Sunday, February 28, 2010

Deep thought

Playing at rehabilitation

I have a PlayStation 2 - and, contrary to the lies of the Sun comic, prisoners are NOT given PlayStations, we have to save up our pennies and buy them - and I own several games for it. One of those games is called "Need For Speed - Most Wanted". The aim is to buy a car, win a couple of easy races and earn money with which to buy a faster car that allows us to win a few more races, get more dosh and buy an even faster car - and so on. Before long, the driver is breaking all manner of laws of the roads, and of course the police begin to chase the driver which causes severe crashes - and so on. By the time the game gets to the better or harder levels, the cars available are on a par with small jet fighters for speed, and the police have become extremely aggressive in their pursuits.

It is all quite exciting, in a minor sort of way, and is good for speed of thinking and co-ordination between brain, eye and hand - visuo-spatial ability I think it is called by the experts in this kind of thing (which does not include prison psychologists, I hasten to add, who are experts at nothing but negativity).

Another game I acquired, at great expense, is "Driver 3" which is similar, with the added opportunity of stealing cars from other road users, and police cars too, and to shoot anyone who gets in the way.

All good for my sentence planning and rehabilitation.

However, that's not what I have in my mind at all, not a bit. We have a library here and in that library there is quite a large selection of films, but for some reason it has been decided by the morons who run this place that big, bad, hairy-arsed thugs cannot watch any films designated "18 or over". Instead we are all fed a diet of "chick-flicks" which, to be quite honest, most of us find quite puerile and sickening - the vomit kind. I'm certain that there is a ready audience for such stuff, but let's be honest, it's not the fare for the hairy-arsed etceteras mentioned earlier. Most of us would prefer stuff from the History Channel or something like that. However, we ain't being asked about it - we never are, we just get what is given.

So, I will continue to chase police cars - sorry, run away from police, (not that there is much difference really) - and of course work hard on my rehabilitation.

What a wonderfully meaningless word that has become in the hands of those charged with delivering it - the psychology charlatans. Now, I fully understand that there are times when some of the things I say about psychologists may seem a wee bit harsh, but I just want to say that if I ever say anything that in any way offends or hurts the feelings then, with the greatest of sincerity, and a large slice of humble pie, I want to say that I couldn't give a fiddler's fart. They make uneducated and unwarranted decisions about people, destroying future for both prisoners and prisoners' families as they do so - and they never give a thought to the damage done. Given that, why should anyone care about their feelings?

Apparently, they suffer from stress! Stress! What have they got to be stessed about? They go home each and every night. People like me haven't been home in almost a quarter of a century but we are not allowed to suffer from stress. Prisoners suffering from stress is illegal! It is against the rules! Any prisoner found suffering from stress will be instantly carted off to the Segregation Unit and punished. Well, we have to be fair about these things. If prisoners are allowed to suffer from stress who knows where it might end? The next thing we know, prisoners will want to be regarded as human beans, and that will never do. (The beans is deliberate, by the way, so please don't start writing in to complain - or sending me dictionaries.)

Oh well, I suppose I'd better go and get chased by the police or they will feel left out and stressed too!

Wasting away in the wilderness

Someone once said to me, "You are like a voice, crying out in the wilderness" - and that's where I get the title for this blog from. Just in case anyone is wondering. Of course it is originally biblical but I don't think I have to attribute sources in that direction any more - the copyright on the Bible ran out a while ago.

So, there I was, sitting in my little kennel - the 'Lizzie Windsor Suite' - and contemplating things in general and nothing in particular, when it crossed what I call my mind (that vast emptiness between my ears which is currently being crossed by two men and a camel, all wondering where they are) that I was really wasting time. Or was I? A line from a Pink Floyd song crossed my mind too:

We fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way.
We do too! Some may say that sitting here in pensive and philosophical contemplation is not time wasted or frittered, and that may well be true - but surely I should be doing something better! I mean, to what end? What's the point? Let me put it in the words of Douglas Adams in "The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy":
What is the meaning of life, the universe, everything?
The bloody answer may as well be "Forty-two" for what sense it all makes (which, incidentally, was the answer given by the greatest computer in the universe - "Deep Thought").

Forty-two. I used to be forty-two. It went on for a whole year in fact - to the day! Three hundred and sixty-five of them, every one of them spent as a guest in the "Lizzie Windsor Suite". In the corner I have a washbasin and a toilet, so in reality I am living in a khazi - a bog, a loo, a shit-house. Mind, some people think I AM a shit­house, but we don't listen to such malicious things these days. Prisoners are sensitive after all, with feelings apparently - but only when it suits the authorities to appease the reformists.

