Monday, 31 December 2018

The Year That Was

Hello, good evening and welcome!

Well that’s 2018 over with! I, for one, can’t wait for the bells to chime 12 at midnight. 

This is a personal look back on the year, it’s not going to fill you full of statistics on the state of prisons. I won’t tell you that there are 4 urgent notifications out there and there is no sign that any of them are improving. I won’t tell you that one governor told me that his staff “weren’t quite there, yet” when it came to understanding how important the first 24 hours in custody are for an individual.  I won’t tell you that suicides are higher this year than last. I won’t tell you that the 10 prisons the new prisons minister nominated that he should be judged by are getting more and more violent with every day. Nah, I won’t do that. Well I will, but later.

Let’s you and I reflect on our year.

Now I don’t want to go off on a rant here but what have you done this year? Whose life have you made better? Are you happy? Do you smile every day when you wake up? How many times, this year, have you practised a random act of kindness? I mean have you done something kind for another human being or an animal without them ever knowing about it? Have you? What was it?

You see, I think a lot of us do things for others because it makes US feel good for doing it. We can massage our egos as we relish in the goodness of us. 

“Just the other day I helped an elderly woman across the road?”
“I gave a beggar on the street £2”,
“I sponsored Hilda for that fun run”

You see where I am going here? I feel that society has got far too full of its own importance. We want to do good things because that’s how we want other people to see us. Tell me, when you look in the mirror? Do you see YOU or do you see the person that you want other people to see? 

Just last month, I wrote my answer to the question “Why do people stop offending”. I said that people won’t stop offending until society wants them to. I stand by that comment. I think society loves a catastrophe, don’t you? It loves wallowing in people’s pity or wrong doing. Come on, admit it, we all do. If you tell me that you don’t sneak a look at the tabloids every now and then; I won’t believe you. It’s ok. I won’t think any less of you. Hell, I do it every now and then. I was contacted by someone on social media recently who decided to tell me about a certain daily mail article. Later in their same timeline they decried the tabloids for how they talked of prisons. Two-faced or just being a bit hypocritical? Look, the tabloids fuel our fire. We sit at our computers, staring into space asking for some sort of divine intervention in order to get our mojo back so  that we may actually do some work and just before the lightning bolt comes out of the blue (or in other terms, our boss comes to kick us up the proverbial backside) we punch in those immortal words: mail online, sun online or mirror online and up it comes… our adrenalin rushes. We are now stuck in the tabloid world. We are stuck in the world of unbelievable headlines; “X gets caught for drunk driving”, “Star of Celebrity Big Brother Britain’s Got Talent stole a coat hanger when they were 9 years old” or “Donald Trump elected President (oh wait that one’s actually true)” and we lap it up.  We read as was written today about the holiday camps that are our prisons, we read that we are about to give our prisoners access to phones in the cells. Oh, the luxury! Next, they will have bed sheets and pillows.  Then just for a second, we stop and think, “Wait, who reads this crap?” and it dawns on us;  We Do! There is something about the tabloids that appeal to our “Mr Hyde”, our flipside, our lower cortex. Granted we all have this fantasy that we are too busy catching up on our back issues of “Deconstructing Philosophy monthly”, but we all read the tabloids just the same. It’s a guilty pleasure that ranks right up there with humming the hook lines in Abba songs.  I say; just don’t believe all that you read. Don’t wallow in others helplessness. (Did you know that some of these tabloids actually have subscribers?) 

The purpose of all that rant? It was me saying, “Look its ok to be you; whoever that maybe. Don’t be the façade, don’t be what other people want you to be, be yourself.” 

