Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wisdom and time

There was a sage in days of yore
And he a handsome pigtail wore,
Yet wondered much and sorrowed more
Because it hung behind him.
The 'Lazy L' is full of sages, wise men and oracles, all ready to impart wondrous amounts of sagacity and advice to us lesser beings. However, it is surprising how many of them are really as wise as an idiot in a hurry.

I have to confess that I make a very big error in judgement a great deal of the time because I make the mistake of thinking that everyone else thinks the way I do. That is why, when I have explained something to someone in what I consider to be perfectly lucid terms and they don't understand me, or seem to fail to listen, I can be rude and terse with them - "What's wrong with you? It's not rocket science!" - sort of thing.

It occurs to me that the likelihood is that they are exactly the same as I am in that they too think everyone else thinks like they do. Which is all very well, but a person who isn't too bright may well be making the classic error in thinking that everyone else isn't too bright either.

I have seen them, these paragons of idiocy, as they approach someone a little wiser than they are and they have a plan. They go ahead and explain this plan and the wiser person sees the flaw instantly. The wiser fellow points out the flaw and the idiot stands there stunned, wondering why the wiser fellow hasn't been fooled or taken in - the plan would have fooled the idiot! The most interesting part is that the idiotic one can then get a bit agitated because he genuinely thinks he is clever - and nobody likes a smart arse.

I had one the other day who came to see me and said, "Frank, can I have a word?"

"Pomegranate," said I. "That's a good word. You can have it, I'm not using it at the minute."

"No," said he, "listen! I've got a good deal for you."

"I bet you haven't!" said I.

"Just listen!"

"Okay, I'm listening," said I. "But don't expect too much."

"No," said he, "just listen. If you get me twenty quids' worth of stuff at the canteen, I'll send fifty into your account. That's a good deal, that is."

"No doubt," said I, "for a moron."

"What do you mean?"

"Listen mate," was my response, "if you have got fifty quid, I suggest you have it sent in to yourself. That way you get the full benefit of it rather than just twenty quid - and THAT'S a good deal!"

I could see his little mind working as he wondered how I had seen the flaw in his plan - it would have fooled him! Let me put it this way, if he had had a pigtail he would have been spinning round and round trying to see it, like a dog chasing his own tail.

However, once an idiot gets what he sees as a good idea, no matter how silly it may be, he is most reluctant to let it go.

"Well, listen!" said he. "How about a tenner then?"

The best part is that this fellow, this insane member of my little community, is seen as one of the chaps - people ask him for advice and he freely gives it! None of it is ever any good of course, but he doesn't let that stop him. Personally I would assess him as having a mental age of about fourteen but he can talk the hind leg off a duck-billed platypus.

That's the thing with people who talk a lot - they are never quiet long enough to listen to anyone else and consequently learn nowt!


It is just after 9.30 on the morning of Tuesday 20th April 2010 and I've just got rid of a young fellow who came to talk to me for no good reason that I could see. I think he really sought some kind of reassurance that his life was not completely over, as young as he is. What seemed to be exercising his mind was the fact that even after more than twenty-four years I still seemed to have kept my sanity and sense of humour, twisted as that may be. I think he just needed someone to tell him that he would be fine, he too would get through the next couple of decades okay.

He may not of course, and even if he does he will still have over ten years left. I think he is about twenty-seven now - add a little over thirty years to that and he will be about my age when he gets to the stage where he can see home on the horizon, if he still has a home by then of course.

So many of these young men are in that position - nothing ahead of them but decades of this life and maybe, if they survive it, their final few years in the community, if they are lucky.

I don't tell them these things of course, that would be unkind and would, in effect, remove all hope from them. That could have disastrous consequences, something these young, trainee psychologists don't seem to understand. But how can they even begin to understand? They are youngsters too! They know nothing about the fleeting feet of time, how it simply disappears when we are not looking. One day we are sniggering at dirty drawings of boys or girls and giggling at mucky words in the dictionary; we have our first meaningful kiss, hopefully with a member of the opposite sex (but these days, who knows); then, before we can draw breath, we are sixty and wonder what happened in between!

Young people cannot understand time and the passage of it, they have other, more interesting things to think about. It is only when we get older that we begin to wonder about it and generally regret its passing. How many of us do not look back and say, "I wish I had known then what I know now"? Show me someone who has not said that and I'll show you a liar.

I had intended to write a verse of a song at this point, one from Pink Floyd from "The Dark Side of the Moon" album called "Time", but have decided against that. Instead I will write a verse from an old Irish tune called, "Maggie". The song itself concerns an old man singing to his wife, who has clearly grown old with him, and he is looking back on their life together.