So - here I am, a sensitive prisoner, sitting in a shit-house, contemplating my navel, thinking philosophical thoughts as I fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not complaining - what have I got to complain about? I am warm, fed, clothed and have a bed to sleep in (in my cosy little toilet). There are people a whole lot worse off than me in this world. Carping on about the fact that I shouldn't be here at all is just ungrateful - so I won't say anything on that subject - but I must say that I could, given some time for thought, think of somewhere I might rather be.

Oh, I don't know, somewhere much better than this like, er... lying in the accident and emergency department of some hospital with all of my bones broken. That would do for a start. It's got to he better than this - and, once I recovered, the nightmare would be over. This nightmare will never end, despite the platitudes I feed myself from time to time:

Don't worry, Frank. Nothing lasts forever.
Who am I kidding?

So, I may as well continue to fritter and waste the hours. Well, it gives me something to do - and the best part is that nobody can take it away from me. They have taken everything else after all. The ubiquitous "THEY" - the encouragers of fritter and waste.

The Voice In The Wilderness

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ages of Man - and girl

It doesn't tick my box

Well, I finally managed to get a response to my perpetual harrassment as I attempted to obtain the minutes of the Sentence Planning meeting held on November 18th of last year. I've had every excuse possible, including being told that there is no such person as Governor Karen Bourne - a bit odd considering that I now have a document not only signed by her but clearly proving that she does exist. Having said all that, it becomes clear to me that she is obviously one of those people (like me) who is invisible at the best of times.

So I finally got a response - not the minutes (I hasten to add), that would be too much to ask for. No, what I've got is a rewritten version of the Sentence Planning document. Evidently the original was too far from the facts. The new one is just as divorced, but one or two things have been altered. Maybe they think I can't read or understand the language, or that I will be thankful for small mercies and go away. It ain't happening!

I think my solicitor is as fed up with the intransigence as I am, because he has basically said that we might as well just ignore it all because it will all be brought out at the parole hearing in June of this year. I agree with him. Banging my head against a wall only has one thing to be said in its favour - it's nice when I stop. I shall continue my efforts to get my sweaty little mitts on the minutes of course - I'll be needing them for the parole hearing.

Then I had a letter from The Wallace, a woman I have a great deal of time for because I think that she is that rare breed - someone who wants to do her job to the best of her ability and to get things RIGHT!

The prison service has absolutely no interest whatever in getting anything right, in fact they avoid it where possible. All they want is the right ticks in the right boxes so that they can say, "You can't blame us! All the boxes are ticked!" How many cases have there been of people who should never have been allowed out of a cage, never mind out of prison! On the other side of the coin, how many prisoners are languishing in prison for no other reason than that they don't have the right ticks in the right places? Personalities, characteristics, behavioural traits, none of them is allowed to make any difference - if the right boxes are not ticked then the prisoner is going nowhere.

Every prisoner, sooner or later, will reach his optimum moment for release - the moment when he or she can released into the community and will never offend again. That is when that prisoner should be released, ticks in boxes notwithstanding. This moment of optimum release is quite plain and clear in many cases but can we expect the trainee box-tickers to recognise it? Can we hell!

The wrong people have managed to grasp the power in prisons, that's the problem. Young, inexperienced girls have taken over from the people who should have the power - the prison officer. The screw, kanga , warder (call him or her anything you like, they don't really mind, most of them) is the person who works with cons on a daily basis. The kanga is the person who should have the power because they are the ones who really see prisoners as they are, not ten minute interviews full of lies.

Will the prison officer - the kangaroo, the screw, the warder, the turnkey, the German - be given the power and listened to? The simple answer to that of course is 'NO'!

Oh well, I have plans to write a great deal on the subject when I finally get the opportunity, but this isn't it.

The third triplet

Fate has a strange way of dealing with us - I've said it before and no doubt I'll say it again. How many times over the years, when we think everything is going well at last, does fate come along in the guise of Lady Luck with the express intention of booting us firmly in the family heirlooms? Here she comes, sashaying down the street wearing her Versace jeans and her Doc Martens, swinging her Dior handbag at passing children and grinning all over her wicked countenance. I've lost count of the number of times over the years that she has kicked me viciously in the testacularities and I may well have become inured to it so that I no longer feel the pain.

Well, suddenly it seems that things may have swung the other way for a change because, rather than bad news, I had a fairly decent day of news for a change. Maybe Lady Luck, that fickle ould tart, is off to watch the Winter Olympics or something and has taken her gimlet eye off me temporarily.

