Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The cheating game

Yesterday, Saturday 19th December 2009, a couple of things happened which, whilst completely unconnected, are worth a bit of a mention - well, I thought so.

The first came about as I idly watched a pair of hooligans pretending to be Ronnie O'Sullivan on the snooker table. As everyone is fully aware, I am not allowed to name either Noel or Israel so I have to give them noms-de-convenience. Therefore, I shall call these two fine, upstanding villains er... Christmas and Syria. No connection there then.

So, Syria is playing properly in that he attends the table when Christmas takes a shot. On the other hand, Christmas buggers off when it is Syria's shot and Syria has to wait until he comes back. This is annoying to Syria, and so it should be.

In the end I say to Syria during one of Christmas's absences, "Why not just cheat? Move a red!"

"What!" answers Syria in shock. "I'm not cheating!"

"Why not?" I ask, curious.

"I don't cheat," says he sanctimoniously.

"So," say I, "you are quite happy to rob, cheat, steal, lie and point guns at people, but not to cheat at snooker eh?"

A crook by definition spends his time cheating society yet won't cheat at a silly game! Curious indeed.

The second thing was a letter from my probation officer. She tells me that there is to be a video-link on Thursday 14th January at 2:15pm during which she hopes to see my sad and raddled countenance and have a chat. I've never been involved in such an enterprise before, it should be very interesting to say the least. I'm not at all sure why she has this desire, but I suspect it probably has something to do with the new parole hearing scheduled for the New Year. She has to make a report. She also seems a bit, shall we say, 'put out' by the fact that she wasn't asked to contribute to my recent Sentence Planning Meeting/Board. (Incidentally, at that board they promised me a copy of the minutes - I am still waiting.)

Well, Syria may have an aversion to cheating but the prison service has no such moral qualms. It will not only cheat but will lie blatantly to achieve its own ends. So, who is the better? The prisoner, who makes no secret of the fact that his social conscience leaves a lot to be desired, or the person working for the prison service, who does exactly the same thing with the full support of a failing system?

I hope everyone who reads this has a good Christmas and I wish them all the luck they wish for themselves in 2010. Dear me, the year two thousand and ten .... I'm still struggling to get used to the nineteen seventies!

The Voice In The Wilderness

The case of the vanishing men

Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, prisons ran more or less calmly without drama or crisis (apart from the odd riot here and there - though a good riot never hurt anyone and often helped clear the air of tension, not to mention presenting the prison with an opportunity to get rid of a few less desirable elements).

So, prisons ran fairly calmly and, left alone, would continue to do so. Each wing had a wing governor - an Assistant Governor who held the acronym A.G. Above him was the Deputy Governor who everyone called 'The Dep'. Then we had the Chief Officer who ostensibly held sway over the staff and their behaviour, but at the top of the pile sat the Number One Governor. The Number One! A prisoner could get up in the morning, go to the Principal Officer's office and make an application to see the A.G. of that particular wing. The P.O. would ask what it was about and, if he couldn't deal with it, he would send the con into the next room where the A.G. sat dispensing decisions. If the A.G. could not deal with the matter, then the con would be added to the list for lunch hour. If the Number One was on a day off, then the Dep would take the lunch-time applications. At lunch-time, the con would see either the Dep or the Numher One, get a decision and, hey presto - job done.

Today, just a few short years later, what do we have? Well, we now have governors for bins, table tennis balls, low flying ducks and knitting circles for one-eyed lesbians from third world coutries. The prisons are crawling with governors! However, try to get to see one, or worse, actually speak to one and ask for a decision about something. Go on, just try it. These men (and women) will not even condescend to answer a WRITTEN application let alone see (and God forbid actually SPEAK) to a con. As for a decision about
anything - forget it. They don't do decision-making - bugger that, they might be held responsible for it! No, they hide away in their little dens and hold perpetual meetings about insane things which serve no other purpose than to irritate the prison population. Prisons are no longer being run for the benefit or betterment of their charges. Oh no, they are being run for the convenience of the staff!

Where are these governors? They have all disappeared into thin air! They have gone! They have vanished! Why don't the media send a group of investigative reporters to find these poor, lost souls? Surely their families miss them and have reported them missing to the police!

Mind, the police are not much better I suppose, they are far too busy running down old age pensioners for not paying their telly licence fee.

Oh dear, I'm just getting old, that's my trouble.

The Voice In The Wilderness

Monday, December 14, 2009

Business as usual?

It occurs to me that I may give the general impression that prisons in general (a lot of generals there - more than the Italian Army), and this one in particular, run fairly smoothly. Well, I'd better correct that I suppose. This emporium of misery and soul-crushing staggers from crisis to crisis and nobody seems to know what anyone else is doing. Nor do they care. Still, what can you expect from a prison with a governor who has an ego the size of a small planet?