This year a prison officer decided that he didn’t like what I was doing. He didn’t like that a man with my past could go into a jail and perhaps show the people who work there a different point of view. So, what did this waste of ectoplasm do, instead of growing a pair and coming to talk to me? He went to a tabloid and sold his dignity for a shilling or two. The newspaper (it’s funny that; just as I was typing the word newspaper my computer froze in convulsion) decided to run its story exclaiming how wrong it was that an exprisoner could work in a jail. Everyone is entitled to their opinion (of course, they could be wrong!). Perhaps, what the oxygen thief wanted to achieve; he did. I have been unable to work a prison for 3 months, now. I have had to abandon all the men that I supported. I have become the person that I swore I wouldn’t; I broke my word to prisoners. I have been unable to put food on my table since the story broke. Is that the outcome that this person really wanted? Then you know what, I don’t show anger to him, I pity him. I pity him for living in such an insular world; a world where people who have been to prison should always remain tarred with the same brush. Just as I pity the prison worker who wrote to me privately and said that even if I did get back into the prisons I would not work for long as “I doubt you will get much more traction after X retires.”Oh, how I pity the people who just don’t get it; they read too much Terry Pratchett for my liking. I work for the men and women in custody not for whoever signs the cheque. I pity that person as I pity those who scarpered for cover when the newspaper article surfaced. Those with whom I worked and foolishly believed were interested in what I did. I pity them; yet still I rise. I should also thank them, for they have made me stronger. They have opened my eyes to the true feeling of society towards us that have transgressed it. Did they sign up for a job or a career? Are they also in it for just the pay check not the social reward of making someone’s life a better one?  Did they not want to make a change in someone’s life? Are they not the very people that I talk about earlier whose mirror is rose tinted or cracked? I was blind yet now I see.  I thank those who did rush to my side, to hold me up when I was falling. To Wyn and to Jerry; you have no idea how your words saved me during a very dark time in my life. A time where I did not know if I could continue or not. To the hierarchy at Petty France, you looked at my future and not my past and you held my hand through a very long and drawn out process. To my barrister friend who contacted me to offer their support- thank you. I will do you all proud and I will annoy the living daylights out of the “nay-sayers”! 

I didn’t have a plan B, I don’t do re-launches. I have never really left, I have just been in the next room looking at you with different eyes. My plan A is still there, and I am back. Stronger, more passionate and more dedicated than ever before.

You see what I am getting at here? I am telling you that one needs to be true to oneself first and foremost and the rest will just fall into place.

Which leads me onto the next bit.

What will you do? What will you do when it’s all over? Here’s the question. If we solved all the prison issues tomorrow (we can but dream); if we reduced the prison assaults to nil, decreased the re-offending rate, all of it. What would you do? All of us that work in the periphery, we’d be out of work. All of us on social media that sit and scream about how things are, what would we do? Do we need the prison system / criminal justice system to be in such a state of disarray that it makes us happy? It all comes back to that point of “do we relish other people’s helplessness?”

It can be done, you know, we can solve a lot of the issues in prisons and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do it. 

First of all let me tell you that it is not done by removing the family contact from the prisoner. It isn’t done by arming the staff with an incapacitant stronger than CS gas. The study speaks for itself. Levels of violence did not decrease following the introduction of PAVA. It isn’t done by giving out rigid handcuffs. 

The answer? Basic good, honest and open communication. It is done by talking to those most affected by the actions imposed on them.  Talk to the residents. They will tell you what it takes to reduce the violence, to reduce the drugs and maintain good order I have said before and will say it again. Prisons run with the cooperation of the prisoners. Any prison could be over run in a heartbeat if the prisoners wanted it to be so. The fact that they are not proves my point.

Do we actually know what goes on in prisons other than hearing about it from those who work in them or the few accounts that “tweet” from within? Do we care what happens to people when they are jailed? Apart from those with loved ones in jail, I don’t think we can, honestly, relate. 

So here’s the thing. I want to take all the barristers, QC’s, Judges out there into a jail. Oh, this won’t be your normal prison visit where you get to see the fresh paint and the lovely rooms. No, I will give you the Tartan Con’s reality tour of a jail. You can sit and talk to my men and they will tell you how it really is. Perhaps, this will have you thinking about exactly where the defendant  goes to when they are remanded to prison.

