Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The language of duty

On Thursday 12th March I appeared before the Parole Board here in the chapel of Whitemoor prison. The report of the actual proceedings is in the previous blog entry - here are my own impressions and observations.

Various people attended and gave evidence on behalf of various departments within the jail. I don't think I need to say much about any of them because not a great deal was said that I could take exception to by anyone other than the representative of the Secretary of State, who seemed very reluctant to concede anything in my favour, a fact noted on several occasions by the Chair of the panel. Even then he had to admit things which were to my credit.

One particular matter that arose, and the one I wish to address here, came about in connection with courses run within the prison. I have been assessed (after a long time) as being 'unsuitable' for the Enhanced Thinking Skills course (E.T.S.). I spoke up at that point and said that the prison seemed to be intent on using negatives rather than positives. The phrase 'found to be unsuitable' gives the impression that there is something wrong with me when the fact is that I have been found not to need any E.T.S. - in which case the phrase used should be, 'Does not require Enhanced Thinking Skills courses', rather than 'found to be unsuitable'.

This is not me simply splitting hairs, even if Shakespeare DID say that a rose by any other name is still a rose. That is not the point here. The point is that deliberately misleading words are used to give a negative effect - ‘argumentative’ rather than ‘questioning', ‘aggressive’ rather than ‘forceful’, ‘pushy' rather than ‘self-assured’, ‘arrogant’ rather than ‘confident’ and so on. My point is that reports can say exactly the same thing without the emotive language and the stress on the negative.

I did like the opinion given by Joanne Wallace, who said she could see no reason why I could not be in open conditions if not actually released. She said any course I may need could be just as easily managed in the community and that my actual risk levels, the levels used to decide any level of supervision I would need, were the lowest possible. In effect, and not wishing to put words into her mouth, she seemed to want me released.

Finally, I would like to thank both her and everyone involved, particularly my barrister Abigail Smith, because as far as I could tell the whole thing was favourable. The Chair seemed a very fair and astute person and everyone seemed to want to give me a fair hearing, apart from the representative of the Secretary of State of course.

On reflection, I suppose he would say that it was his job, he was simply doing his duty. On several occasions he could not answer the questions being put to him, but he did what he could
to give me a bad name, bless him. All he did was his duty, but I could see that even he had difficulty with some of the things he had to say. Which, as we all know by now, automatically brings me to my normal end-quote. In fact, we will have two this week, the first from John Locke who said:
It is one thing to show a man that he is in error, and another to put him in possession of truth.
Finally, and may the representative of the Secretary of State take this in the spirit it is offered, a quote from George Bernard Shaw seems appropriate. He said:
When a man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty.
The Voice in the Wilderness

Report on the Third Mandatory Lifer Panel oral hearing, Thursday March 12th 2009

Present in addition to the Panel (which included Chairwoman, Psychologist and Independent member) were the following:
Franklyn Wilkinson
Abigail Smith LIP, representing Franklyn Wilkinson
Officer Steve Wright, representing the Secretary of State
Joanne Wallace, Northumbria Probation Service
Jamie Calico, Whitemoor Psychology Department
Paul Marson, Personal Officer of Franklyn Wilkinson

The hearing began with introductions and a discussion between the Chair and Ms Smith of a procedural nature.

Ms Smith began the proceedings generally by pointing out to the panel that Wilkinson had not been involved in any acts of violence since 1993 and had never used a weapon, nor had he been on any discipline report since 2001.

The Chair then called Officer Steve Wright and questioned him on several aspects of the matter in hand. He reported that the official stance was that Wilkinson should remain as Category A. He could give no reason for this and the Chair was fully aware of the Judicial Review on the subject scheduled for March 24th in the High Court. Officer Wright conceded that the adjudication record was excellent and had nothing bad to say regarding Wilkinson. When asked about assessments for courses, Officer Wright admitted that none had been carried out. He explained that the CSCP course, which it has been recommended that Wilkinson be assessed for, runs in Long Lartin, Swaleside and Gartree but that there were long waiting lists and limited places. He finally conceded that Wilkinson might be unsuitable anyway.