They say we are feeble with age, Maggie,
Our steps are much slower than then;
My face is a well-written page, Maggie,
And time all alone was the pen.
They say we have outlived our time, Maggie,
As dated as songs we have sung.
But to me, you're as fair as you were, Maggie,
When you and I were young.
Oh yes, my face is a well-written page too, and time was the pen, but older folk have an answer to that - they say that it is character. Character my arse - every line tells a tale, as often as not of difficulty and struggle. We look into the mirror and see the ravages of time that are right there in front of our eyes. Gone is the fresh-faced Adonis and in its place we see what can only be described as a dried-out prune. It's coming to us all although some weather better than others. It is said that when we are teenagers we have the face which God gave us, but when we get to fifty or sixty we have the face we gave ourselves.

Well, I hope that the young fellows who speak to me from time to time understand that. The funny part is, we don't see the gradual change ourselves, nor do we feel it - that is left to others.

The Voice In The Wilderness

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Busy doing nothing

I may have got mail
My solicitor, the one handling my appeal as opposed to the one who deals with internal prison matters, is to go into some form of semi-retirement. He is to sort of keep his hand in and will retake the reins in any crisis - but, to all intents and purposes, my case will be handled in future by his replacement. I don't know her, of course, but am assured that she is an extremely capable and experienced practitioner in serious criminal matters so I feel quite happy about that.

I had a letter from her yesterday (Saturday 17th April) in which she informs me that she has been in contact with the CCRC about my case and that they inform her that they only need to review the forensic material in the case and that they have ten large boxes of paperwork to sift through, or words to that effect. Well, I hope they are examining more than just the forensic stuff! She also tells me that there will be some sort of review ready to start in four to six weeks time. I'm not sure that means very much but as always with me I use the words of that great philosopher who said, "We will see." Considering the fact that we seem to go for long periods where we are told absolutely nothing, this bit of information from the CCRC could well be seen as a major move forward. But, to misquote the bible:

The mills of justice grind exceeding slow.
Now to this place - Hoss the Boss's Ponderosa. Over a period of time (and by now, therefore, according to custom) the kangaroos have taken to, and become quite used to, sitting on easy chairs quite near the office and basically not bothering anyone. However, it seems that a couple of weeks ago some con or other got his knickers in a twist about something and complained that kangas were sitting on their fat arses instead of doing what they are paid to do - their jobs.

Now me, I'm a man of the people, and I see absolutely nothing wrong with sitting down when I get the chance, and I see kangas in the same way as I see myself - sit down when you get the chance, take the weight off the pins, so to speak.

Because the con complained, the chairs were taken away from the kangas - a mistake in my opinion, but nobody asked me. Since then - and this demonstrates the pettiness of prison - the situation has gradually escalated bit by bit until yesterday the kangas were basically refusing to hand out the incoming mail. Of course, me being a person who only deals with the world via the mail, this kind of saddened me and generally irritated me a bit. So I asked a couple of kangas about it, kangas who were merely leaning on the rail doing nothing apart from killing time. One said, "We used to have chairs to sit on to sort the mail out..." etcetera.

Prior to that remark I had kept out of the chair debate but such a crack, using mail as a sanction, annoyed the shit out of me. so I have now sent a confidential complaint to Hoss the Boss. Not that it is all that confidential after this of course, but it's the sentiment that counts.

I don't give a rat's fart whether kangas sit on chairs all day, in fact I would prefer them sitting on chairs all day - that way we would know where they were. They can bring sleeping bags to work and sleep on the chairs all day for all I care. Life is too short to bother about such childish things - but I do not think that buggering about with the mail is justified. I have got to the stage where I am wondering whether Hoss the Boss even knows what is going on in his jail. Or, more to the point, does he care?

Prison can be awfully petty at times. I expect it from the cons - men with empty lives will attempt to fill them and that leads to pettiness. But I would expect more from the kangas. They go home every night, they have real lives to lead and live, and they get good money for the job they do. As for this business with the chairs - who cares? Give them chairs if it makes them feel any better - give them comfy camp beds, parasols, sunblock, free vouchers for the local lido, I DON'T CARE! Just give me my mail when it arrives. Is that too much to ask?

Name calling

And yet another week comes to an end in the limbo of Long Lartin prison - the 'Lazy L', the fiefdom of Hoss the Boss, that elusive character who seems to be as hard to find as a truffle and is as popular as anthrax. However, that may just be my jaundiced look at the world around me. He may well be doing a good job for all I know. (Pause for belly laughter.)

The question is simple, as it is every week - has anything interesting happened?

The answer is even easier - no.

As usual, I seem to be invisible as far as the prison is concerned and I am wondering if I should change my name just to see if anyone actually notices. Mind, considering the confusion with names and my record (none of it my doing) I suppose it would be wiser of me not to play games and to leave well alone.

I sit here in the opulence of my penthouse bedsitter, saying nothing and yet every so often along comes another nitwit who (without bothering to speak to me at all) writes a report and gives me yet another name! The latest is Anthony. (Do I look like a sodding Anthony? But then, what does an Anthony look like?) Another one is Colin - they just add names when they feel like it.