Prisoners want a peaceful life in prison, remember that will you? Remember that I can recall numerous occasions where prisoners have stood in front of a prison officer to stop that officer from being assaulted. Remember that,  when you next read the dreaded tabloid that talks about “lags having luscious Christmas dinner.” Remember that the average cost of that Christmas meal was a paltry £2.85 per person and that the average daily food cost is £2.23 per person PER DAY.  Remember that the next time you pop into Costa Coffee. 

But all of this doesn’t add up to a whole hill of beans when we remember that over 75 people have taken their own lives in the jails of England & Wales this year. It doesn’t mean a damn thing as I sit here and type in the memory of Katie Allan and William Lindsay who killed themselves in Scotland’s young person’s jail this year.  I want to fix that for you, but I cannot do it alone. I simply cannot do it without your support, your help and your voice. 

I told Linda Allen (Katie’s mother) that I would take her daughters memory with me every time I entered a jail in 2019 and I will. I will dedicate myself to changing one person’s life every week in her memory. I will dedicate myself to decreasing the number of suicides across the United Kingdom’s jails. What will you do in 2019?

Now go back and look in that mirror. Reflect on 2018 and tell me who you see.

Of course, this is just my opinion I could be wrong.

I wish you all nothing but the best that you could hope for in 2019

Slàinte Mhath

Monday, 3 December 2018

A Missed Opportunity

I attended the wonderful Longford Lecture last week. It was a new format with 4 Longford scholars answering questions from the expert interviewer John Snow. 

The theme of the evening was “Why people stop doing crime” 

A microphone was passed throughout the audience to allow us to ask questions or make statements to the panel. 

I missed a golden opportunity to pose a theory that has been burning in my mind for a few months now. But then again, if I had raised my head above the parapet the Tartan Con would have had a face to go with the name , wouldn’t they?

Now I don’t want to go off on a rant here but :

I wanted to say this…

People will not stop doing crime until such times as society wants them to.

There, I've said it. 

I believe that everyone has the power to change if they want to and society lets them. 

Before I go on, I make no slight against any of you wonderful organisations that help my fellow prisoners upon release whether it be with employment, education etc. No. My issue is with society and its members who would rather not think that the person being released today could be their neighbour tomorrow. You people, who would rather be a member of the parts of society that best suit you not society as a whole. 

You see, I believe we are a retributional society. I think somewhere in the dark recesses of its mind, society enjoys punishing people.  Not only that, I think that it enjoys learning of the badness of others, it enjoys learning of “lags” being sent to jail. The amount if times I hear “well he/she wouldn’t be in jail if he/she hadn’t done something wrong” grows daily as I move outside my comfort zone of speaking with those who believe as I do. When I counter this with, “Ok, can we talk about the remand prisoners? The ones who have not been found guilty of any crime” I get “Well they must have done something wrong to get into jail”

You see, Society inflicts its more severe punishment on those that it deems has (or may have) flouted its rules and regulations. It removes from the individual the very structure that could help that individual, if indeed they have transgressed, the family. It moves the individual many miles from their known surroundings, locks them up and throws away the key; sometimes indefinitely but more often than not for a set period of time. 

When that period of time is at an end, society then decides to welcome the individual back into its fold. “With open arms?”, I hear you ask. Regrettably, no. At the very time when Society’s obligation to its apparently newly reformed citizen is at its highest, it abandons him. During his time in prison society tells him of the wonderful things it will do for him if he will only stick to the rules, attend the right “behavioural classes” and become a good boy, a reformed character if you will. It tells him he will get work (after all here’s a certificate from prison showing that he is able to put balloons into a bag). It tells him where he must live but doesn’t provide him with accommodation and it tells him that if he is possibly 5 minutes late for a meeting with a supervisor that he will end up back in jail. 

Is society then not setting him up to re-offend?

