16th – 31st January 2015
I start this blog with a quote which has been attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt:
“No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Particularly relevant given the piece below. Read on…
I’m going to start this piece with the following paragraph:
“[ … ] it has been noted [ from conversations with wing staff ( 10.01.13 ) ]that he tends to approach female members of staff when he wants something, and does not always respond positively when he is told to follow correct procedures to get things. Mr Coutts also tells staff that he will not tell other prisoners if a favour is done for him. This is of concern, and suggests continued risk to staff, which should be closely monitored.”
So, what inferences have drawn from that? This person sounds horrible. Weird, angry, controlling, and manipulative. Yes, he really must be a terrible risk to staff.
I think your are sophisticated enough to know where this going – yes, it was written about me, so you’re probably thinking, “why on earth are you disclosing something so negative?” Well firstly, none of these claims are true. None of them. Secondly, it is a perfect example of the major limitations and failings of prison psychologists. Thirdly,, it forms part of a bigger picture of the hysterical paranoia of these people which has plagued me in prison since 2011.
This would be a good moment to elaborate on the origins of these issues. I’ve alluded to it enough already. At HMP Frankland, one of the teachers developed an inappropriate interest in me. This culminated in her giving me her email address and whispering that she’d get in trouble if anyone found out. I never returned her interest.
After all it all blew up in her face and with the assistance of her manager, she concocted a false allegation that I had made some sort of ill-conceived adolescent romantic overture towards her ( and this supposedly in a class full of about 9 prisoners ). I get it, the manager was protecting her protégé and the reputation of her employer ( as well as her own – she did hire her after all ).
As soon as I started to challenge this allegation through the internal application and complaint system, a number of punitive measures were taken against me at the instigation of the Security department. It is no coincidence that the Education manager’s boyfriend was the Security manager. Undoubtedly, he was protecting his girlfriend’s position by using these punitive measures to derail my lawful challenge.
There is much more to this whole saga, which is still unresolved after nearly 4 years. I know I’ve promised but I will detail all of these events at a later date, including the fact that several witnesses made statements to support the fact that I had not made this ‘ romantic overture.’
Back to the above paragraph. As a Category A prisoner, every year I have a review to determine whether or not my perceived ‘ risk ‘ has been lowered sufficiently to justify being downgraded to Category B. ( I’m shaking my head as I write this, such is the farcical and arbitrary nature of this process.) Reports are obtained from the various departments such as, Security ( of course ), Healthcare, wing staff, and Psychology.
In 2012 I was interviewed by a trainee psychologist, who had never met me before, for Psychology’s Cat. A report. The interview lasted about 1 hour. When I received the report I was aghast at the sheer volume of inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and unsupportable opinions. It was the most complete character assassination of me that I had ever read. The above paragraph is from that report.
It should be noted that prison psychology departments are populated by 20- something trainees, who are overwhelmingly female. I’m not making any point with that fact, just that this happens to be the case. I’ve no idea why there are so few male psychologists that work in prisons. Each trainee is supervised by a qualified psychologist ( there is one male psychologist in here ). In June 2013 there were 7 qualified and 7 trainee psychologists. There are over 700 prisoners here, all having to be assessed by ( mainly ) trainee psychologists. Subsequently the psychology department here is far behind on their work that it is little wonder they make so many errors, possibly through having to cut corners or a lack of experience.
The reason I am still a Cat. A prisoner after nearly 12 years is simply down to psychology (although they will say I’m ‘in denial’ and do not take responsibility for the ‘offence’ ) Their reports and assessments determine who progresses and who does not. So you have this bizarre situation where the opinion of a 20-something trainee, who sees you for an hour or so per year, being held in higher regard than every other opinion, including landing staff who interact with you on a daily basis. They have developed an extraordinary power base, which is all the more extraordinary when you consider that, despite the many years they have been involved, they have had little to no impact on recidivism ( but that’s for another blog ).
It is recognised that psychology is not one of the sciences. However, if it is a science, it’s the science of averages and generalisations. The research they base their opinions on appears to consist of either collecting data on the response behaviour of a group of individuals in various situations to find commonalities. Averages and generalisations.
Unfortunately for prisoners, their liberty is being determined by people, indoctrinated into the
‘ cult of psychology ’, who lack the abstract thought to see outside of these averages and generalisations. There is a term for this – ’ confirmation bias ’. You have been convicted of X, Y, or Z, therefore, it follows that your ‘ personality functioning ‘ ( another deeply troubling psychological term with negative connotations ) must also be X, Y, or Z. To put it another way , they seek evidence to confirm their preconceived ideas and bias and dismiss any contrary evidence by the judicious use of variety of justifications After all, you’ve done 3-5 years of University and several more on the job training, you do not want anything to undermine your belief system.