Wilkinson pointed out that 'unsuitable' was the wrong word to use here in that it gave the impression that there was something wrong with him that made him unsuitable when a more accurate phrase would be that the courses are unnecessary. The Panel agreed that negative language was used by the prison service when the same thing could be expressed positively.

Officer Wright agreed that courses and assessments could just as easily be done in lower category conditions. When asked if he agreed with the assessments of others who judged that Wilkinson's risk levels had gone down, Officer Wright could not answer but agreed that there had been no increase in risk levels. It was suggested that the last two years could mean a further reduction in risk levels because of the adjudication-free period and other aspects of Wilkinson's behaviour but Wright simply refused to agree although he could give no justification for his disagreement.

Paul Marson stated that Wilkinson got along with everybody and anybody. The Chair seemed fully aware of the website and asked Paul Marson ahout Wilkinson's access to the internet. Marson informed the Chair that the website was conducted by someone in the community and that Wilkinson had no access at all. Marson said that Wilkinson showed advanced thinking and was a calming influence on other, younger prisoners and often calmed situations down, the latest incident being the previous week when a younger inmate had become excited and aggressive. Wilkinson had come out of his cell, spoken to the inmate for a few minutes and the inmate had calmed down and returned to his cell. Marson said that Wilkinson gave advice to the younger prisoners. He seemed to be of the opinion that Wilkinson should be downgraded and sent to a much less secure establishment.

Joanne Wallace discussed various aspects, the most telling being that she considered that Wilkinson's risk levels could be managed in the community and would be happy to see Wilkinson moved to open conditions or released. Wilkinson's management requirement level would be the lowest, in her opinion. When asked if Wilkinson might run off if put into open conditions, Wallace said, 'No', explaining that there was no evidence of impulsive behaviour, drunkenness or substance misuse of any sort and that Wilkinson had done enough courses. Wallace stated that Wilkinson could be released and then take part in courses in the community and that risk levels must have been reduced, as demonstrated clearly by Wilkinson's behaviour. Finally, Wallace stated that it was very unlikely that Wilkinson would return to any form of criminal life-style.
Officer Wright asked Wallace about offending behaviour courses and Wallace was adamant in stating that Wilkinson had done suffic­ient but could always be assessed for further work.

Jamie Calico offered very little of any value. She admitted that she had never met Wilkinson nor spoken to him and knew nothing other than what was in the reports she had read. She insisted that Wilkinson had been offered assessments in 2007 but admitted that she had no proof of that fact and that the Psychology Department had made no attempt to engage Wilkinson since that time. When pressed on the matter, she admitted that the department had been busy and explained that there were other, more important things to do. She then stated that the courses already completed by Wilkinson were sufficient but said that she had concerns about him. Calico then admitted that Wilkinson had been offered nothing for over two years.

The Chair then discussed with Abigail Smith the forthcoming Judicial Review and the application before the CCRC. It was not made clear how the panel were aware of these matters.

The panel then took turns to question Wilkinson on various topics including courses, criminal associates and lifestyle, future prospects, education and aspirations. Wilkinson gave a good account of himself and the hearing drew to an end.

Afterwards Abigail Smith was satisfied that Wilkinson had done extremely well and had come across as entirely honest to the panel.

The panel will issue its report within the coming week or so.

Monday, March 09, 2009

March winds

Today it is March 1st, although that won't be the case by the time anyone reads this, so let's just say instead that it is March. March, when, according to legend, the winds blow strongly and, if you are silly enough to listen to the weather forecasters, we are due to have a mild one after our severe ten day winter.

March is turning into a month of significance in my life. On 9th March I will have been in durance vile for exactly 23 years, and that's a long time. I know I say that a good deal, but that doesn't alter the fact - it IS a long time.

Then, on 12th March, I have the Parole Board hearing here in the prison. No doubt I will be subject to a lot of questions and this is despite the fact that there is ahsolutely NO chance that they will even consider allowing me any sort of progression. That simply is not going to happen. They know it, I know it and even the pigeons in Trafalgar Square know it - or they would if they cared at all (and they don't).

I will appear before the Board with my barrister doing his very best to fight a losing battle, and at the end of it he will be reduced to serving me with a few platitudes to try to keep HIS spirits up - mine joined the submarine service years ago. I will have spent a considerable time answering questions, a lot of which will be quite unanswerable really. They will harp on about the past, not the future. Of course I will jerrymander and they will see it as a sign that I am being secretive.