The Longford Lecture this year show-cased 4 remarkable individuals. Highly motivated, highly intelligent and wanting to give back to the society that punished them. They want to continue to help others even after their sentence has finished and technically their debt to society paid.  That must be applauded. Indeed, they have my respect and gratitude. But they are 4 individuals pushing against a flow of people leaving custody with no hope, no set plan other than attending their probation officer on a weekly basis. 

Society is waiting for a lot of these people to re-offend. My goodness, many of those leaving custody do just that. Upwards of 60% of those sentenced to less than one year in custody reoffend within their first year of liberty.  Do these people want to reoffend? Do they want to continue to commit crime? I say that the vast majority do not. Look, you will always have the “Norman Stanley Fletchers” of the world for whom “Prison is an occupational hazard” but I earnestly believe that “Fletch” is the exception not the rule.

Why do people stop doing crime? They don’t because you won’t let them. 

Of course, it’s just my opinion, I could be wrong

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Alba, Dè thachair dhut? - Scotland, What Happened to you?

I thought I could be quiet for a while, but I really cannot. 

Over the last two years I have written off and on about the sad state of self-inflicted deaths in the jails throughout the United Kingdom. It’s a story so very close to my heart and if I am to be remembered for anything, I hope that it is that what I did in prisons helped people step away from the abyss. 

Oh, before I forget, can you just remember this date for me 16thMay 2013?  Thanks.

Now I don’t want to go off on a rant here, but; 

I am so tired of writing about the flow of suicides in our prisons. My complaint, however,  pales in comparison with the pain of the loved ones that have lost someone to suicide in prison. 

This time however, I don’t talk only about England & Wales rather I reach further afield; to the country of my birth, to voice my despair. SCOTLAND!  What in the name of all that is holy to you are you doing to our children? I have read of two suicides at HMP/YOI Polmont this year and I weep both tears of desperation and of sadness at what has happened. I need not go into great detail here and now about the wasted lives of Katie Allan, 21 and William Lindsay, 16. You can find out more about them here and here.  

From reading about Katie Allan, it seems to me that she was being abused at the highest level by staff at Polmont and it was evident to her parents that her, already fragile, mental health was suffering. It is alleged that she was being strip searched (a policy that everyone agrees is degrading and un-necessary, unless good solid verifiable evidence proves otherwise, should not be used). She was being told to strip naked and then trainee officers were being shown how to perform such a task on a prisoner. Why were they picking on Katie to do this? Well, because she was the compliant one. The one that would do as told and not object. If this is indeed found to be the case, then shame on you Polmont! You say you checked on her. But you threatened to move her to the adult prison instead of dealing with those that were bullying her. For God’s sake, the lassie’s hair was falling out due to the stress that your actions put her under and yet you still did nothing.  Those of you that were complicit in this hold your head in shame and understand that you helped extinguish the light that was Katie’s life. Look at her photo.  The next time you look at your child replace their image with hers and ask; would you want your child to be treated like this. Shame on you!  A daughter of Scotland killed by the people who were meant to protect her.

Katie Allan (photo used with the kind permission of Linda Allan)

Now we come to the sad life of William Lindsay. William was never supposed to be in a jail. He was supposed to be in an institution so better equipped to handle his issues than a prison. But there was no room at the Inn, so the sheriff jailed him anyway. William knew he was unwell, and he heard voices telling him to kill himself. What did Scotland do? They stuck him in a youth jail and ignored his pleas for help. The boy killed himself within 48 hours of arriving at HMP / YOI Polmont. William Lindsay, a child of Scotland, killed by the system that was set up to protect him.

I read of Craig Clifton, 19 years young who died in hospital after spending 3 days in a cell in Polmont Prison suffering from diabetic seizures. On the last day of his life he was found naked and barely conscious in his cell. The staff allegedly dressed him and put him back in his bed. When the doctor came in some hours later, they took Craig to him and he immediately recognised the problem and sent for an ambulance. Too late. Craig died at Stirling Royal Infirmary later that day. What makes the bile in my stomach reach to my throat is that the prison didn’t even contact the boy’s mother to tell her that her son was in hospital fighting for his life. Craig Clifton a son of Scotland killed by the system that was set up to protect him. 

