, Blackadder!"

"Thank you, goodbye!"

"I'll be back later on," said he and with that threat ringing in my poor, battered ears he went off.

And that, as they say, was that - my Christmas story. Okay, Charles Dickens has nothing to worry about, but it's the only tale I've got.

I hope that the New Year of 2009 brings everyone the good luck and fortune which they desire for themselves.

The Voice In The Wilderness