I spoke to my personal officer yesterday and, amongst other things, he told me that because of my age the C.S.C.P. programme had no interest in me. Those weren't his words but that was the general sentiment of what he said.

Then, when the mail came round, I had a letter from a very old girlfriend who I parted with in 1983 in a fairly acrimonious way. I simply upped my goods and chattels and left her high and dry. I never at any time abused her or raised a hand to her, or even my voice come to that, but I did treat her very badly. I was mean and nasty in fact. I didn't think she would ever forgive me, but it seems that apparently she has. The letter yesterday said that she had put my name into a search engine on the internet and there I was, so she wrote. There is a bit more to it than that of course, and I am sure that a fair bit of soul searching will be the order of the day soon. I've got a lot of apologising to do.

In my defence may I say... Ah, fuck it - who am I kidding? I have no defence. I deserted her without a second's thought and what I did was unacceptable and inexcusable. So, as I say, I have a lot of apologising to do. She's a good person, from a good family, and I often wonder what she saw in a toe-rag like me.

I'm a different person now of course, but so is she - we all change in a quarter century or more. I have no illusions and certainly no expectations, but I do need all the friends that I can get, and hopefully Lesley will be one of them. It probably all depends on the mood of that cruel ould whore with the Dior handbag and the vagaries of her mood-swings. For all I know she may, at this very minute, be polishing the toecaps of her ex-miner's steel-lined boots prior to bringing me crashing to ground, writhing in pain and clinging on to what's left of the jewellery.

It's not easy being me, but I bet it's a lot harder being Lady Luck. As the comic would have it:

Luck! Don't talk to me about luck. If Dolly Parton had triplets, and I were one of them, I'd be the one who got the bottle!


On March 9th I will have been in jail for twenty-four years to the day. Sunday 9th March 1986, Mother's Day - somebody has a poor sense of humour. Oddly enough my birthday is December 28th, and THAT is Innocents' Day! Well, since March 9th 1986 EVERY day has been Innocents Day and precious little good it has done me.

Twenty-four years. Just one more year makes it a quarter of a century, a milestone in anyone's life or career. A lot happens in twenty-four years - and a lot HAS happened. There have been enormous changes to everyone's life and style of living. The internet arrived, with all that means to information and to the progress of mankind. Religious fundamentalism arrived and atrocities have become common-place. (Although atrocities have always been with us throughout history. These days it is the instant reporting which makes them so personal.) D.N.A. identification arrived and we have seen several wars in all parts of the globe. Children have been born, grown up and had children of their own. World leaders have come and gone.

There have been massive changes - but not in the eyes of the teenage girls who have managed to get a stranglehold on the prison system. As far as they are concerned there have been no changes - everything is the same and nobody has got any older, wiser or suffered any form of change of heart.

I spoke to one of these trainee experts recently and all I was trying to do was to get her to see that time alone changes everything and everyone. I tried several different tacks but she either wasn't listening to any of them or simply didn't understand a word I said. The only other alternative was that she didn't care.

Finally I tried a new approach and said, "Can you remember what you were doing twenty-three years ago?"

She said, "I wasn't born then," and I nearly threw my hat in there and then - or the towel, whichever metaphor you prefer.

"All right," said I. "So you weren't born. What about twenty years ago? Can you remember that?"

"I was only two!"

"Oh!" said I. "So you were two years old twenty years ago then?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Well," said I, the wise man, "would you say that you have changed in those twenty years?"

"Of course I have, everyone does," said she.

"Yes," I nodded, "Of course they do, as you so rightly say. So if everyone does, everyone changes in twenty years, what the fuck makes you think I haven't?"

She didn't seem to have an answer to that one.

So yes, the last quarter of a century (almost) has brought about massive changes, in all of us, each and everyone of us. But for some reason the prison service simply cannot accept this blatantly obvious fact of life.

Shakespeare wrote of the "Seven Ages of Man" - and I could list them. I mentioned Shakespeare to the same trainee psychologist at the time and she simply went blank, as though I had administered some soporific!

Well, the old adage is certainly true in this instance - you can take a horse to the water but you can't make it drink. We can lead these trainees to all the water there is but we will never get them to drink it - they can't see it for the blinkers they all seem to be wearing.

So once again I left the conversation feeling frustrated and not a little let down. Ah! But I have an adage of my own for such occasions and this is it:

You can knock me down, but you'll never get me to stay down.
The Voice In The Wilderness

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Hoss" - the new boss at the "Lazy L"

A couple of weeks ago I said that Ferdie the Fearless, the man with the ego as big as Jimmy Durante's nose, had departed this establishment for well brought-up young ladies. He had gone, closed the portcullis and buggered off to annoy someone else. That was all very true, he has gone.

