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.

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