Of course I'm being secretive, I have no choice in the matter. Although I am fully entitled to discuss myself and my own deeds, I have no right whatsoever to discuss the deeds of others, and that effectively means that I have to seem to be shifty, or worse. It is not so much a case of being unable to answer through lack of ability, more a case of protecting the guilty, because this country, in its wisdom, has no statute of limitations and never forgives anyone anything. Like Shylock, they WILL have their pound of flesh.

I think it was Charles Colton who said:
Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer.
The Board will harp on about the past and nothing can he done about that. It is done, over. All we can do is regret it, we cannot change it. Not even God can change the past. All we humans can do is work for the future and ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of tne past.

Then, when the ordeal is over and they, the panel members, go off to their ivory towers, I shall return to my humble abode, courtesy of Lizzie Windsor, and contemplate the matter.

Does it end there? Not likely, because twelve days later I have my Judicial Review in the High Court.

So, March is turning into a milestone month for me, one way or another.

In all of this I will be condemned for the indiscretions and poor choices I made as a callow youth, in "My salad days, when I was green in judgement."

This brings me to another snippet of borrowed wisdom. This time I take it from George Bernard Shaw who died in 1950. He said:
Youth, which is forgiven everything, forgives itself nothing: age, which forgives itself anything, is forgiven nothing.
"Besides," he added, "every man over forty is a scoundrel."

The Voice In The Wilderness

Monday, March 02, 2009

A tick in a box

There is no news this week. Nothing appears to have taken place that is worth remarking on. To put it in the jargon of the technological, robotic age, I have had very little "input" this week. (I've seen "Short Circuit" too!) But that is only as far as I know personally: who knows what is going on elsewhere to which I am not privvy! Consequently, I am back to my homespun philosophy and my personal observations, most of which seem to me fairly self-evident at best, and downright boring generally.

I woke up very early this morning and got up right away. I have discovered over the years that if I lie in bed, awake and thinking, sooner or later I may get to brooding. I used to do a great deal of that in the old days. Brooding on the ills done to me, either real or perceived, the end results were always the same - I grew resentful. I should think that every prisoner indulges in this from time to time. I don't do it these days. If I wake early I get up and get on with something, reading or writing or simply listening to or watching the news. There is always something better to do than brooding. Having said that, I have to point out that brooding and thinking about things are two different horses.

Anyway,this morning I was thinking (not brooding) about the insistence - dogged, unreasoned insistence in fact - that prisoners should, right across the board and regardless of the individual, partake in courses which, to be quite frank, are fairly puerile. For a long time, and despite the fact that I was involved in the creation of the Enhanced Thinking Skills course, the prison system was insistent that I needed to complete such a course. It took a long time before it was finally admitted that I had no need of it, and even then it is not straightforwardly admitted in such terms. Instead, I am considered "unsuitable", which could give the uninitiated the impression that there is something so seriously wrong with my thinking that the course would be useless to me. They can't just say, "This man's thinking is far superior to anything we are attempting to impart." That would be fair, and the idiots who tick the boxes don't do fair!

It's the same with their choice of words in all things. When a con is asked to take part in something that is entirely voluntary and the con says, 'No thank you', that con is marked down as having refused, thus giving the wrong impression. The word that should be used is, declined.

The latest attempt to drag my personal progress backwards is the strange desire to get me to take part in a CALM course - Controlling Anger and Learning to Manage it. The fact that I am routinely reported as being one of the calmest characters around the place is ignored. Let's face it, they need the tick in the box. But if I get any calmer then they will be able to nail down the coffin lid because I'll be shuffling off this mortal coil, I will be handing in my dinner pail, no longer needing the bib and tucker, the membership in the life club will be cancelled - I will be dead!

Of course the prison service and the idea-less people in charge say that courses are for the good of the prisoner, but unfortunately they cannot seem to understand that one size does not fit all.

"It's for your own good!" they cry.


It brings to mind the words of Leo Tolstoy:

I sit on a man's back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means - except by getting off his back.
The Voice In The Wilderness