Yesterday our new Governor arrived hotfoot from Featherstone - or was it Maidstone? Too many stones for my poor, under­developed brain to cope with - and his name is Cartwright, but I don't guarantee the spelling. Apparently, he comes from a Category C training prison and it may well be that he will be full of ideas to better the lot and the quality of life of scum such as myself. But fear not, give him a few months of banging his head against the P.O.A. rocks and he will soon be abusing the prisoners with the best of them. I am sure that at the minute he is full of good intentions and has a plethora of ideas to improve things around here. It'll do him no good. He will soon come up against the inertia, intransigence and stone-walling of the P.O.A., who object to everything which might improve a prisoner's lot.

I wonder if he will wander about the place at regular intervals and chat informally to random cons? Or will he simply accept and believe any ould toffee that his underlings tell him the way Ferdie did? These Governors think that they are in charge of the place, but they ain't , never will be. They are only as good as the information that their minions supply them with, and they only get to know what the lesser ranks want them to know.

So, 'Hoss' Cartwright (as he will become known if I have anything to do with it - well, with a name like that you would expect him to come from the Ponderosa at least!) will probably turn out to be just as ineffective as all of those who have gone before him and the cons, the scum - my comrades - will simply have to suffer it I suppose.

The trouble with the prison service (and most other institutions too, I suspect) is that no one is accountable any more. It doesn't matter what stupidities may be carried out, nobody will be brought to book for them but they will be protected by lies and cover-ups. I don't really see any alternative because nobody will admit it, and the first step in putting something right is to acknowledge that it is wrong in the first place. This, quite simply, ain't about to happen - not in the prison service, not in the police, not in the National Health Service, not even in the local coucil offices. Nobody is responsible for anything these days - but they all want a bigger slice of the cake.

My trouble is, of course, that I am a grumpy ould man, but being a grumpy ould man doesn't mean that I am wrong.

Well, we will see how 'Hoss' gets on with his mission I suppose. In the meantime, I am off to go for a drive in a fast car and to get the police to chase me - it's good for my rehabilitation.

The Voice in the Wilderness

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Personally, I'm going to accentuate the positive


A word sprang to my mind earlier today completely unbidden and quite apropos to nothing in particular, and that word is... personality. Now, let me say right away that just because a person IS a personality, it does not follow that they HAVE a personality. This of course touches on the cult of celebrity, but I don't want to get onto that particular hobby horse. (They are generally a bunch of talentless morons - and that is being kind to a lot of them.) 

Another thing I'd better say is that I am not much of a personality myself, having the people skills of a bad-tempered Tasmanian devil and the social manners of Atilla the Hun. So this isn't about me at all - not everything is personal. Now that I have said all that, I'm not at all sure where I am headed with this, but I will plod along and see what transpires.

There are all kinds of personalities. There are those who walk into a room and, without doing very much of anything at all, can dominate it or, after putting it about a bit, there are those who can become the life and soul of the party. At the other end of the spectrum we have the crew who, when THEY walk into a room, everything goes quiet. They are the atmosphere hoovers - they seem to suck the life out of a room just by being present. Thankfully, I am not one of those.

Personality - it's an interesting word. A long time ago, during my studying years, I often had to write essays on just one word. I would get the instruction from my tutor, "Write three thousand words on the word 'and'" - and if anyone thinks that is easy, try it. My tutor never gave me the word 'Personality' but I wish she had. She never gave me the word 'if' either, and I would have enjoyed writing about 'if'. I could have started with Kipling's poem, for a start, and then moved on to 'if' being a word for children building castles in the air.

I once said that to the parole board, the bit about castles in the air. They asked me what I would do if... and that's as far as they got because I interrupted and said, "If is not a word to play with. It gives false hopes, it misleads, and besides, it is a word for children building castles in the air." I never did find out what they were going to 'if' me about. Ha! If my grandmother had a pair of bollocks she'd be my grandfather, so I don't really want to hear about 'if'.

Come to think about it, I don't particularly want to near about 'personality' either. My trouble is that I am getting old and have become a grumpy old man. Don't think I didn't notice it happening either, because I did. Every age has its compensations despite what Shakespeare may have said on the subject. I am quite enjoying being old and look forward to getting much older. I can't wait for the time when I can stand in the queue at Tesco's checking-out till and simply piss myself. Everyone will let me go to the front of the queue. I will also pretend to be deaf so that I can drive everybody mad.

By then I may have developed a personality - if I live that long.

A new broom?

