Saturday, July 23, 2011

Say not the struggle naught availeth

Let me begin by copying out a few of the passages from a letter received today (Wednesday July 20th) from the Ministry of Justice, dated 18th July 2011:

As you know, the Parole Board has recommended your transfer to open prison. The Secretary of State has now considered the Parole Board recommendation, and agrees with this view for the reasons given by the Panel...
There is a lot of other stuff, but that's the important part.

The letter also mentions that I may have to take part in certain "interventions" when I reach open prison, although that seems to be, to say the least, ambiguous. Whatever it is, I'll be more than happy to go along with it. The letter states that the Secretary of State cannot guarantee to place me on these specific "interventions" through lack of availability of resources, but I may not be suitable anyway.

I am also informed that my next parole review is due sixteen months from the last one - and the last one should have been in June 2010. THAT means that my next review process begins on the twenty-sixth week before the designated hearing date - September 2012. So the review period begins in April 2012 - not too far away, and I have to be in open prison for some time prior to that for certain assessments and considerations to be made in respect of the possible "interventions". I suppose "interventions" is the word being used to replace the word "courses". They don't do courses in open prisons. Actually I think it is mainly to do with matters connected to work done with my probation officer.

So, all the soul-searching and agonising about challenges made by the Lazy L are over at last. I've still got a long road to travel, and there will be pitfalls of course, but I'll avoid them, I'll keep my eyes open for them and, whatever else I may be, I'm not a fool.

All of those fears and anxieties that have given me disturbed and restless nights should disappear now, but they won't of course. I will believe things when I see them - prison  has taught me to hope for the best but expect the worst. That's the Lazy L for you - always expect the worst because that's what generally comes from this place.

So, here I am at last, after all those worries when I thought that nothing else could be done to get sense out of this place. I had lost sight of the fact that, way out of the scope of my ken, there are people who think clearly and who actually make fair and decent decisions, people who were working on my behalf to try to get a sensible conclusion to the situation created by the poor thinking that is endemic at the Lazy L.

It all brings to mind the words of Arthur Clough (poet) in his poem, "Say not the struggle naught availeth" where he wrote:

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the Main.
I was the tired waves vainly breaking, but the tide was coming in slowly but surely. Well, it's in sight now and I can hear the waves on the rocks and smell the ozone.

I have written to Boudica, of course - she will be pleased. Mind, she will also have to stop making her unrealistic threats now - she might have to keep them! Come to think about it, I'll have to stop being rude to her too or she WILL keep them, a lot sooner than I expected. The dog better watch out too. I bet it bloody well bites me - I'm lucky like that.

The Voice In The Wilderness

All the world's a fool

Phineas Taylor Barnum, the famous American showman, probably the MOST famous American showman of the 19th century once said:
You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time; but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.
Come to think about it, a lot of other people have said it since! Well, I've got news for Phineas T Barnum - and all of the other folk who quoted him since. (I even had a discussion a couple of weeks back with an idiot who swore that George Washington said it, not Phineas T. Even when I showed the moron in a book of quotes he STILL wouldn't accept it - said the book was a load of old bollocks. He must have been a Philistine.)

Back to my ramblings.

The news for P. T. Barnum is that he might have fooled some of the people all of the time, he might even have fooled all of the people some of the time, but he wouldn't have fooled the Smiling Assassin for one second - not for a millisecond!

Scuttlebutt, or as I like to call it, information received from a source (ha ha - source, that sounds like I should be working for the scandalmongers in Canary Wharf) tells me, entirely unofficially of course, that the Smiling Assassin has now been sneaking about in the shadows whispering into receptive ears that I have fooled everyone. But I haven't fooled her.

Apparently, I have fooled my probation officer into supporting me - a senior probation officer of many years' standing with a wealth of experience in her subject, but I've managed to pull the wool over her eyes and completely fooled her. But I haven't fooled the Smiling Assassin.

I also fooled the prison psychologist into giving me HER support too. She is, surprise surprise, an expert in her field of forensic psychology and has years and years of experience dealing with every sneaky, lying, cheating type that the criminal justice system could throw her way, and I was just too good for her - I fooled her. But I haven't fooled the Smiling Assassin.

Apparently, I have fooled the independent forensic psychologist into supporting me - a former Home Office psychological assessor with experience of many years' working both inside and outside of prisons and a string of letters after his name that makes mine look a bit sparse. I was just too good for him to see through - I fooled him. But I didn't fool the Smiling Assassin.