4 Children of Scotland have killed themselves in HMP/YOI Polmont since 2017. Have we no shame? 

I march, in my mind, south of the border in the hope that I might find some solace there. After all, England & Wales are working hard to stem the flow of coffins from leaving their back door, are they not? Surely, I can find peace of mind that the amount people taking their own lives in England’s gaols has decreased. Can I not? Please, I beg of you give me something to write about apart from death, England. 

There isn’t.

Already there have been more deaths in custody this year than there was last year. 71 people have taken their own lives in 2018 thus far. According to The Guardian newspaper, 24 of these people were known to be at risk of committing suicide. 

Look, I know that a lot of suicides are prevented in prison by many of the outstanding officers that have dedicated their life to the service. It is difficult to prove a negative, isn’t it? “How many people didn’t kill themselves in prison today”? However, I can’t help but sit in pain as I realise that every 4 ½ days someone is taking their life in prison.

I read with shock and horror that in 2016 12 women killed themselves in England’s female prisons. A jury recently found that there was “insufficient observational effort by prison officers during Jessica Whitchurch's last hour on this earth. Insufficient???? Why??? Who do we hold culpable? The staff? The Governor? Who sits in front of this young woman’s family and says "Sorry, we just didn’t watch over her"?

Listen, we have panels, we have meetings, we shout and decry the sad state of affairs that is our criminal justice system. A person who I respect so very highly and is known on Social Media as TheSecretBarrister has written an outstanding book on the demise of the criminal justice system. 

In this blog, I show you the consequences of a failing system. Look at their faces, look at the faces of their loved ones and do as I do. Say sorry to them. Apologise on behalf of a nation that so obviously would rather shun those who it believes have no rights as they are transgressors. These are the true victims of a failing criminal justice system. 

I’m done.

Of course, this is only my opinion, I could be wrong. 

PS: Oh, yes that date (16/05/2013) ? It is the day I decided to kill myself when I was in prison. Lest you think I am just an ex-prisoner holding a grudge, it was one of these fine officers that I constantly write about that saved me. I am here because someone gave a dam about me. I just wish that someone did that for Katie, William, Craig and Jessica and the many others whose story I have not been able to tell. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Would you like Salami with your Pepper?

Would you like some salami with your pepper?

“The PAVA in prisons project was unable to conclusively demonstrate that PAVA had any direct impact on levels of prison violence.” – PAVA in Prisons Project Evaluation Report. 

Most of you who follow me on Social media will be aware of the stance I have taken against the government’s decision to issue front line staff with PAVA spray.  

For those of you who do not; here you go:

I cannot, under any circumstances, condone it.

Ok, let’s get the standard reply out of that way from those of you who will disagree. “But you’re an ex-prisoner, of course you won’t like it.” Utter tripe, I am afraid. If you know me at all, you know that one would be hard pressed to find a stronger supporter of the hard- working, dedicated professionals that I came across during my time in prison. They helped me mould back into the person that I lost for a long while. I owe them a debt of gratitude that, through my work, I try to repay daily. 

However, I feel that arming prison officers with a tool, that incapacitates a fellow human being, is one step too far. 

I have read the recent evaluation report issued by HMPPS/ MOJ into PAVA and I scatter some of, what I feel to be the most salient points throughout this little rant. 

"The PAVA in prisons project found staff using PAVA more quickly than they would a baton or C&R, and that some staff were developing an over-reliance on PAVA as a way of resolving conflict. The decision-making process was at times flawed, and it appears that some staff will use PAVA outside of guidelines."

In essence, what I get from the report is that the staff in the four pilot sites felt safer when carrying PAVA.
Now, I am all for these most dedicated of public servants feeling safe in their daily lives, but I am not for them using such a tool of incapacitation instead of the other tactics they are trained to use. And that is, basically what the report confirms they are doing. 