It may be remembered that at the beginning of the year I wrote that Ferdie Parker, the little man with the ego the size of Gibraltar (or a small range of mountains), had departed these shores. I said that he had left the prison to annoy others elsewhere but added that there seemed to be a certain amount of ambiguity about the information. It turned out that he hadn't gone.

However, I can now say categorically that this time he has gone. Ferdie has packed his potted plant, tucked his knickers into his wash-bag, pulled up the drawbridge and turned off the lights! Ferdie has left for pastures new at last. He wasn't popular with anyone as far as I can tell. There is a rumour going round that even his dog bit him, but that may just be a dirty communist lie put about by his enemies to discredit him and is not to be given credence by decent folk and other members of the criminal fraternity and scum class. (Have no fears, I am a fully paid-up member of both, I have no illusions.)

Whatever the truth, Ferdie has gone, he is no longger with us. I have no idea where he has gone and what's more, I don't care. The big question now is, who will we get to take his place? Who will arrive like a new broom to sweep everything under the carpet? Who will come rolling in with the intention of sorting the place out only to crash onto the P.O.A. rocks and be scuttled? What this place needs is someone with a positive outlook and attitude, but it's doubtful whether such a person exists, at least not in the high security estate where negativity is encouraged.

It has no direct effect on me of course, although I am sure it will affect me indirectly sooner or later. I shall continue to sit here in my little kennel, tapping away indiscriminately at this machine and hoping that one day I will write something worth reading. In between times I will play on my Play Station like a good little twelve year old and go to bed before ten each night so I can wake up nice and fresh and early each morning to do absolutely bugger all.

The way this place is run now, so negatively, it is designed to crush the spirit of even the strongest-minded nitwit such as myself, and I admit that I am slowly getting to the stage where it seems that there is nothing to get up for these days. Will the new governor change that? I somehow doubt it. We will probably get a career man who is using this place simply as a stepping stone to a full time position at the Home Office where he would no longer have to see or listen to prisoners but could take unwelcome decisions with impunity, destroying lives as he did so. Oh yes, it's a dismal world, this world of prison.

Personally, I try to stay positive. I seek the glass half full rather than the glass half empty, but that is merely a manifestation of my years of experience coupled with a strong mind. There are fellows who are not as stubborn as I am. Oh well, we shall see what we shall see when the new face on the block takes over and begins to make his presence felt. In the meanwhile, I will continue to play a game called "Need For Speed Most Wanted" which consists of driving fast cars with the police in hot pursuit - it's all part of my sentence planning as far as I can see.

Give me a break!

At the height of summer in the year of 2002 I was in Full Sutton Prison. Actually, I was in the seg unit there because I would not plant my lips firmly on the wing P.O.'s gluteus maximus. He had taken umbrage at the fact that I didn't see him or any of his gang as blood-brothers. They had me in a cell in the seg unit which had a plastic sheet across the window with a dozen small air-holes drilled through the armoured plastic.

It was very hot at the time - the dates are available, but I can't be bothered to search my diaries to get them. I have to say that breathing in that sweat-box wasn't easy, so I devised a scheme to get myself moved to a cell which had proper windows that opened. I complained that I had breathing difficulties - and they panicked. In no time at all an ambulance arrived from the local hospital and paramedics were doing tests on me as I lay on the floor pretending to be gasping for breath.

They decided to take me out to hospital.

Hold on! This is not the plan! I only wanted a cell with windows. I didn't want chaining to a bed in a hospital surrounded by thugs wearing body armour and armed policemen patrolling the corridors! (I was High Risk at the time.) So I simply refused to go to the hospital under any circumstances.

One silly sod said, "You might joss it if you don't go." Considering that I was only pretending, it seemed unlikely.

"I don't care," said I. "I'm not going."

In the end they compromised by letting me go across to the prison hea1thcare, where I had a nice roomy cell with large windows which opened wide to let the air in past the bars. 

Victory was mine!

In my latest Sentence P1anning document, they have trawled through my record and found this incident from Full Sutton and marked me down as being at risk of self-harm! In their desperation to find something negative to say about me, someone must have spent hours trawling to uncover the above - and this is what is wrong with prison assessments. In that self-same record there are countless positive things to uncover - my charity work, my mentoring, writing, academic achievements, writing awards, and so on. Not one word of that is in the sentence planning document - nothing, nada.

Self harm? Give me a break! Being a dedicated coward I could never hurt myself, I've got no desire to hurt anyone else, never mind myself. Looking at my wrists and arms there is not a blemish, not a scar, nothing - apart from a series of very tiny scars, all about three millimetres in length, from cuts made by handcuffs being put on me forcefully. I have three of those on my right wrist and one on my left.