There is the famous ‘ black swan ‘ story. A scientist ( whose name eludes me right now ) believed that all swans were white. Then Australia was discovered along with the black swan. However, instead of accepting that he was wrong, he attempted to make everyone believe that the black swan was not a swan at all but another bird. Confirmation bias. I have on occasion used another bird related way of putting it to psychology – if it doesn’t walk like a duck or quack like a duck…maybe it’s not a duck!”
Right, the paragraph. As a result of my most recent ( year late ) Cat. A report, completed by the same trainee, which made reference to her previous opinion of ‘ risk to staff ‘, I submitted the following response:
“[ … ] I think it would be helpful to you if I allowed you the opportunity to reassess your opinion regarding my “ risk to staff “. Paragraph 4.4 from your previous Category A report from 28th February, stated; [ see paragraph at the start of this blog ]
I had sought advice [ regarding the offending paragraph ] from my personal officer [ … ] and another landing officer [ … ]. Both interact with me on a near daily basis As prisoners, we are encouraged to communicate with wing staff should we have any issues which we require advice. So, imagine my surprise when I subsequently discovered, through the disclosure of SIR [ Security Intelligence Report ] gists on my sentence plan, that a SIR had been submitted claiming that I had ‘ manipulated ‘ an officer to get your Category A changed.
The irony, of me supposedly ‘ manipulating ‘ an officer to get your implied claim that I
‘ manipulate ‘ staff changed, is not lost on me. Can you see the illogicality of this? Particularly when you consider that Officer [ … ] is a veteran prison officer with over 20 years experience. Do you still stand by your claim that I had ’ conditioned ’ and/or
‘ manipulated Officer [ … ] and what are you relying on in support? Or, are you open to the possibility that these officers acted altruistically ( yes, these people do exist – even in here ) as your ’ information ’ and subsequent opinion of me being a ’ risk to staff ’ is so wildly inaccurate and extremely damaging?
Two examples of the damage you have done include the negative impact on my security assessments leading to employment difficulties and nearly resulting in my death as, now being listed as a ’manipulator ’, my heart attack as me faking it resulting in the paramedics being obstructed for an hour before they were allowed to transfer me to hospital.
Had you considered the consequences of your inaccurate opinions of ’ conditioning ’, ’ manipulating ’, and ’risk to staff ’? But what does it matter if you get it wrong – right?
These are the facts:
1. My personal officer at that time ( Officer [ … ] is female, as was my Offender Supervisor ( Officer [ … ]. It is not possible to only approach male officers. When I did approach other officers ( male or female ) they would invariably instruct me to see [ my personal officer ]. Notwithstanding the above, when I did a count of the various officers I had approached in the previous year the majority were male. That being said ,this is only a gender issue for you. When I weigh up which officers to approach it is based on the following: is this something my personal officer can assist me with?; is my personal officer available?; if not, which officers are and are they are in a position to assist?; out of those, which officers have assisted me in the past or are the most approachable? My thought process does not include a question regarding gender.
2. I always follow the correct procedures. When I am unsure, I ask a member of staff and then confirm this through PSOs /PSIs [ Prison Service Orders and Instructions ] or local policy documents. Unfortunately, very often staff do not know the correct procedures. I have no C-Nomis entries regarding not responding positively ( or any of the ’ information ’ you use in 4.4 ). In fact, my C-NOMIS entries use the words “ polite “ and “ respectful “ over and over again.
3. I have never said, “[ I ] will not tell other prisoners if a favour is done for [ me ]”. I am only aware of one uncharacteristically flippant remark I made in 2012. I had to get some legal documents photocopied for the court. I had to ask 4 different officers ( male and female ) before Ispoke to 2 ( female ) cleaning officers. The photocopying would only have taken a few minutes but I was given excuse after excuse why neither of them could spare the time. In desperation, one of them finally said, “ if we do it for you, we’ll have to do it for everyone else”. I should point out that, as laid down in PSO 1000, the photocopying of legal documents for a prisoneris not an option for prison staff ( Article 6 – Right to a Fair Trial ). As I had a tight deadline to submit the court documents, my frustation with these 2 officers excuses turned into the flippant response of, “ well, I won’t say anything “. It was clearly a flippant comment which was delivered with me throwing my arms in the air and mock high-pitched voice. It is inconceivable that any right thinking human being could interpret this as anything other than a non-serious remark.
