Monday, 25 November 2019

None of the Above

A little disclaimer here, this blog is really only concerned with prisons. I cannot comment on the criminal Justice sector as a whole as I would have even less of an idea as to what I was talking about than normal. I suggest that you follow the wonderful @BarristerSecret, the oracle that is @BarristerBlog (both on twitter) for a far more clearer understanding than I could ever give you.  As always; what follows is purely my opinion. I could be wrong. 

I have spent that last 3 minutes reading the part of  Conservative Party’s manifesto for the general election as it relates to my area of work; prisons. Oh!  And in that time, I have also read the Labour Party’s and the Liberal Democrats. I haven’t read the Green Party’s nor have I read the other party’s manifestos. Why? Because there are over 40 parties with multiple candidates running in the election along with over 20 parties with one candidate ( BBC News) and I have a will to live. Although in saying that; after reading the 3 above I think that The Universal Good Party might just get my vote if for no other reason than I love their name!

In a nutshell; 
·       The Conservatives 

Jail people for longer
We already jail people for extensive periods with long tariffs for those who commit the most heinous of crimes. This is not new.

Build new prisons. 
The Government has already agreed to new sites to be built at HMP Wellingborough, Glen Parva and possibly Full Sutton. These jails will be put out to tender to the private sector to operate. This is not new.

Cut the amount of foreign nationals in our jails. End automatic release for those who have committed serious offences. 
Presently, less than 10% of those serving a sentence are of Foreign citizenship. Cutting foreign national prisoners requires Prisoner Transfer Agreements between two countries. If one party does not want the prisoner received, then they won’t be. I can understand X country saying to the UK, “No!” we do not want the cost of housing a prisoner who has not committed any crime on our soil, you have him” UNLESS  of course the government is saying that if a foreign national commits a crime he is simply deported without serving any jail sentence. There is, ALREADY, two programs in place that deal with Foreign National Offenders. Those being FRS (Facilitated Removal Scheme) and ERS (Early Removal Scheme). Now here’s where it gets a bit complicated. FRS is for those Foreign Nationals who are of non-EU origin and ERS for those who are European. Both programs remove the prisoner UP TO 290 days before the end of their custodial sentence.  FRS has the added benefit for the prisoner as it involves releasing funds to that prisoner when they arrive back home. This is not new. 
Those who commit serious offences are given a tariff before being considered for parole and parole is not a given right, it must be earned. This is not new. 

Those who use a knife as a weapon should go to prison.” 
They already do. 

·       Labour 

Get prison officers back to the level they were in 2010.!! 
According to the almanac that is Russell Webster, there are 18,752 prison officers in 2019 and in 2010 there were 19,910. So Labour will hire 1,158 new prison officers (Prison Operational Staff). Or in simple terms @11 staff per prison (based on 104 public prisons). 

Bring back PFI prisons back in house and there will be no more private prisons.
The cost to cancel the existing contracts would be astronomical to the taxpayer. Additionally, one would have to question the sanity of doing this when, contrary to what  the national chair of the Prison Officer’s Association said recently in an interview,  NOT ONE of the private prisons in this country scored in the bottom half of the most violent jails in the country ( Prison Performance Ratings 2018-2019). Indeed, none of these jails is under an Urgent Notification as issued by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. The 3 new prisons I mention above are NOT being built under PFI, but they will be run by a private contractor. This, therefore, is a knee jerk reaction taken without proper consideration and can only have a detrimental effect on society as a whole.

Prison is not the best place to address the drug addictions, mental illnesses and debts that lead many people into crime. 
Hallelujah! Someone has eventually got it. Completely correct. Prison is not the place for those with mental illnesses and I recall meeting so many lost souls when I was serving my prison sentence. However, all secure hospitals have been closed, so where is the detail in how this will be funded and how it will be fixed? Political blurb I am afraid.

We will further consider the evidence for effective alternatives and rehabilitation of prolific offenders. 
Ok, err uhuh,  consider away or here’s a thought…….. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

·      Liberal Democrats-

Let’s all get stoned!
 – ok sorry for being flippant, but sometimes I can’t help myself. 