Andrew sat behind me at the hearing - a former teacher who now works in IT and fairly bright - and I fooled him into supporting me too. But I didn't fool the Smiling Assassin.

There was a lay person on the panel who was highly inquisitorial - and I know nothing else other than my personal experience of her asking extremely searching and probing questions. She supported me finally - so I fooled her. But I didn't fool the Smiling One.

The senior psychologist, the forensic psychologist on the panel, there for the specific purpose of spotting any tomfoolery or any attempts at conning anyone on my part, also supported me - so I fooled her. But I haven't fooled the Smiling Assassin.

Finally, a high court judge, the chairman of the panel - I fooled him too according to the Grinning Gargoyle. A judge who has spent years listening to the bollocks that the thousands of accuseds have presented to him in mitigation prior to sentencing; a man who knows every trick in the book - but I managed to fool him into supporting me too! But I haven't fooled the Smiling Assassin.

Then of course, there is me. We are asked to accept that I am clever and devious enough to fool all of the above people, the experts, three of whom are psychologists, all probably with IQs as high as mine if not higher - considerably higher I shouldn't wonder. I am clever enough to fool all of those experts according to the Smiling Assassin - but not clever enough to fool her. Oh yes, that secondary school education and three week course on how to put her shoes on the right feet have certainly paid dividends, it cannot be denied.

So, where does that leave me? I know one thing - she has certainly managed to fool one or two around this place into giving her their support, which doesn't say much for THEIR logical powers of deduction.

In conclusion, and after considerable thought, I have come to the stage where I feel that I must rewrite Phineas T Barnum's little quote, just to bring it up to date, so to speak.

Franklyn Wilkinson, writer, humourist, former career criminal and general idiot (1946 - still alive):

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time; but you can't fool the Smiling Assassin - because she has no idea what you are talking about at the best of times.
The Voice In The Wilderness

And the dance goes on

This is interesting and quite funny, in fact it is bordering on the edge of farce - a farce that Joe Orton would have been proud of. He wouldn't have written it - it's too ridiculous for anyone to accept - but he would have liked the idea. In fact, forget Joe Orton, think Tom Sharpe, Terry Pratchett with a soupcon of Monty Python, then distort it until it becomes quite Kafkaesque, and you just MIGHT he halfway there.

Everybody knows that, after over a quarter century, I have finally managed, through hard work and diligence, to persuade the Parole Board to allow me to go to an open prison - thus taking the first step toward reintroduction into the community. I have the support of everyone in this enterprise - all are quite satisfied that the time has come to end this gavotte of madness and allow me to waltz into an easier twilight of my days.

No, wait a minute - not everybody. I forgot the Smiling Assassin. The Smiling Assassin has been spreading her poison, but the best she can do is to persuade Hoss the Boss to complain about my proposed transfer to open prison. (Actually I don't really think that Hoss the Boss has a clue - he just signs his name to things - it's the nature of the Prison Service, and every other public body, after all. The moronic minions produce nonsensical papers and the fellow at the top simply signs them. After all, he is far too busy worrying about budgets to actually take any real interest in what's going on. This applies to all public areas, not just the Prison Service.)

Coo! That was a long aside. Where am I? Oh yes. Hoss the Boss has made a request to the Public Protection Casework Section at NOMS HQ. He tells me in a letter that "An appeal has been submitted". I've got the grounds here in front of me and I've never read such drivel - not a single thing that wasn't examined in depth by the Oral Parole Hearing and of course completely ignoring all that the panel has said in its letter of recommendation.

However, I'm not concerned with any of that - it's nonsense and drivel, hardly worth mentioning really. What DOES attract my curiosity is the following: 

Hoss the Boss says that the prison is challenging the Parole Board's recommendation - he calls it an appeal. Excellent! Note, he is not challenging me or my solicitor, he is saying that he is challenging the Parole Board. For all I know that could well mean that he is challenging the Secretary of State for Justice (good old Kenneth, one of the most sensible fellows in modern politics).

So, Long Lartin Prison (or, as it is more commonly referred to by those of us who know and love it so well, the Lazy L) is ostensibly challenging the Parole Board. In any legal matter the prison is represented by the Treasury Solicitor. The Parole Board is also represented legally by the Treasury Solicitor. In fact, the Secretary of State for Justice is ALSO represented by the Treasury Solicitor. I'm not being challenged, I'm just an interested bystander. My solicitor isn't being challenged either. The Golden Girls are not being challenged - and the fact is that they don't even know what is going on as far as I know.