I have started going around calling people by funny names too, just to keep up. I call people Neville, Albert, Shirley and, my favourite, Griselda. The funny part is that people answer to these names! Men and women! However, it gets better because some people have taken to calling me Albert too! It's only a matter of time in that case until I get yet another written report made about me, this time bearing the name of Albert. Is it any wonder that prisoners can become schizophrenic? I am fucking quadrophenic!

A propos that last sentence - some people say that swearing is a demonstration of the lack of vocabulary, and that could be true in some cases, but not with me. I have an excellent vocabulary. However, the environment I live in (and which I have lived in for getting on for a quarter of a century) has turned me into a vulgarian - and no, that's not a race of aliens from Star Wars!

Swearing is also seen as a sign of laziness (or lazyness, depending on which side of the Atlantic we come from). That's got a bit of truth in it too, of course, but I say that there are times when a good word simply does not measure up to a good curse. Let me put it this way - go and trap your finger in a door and when you are sucking it better see if you say, "Golly!"

Oh yes indeed, there are times when only a good curse fits the bill and we must never be afraid to use one. Let's face it, even rude words are part of a rich and varied language - they may be offensive but they are legitimate!

Finally, I wrote to Lesley last week (or the week before) and mentioned that I would like her to have a look on the internet for typewriter ribbons for a manual machine. Now, Lesley being Lesley and like all women, has a mind of her own, which I applaud wholeheartedly. However, she also has the habit of doing things her own way. In the world of Lesley there are rules that Lesley alone understands. She not only went onto the internet and found a ribbon for me, she ordered it and had it delivered to the prison. We are not allowed to have things sent in but I took this up with the prison months ago and they couldn't find a supplier, so they said I could find one myself and have them sent to me, typewriter ribbons that is. So, I've now got the ribbon.

I wonder if I should change Lesley's name? No, better not, she has a temper and the bravery of being out of range is all very well but I won't be out of range forever. Of course, me being a devout coward also helps me to make my mind up. I shall not be changing her name because she may get annoyed and I quite like my head where it is.

Oh well, I'd better get back to doing nothing. I'm getting to be a bit of a dab hand at doing sweet bugger all.

Empty rooms

It is very late at night, just after 11.00 pm on Sunday 11th April 2010, and I am sitting writing this by pen because it is far too late at night to be tapping away on the typewriter - I would be rolling around the floor with some loon if I did that, as soon as we were unlocked in the morning. I shall type it out tomorrow at some point.

So, here I am, sitting in the silence of my cell surrounded by the silence of a prison and for all I know the silence of an even wider world out there. The words of Nicolas Sarkozy come to mind, as they often do in the dead of night:

Life is the same for everyone when you are alone at night in an empty room.
All around me there are people, alone in empty rooms. I shouldn't imagine that very many are actually sleeping and some will be watching the television but not really concentrating on what they are seeing. Most will be living inside their own minds as they remember, consider the present, and hope for the future. The whole gamut of human emotions will be playing out around me - the regrets, the hatreds, the desires, the blames, the emotional desires for family, lusts and passions and much much more. They will all be played out in the lonely heads of those around me, and I find myself wondering how many of these tough guys, these fearsome and fearless fellows who practically hold the prison service in thrall and in awe of them, not to mention fear - how many of them will lie on their beds in the dark, put their sad little heads on their pillows and cry like babies?

Oh yes indeed, the full range of emotions will be spent and the most widespread will be sorrow and self-pity.

Of course with the morning will come their false faces and the bravado and bravura that goes with the faces. They will emerge from their little cells full of aggression and devil-may-care - because they couldn't give a shit about twenty, or thirty, or forty years or more. Why should they care? After all, they are tough guys, they have street cred, they wear their trousers below the cheeks of their arses to show that they can now afford underpants! They yell bravely at their friends, carrying out conversations over a thirty yard distance. They sneer at the kangas and anyone they feel may be a lesser man than they think and project themselves to be.

They will spend the day pretending to keep fit and demonstrating their lack of concern for others. But the day will wear on slowly, unstoppably, heading for yet another night alone. As the poet once said:

We can break the clock,
But we can't hold back time.
And the time will inexorably move toward that period of darkness when the night closes in and once again we will all be alone with our thoughts in an empty room. Oh yes!
Life is the same for everyone when you are alone at night in an empty room.
The Voice In The Wilderness

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Editor required - enquire within

The Dandymite Kid

What's in a word?

Having myself a little ponder this morning, minding my own business, as I do, that phrase sprang to mind and got me thinking. "A rose by any other name is still a rose" as the great bard once wrote. Well, some say that Bacon actually wrote it, others say that Marlowe did, but after four hundred years I don't think it matters a fiddler's damn who wrote it, it's a fact "for a' that" - as another poet wrote, and as far as I know there is no dispute about Rabbie Burrrns, or if there is nobody's listening.

So, what's in a word?