Transform prisons into places of rehabilitation and recovery by recruiting 2,000 more prison officers and improving the provision of training, education and work opportunities.
So, we are aware the length of time it took the current (you know what I mean) to recruit the 2500 officers they promised 4 Justice Secretaries ago. The attrition rate of prison staff meant that they needed to hire @ 4000 to get to the net 2,500. Added to that, that hiring 2000 staff will not all of a sudden turn these warehouses of despair into “places of rehabilitation.” To do that they will need to invest in Prison Education, PURPOSEFUL work (I once stuck balloons into bags for Clinton cards for 35 hours per week.

Ensure that all prison-leavers have a suitably timed release and are supported with suitable accommodation, a bank account and employment or training, and are registered with a local GP.
This would be welcome if it could work. The amount of people leaving prison today without accommodation is shocking. The simple fact of the matter is that local councils/ housing associations do not care for prisoners and we are usually that last ones on any list for housing. The Liberal Democrats will need to revamp the entire public housing programs prior to this happening. Employment? Well, the hiring of ex-prisoners is a social pariah. Until the liberal democrats make it attractive to employers to hire former prisoners then the status quo will remain. Bank accounts are already available to prisoners, so this is not new.

I could go on and on with these 3 “manifestos” but that will to live I mentioned above is slowly diminishing. 

It boils down to this. 

No political party wants to talk about prisons. Hell, the Conservative manifesto actually takes up the ink to state that prisoners will not be allowed to vote. Prisons are not vote winners. Lock us up and put us in mammoth prison in the back of nowhere and forget about us. What all parties seem to have forgotten is that over 90% of those serving sentences will be released at one point in their lives and therefore be allowed to vote…. Hmmm food for thought isn’t it? 
Not one of these pieces of tripe mention that they want to get to the root of crime, the reasons for it, the societal problems that often-put people on the road of crime. I fully believe that no one is born evil to this world and that something happens along the way to force that person down “the road less travelled.” There are wonderful organisations out there who work in this arena but until ALL of us do then our jails will remain overcrowded sausage factories. Putting damaged people in, locking them up for more than they are unlocked and churning them back out again. 

Those who know me, know that I am a fan of Oscar Wilde. Indeed his “De Profundis” turned my life around. In it, it says this:

Many men on their release carry their prison about with them into the air, and hide it as a secret disgrace in their hearts, and at length, like poor poisoned things, creep into some hole and die.  It is wretched that they should have to do so, and it is wrong, terribly wrong, of society that it should force them to do so.  Society takes upon itself the right to inflict appalling punishment on the individual, but it also has the supreme vice of shallowness, and fails to realise what it has done.  When the man’s punishment is over, it leaves him to himself; that is to say, it abandons him at the very moment when its highest duty towards him begins.  It is really ashamed of its own actions, and shuns those whom it has punished, as people shun a creditor whose debt they cannot pay, or one on whom they have inflicted an irreparable, an irremediable wrong.  I can claim on my side that if I realise what I have suffered, society should realise what it has inflicted on me; and that there should be no bitterness or hate on either side.

That sums it up for me ladies and gentlemen. Society is shallow. We are far too self-absorbed with ourselves and we care not a fig for those that we have spurned. That is sad. We have a moral obligation to help those who we are bringing back into our society. Yes, I broke the law. I was sent to jail AS a punishment (not to be punished) and I was released back into society. If it was not for the love of my immediate family, I would have had no support. As Wilde says, I have no bitterness towards society for inflicting that punishment on me, yet still society shuns me. I am an EX prisoner, you told me to go away for a number of years and then come back, “slate clean.” I returned but you went back on your word.

Look, I am not an abolitionist, I understand the need for jails. I even understand your retributionist ideal of prison. It makes you feel better. I am ok with that. 

This is your time, people. Every 5 years you have the chance to make your society better. You have the power to make a change. It isn’t, no scratch that, you mustn’t just make it about yourselves. I beg of you. 

Tell your candidate that they must improve the sheds that we put our prisoners in as these people may well be our neighbours one day. We must help these people on the road to being law abiding citizens if we expect them to live in our society. We can’t just be the nation of “locking people up” or punishing people because we can. We must be the nation that the rest of world looks to with envy. We must be the society that I believe all of us want. 

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

A Slight Absence from writing

Dear Readers;

I want to apologise for not writing much recently. I find that, sadly, these days my mind moves faster than the moving of my hands.

I have taken to recording a lot of my rants and speeches now. I will return to writing, of course, as it is my first and true love.