Incidentally, the only other thing they could find to say about me in the Sentence Planning document is that I present a high risk of peril to a 'known adult', whatever that may mean. And they wonder why so many cons refuse to take part in this nonsense of "sentence planning".

It is also no surprise that they are STILL refusing to give me a copy of the minutes of the actual sentence planning meeting last year, and the reason is quite simple - they intend to distort and twist. In fact they already have, and to give me the minutes would simply allow me to point out that they have distorted and twisted. They can't do that. Three months since the meeting on the 18th November and so far I've been given half a dozen excuses as to why I can't have the promised copy. Even my solicitor can't get a copy and I think he has asked several times.

Well, the alternatives now would seem to be either to change the report or continue with a lie which will be uncovered when we sit in front of the Parole Board later this year. What bothers me about all this is - why do they do it? What is the point?

I like to think that I am a reasonably well-balanced individual these days, a man with absolutely no desire for confrontation of any sort at any time, but the prison service seem actively to seek problems where they don't exist. I wonder why. It's not as though I am a new boy or a tourist or something. I know the system, I know the rules. I solve problems before they arise generally, but what can I do against underhand behaviour such as false or distorted reporting?

Oh well, we shall see.

Now, I know that this week's offering isn't up to the standard of drivel that I would normally churn out, but I hope the reader will acknowledge the extenuating circumstances and forgive me. Normally I would finish with a little story but it wouldn't be appropriate. Instead I will finish with the words of Tolstoy who wrote:

I sit on a man's back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry (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

Monday, February 15, 2010

Nothing much happens - in three parts!

Part One - Porridge and common sense
Listening to the radio this morning whilst cleaning my teeth and generally pottering about in my kennel - I listen to the radio in Van Gogh mode, with one ear - I heard someone or other discussing humour in general and prison humour in particular. I think it had something to do with Ronnie Barker. The fellow speaking on the steam-driven wireless seemed to have a slightly unreal idea of prison life because he said that the humour in "Porridge" wasn't far from the reality of prison. What gammon.

I grant that "Porridge" was funny in places, and very entertaining in its way, but whoever wrote it got his idea of prison from someone who had a very romantic view of it all. There IS a lot of humour in prison, most of it pretty dark too, but it has little connection with the humour in "Porridge". Prison humour is far funnier, more prosaic, crueller, biting, vulgar, very often painfully near the mark or the knuckle - and there is ALWAYS a victim. As often as not, this victim is a member of the "enemy", but not always, not by a long shot. Anyone who really wanted to experience prison humour would have to spend considerable time there. It's no good talking to others who HAVE spent considerable time there because what is passed on will inevitably be a sanitised version.

Come to think about it - and to expand the thought a little further - I think that this applies to everything, almost every job and walk of life. Interviews with teachers, nurses, policemen, doctors, roadsweepers and kings only bring out what the interviewee WANTS to bring out. The innermost secrets are never disclosed, not in anything at all, ever. This is why these "in-depth" and "frank" interviews are just the opposite really. We, all of us, only reveal what we want to reveal - for all sorts of reasons, not all of them bad. That's why committees to investigate drugs, crime, the health service, armed forces and so on ad infinitum, are never too successful because of the self-censorship involved - and the fact that they generally ask the wrong questions anyway.

This brings me back to the prison estate. Prisoners are in the thrall of a group of young girls who have, in effect, taken over the prison system. These are the trainee psychologists whose uneducated and unqualified utterances and judgements on people are taken by the powers that be as gospel and are not questioned. A trainee psychologist can condemn any person in prison and there is no recourse. It is actually impossible to get these inexperienced children to change anything they write about anyone and they insist that they know better than the judge of the court in which the prisoner was tried and sentenced. It's not vindictive, not in most cases anyway; it is not even the lack of experience, although that plays a large part. The fact is that they simply do not care!

So, the prisoner has to deal with these charlatans and the only way is to lie. A prisoner learns all the right answers, totally meaningless to the prisoner really, trots them out and gets a tick in the right box. The charlatans then hold up the paper bearing the tick in the right box and declare that they have proof that the prisoner will not re-offend. It is as false and as worthless as an ashtray on a motorbike and Lily Savage's tits. It is as much use as a glass eye.

These psychologist have no insight at all into the people they are dealing with. How can they have? What can they learn in a few hours (total) of interviewing? The people who CAN have insight into a prisoner's mindset are the prison officers, yet prison officers are ignored and are the last contingent anyone will listen to, if they ever do.

Something is absent from the whole system - and that something is not experts, it's not committees and it is certainly not a shortage of psychologists. It's common sense - nobody uses it. I wonder if they are all scared to use it!