So, where does that get us? The Treasury Solicitor will obviously be challenging himself - so how does that work?

I've got this mental picture of the Treasury Solicitor in his office, arguing with himself and coming to blows wlth himself. The police will be called, of course, and they will rush him to the A&E department of the nearest hospital where they will ask, "Who did it? Who beat you up?"

He will answer, "I did!"

He will then have to say, "No I didn't! You lying bastard!"

"You did!" he will yell and start fighting himself again.

Have you ever heard of anything so ridiculous? I told you - Kafkaesque!

In the meantime, I am sitting here, not allowing myself to be stressed by it all. Prisoners are not allowed to suffer from stress, that's strictly for the poor fuckers who have to go home to their families every night - the staff. I haven't been home in over a quarter century.

The anxiety it is all causing is matterless of course. Boudica is suffering under it all, and who can blame her. I hardly sleep at night, but I have no option but to struggle on stoically. (Big sigh and huge, wry grin.)

It's all one big, macabre dance routine, that's all prison is - and, whether I like it or not, the dance goes on.

The Voice In The Wilderness

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A deal is a deal

Seventeen or eighteen years ago, I was in the Special Control Unit in Durham prison - in fact, I was one of the very first batch of prisoners in the place. Now, if anyone wants me to, I can check with my diaries and give exact dates and times, but for my own part I can't really be bothered - I'd have to dig the bleedin' things out. Anyway, where was I?

Oh yes, Durham Special Unit, along with half a dozen other recalcitrant hooligans - the prison service's problem children. I make no secret of the fact, I don't deny it, but, to put it bluntly, from the point of view of the prison service I was what is commonly referred to as a fucking nightmare. I had, up to that time, been moved from prison to prison, Special Control Unit to Segregation block over forty times. I have no idea what it must have cost with escorts, police cars and helicopters, but I bet there was no change from a tenner! So, I had finished up in Durham Special Unit because, to be quite honest, no other prison would accept me.

Then, one day, I was visited by a Principal Officer - a tall, raw-boned Scot - and a couple of assistant Governors from Frankland Prison. They had come on the instructions of the Home Office with an offer for me - go to Frankland, behave myself, carry on with my educational studies, do a bit of gym, stop attacking staff and drug-dealers and, in a few years, they would have me off the Category 'A' and progress me through the system toward release. I told them that I wasn't going to work and they said I wouldn't be asked to - I could go on education classes and do cell study. Would I agree? Would I give my word?

"Okay," said I, "I'll give my word."

A few days later I was moved to Frankland prison, and I have been a good lad ever since. I gave my word and, when I promise someone something, they can take bets that I will keep my word. If a man has not got his integrity, he's got nothing.

Well, I settled down - got into the odd scrape here and there, but nothing serious - and in the last ten years I have not spent one second in any segregation unit nor been on report for anything at all. I'm only one step down from sainthood really. So, I've kept my word ever since I had that deal with that Principal Officer (who will have retired years ago) and those two fresh­-faced young governors. The question now is - did the prison service keep its word to progress me?

Ha! Ha! Did they bollocks. I only got taken off the Category 'A' two years ago - AFTER a court hearing in the High Court and the court ordered it. The prison service actually appealed the court's decision twice but had to give in with poor grace in the end. So that little bit of progression only came through a court order.

Today I find myself in a position where the prison service is not only refusing to progress me, they are actively attempting to obstruct any progress. The Parole Board has recommended that I be sent to open prison to allow me to adjust and prepare for release into the community. Let's put aside all of the achievements I have managed to reach - the degrees and all the rest of it, the complete character change that has taken place, so admirably memorialised by the Parole Board in its letter of recommendation to the Secretary of State - let's forget all that for the minute. What is the prison service reaction to this absolute success story that they have on their hands?

They are challenging the decision for me to be sent to open prison - CHALLENGING it! That's what I'm being given to understand. Their reasons for the challenge are poor - pathetic in fact - and were actually gone into in great depth by the Parole Board. So, why the obstruction?

A good question and I can't answer it.

Even more curious - all of the documents I have been sending out of the prison to Andrew, my solicitor and even to my probation officer, don't appear to have left the prison! The prison doesn't even want anyone to know about the challenge.

Ah! But even that tells a tale. IS there a challenge at all? I don't think they have that option unless there has been some sort of major and serious incident to justify a challenge - and there hasn't been.