But in meantime please feel free to indulge your ears on the podcast website that can be found by clicking here

Alternatively for those less technically impaired you can find The Tartan Con on iTunes.

Be well my dear friends.

Friday, 9 August 2019

The Butler Trust - Hidden Heroes - Keble College, Oxford

On 8th of August 2019, I was invited by the wonderful Butler Trust to speak at their annual summer symposium. This year's theme was that Prison Officers were hidden heroes. What follows is my speech and an audio version is available here. However, I would warn you that the quality is lousy due to my stupidity of leaving the recording device in my pocket!

Hidden Heroes 

Simon said that he wanted me to give a moving speech. I have Parkinson’s so one thing I can guarantee you is that this rambling of mine shall certainly be moving (just perhaps not in the way he meant!!).

I know not whether Laws be right
Or whether Laws be wrong;
All that we know who lie in gaol
Is that the wall is strong;
And that each day is like a year,
A year whose days are long.

But this I know, that every Law
That man hath made for Man,
Since first Man took his brother’s life,
And the sad world began,
But straws the wheat and saves the chaff
With a most evil fan.
This too I know – and wise it were
If each could know the same-
That every prison that men build
Is built with bricks of shame,
And bound with bars lest Christ should see
How men their brothers maim.

Whilst Oscar Wilde was in prison he penned his now famous letter “ De Profundis”. This letter turned my life around and I put it down to being my “lightbulb moment.” I must have read it a hundred times. 

   He writes “The fact of my having been a prisoner , I must frankly accept, and curious as it may seem to you, one of the things I shall have to teach myself is not to be ashamed of it. I must accept it as a punishment and if one is ashamed of being punished one might as well never have been punished at all.” He goes onto to say“ I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison. I know that would be fatal. To reject one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life” 
In 1897 after being released from Reading Gaol, Wilde wrote to the then Governor and said “Of course I side with the prisoners; I was one and I belong to their class now. I am not a scrap ashamed of having been in prison. I am horribly ashamed of the materialism that brought me there.”I could have written those words.
I spent just under 4 years in prison. 
When I went to prison, I was petrified. I was a deer stuck in the headlights. I didn’t know what to expect, what to do, what to say, who to talk to and the fear of the unknown was all encompassing. 
I left jail a while ago now and I spend my days going back into the very places that I tried to get out of. The irony of my working within prisons is not lost on me. But I do so with humility and with pleasure. I have an experience that none of you will ever have had and I want to help you. I want to help you help that person that was me all those years ago. You see, I get it, I get what you do, and I stand here in front of you thanking whatever supreme being that you believe in that you do it. 
In the same year of 1897 Wilde wrote a letter to the Daily Chronicle and said “Wherever there is Centralisation there is stupidity. What is inhuman in modern life is officialism. Authority is as destructive to those who exercise it as it is to those on whom it is exercised. It is the Prison Board, and the system that it carries out, that is the primary source of the cruelty that is exercised on a child in prison. The people who uphold the system have excellent intentions. Those who carry it out are humane in intention also. Responsibility is shifted on to the disciplinary regulations. It is supposed that because a thing is the rule, it is right.”
Let me put that into context for you. Wilde was decrying the summary expulsion of Officer Martin from the Prison Service for giving a child a sweet biscuit. This CHILD was under the age of 14 and had just been convicted and sent to Reading Gaol. 
I say, the good prison officer is the person that whilst understanding the rules; realises that as with all laws, sometimes humanity is better served by common sense prevailing.
 I believe that all of you here are the Mr Martins of old.
 You are all prison OFFICERS, you are not guards or warders (as the more salacious parts of the media would have you called). You are officers. You do not judge me, I have already been judged; you do not befriend me, I don’t need friends. You do set down the rules and tell me you will do your best to ensure I am safe, treated with decency and will be there for when I call for help. That help can come in a multitude of forms. Be it by helping me with my lost canteen or by helping me find myself and get on that long road to being a better person. You see you are not there to “rehabilitate” me; only I can do that.  You are there to help me rehabilitate myself. Of course, you can point me in the direction but eventually you have to let me walk unaided. 
You are there for me to rely on, for me to eventually start trusting the human race again. Many of us come from backgrounds where that trust is so sorely missing. That’s why we get upset with you when you forget to “do that thing for me, Miss.”   It’s not that you didn’t do it, honestly, it’s not. It’s just that we put our trust in you and you let us down. And God Damn it hurts.
You are good and decent human beings first, and prison officers second.
You didn’t hear my cries of anguish at night as I lay on my bed; the tears of pain that I endured every night for 1,365 nights. You knew I was suffering. You got the doctor to come and see me after you realized that I wasn’t spending more than 10 minutes a day out of my cell. You saw that I wouldn’t go outside, and I would cling onto the walls for dear life. When I turned up at the servery and just shook my head, you nodded. You knew I wasn’t going to eat. You saw the look of despair in my eyes yet knew I was too proud to tell you of my suffering. 
 You saved my life. I am here because of you. I had decided the day I was going to end it all. I had had enough of this world and I was convinced that this world had had enough of me. But you called the wing office on your day off to check on me and that, that is what made all the difference. You cared and you gave a damn. I breathe because you taught me how.  
 Did you do this because of the uniform you wore? I say you did not. I say you did it because of the type of human being you are. The fact that you wear a uniform is not important to me, it is the person behind that uniform that is so very crucial. However, uniforms are the way you are recognised, and I hope you wear yours with pride. You will leave society a better place for being in it. I know you have left me a better person due to your professionalism and dedication to your chosen career. We need more of you in our world. Your contribution to society should never go unrecognised. 
I exit prison and I leave you behind me at the gate. But I need you to know that with every sun that rises I think of you often I am grateful that you chose the profession you did. Your vocation is the most noblest of careers and whilst the public may not recognise you, those of us whose life you have impacted do. We will never forget you. 
 Simon asked me to title this speech “Hidden Heroes” There is nothing hidden about you. You are all my heroes and I shall continue to shout from the rooftops about you until I have no breath left in me. 
 So remember this the next time you put on your uniform; many of us owe our lives to you, ladies and gentlemen and I,  for one, will continue to repay my debt to you until the day I die. 