This got me onto where words come from, their etymology, but I really began to wonder what came before the etymology, where did words come from? Somebody must have made them all up in the very beginning. Oh I don't mean that someone sat down one rainy evening and made up a lot of words, that's silly. They appeared one by one over the years.

This got me to thinking about the actual mechanics of making up words at all. I've made up a couple myself. One is "superlicious" and it means 'superlatively delicious' but really it's nothing more than a contraction. The one I particularly like, all my own work too, is "testacularities"! And if you can't work out what that one means then somebody has lead a very sheltered life.

This got me onto the making up of words by accident. Some years ago in Whitemoor prison one of the young fellows came to talk to me and he approached in a very furtive, clandestine manner. At this point I will have to start to censor the story to protect the guilty. I don't remember the conversation verbatim - I'm not a policeman - but the general gist was like this.

Him: Frank, I'm needing to ask you something.

Me: Oh dear, why me?

Him: You don't know what I am going to ask yet.

Me: It isn't going to be anything good, not from the way you came in here, looking shifty.

Him: Will ye listen?

Me: Get on with it then.

Him: I was thinking. When I get out I'll be needing a few things.

Me: Working brain cells on that shopping list?

Him: No, listen! I know where to get a "thing" from and the bullets, my cousin will get them. What I need is, I need to know who to see to buy some dandymite.

Me: What?

Him: Dandymite. I've got a plan to blow the bastards up for what they've done to me.

Me: You mean dynamite!

Him: Yeah, dandymite.

Me: For fuck's sake! How would I know that?

Him: You know everybody.

Me: Listen to me, numbty, you can't just buy dandy-bleedin'-mite. It's all regulated I should imagine. Dandymite! Give me a break.

That's the way the conversation went, if it can be called that, but my point is that his use of the word dandymite is probably a perfect example of how words evolve. That's why we have got so many words which mean more or less the same thing and which sound alike.

As for the Dandymite Kid, he went out of prison years ago and he blew nothing at all up. He is probably living somewhere in suburbia, working nine to five, rearing three kids and being bullied by his wife.

Prisoners get odd ideas, unrealistic ideas, but they grow out of them the minute they find something else to occupy their tiny minds.

Dandymite! If brains were dandymite he wouldn't have had enough to blow his bleedin' nose.

Another day

When I crawled out of my nasty little pit this morning at seven bells I did all the usual things: made my bowl of superfast oats, sliced a banana into it and munched my way through that. Then the cell doors were opened and I went out to get more hot water for a cuppa and to post a letter to Lesley, she of the impatience and bad temper. (I've told her! I can only write the letters and put them into the postbox - after that, it's in the hands of others! Is she listening? Is she bollocks. Like any other woman she only listens when it is her doing the talking!)

So, I came out of my kennel and ran into one of the boys who said, "Morning, Frank."

"Right," said I intelligently.

"Are you going to write one of your things today?"

"I am," said I, "so don't bother me," and walked off.

At the tea/hot water urn I ran into another one.

"Morning, Frank," said he.

"Bollocks," said I politely.

He said, "I always feel pretty good when I get up in the morning but as soon as they unlock us I get depressed."

I said, "So don't come out of your cell then!"

He answered grumpily, "I wish I didn't have to. I'm going straight back in as soon as I've made my tea."

"Me as well, mate. Me as well," I told him.

He asked, "Are you going to be tapping on that fucking typewriter again?"

I said, "What do you suggest? Should I sit scratching myself and get depressed like you?"

"Bollocks," said he and off he went.

I collected my water and headed back to my kennel, only about thirty feet away - sorry, we are on continental measures now so I'd better say about ten metres.

I was a step away from my kennel door and sanctuary when yet another mastermind accosted me.

"Hey ! Frank!" said he. "Are you busy?"

"I am," said I and went to enter my haven of solitude.

"The thing is," said he, "I've got nuffink to do all morning so I was thinking about having a go on your game!"

"Keep your eye on that then," said I, "because you'll never get your hands on it."

"You know what," said he, "you can be a horrible fucker when you want to be."

"Many years of practice and dealing with loonies like you," said I as I closed the door in his face.

So, there I was, in my kennel, water for tea and my typewriter just sitting there waiting for me to start hitting the keys. I sat down, made the aforementioned, and stared at the machine - but nothing presented itself as a topic. I have nothing to tell anyone, not a thing. My mind is in neutral this morning and I can't be bothered. I've got nothing to give, nothing to write about. I am bereft of inspiration this morning.

Oh well, what can I say? "Tomorrow is another day," said Pooh.

You can quote me on that

Today, Friday 9th April 2010, I find myself sitting down to my typewriter without a preconceived topic for this attempt at perspicacity (or sagacity or wisdom, call it what you will). I am topicless. However, I do have, running around the desert of my mind, two quotes, not entirely unconnected with each other in that the writers were contemporaries and acquaintances and may even have been friends for all I know.