Part Two - Nowt to report

Jails are made of bricks and passions,
Broken dreams and ribald men...
Words originally written about Kilmainham Jail in Dublin - closed down and now a museum and tourist attraction of that fair city. Bricks and passions.. broken dreams... ribald men. I suppose that those words can apply to any prison really.

No news again this week - nary a word, zilch, zero, nada - unless, of course, we consider the fact that I now have a new personal officer, Miss Sensitive apparently having gone elsewhere. I have no idea where, and what's more, I don't really care where. Her record for underhand obstruction is better left unrecorded but it is up there with the best of them. So now I have a new one.

I was getting a cup of one day earlier in the week - hot water for tea - when one of the kangas said, "Wilko, " (he will never know how much I object to being called Wilko), "I am your new personal officer now."

"Wonderful," said I. "What happened to the other one?"

"She's gone elsewhere," said he, which in effect told me nowt.

That's a great word - "nowt". It has such a definite and unquestionable finality about it, leaving no room for ambiguity or confusion. It does exactly what it says on the tin, so to speak. Of course it is a northern word - all good words are, when you come to think about it. Compare "nowt" with "nuffink" - "nuffink" just hasn't got that ring of confidence about it. So, nowt has happened yet again in this emporium of misery and uncertainty... this pile of bricks and passions with its broken dreams and ribald men.

I don't know this new personal officer's name - he didn't deem it right to tell me and I'm not interested enough to go out of my way to find out. He did ask if there was anything I needed a hand with, but I think he only did that to show willing. If I had actually asked him to do something for me he would probably have been taken ill and been off work for three months suffering from some stress-related affliction. Of course this assumption on my part may be entirely uncalled-for and verging on the slanderous, but there's not much that can be done when experience tells me otherwise.

Now, I know perfectly well that I say a lot of things which some folk take exception to, I know this... but there is no need for them to do so. Not much that I say is personal or aimed at anyone in a particularly vindictive manner. I am usually pretty general in my outlook ( I hope), so if anyone takes anything seriously or personally, it is more a reflection on them than on me. I don't think I am a vindictive sort of cove at all. If anyone looks carefully at whatever is written or said, they will see that it is mostly written (or said) with the tongue firmly embedded in the cheek, that raddled part of my visage which botox is scared of.

However, if anyone should take exception to whatever I say or write, I can do no better than direct them to the words of Julius Gaius Caesar as he crossed the Rubicon:

Coppula eam, se non posit acceptera jocularum!
Which, as all we Latin scholars are fully aware, can be loosely translated as "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

And now, as the sun sinks slowly o'oer the barbed wire of my country estate, I can go back to contemplating the bricks... and the passions... and the ribald men... and the broken dreams...

Part Three - Paying Danegeld

It occurs to me as I negotiate the hazards and pitfalls of prison life (navigating the corners carefully, because I don't want any accidents at this stage) that some people seem to sail through with neither let nor hindrance, while others struggle to get their meals on time. Why should this be?

Of course I am fully aware of the main reason - and that is that some fellows never lift their heads above the parapet, are never on show and never come to the attention of the authorities. Sensible fellows, really. Then we have the obverse of the coin, people like me - the problem children who, for some reason, attract attention, much like a turd attracts flies. Maybe I should disguise myself, wear a mask or something - mind, some people would see THAT as a good idea too!

To get back to the fellows who sail through prison unscathed. The real fact is that they never question and will tolerate any ould crap and let it pass unchallenged. In days of yore they would be called quislings, Petainists, appeasers, the payers of Danegeld. It is a mistake to pay Danegeld, always has been - history shows that to be true. No matter how much is paid, or what concessions are made, the Dane will always come back for more.

At the same time, a balance must be found between stubbornness and appeasement - never an easy thing to do. As far as prison is concerned, I suppose it comes down to the quality of life - and not just for prisoners but staff too, to some extent, although they are being paid decent money and go home every night.

I try to tell people that being nasty to prisoners for no good reason isn't good for anyone's morale. The thing we all need to remember, and to bear in mind at all times, is that this is not a dress-rehearsal for something else, not a bit of it. THIS IS IT! This is our only shot at life on this benighted planet and we had better make the most of it because we won't get another opportunity. We can't go to some complaints department and say, "Listen, I've fucked that right up! I'd better start over again." Oh no, it simply doesn't work like that. We get one shot at it and one shot only.