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Clinks Annual Conference Speech

Hello All:

I have had a few requests to put my speech from the Clinks Annual Conference  (09/05/2019) up on this site... full of blushing cheeks;  I do this here:

I know not whether Laws be right
Or whether Laws be wrong;
All that we know who lie in gaol
Is that the wall is strong;
And that each day is like a year,
A year whose days are long.

But this I know, that every Law
That man hath made for Man,
Since first Man took his brother’s life,
And the sad world began,
But straws the wheat and saves the chaff
With a most evil fan.

This too I know – and wise it were
If each could know the same-
That every prison that men build
Is built with bricks of shame,
And bound with bars lest Christ should see
How men their brothers maim.

Oscar Wilde wrote a letter to the Editor of the Daily Chronicle in 1898 regarding the then Home Secretary’s proposed Prison Reform Bill. The bill contained the main reform of there was to be an increase of Official Visitors and inspectors. 
Oscar writes:
“Such a reform as this is entirely useless. The reason is extremely simple” he says. “The inspectors and Justices of the Peace that visit prisons come there for the sole purpose of seeing that the prison regulations are duly carried out. They come for no other reason, nor have they any power, even if they had the desire to alter a single clause in the regulations.” 
What He wrote intrigued me. I started thinking why do we work in the criminal justice system if we can’t change the acts of parliament that govern them? 
Look, we all do things every day that benefit ourselves. We get out of bed so we can start the day … We eat so that we can survive, we work hard so that we can play.
I cast no aspersions in what I am about to ask and I include myself. Do we do what we do because it makes us feel better? Do we do our work because it massages our egos that we are doing something good and that when we reach those pearly gates we will be welcomed with open arms? There is absolutely nothing wrong about feeling good about our work as long as that is only PART of the reason that we do it. Are we egotistical? Are we self serving? Are our arms sore from reaching behind to pat ourselves on the back?  I do not believe we are, as a species, that self-centred. 
Let me quickly tell you my story:
Matthew was 26 years young when he passed away in my arms after cutting himself in prison. This was my second week in jail. He was remanded on a drink driving charge and the sole carer for his mother. Matthew felt bad, he said he “wasn’t feeling right in his head” He was locked up the night prior without being allowed to call home. The next morning he was opened up with the following words “So you’ve not killed yourself then?” he decided to prove the staff wrong. He went out onto the landing and took a razor blade and cut himself from elbow to wrist. I decided right there and then that I would dedicate myself in trying to ensure that such inhumane treatment of a fellow human being never happened again.
In 1898 Wilde says in that letter that there were three punishments authorised by law in England and they are:
1.    Hunger
2.    Insomnia
3.    Disease.
·     The average food budget per prisoner is just under £2.00 per person per day- Hunger
·     Anyone who has laid down on a 3 inch thick mattress with either wood or plastic slats underneath  will tell you that it is impossible to sleep - Insomnia 
·     We are forced to eat about 3 feet away from where we defecate. There are currently over 1000 cells in this country that do not have in cell sanitation and therefore a bucket more often than not has to be used – Disease. 
How can society expect a prisoner to be released after his time in jail NOT angry, NOT ill and NOT mentally scarred if after 120 years we are still treating our prisoners this way? 
The frustration I feel is only equalled by my anger that my country treats its citizens in such a way. Do we want things to change? Do we as a society not wallow in the troubles of others? The viewing figures of something called EastEnders Street and Coronation Oaks seem to say that we do!!
When I left prison, I found a love of writing. I found my voice, as it were. I found, after 53 years of walking this planet, my passion. I found that I wanted to try and raise the public’s knowledge of what goes on in our prisons. Of the great things that can happen to one in prison. To let them know that there are good people on both sides of the door. That I was a product of the good that people who work in prisons can do. 

