Education Issue

My blog last month touched upon the difficulties I’ve had regarding accessing prison education since 2011. There have been some further and bizarre developments.

Shortly after I posted last month’s blog , I was reallocated into the Print Workshop. By this point, I had spent the previous 6-7 months officially still employed but in reality locked in “my” prison cell 20+ hours per day for most of the week. This was due to the IT workshop I was employed in being closed until the new IT protocols were in place. As it turned out, this workshop was permanently closed..

As busy as I kept myself ( no lying on my bed watching daytime TV for me) I still ended up a little stir crazy. It’s a long time to spend in your own company. I wasn’t the only one having to deal with this isolation. The Inspector of Prisons’ report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Wakefield 30thJune-11thJuly 2014 stated:

“S29[…] During roll checks, 35% of prisoners were locked up in the morning and 20% in the afternoon […]”

S31 There were insufficient activity places with only enough for 72% of the population […]

So back to the Print Shop. I was a little perplexed about my new job. Firstly, Security had already stopped me from using IT (see last month’s blog). Secondly, the Print Shop, whilst not part of the Education department, is located in the Education block, a work area Security were continuing to obstruct my attendance ( see last month’s blog).

“This is very odd”, I thought to myself but resolved to attend out of curiosity.

On the first day the instructor didn’t even know I was going to be attending, so he sent me back to the wing for the rest of the day. This lack of communication is “normal” for this prison. On the next session I attended the instructor thought it was an error that I had been reallocated to the Print Shop as I was not IT cleared. No surprises there. However, it then got really weird. The Print Shop is the first room you come to and the toilet is right at the other end of the corridor, past all the of the Education classrooms. When I excused myself to go to the toilet the instructor followed me out to the corridor and waited for me to return. When I went later on that morning he did it again, so I asked him, ”are you keeping an eye on me?” He replied that he was. So I asked, “Specifically me ?” He replied in an accusatory manner, ”Specifically you”.

What?! The plot thickened.

Five minutes after I returned he explained why. Security (again-are you seeing a pattern?) had told him to observe me that morning as they had deemed me a “high-risk” to females “ because I had supposedly sent a “letter” to a teacher in 2013. I was aghast and nearly fell off my seat (had I been sitting on one).

So, what are the first thoughts running through your head? No doubt the same as the instructor who was telling me this. Given the offence that I’ve been (wrongfully) convicted of, the label ”high-risk to females” immediately implies that “females” are in imminent danger of some sort of physical attack. Those of you that are keeping up with this must surely be thinking , “Hold on, didn’t you say that you were back in Education earlier in2014. That’s correct. Security cleared me to go back to Education in March 2014. Over 3 months ago, the classes I was on had at least 6 different female teachers all without incident. So what’s this all about? Good question.

It’s worth pointing out that over the past 11+ years I’ve been in prison I have never been violent or even aggressive towards anyone, prisoner or staff, male or female. In fact, there has been several times where I’ve had to step in to stop others from being violent. The most commonly used words on my file are “polite” and “respectful”.

So what of this “letter”? Perhaps a romantic love letter? Or, maybe a poison pen letter? I‘m chuckling as I write this. Read on, you’ll see how absurd the reasons Security have labelled me the(really damaging)label of high-risk to females.

When I agree to take on a job I make a commitment to myself and my employer, this is in part to do with not allowing these circumstances to steal my life from me. If I’m learning a new skill or acquiring fresh knowledge then my life is enriched and developed – despite being in prison. Even in here it is possible to reach goals and ambitions. They may just be slightly different goals and ambitions to the ones I used to have outside.

Early in 2013 I was given a job as an Education Mentor. This involved me assisting the teacher by giving support to the prisoners who were most in need. My main class was the highest level English class. Part of this course taught the conventions of writing letters, emails reports and newspaper articles. During my time on this class, there was only one question that was asked that the teacher could not answer. This was , if the start of a letter ,e.g. Dear Sir/Madam, is called the salutation, what is the end of a letter, e.g. Yours sincerely/faithfully, called.

Not long after I had been removed from Education by security in July 2013 ( see last month’s blog ), I was listening to a Radio 4 Extra discussion programme hosted by Professor Brian Cox. One of the guests referred to the end of a letter as “ attribution”. “Ah, I’ll have to let the teacher know”, I thought to myself little realising what lay ahead. So I sent down a note which said, “If the start of a letter is called salutation is the end called attribution?” Some “letter “, eh. By now, I’m hoping you are starting to see the ridiculousness of prison. So, from a genuine act of helpfulness Security have labelled me “ high – risk to females “, the same label given to a prisoner who has been aggressive or even violent towards a female staff member.

There’s more . A few days after the note I sorted out a load of English resources I had accumulated to hand back. I sent a message down to the teacher to give me a shout the next time she was on the wing, so I could hand the resources back. Two days later I was having a targeted search by the dedicated Search Team( DST ). This turned an already stressful situation into one that was off the scale, It’s little wonder I had my heart attack a few short weeks later.

Their search was over 2 days and I had to move to another wing overnight. They removed one of my journals and 3 inconsequential, non personal, work related pieces of paperwork the teacher had written. All were returned some time later.

So what were they looking for? One of the Education managers told me, “ If there is even a whiff of a relationship, they have to investigate.” A relationship?! Whilst I’m terribly flattered that Security might think that this myopic and balding, middle – aged man could possibly be of romantic interest to someone who is a fraction of his age, this clearly was not the case – as their search demonstrated.

The Inspector of Prison s’ Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Wakefield 30th June – 11th July 2014 stated:

“1.3[…] Sophisticated intelligence-based risk management systems were effective […]”

“1.41[…] We saw little evidence of the prison being risk averse in allocation activity spaces […]

Again really.

Typically, there has been no due diligence shown by Security. Not once have they spoken to me about their “ concerns “. the bottom line is they got it wrong. You may think, not unreasonably, that after their misguided investigation a line would be drawn under these “ concerns “ and I would be free to return to my job as the Education Mentor on the English Class. Not only has that not happened, I’ve now been lumbered with this wildly inaccurate and fanciful label of “ high – risk to females “. It is difficult to determine whether this is purely down to incompetence or there is some nefarious agenda at play.

Whilst this label will undoubtfully extinguish any prospect of progression to release my main concern is that this may be used to damage my chances of a successful appeal.

Some prisoners say that “ prison is easy “ – not in my experience.

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