Be all that as it may, I mention it in passing because some fool managed to lose a quarter of the wing's canteen sheets this week and consequently those fellows can't have any canteen - no tobacco if they smoke, no stamps to write home to their folks with or to send Christmas cards with, no toiletries, no little bits of food to supplement their diets, nuffink. And, what does the prison do about it? Sweet bugger all, that's what, and the reason is simple: they don't care. Why should they? They go home every night and can toddle off to Tescos with the best of them.

But I am not desiring to discuss the hubris of this prison and the shrinking violets who ostensibly run it. No, I want to bring up the subject of the Parole Board. I had my last parole board in March of this year, nine months ago. Apparently we, us prisoners with no prospects, get such a board hearing every three years, unless there are exceptional circumstances. I have received a letter from the Parole Board informing me that I have a parole hearing next month, January. This will, of course, be a paper exercise because my solicitor will request an oral hearing and then it will all be postponed for a few months. The point is, I have a hearing scheduled for next year.

Are they going to free me? Of course they aren't. I have only been in prison for coming up to twenty-four years, that's not half long enough. I'm just learning the rules! Besides, I haven't been punished and tortured enough yet, not by a long chalk.

My guilt or innocence has nothing to do with it. The prison service sees itself as far better judge than the men (and women) who sit on the Benches every day dealing out the years. These judges sit and listen to cases, all the ins and outs, and then come to a studied decision. But when the prison service get hold of a poor unfortunate, they completely ignore whatever the court felt was a just and fair sentence and impose their own.

Who is behind such decisions? Who is running the engine room? I'll tell you - trainee psychologists who have recently left school and who have absolutely no experience of anything at all. They don't look old enough to have left home never mind making life-affecting reports and ruining lives. They may be doing their best; they may be full of good intentions - but the good Lord preserve me from people who are doing their best and the road to perdition is paved with the souls of the well intentioned.

Speaking for myself, I'd better get off my gluteus maximus and go and see about getting my canteen, or at least get some bloody postage stamps - or nobody will be getting any letters from me this week.

The Voice In The Wilderness

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


The question has been asked - would I write a piece or vignette about my years in prison and my hopes and aspirations for the future?

Well, the years in prison - almost twenty-four and counting - would take a long time, and that would be WITH my diaries to help - diaries, incidentally, which I keep every day (it's therapuetic). Putting all that to one side, the story would be a long and very unsavoury horror story worthy of the pen of Mary Shelley, or even one of the major political parties' manifestos.

So I won't write about my years in prison, not here anyway - I am already doing that in 'An Abuse of Justice'. Which leaves us hopes and aspirations, and once again I have to say that it would take longer than a short effort such as this will allow. Ah! But all is not lost, because one word springs from the question which I can say something about. The word is 'HOPE' and, when it comes to prison, hope is often the only thing we have.

Hope - it springs eternal according to the poet, and as far as I am aware, he knew nothing at all about prison. Maybe he would have seen things differently if he had. Arthur Clough had something to say about hope, although not in so many words. He wrote:

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.
I know that I have used this quote before, but I DO like it - it speaks to me, as it were. It first came to my attention several years ago via the agency of Hilary Hinchliffe, as fine a person as ever graced this sorry planet, and even now the ageing, yellowing piece of paper which she sent to me bearing that verse still sits on the wall before my face - and ever will.

Hope - often the only thing a prisoner has to keep him going. Oh, they can take so many things away from us - our freedoms, our rights, our families, our decency, even our life sometimes. But they cannot take away the hope. Even the meanest prisoner can, in the confines and privacy of his own cell and mind, cling on desperately to hope. It is often all that is left.

Of course, some prisoners give up and lose that hope. It is quite simply crushed out of them by an uncaring system, and when that happens yet another gets a letter to tell them that their father..mother..son..husband.. has committed suicide in their prison cell.

But the majority of the prison population carry on with that small fire burning in their hearts, the fire that is hope. We all have it. One day we will end this nightmare and come back to the world where people treat each other with common courtesy generally, and decency. We all aspire to going home, the promise of seeing a friendly face at last, the pleasure of closing our eyes and sleeping properly at last, the chance to finally let down the guard we have held up for year after year, the hope of better times.

I do not even try to say that every prisoner is a good, decent sort of cove, because they quite simply ain't, not by a long chalk. However, as bad as some may be, and they are, that gives no one the right or mandate to crush hope out of them. Eleanor Roosevelt said:

No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.
Well, removing hope from those who need it the most is really putting them into a category as unworthy, inferior - in all the years, through all the tribulations, I have never given anyone permission to look on me as inferior.

Happy Christmas and all my very best wishes for the coming year. May everyone receive the good fortune they wish for themselves.

The Voice In The Wilderness