On 4th September 1844 in his judgement in O'Connell v the Queen, Lord Denman said:

Trial by jury itself, instead of being a security to persons who are accused, will be a delusion, a mockery, and a snare.
While, at about the same time, William Lloyd Garrison said:
I am in earnest - I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD.
Now, it is a well established fact that we can find a quote to cover every eventuality and situation, all we need to do is look hard enough in the right places. This got me to thinking about quotes in themselves and how they become quotes. Clearly they come from the fact that someone has either said or written something that sticks in the mind and becomes memorable and therefore quoteable.

I wonder if, at some point in the future - when I am long gone and am sitting next to our current lot of corrupt politicians in purgatory's waiting room, listening to them whingeing about where it all went wrong and wondering where their next cigar is going to come from - will there be students somewhere quoting me?

That begs the question, did I ever say or write anything memorable? Come to that, did I ever say or write anything sensible? I don't think we can judge our own work or writing, not in an objective way. I suppose that's what editors are for and, now that I have mentioned editors, that's what I need - a good editor who can encourage but at the same time be ruthless with a red pen.

I know better than anyone that I ramble on, I digress, I lose the thread, I go around the houses, I waffle and write a lot of complete, total bollocks sometimes - most of the time in fact. That's why I need a ruthless wielder of the censor's axe.

Where would I find such a person? Am I asking the rigt question? Shouldn't I really be asking, where can I find a person who is prepared to get involved with a low-life like me and the outpourings of his diseased mind? Is that a better question to ask?

Well, it probably is but that's all by the way really because the thing that counts from my perspective is that I have a lot of things I wish to say. I possibly have pearls of wisdom (learned in a very hard school) to pass on.

So, where does that take me? Back to the words of Garrison I suppose: 

I am in earnest - I will not excuse - I will not equivocate - I will not retreat a single inch - AND I WILL BE HEARD.
The Voice In The Wilderness

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ships that pass in the night

The other day, sitting here contemplating my navel, life, the universe and everything (a practice which I sink into from time to time - it keeps me off the streets), I somehow managed to direct my cesspit of a mind into thinking about the countless cohorts I have been associated with over the years. Some were in my range for short times, some for longer, but they all moved on in the end. Everyone goes their separate way in the final analysis - ships that pass in the night.

Many of them, those who I have been particularly friendly with, have left my dominion breathing promises of undying friendship and vowing that they would never forget me, and I am sure that each and every one of them meant it - and still does. They are still my friends and haven't forgotten me, they just aren't in contact with me now and probably wouldn't know how to contact me in the first place.

What are the words of a hymn I used to sing as a kid at school?

Time, like an endless stream,
Bears all its sons away.
That's not exactly what I mean, but the sentiment is there. The river of life has moved everybody downstream - apart from me. I'm sort of stuck on a beaver's lodge or some other obstruction.

However, out of the blue, in response to something I wrote on the blog, there has been a voice from the past. Not a voice exactly, more a few lines. Micky Boyle, a rather funny and fun-loving fellow from the land of the lobscouse and the Liver Birds, was incarcerated with me in Whitemoor for quite a long time, in his terms (but for a mere five minutes using my timescales) and then he left to progress to another jail and now apparently to home. Fair play to you Micky. Enjoy the rest of your life my ould son.

He has found me on the internet, sends a friendly message but says he has no idea where I am or how to get in touch with me. Well Michael, it's not rocket science, you nitwit. All you need to do is send a message to the website ( or Facebook ( and that will get to me. In fact, the address of this jail is there for all to see (, and anyone who would like to say anything to me or communicate in any way can do the same thing. I quite like communicating with people and I answer every letter I get. Let's be realistic here, I need every friend I can get.

So, if Missus Boyle's little soldier, her pride and joy, wants to write to me - then go and buy a biro, Einstein! Or use the "email a prisoner" service ( - I'm at HMP Long Lartin and my prisoner number is R60852.

I wonder where all of those ships are now, those ships that passed in the night, a lot of them practically unnoticed and often unremarked. Well, I have no idea where you are, all of you - men, women, and a few we were never sure about. All of you, wherever you are - and all of those I have never met and who only know of me from the website - the whole, bally lot of you, thank you for making my life that little bit richer and, do me a big favour, a service. The next time you have a drink (I don't drink myself) then have it to me. Raise a glass and silently salute the ships that pass in the night.

Finally, and I know I have used this one before but it IS a big favourite of mine, let me end with the words of the poet, Hilaire Belloc who wrote:

I will hold my house in the high wood,
Within a walk of the sea,
And the men who were boys when I was a boy
Shall sit and drink with me.
The Voice In The Wilderness

Friday, April 09, 2010

Enhanced thinking

Staring into space
Sitting here this morning just staring into space, as is my taste from time to time, I began to reflect. I do that a good deal too! The older I get, the more I find myself reflecting on time and the passage of the same. Let's face it, I'm not getting any younger, and every day spent in the middle of this nightmare is a day I will never see again.