So, I'll tell you what I think - as do a lot of staff around here. I think that I am not being challenged, but that this place is obsessed with a pointless love of secrecy and quite simply doesn't want to tell me that I am going to open prison. They probably have some strange and weird idea that they will simply come and get me one morning in the near future, tell me to pack my goods and chattels, shove me in a taxi and tell me to bugger off.

Why bother? Why do they have to make things so difficult?

I have written a document to the Number One Governor, Hoss the Boss, about it - sent him the Parole Board's letter and let him know what's going on. The one thing about Hoss the Boss is that he likes things done properly and doesn't care for fools who bugger things up without good cause. So we will see what he does about it.

I've applied to see the Independent Member too (formerly known as the Board of Visitors). They will check the mail and see what they can uncover.

I am also seriously considering writing directly to the Parole Board and informing them that the Lazy L is refusing to implement its recommendation.

The way I see things is that seventeen or eighteen years ago I made a deal - and a deal is a deal, right?

The Voice In The Wilderness

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Get off my back

When I discovered that this prison had made a challenge to the recommendation of the Parole Board, I made an application to the prison authorities asking the nature of the challenge.

On June 24th I wrote in the application:

I understand from Gov's App G20/11 that Long Lartin is challenging the Parole Board decision to recommend that I be sent to Open Prison. I would like to know the nature of the challenge please.
The response arrived yesterday, 29th June (but dated 28th) from the Head of the Offender Management Unit (OMU). He states:
Thank you for your application. We have challenged the decision by the Parole Board that you are transferred to open conditions. It was the recommendation at your Sentence Planning Board and the recategorisation board that you should be transferred out of the High Security Estate to a Cat 'B' prison. HSE prisons offer the highest levels of staff/prisoner levels/ratios and therefore supervision, it is therefore appropriate that you are tested in conditions which offer less supervision and therefore test for compliance. This should be a relatively short period of time and would allow you to adjust to lower levels of supervision and to take more responsibility for certain actions and progression.
I have now submitted yet another application to [the Head of OMU] - this time direct - in which I have pointed out that this matter was extensively examined by the Parole Board and in his recommendation letter the Judge made several references to the same.

I will quote some of the things he has said in that letter but let me begin by stating that the prison (OMU) submitted a dossier consisting of 168 pages and so had every opportunity to submit anything and everything they cared to.
(Page 3) 

Immediately prior to the hearing the panel were given the report of a review of your categorisation...there are no features set out in that report which would appear to justify the decision made by the review body not to recategorise you to a Category C...The panel can see no logic in the report or the conclusion made in the review.
(Page 4)
You had, rather, presented in a reasoned way, your objections to [your Offender Supervisor's] scoring of your OASys assessment. [The prison psychologist] has considered those objections and agrees they are actually justified and points out that your O[ffender] S[upervisor] had not received formal training in personal assessment tools and is not competent to assess change in offenders...We therefore prefer the other evidence we have read and heard to the lone dissenting voice of [your Offender Supervisor] do not now require any specific programme of work. [The prison psychologist] can see no benefit to you in remaining in closed conditions and says that the next logical step is for you to be transferred to less stringent conditions in the prison estate...
(Page 5)
Your Offender Manager] could see no benefit in the recommended allocation to a Category B establishment outside the High Security Estate and she did not consider that would in fact assist in enabling resettlement plans to be made. The panel agrees with that latter view...she supported a move to open conditions...She was confident that you could manage the move from High Security to open conditions despite the unusual nature of the move and that your risk was manageable there.
(Page 6)
[The prison psychologist] was asked by the panel whether, if you were moved to open, she had any concerns, including concerns about your failure to adhere to rules or constraints and she said she had none...your risk was low enough to be managed safely in open conditions...
(Page 7 - Panel's assessment etc.)
You can be safely managed in open conditions...the panel is satisfied that the overwhelming weight of reliable evidence is in favour of your transfer to open conditions...The panel (which included a specialist psychologist member) conclude, without hesitation, that you have established that your risk is low enough to be managed in open...there is no benefit to be gained nor any likelihood of any further reduction in risk by your being kept in closed conditions...What is now necessary is that you are tested in open conditions.
The panel decided on "weighty evidence" to recommend that I should be transferred to open conditions - no ambiguous language, no caveats.

There we have the two cases set out succinctly. Okay, I'm a vested interest - can't argue with that - but what does occur to me is that, for some reason, the Lazy L are reluctant to face facts, bite the bullet, give in with a good grace and simply act in a decent fashion.

It brings to mind the words of Leo Tolstoy:

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