We are arming our prison staff and I don’t like it one bit. We are making our prison staff look and act like police officers and that is not what they signed up for nor for what they trained. They signed up, I like to believe, to help care for those remanded into custody, help them turn their lives around (as I did mine) and yes, maintain a safe and above all DECENT environment. Making them look and act like police officers will only have a disastrous effect. 

Sit back for a minute and let me tell you a story…

There was a prison that was having a few “issues.” They called in the National Dog Squad . These dogs are not known to be play things or to be petted (unless of course you want to lose a finger or two). They are seen to be a deterrent. Now the governor of this prison, very wisely put the dogs out on the exercise yards when they were empty. They barked and yelped just to, you know, let the lads know they were there. A good deterrent and a wise decision in my eyes. The handlers later put their dogs away and came onto the wings to help this understaffed prison carry out their “lock up” duties (that time in the evening where the men are asked to go back to their cells). 

The officers that handle these dogs wear high- vis jackets, usually black cargo trousers, radios and a smattering of black baseball caps etc.

Now this where we get to the interesting bit; as they came onto the wing, the atmosphere changed from reasonably calm to exceedingly tense. The prisoners grouped together, and they shouted that “The Cops are on the wing!” They then proceeded to circle the dog handlers; questioning them, in some of the most eloquent of languages, as to why they were in the prison. They started reaching for whatever wasn’t nailed down as a full-blown incident was about to “kick-off.” It took one very brave junior grade governor who had nothing but his pointy finger and fairly loud, Welsh, voice to shout. “CALM DOWN LADS, THEY ARE DOG HANDLERS NOT THE POLICE” He told the handlers to take off their vests and show their prison uniforms. The prisoners backed down immediately and went up and shook the hands of some of the handler’s apologising. “We thought you were cops, the way you looked. Fair play, we’ll lock up now.”

You see where I am going with this? Make the staff look and act like police and reap the problems you will sew. Of course, I mean no offence to the police force, I have respect for most of them. But their job is not in a prison. I explained this recently to a serving police officer on social media and he wrote back understanding the aggression it could cause were the police perceived to be on a prison landing. 

PAVA has been available for the National Tactical Response Group (“The Nationals” or “Tornado” if you prefer) since 2005. These individuals are highly trained and called in when there is a concern for large scale unrest. Their courage and professionalism know no bounds and it is right that in a national emergency where unrest is taking place that they have the correct tools. Their training is intense, and they are only called out in the most serious of incidents. Not, when a prisoner refuses to go into his cell, as was the case where PAVA was used in one of the pilot sites.  

My goodness, the current training for PAVA spray according to the report is a half-day which is comprised of telling the staff of the legal issues surrounding its deployment and HMPPS’s expectations for appropriate use. Oh yes, and they give them some time on telling them how to use it (which in a couple of instances obviously hasn’t been explained properly as in 13 of the 50 times it was used “friendly fire” resulted in the staff being incapacitated themselves).

It scares me that when reading the evaluation report that it is felt that staff used the drawing of PAVA to be the default answer to everything. It worries me that it was used on prisoners who have mental health issues and were self-harming. It concerns me that some staff were “drawing” it but not reporting the deployment.

"Prisoners and staff reported concerns that PAVA was being used in non-violent incidents for purposes of manipulation rather than protection."

Most of all it confounds me that the report states that there is no direct link to the reduction of violence and the use of PAVA. The comparator sites and the PAVA sites had a reduction of violence. The comparator site said it was through the use of Body Worn Cameras and the fantastic Five-Minute Intervention program along with the roll out of the Key Worker programs. Therefore; they said, talking works. The PAVA sites said it was because the carried PAVA. So, who is right here?