I seem to do that with an increasing regularity as each day passes - reflect on time and the nature of it. This morning it has been triggered by my remembering a passage from William Hazlitt, who died on September 18th, 1830. He wrote:

As we advance in life, we acquire a keener sense of the value of time. Nothing else, indeed, seems of any consequence; and we become misers in this respect.
I think that I am becoming a miser of time in that I no longer have any desire to afford the time to listen to those around me who don't really have anything interesting to say. That may seem a little on the arrogant side, as though I think I am better than those around me. Yup! That's me - a big success! The only thing I am a success at is my ability to accumulate a catalogue of disastrous decisions going back a long long way. Mistakes by the bucket full, that's all I am a success at - and our mistakes in life are really the only thing we can truly call our very own. No, I'm no better than anyone else, not even the worst of my contemporaries.

Then my thoughts - thoughts, according to report writers, that I am not capable of because I haven't been taught to think and am not capable of abstract thought - turned to those very report writers who, year after year, continue to trot out the same old, tired falsehoods (because apparently they haven't done the Enhanced Thinking Skills course either, although they insist that they can teach prisoners how to think).

These report writers completely ignore the facts because, quite simply, the facts do not suit the report they want to write. Well, I've got some news for them - Aldous Huxley once wrote:

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.
So, to ignore the facts of any matter does not make a difference to the value of those facts. These report writers make quite outlandish and extraordinary claims with very little and often no evidence whatsoever to support these claims and, as Carl Sagan said:
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
The report writers continue blithely to repeat absurdities year after year despite any arguments or any conflicting evidence that the prisoner may offer to refute the absurdities. These "facts" then get included in various documents - Sentence Planning, OASys, Risk Assessment Management, all manner of assessments and, of course, the prisoner's Parole Dossier.

Various boards and committees then examine the "facts" and come to their decisions based on inaccuracies and, in many cases, downright lies. They make their decisions and create hurt and misery.

Was it Voltaire who said:

Those who believe in absurdities will commit atrocities.
We're not all bad - or worthless
It is generally accepted (amongst the 'Holier than Thou' crowd) that prisoners are hulking brutes who drag their knuckles along the floor as they clump along and that they communicate in a series of grunts and neanderthal sounds. 

Well, there may well be one or two who fit that description around the place, it would be of little use denying it. However, most prisoners are quite reasonably turned out, generally polite and can actually read and write to a fairly competent level.

"Good Lord!" the cry goes up, "Prisoners reading and writing? Whatever next? Our children are leaving school and they can't do that!"

Well, send the little buggers to prison then - or put the teachers in jail!

Given a level playing field, most prisoners would be quite decent people and the real truth is that all that the majority of them really need is a chance in life. Okay, nobody is denying that they (the prisoners) have made a few mistakes, some quite terrible and horrific mistakes too, but should they be condemned forever because of those mistakes? Show me someone who hasn't made mistakes and I will show you a liar.

Many prisoners are not really bad people, they just don't know who they are - either because of environment, peer pressure, misguided cant or downright confusion. Of course we have the intrinsically wicked fellows, but they would be that way no matter what, and their numbers are a lot fewer than the authorities would have us believe.

Part of the problem with many villainous characters, and I know more than my share, could well be a sort of personality crisis rather than a natural evil. Nobody is born evil and the only evil that gets into a child's head is that which grown-ups put there.

There used to be a President of what was once Czechoslovakia and, while he was seen as a wicked fellow, he once wrote something which actually made a lot of sense and touches on why a lot of people seem to be quite wicked. He was speaking more about the arrogance of man rather than criminality but the sentiment is quite valid when it is examined objectively.

Allow me to reiterate what he said and then let me leave it to the reader to think about. It's quite enlightening in its way. Vaclav Havel wrote:

If I don't know who I am, who I want to be, what I want to achieve, where I begin and where I end , then my relations with the people around me and the world at large will inevitably be tense, suspicious and burdened by an inferiority complex that may go hidden behind puffed-up bravura.
The prison service could do well to study that passage because if they continue to tell prisoners that they are no good and worthless, then there is a danger that sooner or later the prisoners will believe them.

Tbe Voice In The Wilderness

Friday, April 02, 2010

Waiting for Charon - or Godot?

Mud and stars

This week, for the first time in a long time, there is news. Mid-week they handed me my parole dossier for the provisional Parole Board hearing in June. This dossier should have been handed to me at the latest in February but, like everything the prison service does, they were late. The funny part - arrogant tragedy would be a better description - is that they have given me a deadline of five days to compose any response I might care to make and - this is the funny bit - they have allowed me a half page to do so. It's not happening of course - the solicitor will simply obtain an extension.