I stand here breathing, today, because of a prison officer. I chose the date and time of what would be my own death whilst in prison. I had decided that the world would be better off without me in it. I was convinced that no one gave a damn about me. Then on the very morning that I had decided to kill myself my personal officer called into the prison on his day off to speak to me. And that random act of kindness is what allows me to be with you today. That someone cared, that someone remembered that I existed. 
I decided that I wanted to spend whatever life I have left in going back into the very places that held me to help those less fortunate than I. I believed that I had an experience that those who draw cell keys could never have. I wanted and indeed want to explain to people what life is like behind the door. How we as prisoners live with constant paranoia. How we feel that every whispered voice is a conversation about us. I wanted to explain that, overall, we want to change, we want to turn away from crime. I wanted to explain that we are just the same as you. But above all I wanted to try and help stem the flow of coffins that are leaving our jails. I wanted to help. No I needed to help. 
I went to a couple of what I thought were wonderful charities that are out there to ask them to help me. Help me help prisoners was my crie de couer. I didn’t know how to go about to get back into the prisons (apart from the obvious ways that is!!). The welcome I got? The slamming of doors in my face. “This will never work”, they said. “You’ll never get the prisons to work with you”, they cried. “How will this impact our funding?” They muttered. I was deflated, I was dejected. But the memory of Matthew kept me going. I had to do this in his memory. But I thank everyone of those organisations who shunned me. They made me stronger, they made me more determined. To the jails who listened to me, took my ideas and then changed your phone numbers…I thank you. You never understood it wasn’t about employing me; it was about ensuring that those in jail were dealt with humanely. You didn’t realise it but your taking my ideas and making them your own was exactly what I wanted you to do in the first place!

The result? I am still a one-man band, I work in about 15 or so jails and I plan to work in 106 more. I will keep doing what I do because I need my fellow prisoners to have a voice. 

My crowning glory was not the inspectorate mentioning my work, not the pat on the back from the management, it was my fellow prisoners thanking me. That,  gave me my first smile in many a year. 

And then there is you.
You lovely people, you wonderful human beings who just want to get on with it. You want to help, some of you may be like me and NEED to help. 
You are here, you people who are willing to look at us with no pre-conception and for that you have my thanks. Don’t get me wrong; we don't want your pity or your charity. What we want is a chance. A chance to show that whatever drove us to be in jail is in the past and that you look at us as people and not numbers.
We need you, the voluntary sector to walk with us, not in front of us. We need you to give a damn! We are not statistics, don’t patronise us. Don’t work with us because it makes you feel good. Do it because you understand that people with our experience can help you achieve your goals. Do it, because you need to know that those of us who have decided to work in this field, this industry that for so many years we tried to escape from;  have a need to help those with whom we walked the landings. 
The sheer fact that all of you are here shows me that you are willing to do just that.
Let it be known from here, from this very podium that you are cherished, you are recognised and above all understand that whilst you may not remember all of us that you helped we will always remember you.

I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.