“Paired pilot and comparator sites both perceived improvements in safety over the course of the pilot. Staff in pilot sites attribute these changes to PAVA whereas staff in comparator sites attribute the changes in perception to other initiatives (BWVCs, FMI and key-working in comparator sites)”

What is interesting is that in the report it states that it was the officers with more experience that drew/ deployed PAVA and the newer staff did not. That flies in the face of a lot of the “they are so young, they have no jail craft etc” argument, does it not?

The report states:

“Staff across the pilot sites have made inconsistent decisions about when PAVA is justified. Despite clear training guidance saying that PAVA should be only used reactively, the pilot has recorded instances when PAVA was used to address passive non-compliance or to deal with situations that most people would agree do not fall within policy.”

 That worries me…

Here’s a cracker from the report 

Crucially, PAVA should not be expected to be effective as a general deterrent to violence.”

They state that:

The number of UoF (Use of Force, my inference) incidents is likely to increase as PAVA is likely to be used as an addition to, rather than a replacement for, baton use and is likely to precede C&R.”

Look, I am all for staff feeling safe I really am. I have stood in between an issue with a prisoner and a staff member and talked it down. Some of the men that I work with in the prisons do this on a daily basis. I even know one outstanding Director of a prison who won’t even have his staff carry batons. He said recently “I won’t have them, if my staff can’t deal with the problems by using their mouth then they have no place in my jail.”

I realise that our prisons are violent. I realise that they are (shock warning) full of criminals. I know that some of them will be violent. I hate the fact of anyone being attacked in a prison (staff or prisoner) but I just think that arming the staff is not the way to react to it.

Violence in prison is a complex issue and there is no “magic wand” to wave over the problems that staff and prisoners face on a daily occurrence. I know that; but as I said above HMPPS / MOJ have some marvellous initiatives under way. The Five-minute intervention where a staff member stops and talks to a prisoner or the Key Worker program are outstanding and that is the way to deal with it. If you need to use force to control a situation then all else has failed. That does happen, one would be naïve to believe that it doesn’t, but to give the staff a spray to use is not the way. When a staff member exerts a physical use of force, they think twice before they do. I fear that giving them the ability to reach around their belt and grab a cannister will result in them doing that as a default action instead of thinking about it first. 

I will leave you with this one quote from a serving officer:

PAVA “gives the people who aren’t confident that inner confidence to deal with situations maybe not in the right way”.

Pepper spray should be left for me to put on my Spaghetti .

As usual, this is just my opinion, I could be wrong. 

Monday, 16 April 2018

Prison Staff. The Good, The Bad but I would never say Ugly

Hello All!

It’s been a while hasn’t it? I apologise, I’ve missed you.

About 2 weeks ago on the Twitter thing, I asked what you would like me to write about and I am grateful for all the votes; it made me feel wanted!! No, not in that sort of the FBI’s most wanted way but in a cherished kind of way!! The resounding winner on my little poll was for me to talk about prison staff/officers. 

One could be so bold as to presume that you would expect me to write about all the incidents of corruption and staff bullying that, surely, goes on in prison. You would be right!

Now I don’t want to go off on a rant here but;

These people that do this; that smuggle phones or drugs or MacDonald’s hamburgers, (hell, kitchen sinks for all I care) into prison are beneath contempt. If you are one of these people reading this, then I hope that Dante was wrong with his 9 circles of purgatory. I hope there is a special one reserved for you. One where you are locked up standing on your head in a cell full of excrement for eternity. You are a bad person and my contempt for you knows no bounds. Now, before you go off and say well “I was bullied or blackmailed into smuggling items”; I have no issue with you lot. But speak up, tell your superior, do something about it. You won’t be punished, you will be helped, listened to and this circle of hell can stop for you and you can get on with the real reason you should have signed up for. That of helping those who have gone down that less travelled road in a yellow wood. 