So, I've finally got the dossier and the contents are enough to cause a Tasmanian Devil to step up his aggressive demeanour by about three hundred percent. I'm not allowed such a luxury of course. It is against the rules for a prisoner to suffer from stress no matter what the provocation. The odd part is that the contents haven't annoyed me, because they are no more than I am used to and have come to expect. It is a rehash of all the same old, tired inaccuracies and downright mistakes, but I am used to that. They have even managed to give me two more names - Colin and Anthony. Well I shouldn't complain - I have always said that I wished I had a better name, although I wouldn't have selected Colin or Anthony. No, I'd have gone for something much more prosaic - like Aloysius. What a name THAT is!

However, I digress.

It's not all bad. Some of it is quite good in fact and in particular I want to mention The Wallace. She has done a decent and fair job with the garbage she has to work with - and some might say that I am the biggest bit of garbage in the heap, but let's not get personal.

I have been hard at work since I got the dossier and have written two documents. One is a direct representation by myself to the Parole Board which will be added to whatever representations my solicitor will make. The other is a response to the dossier itself.

I finished the work yesterday (Saturday) and it will all be in the post (with this) on Monday to Andrew who has agreed to computerise it all for the purposes of easier reading and better presentation. He will also edit it to remove the rudenesses which it may contain. I have to admit that while I don't allow these things to get me annoyed any more, I still make rude responses. Well, the way I see things is that an idiot should be informed that he (or she) IS an idiot - or worse. What can they do about it anyway - send me to prison?

I'll he honest, my gut reaction is to tell them, quite simply, what I think about them, but that would be entirely counter­-productive and would probably annoy those people who have gone to a lot of trouble on my behalf. I have learned how to control my natural urges. The fact that I shouldn't  be in prison at all should, and probably does, entitle me to a little rave now and then and some rude remarks from time to time - but I don't do it. The satisfaction of telling them to go and fuck a spider would be fleeting and I would regret it for a lot of years to come,

The prison service is an unforgiving creature, experience has shown me that, and is still showing me.

So I have completed my responses and will rely on Andrew to remove my more glaring rudenesses - there are certain to be more than a few. My trouble could well be that I have gone from a nasty, devious, criminal type to a nasty honest person who is probably too straight for his own good. So when we consider that, it seems that I can't hardly win, can I?

I wish my typewriter could do smiley faces. I write a lot of things with my tongue firmly in my cheek, and when I use a pen I can take the sting out of things with a little smiley face. Typewriters can't do that. Here is an idea - put the smiley faces in wherever you, the reader, think they should be. It would be interesting to see whether everybody would choose different places. It's all a matter of personal outlook really.

In the words of Frederick Langbridge (1849-1923):

Two men look out through the same bars:
One sees mud, and one sees the stars.
Silence, truth - and innocence
Silence is the virtue of fools (Francis Bacon 1561-1626)
Truth sits upon the lips of dying men (Matthew Arnold 1822-1888)
It is better that ten guilty men escape than one innocent suffer (Sir William Blackstone 1723-1780)
All three of these men must be turning and squirming in their graves now through shame and emharrassment at the way the legal system has been debased by a succession of Home Secretaries as they have eroded and trampled all over justice.

Silence is the virtue of fools
A great deal could be written on that sentence but I am merely going to suggest that when a person sees something that is so clearly wrong and does not speak out against it, does not rail against the injustice - then that person is as guilty as the one committing the outrage.

Truth sits upon the lips of dying men
Again, a lot can be written on this sentence but I will confine myself to just a few comments. When we get older and become aware of our own mortality, a great many things that we once saw as important suddenly become far less so. In fact they become quite pointless and we no longer care about them. Were we would once have gone to quite extreme lengths to hide something, once we are practically standing on the landing stage waiting for Charon and his ferry, we no longer give a toss. We tell the truth and the devil take the hindmost. There is no point in any other course at all.

The Blackstone quotation - well, what does anyone need to say? The Prison Governors' Association has estimated that there are between 2 to 3 thousand innocent men and women in our prisons. That's a lot of innocents - more than the bible says Herod killed in his slaughter of the innocents.

Shouldn't we all be denouncing it?

Isn't it strange that a huge number of people will take to the streets to protest at not being allowed to butcher foxes and yet these same people are quite content to let thousands of their fellow human beans rot in prison, despite the fact that they are as innocent as the foxes!

Mind, why am I surprised? This country is renowned for caring more about animals than it does about children. How else do we explain that we have a ROYAL society for the prevention of cruelty to animals but only a NATIONAL society for the prevention of cruelty to children.

Shouldn't we be raging at the injustices evident in this little country? Shouldn't we be digging out those responsible and making them afford some form of restitution? Shouldn't we be grabbing them by the scruff of the neck, shaking them violently as a terrier shakes a rat and yelling into their collective face, "What the fuck are you playing at?"

I suspect that we should be doing all of those things - and a lot more - but we aren't.

Bear in mind that there is nothing personal in anything I have said. The "we" mentioned is the collective one and means the whole of society, not any particular section.

Personally, I have reached the stage where the boyhood fire that once coursed through my veins is now nothing more than a few emhers glowing softly, soon to turn to charcoal and finally to go out altogether.