And that gives me the perfect excuse to repeat (as I have done more than once in these pages) the words of Stephen Grellet*, a man of great humanitarian outlook, when he wrote:

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 creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again...
The Voice In The Wilderness

*From Wikipedia:
Stephen Grellet (November 2, 1773 – November 16, 1855) was a prominent French Quaker missionary.
He was born √Čtienne de Grellet du Mabillier in Limoges, the son to a counsellor of King Louis XVI. Raised as a Roman Catholic he was educated at the military College of Lyons, and at the age of seventeen he entered the body-guard of Louis XVI. During the French Revolution he was sentenced to be executed, but escaped and eventually fled Europe to the United States in 1795.
Impressed by the writings of William Penn, George Fox, and Quaker beliefs, in 1796 he joined the Society of Friends. He became involved in extensive missionary work across North America and most of the countries of Europe, in prisons and hospitals, and was respectfully granted meetings with many rulers and dignitaries, including Pope Pius VII, Czar Alexander I, and the Kings of Spain and Prussia. He encouraged many reforms in educational policies and in hospital and prison conditions.
In 1804 he married his wife, Rebecca, the daughter of the publisher Isaac Collins.
It is reputed that he was the last living person who could have identified the "Lost Dauphin" of France.
He died in Burlington, New Jersey on November 16, 1855 and his body was buried there behind the Quaker Meeting House at 340 High Street.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Living with the demons of the night

Another week passes when nothing at all happens, nothing is said or done and I am starting to feel invisible again. I've read my recent crop of books and things are getting so desperate that I might start getting books from the library. The trouble is that I like to own my books and to read them at leisure, often over and over because I miss so much on the first reading.

However, I'm not here to discuss books, that is a subject better left for a much longer dissertation than this is destined to be. Forget books, they only give us ideas above our station and cause trouble anyway.

Last night, (there is nothing like a quiet Saturday night in) I sat here in my comfy kennel in silence. Telly off, because, to be quite frank about it, it's mostly puerile rubbish anyway. I didn't have my stereo on and I didn't feel like playing with my PlayStation. I've already mentioned that I've read all of my new books -that's a hundred and eight quid I'll never see again - and all I was doing basically was contemplating my navel and cogitating pensively.

Then I had a mini epiphany... The whole place was silent! Normally at about nine at night, there is maybe a bit of music to be heard faintly, a telly on that little bit too loud or someone chatting rubbish to his pal out of the window. Last night - not a sound. In fact, I bet there are graves where there is more noise.

This got me to wondering. What are they all doing in those cells all around me? Reading? Studying? Writing a letter home? Watching the telly? They would be doing all of those things, certainly, but there would be a a few who were simply lying on their beds, maybe even in the dark, and they would be living inside their own minds. Thinking of family, friends, brooding on enemies and the ills done to them, regrets, sorrows, and in some cases downright misery.

Of course, the dragon-chasers would be doing none of those things. All they are doing is wondering who they can lie to to get their next short-lived trip to a false oblivion. I don't want to waste my typewriter ribbon on them, so we will leave that little lot to their own devices.

Yes...all around me there would be men experiencing all of the emotions the writers have been scribbling about for centuries. How do I know this? Well, I'm glad you asked because I can help with that one. I know all this because I have experienced it all for years. Countless nights have been spent living inside my own mind. I've gone through the brooding, the hatred, the blame, the regrets, the sorrow and all of the other things too, and there was a time when it turned me quite mad.

Then I discovered the secret of life in prison - how to survive the nights. The days are easy, it's the nights where the demons live. Whenever I started to brood on the ills done me I would instantly get out of my bed and start to read or write, anything to stop my mind from travelling the road to rage and anger.

It works too!

In addition to that, the reading and the writing tires out the mind, and that is inducive of good sleep. It is no matter how tired the body is, that can be fully rested by simply lying down for a few hours. But sleep, that healing sleep, needs a tired mind.

I sleep well enough these days but that wasn't always the case of course. It must be the reading - and perhaps the little bit of writing I do helps too.

So, in conclusion, may I give a little bit of advice to those who suffer from any form of insomnia - have a good read, and the more boring the book the better. Having said that, I have to admit that I found Leon Uris a great writer and most people think he's boring, but that's probably more a reflection on me than it is on them. I once read Archbold Criminal Pleading Evidence and Practice 1992 from front to back and found it quite interesting, so perhaps I'm not the best judge of what constitutes a good read.

Finally, a story. Yesterday, a female kanga asked me if I was okay. I must have been looking a bit off! I jumped at my chance.

"No," I said, "I'm not."
"What's the trouble?" asked she.

"My brother has been diagnosed as having Zachary's disease."

"Oh. What's that?"

"His face is Zachary like his arse."
The Voice In The Wilderness