If you find it funny, to bully those worse off than you, then you can rot in hell where a bigger bully will do terrible things to you with his trident. If you find it funny to “lose” a postal order that has come into the prison for a resident, then may you never run out of money when you need it most. Those of you reading this will not be aware that certain staff rip up postal orders / cheques sent to prisoners just for the fun of it. Oh, how I wish I could have fun with them! But then again, they are corrupt, and I hope they get caught and find themselves in a prison waiting for postal order! If you are a bully in prison you are the lowest of the low. If you are prison officer who is a bully in prison; then you are just evil. There is no excuse for you and your next job, should be “Would you like fries with that?” I apologise, I have just insulted all fast food workers… you, my friends, are the salt of the earth. Take pride that you are keeping my cholesterol level higher than normal!

Recently, we have heard about a prison officer in Britain’s newest jail being arrested. We have heard about staff in England’s jails being found to be corrupt. I say this. “OK, but what industry doesn’t have corruption?” Is it because we put so much faith into these public servants that we are shocked and even titillated when we read / learn about them “going rogue.” So that’s it isn’t it? We get disappointed in them, don’t we? We put faith in them and they let us down.  I, for one, was never beaten as child; my father would sit me down, recount what I had done wrong and end his diatribe by saying; “I am just so disappointed in you” And that, ladies and gentlemen cut through me like a knife through warm butter.

So, to any corrupt officer reading this I say; “You disappoint me, you are greedy, ego maniacal bullies who are a waste of chromosomes and I pity you. I pity the fact that you have no other option in your sad pathetic existence of a life other than to make misery and corruption your friends.” That and “You are a waste of space who should crawl back under the rock from which you have come”.  Point made? Oxygen Thief!

Throughout my sentence I found myself surrounded by good and decent people. People who were good human beings, cared and gave out hope. Obviously, I knew of corrupt staff, I knew who they were; but they never approached me nor I them. They probably guessed that they would have no quarter with me and I would wipe the floor with their pathetic little offers to earn their thirty pieces of silver.

One day, I shall regale you of the story of the prison officer, who very recently, try to sell a story about me and my work to the press. I will, just not now as it is a bit raw.

Now onto the majority of staff that I have met, continue to meet and hope to meet more of:

“You are good people, you have my hard-earned respect and my gratitude. You are pillars of the community and should be recognised as such.”

Prison staff are unsung heroes. They don’t get the blaze of publicity when they do a good job (I make no slight here on police officers, firemen and paramedics), but these public servants go quietly into the night in the comfort that they may just have turned someone’s life around. 

They do just that.

I am the proud product of prison staff doing their jobs. 

A little story.

I was in prison, I had come back from a medical appointment (Yes, I managed to get one of the rarest things in prison – a medical appointment, those and dentist’s appointments are as scarce as hen’s teeth) and my condition had been diagnosed as progressing from early on stage. I just wanted to come back from the healthcare department and lock myself up until the end of my sentence (that being a further 2 years away!). The nurses had telephoned the wing to say that I had just been given a bit of bad news. Two things happened. Two of the female officers watched me leave my cell to go for a shower. They went into my cell and as it was Easter, placed a Cadbury’s cream egg with a candle in it in my cell (my birthday falls around that time). I cried in the comfort that someone cared.  Then along came an officer who enjoyed some banter. “TC,” he says, “I heard about your news, looks like you won’t be playing the piano again” to which I replied, “I never played the piano” and he came back with “Well you won’t miss it then!” That, that right there is the sort of dark humour that made me smile. You see both sets of these staff took time to read into me, to show comfort where it mattered most. They have my unending respect.

I understand that a lot of staff are demoralised, fed up, over worked and under paid. Yet they still continue to turn up at the gate every day to draw their keys and the vast majority of them do not cross that line into Dante’s 8 circle.  These are good people who want to make a difference in someone’s life. For every 10 corrupt officers, I fully believe there are over 1000 good and honest ones. 

So, do me a favour, will you? 

The next time a story about prison officer corruption hits the fourth estate; think twice.  Of course, you can bleat until your heart’s content but follow it up with “At least, there are many more honest ones.” 

These good ones that I talk about saved my life. They might just save a loved one of yours. 

Of course, that’s my opinion, I could be wrong.