Given that, all I can add - and what better - are the words of the nurse, Edith Cavell, executed during the First European War in 1915. These are the words she uttered, or wrote, the night before they executed her:

Standing as I do, in the view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.
Grumpy Easter bunny

Must have got out of bed on the wrong side this morning because I woke up in a less than charitable mood. No idea why. In fact I didn't even realise until after we were unlocked and I was getting hot water to make a cuppa when one of the fellows said, "Morning Frank."

I just grunted and ignored him. That's the best part about getting old - nobody expects us to be nice any more. So, I wandered back to my kennel and no sooner had I got seated with my cuppa than a youngster appeared at my door and said, "Frank, can I have a word with you?"

That's when it hit me that I wasn't at my best because, usually a tolerant sort of cove, I wasn't.

I said, "If you have to. I'm having a cuppa and a fag. Come back later on. Go on, bugger off."

He ignored this of course and came inside.

"The thing is," said he, "I should have had a RAM board the other day and nobody knows anything about it. I keep asking but nobody does anything - they don't care!"

I retorted, "And to be quite frank, neither do I. What the fuck do you expect me to do about it? I have enough problems doing my own sentence, I can't do yours as well."

He ignored this as well - prisoners have got very selective hearing and memory when it suits them. "It's my girlfriend, see! She keeps getting on at me about getting a move to another jail and getting to open prison. I've told her, I've got twenty-three years left to do, they won't let me move! She's doing my head in. I feel like grabbing somehody and fucking his shit right up."

"Well," said I, "That'll certainly help you to get moved to a new jail, not to mention six months in the block when you get there - and a few slaps into the bargain. So that's a good idea. I wish I could think of things like that."

"Stop taking the piss," said he petulantly. "My girlfriend is doing my head in. I'd be better off down the block."

"Look," I said. "We all know that you are simple minded, there is no need to prove it. Let me tell you a little story, okay?"

"I like your stories," said he. As I have said, simple minded.

"Once upon a time," said I as a beginning, which is always a good place to start, "there was a little bunny rabbit playing in a meadow. At the bottom of the meadow ran a railway line. One day the bunny rabbit got too close to the line and a train came along and cut off the rabbit's fluffy tail. The rabbit ran home to its mother, crying that a train had cut its fluffy tail off. Its mother said, 'There there, don't cry. Go and get it and I'll sew it back on for you.' So the little bunny went back to the railway line and as it had its head over the line looking for its tail another train came along and chopped its fucking head off! There is a moral to this tale," I finished.

"What's that?" he asked.

"Don't lose your head over a little bit of fluff. Now bugger off while I have my tea."

See! I just wasn't feeling very charitable this morning.

The way we live now

As we shuffle our way along the dusty road of life we will, much as Bunyan's hero, Christian, meet many diverse and different characters along the way. I know, I've met a few.

There is no better place to meet the weird, wonderful, naughty and downright nasty than in a prison, and that isn't confined to the inmates. The industrious and idle, the sympathetic and selfish, the kind and the cruel - we meet them all. I've certainly met my share of miscreants over the years, some famous and of course the infamous. I don't wish to discuss any of them at all, but I do want to take a short look at the influences they all may or may not have exerted, either deliberately or unconsciously, on others and on the prison system as an entity. In particular, I want to mention the Irish.

Oh no! Not the bloody Irish again! Eight hundred years of aggro from that gang of hooligans and they are still at it! (Incidentally, the word hooliqan has its origins in the Irish.) If it hadn't been for the Irish incarcerated in this country's prisons in the seventies, eighties and nineties, the prison system would still be run on Victorian lines where prisoners were treated like scum - and a lot of folk would say, "Quite right too! Never mind the likes of Elizabeth Fry and her misguided ways and ideas, let's get them chained to the wall and throw a bucket of cold water on them once a month!"

The Irish changed all that because they taught the English prisoner the value of collective action and rebellion. Let's face it, if there is one nation on this planet which knows about and understands rebellion, it is the Irish, the Tea Caddies.

Rebellion is a disease, a virulent disease, and once contracted it quickly takes hold and spreads like wildfire. So the authorities got rid of the Irish - they sent the whole bally lot of them back home to the Emerald Isle.

Then, once the Irish were no longer with us, the authorities set about clawing back all concessions made to prisoners over the years of struggle. Bit by bit, the quality of life for the prisoner in British jails is being eroded, but nothing will be done about it because of course there are carrots dangling for the donkeys to chase.

Sad but true.

We can't bring the Irish back - they wouldn't come, and most of them have been released by a forgiving government anyway. The nearest we have got now to the Irish are the moslems - at least they seem to stick together, but they also seem to have their priorities wrong.

Where does that leave the carrot-chasing British prisoner? Like the sparrow which crashed to earth when its wings froze up - in the shit, mate.

The Voice In The Wilderness