I believe that both Officers [ … ] and [ … ] supported the facts that I approach male and female officers, that I follow the correct procedures and never respond negatively ( bar the one flippant remark ), and that I am not a manipulative prisoner as you appear to be implying.
Following your last Category A report we had a meeting to discuss some of the issues I had raised. There are were [ sic ] 2 main points which remain unresolved. Please confirm the following;
1. What type/s of risk are you implying in your opinion that I am a “ risk to staff “? For example, a physical risk and / or a corrupting risk?
2. You stated that the ’ information’ was from “ conversation with wing staff ( 10.01.13 )”.
Despite advising me to challenge any information which was factually incorrect, you refused to give me the names of the wing staff who gave you your ’ information ’. Without being able to confirm the veracity of your claims, this opens the possibility that you have either grossly misrepresented the facts or completely fabricated you “ information “. Therefore, in order for me to show those staff what you have written and get their feedback on the accuracy, Iwill require their names. If you will not give me their names please confirm their reasons.
Now, here is just some of the evidence that contradicts your opinion:
1. In nearly 12 years of prisons I have never been violent or aggressive and there is no evidence of such.
2. I have never corrupted a member of staff or even asked them to do anything outside of their duties and there is no evidence of such.
3. My C-Nomis entries.
4. Officers [ …. ] and [ … ] accounts of my wing interactions.
The facts are that there has not one shred of evidence to support your opinion of “ risk to staff “. Ms [ … ], it is extremely troubling that you cling onto an opinion which is supported by nothing more than a flippant remark comment whilst dismissing so much contradictory evidence.
I regret to say that your opinion has contaminated some of my other reports and files, all from one flippant comment. Some people may view what you have done and are doing as negligent and libellous. It does you no favours in terms of credibility. I would urge you to reflect on your actions and reassess your opinion of “ risk to staff .”
[ I then go on to quote parts of The British Psycholgist’s Society and The Health & Care Professional Council codes of ethics and conduct. ]
I also urge you to be open to the possibility of ‘ confirmation bias’ influencing you’re your opinion in this case.
I have found out that this prison, in particular, is so filled with paranoia and fear that buzzwords such as ’ conditioning ’ and ’ manipulation’ are thrown around indiscriminately. They actually believe that all prisoners behave in this manner.
In my case, they have elegantly manipulated themselves, through the Frakland allegations to the above Cat. A reports to my current issues with Wakefield Security and Education to the Print Shop ( think out of control snowball running downhill and getting bigger all the time ), a no-win situation. If I were to behave badly, I would get a negative report and if I behave in my usual warm and friendly way ( something that would be considered ’ normal ’ in any other environment ) this is distortedtnto ’ conditioning ’ and/ or ’ manipulation ’. They have in fact created impossible progression and by extension no release – ever. Clever.
I’ll let you know her response.
Absurd moment of the Month
On a lighter note. I do a bit of cooking. What I used to do on a regular basis, at HMP Frankland , was cook a big pot of dhal, veggie chilli, soups, etc. and freeze a load of portions to have during the week. I’d get back on the wing and throw a portion in the microwave. Unfortunately HMP Wakefield’s cooking facilities are pretty poor and there are no microwave. However, I made some veggie chilli and brown rice and froze a couple of portions. A few days later I took out a frozen portion and was immediately challenged by an officer. I explained that I had a frozen portion of chilli. He asked me if I knew that prisoners were not allowed to use the freezers. I didn’t know this as there were no notices ( official or otherwise ). I asked, “ why have we got freezers then ?”. He replied,that they were going to be removed. I thought this a little odd as the Inspector of Prisons had made a recommendation that HMP Wakefield install chest freezers and put frozen food on the canteen ( where you can buy food and, toiletries, and other sundries ).
Then he said ( you,ll like this ), “ you could go upstairs, put it [ the frozen chilli portion ] in a pillowcase and use it as a weapon.” ( ? ! ) So what he was implying was that I spent a large part of Saturday morning association cooking my rather expensive food ingredients just so I could freeze the resulting chilli and several days later use it to attack someone?! Putting to one side my non- violent prison record. I’ve heard of prisoners being attacked with table legs, razors, scalding liquids, and even pots and pans ( all of which are readily available ) but I’ve never heard of ‘assault by veggie chilli’! Still, staff know best – right?
Be happy, keep safe, see you next time.
Graham Coutts, 5th February 2015.