Well, as 2014 comes to an end, I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who has supported and assisted me throughout the year. In particular: thanks to my Mother and Father for their love and putting up with my occasional periods of melancholia; to Gordon and Steve for their loyalty and friendship and the selfless work they have done on my campaign and the construction of this site; to Mark (and Jordans) for his work on my appeal; to Catherine(and Tuckers) for her humanity and commitment to my every increasing and complicated prison issues; to a select number of prisoners (2) for putting up with my lamentations(I hope I’ve balanced this out with my humour and generosity of spirit); to a small group of prison staff who have been genuine, approachable and helpful, and not exacerbated an already unpleasant situation (if only they could all be like that); and to all the organisations who have pitched in, including the ‘Prisoners’ Advice Service and the RCJ Advice Bureau.
CHRISTMAS & NEW YEAR
I have to admit, this was one of the worst ever Christmases. It doesn’t get any easier. I’ve always said that after I get out I’ll have 2 Christmases a year until I catch up with all the ones I’ve missed. It used to be my favourite time of the year. Oh, to smell a real Christmas tree.
So there I am, at 1.30 am boxing Day morning, with my head down the toilet. I won’t even go into just how much worse it got 2 hours later. Imagine one toilet but 2 possible choices to make. Then it was 3 days of terrible stomach pains. the prime suspect was that
‘veggie’ turkey burger I had for Chrisgtmas dinner. ‘Veggie’ – I’m not so sure.
Conversely, I’ve never liked New Year with all of our pre-programmed social mores to fake enjoying a night surrounded by a drunken baying mob out for ‘fun’. It’s too noisy, too claustrophobic, and too intoxicated. I’d rather spend the night at home with someone special and a bottle of wine.
In here, I go to bed early but get woken up at midnight by a handful of lunatics smashing the ‘I don’t know what’ out of their doors. I shake my head, roll my eyes, and sign in abject disappointment, then go back to sleep. Yes, I know, what a curmudgeon.
CHRISTMAS FAMILY DAY
We have a “ family days’ here each year ( 2 adults and 2 children ). These are more relaxed visits over a longer period ( 11am – 3pm ) rather than the shorter normal visits ( 1 ). You’re also allowed to get out of your seat and mingle. A buffet is put on, departments set up information stands, and there are activities for the children on their days.
I’ve provided some acoustic guitar tunes on several of these events. Last year I was asked to do the Christmas children’s family day. No problem. Then Security ( yes, them again ) said “no “. Then a governor said “ yes “. Then Security said “ no “ ( but a bit louder this time ). Done with no explanation of course.
I offered my services for the 2014 Christmas children’s family day to play some Christmas songs , carols, and children’s songs. I also offered to put together a lyric booklet for the visitors and children to sing-along ( if they wanted). It took me over 16 hours to design and create the booklet-which looked great and colourful. The officer who organises the event ordered the requisite number of booklets for the visitors. This was 4 days before the event. Tea-time the day before’ I was unceremoniously told by a wing officer that my” services were no longer required “. Over 16 hours on the booklet and rehearsal in my own time down the drain.
I went to work the following day, much to the surprise of the instructor as I was on the approved list for the family day. I was later told by the officer who organises the event that there had been a “ mix-up “.Later still Security apparently said that I hadn’t
been cleared. Really? Despite being on the approval list? Mmm. I sometimes get the feeling that someone in Security is entertaining himself at my expense.
YET ANOTHER WRONGFUL CONVICTION
I’ve previously written about the violence that is prevalent in HMP Wakefield( see also The Bromley Briefings below ). One of these serious assaults involved several prisoners attacking one other prisoner. Whilst I did not witness this incident, from what I’ve been told it was brutal and extreme. A number of prisoners have been charged., including one who I’ve known for 4/5years.
Now here’s the rub. It’s been labelled a “ religiously motivated “ attack. I say “religiously motivated” but as any right thinking human being knows, religion does not promote violence. It’s the perversion of that religion by people who seek to justify their own agenda.
As this assault took place in the corridor leading from the gym, there were many other prisoners there who had nothing to do with this act of violence. The guy that I know just happens to be of the same religious denomination ( Muslim ) as the attackers. Despite one of the gym officers stating that he had nothing to do with the assault, he was also charged.
Over the 4/5 years I have known this guy I have never seen him involved in, advocate, or justify any form of violence ( I wouldn’t hang out with him if that were the case). On the contrary, he is very much anti – violence and has on many occasions diffused potentially violent situations. His conversion to Islam has made him a better person.
He has rarely spoken to me about his faith and only when I’ve instigated the conversation. He has at no time attempted to convert me to Islam. He is not a radical. I‘m 100% certain he had nothing to do with this assault and this is a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So why have the police charged him? There have been some conflicting witness statements which appear to identify someone similar but with glaring contradictions. So is it just possible that the police have made an error of judgement, perhaps fuelled by religious prejudice and paranoia? Surely that is a ridiculous concept ( yes, that was sarcasm used to illustrate the absurdity of anyone that still clings on to the belief that we have an incorruptible and perfect legal system ).
This is a guy who was given a 2 year IPP tariff as a child and has spent as long as me in prison – 11years. He was charged by the police just prior to his latest parole hearing, which was undoubtedly screwed up his chances. This is a scandal. After over 11years, has he not earned a second chance at life.
THE BROMLEY BRIEFINGS
The Prison Reform Trust produce an in-depth booklet called the Bromley Briefing Prison Factfile. if you want to seek out the truth about prisons don’t read the newspapers or even watchn the TV, get hold of this factfile. It collates the facts and figures from a variety of reports from a range of organisations, including the Ministry of Justice and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. Should you wish to obtain a copy email Alex Hewson, email@example.com
Some facts about prison violence:
1. ‘In 2013 there were 11,397 recorded prisoner on prisoners assaults, a small decrease on the previous year, however this masks a significant rise (27%) over the last ten years. (Table 3.8, Minisgtry of Justice (2014) Safety in Custody Stastistics Update to March 2014, London: Ministry of Justice)
when you consider that,
2. ‘On 10th Oct 2014, the prison population in England and Wales was 84,485′. (MofJ 2014 Population & Capacity Briefing for 10 October 2014, London:MofJ)
3There has been a 27% increase in serious assaults in the last year, with 1,588 incidents over 2013. Prisoner on officer assaults have also risen by 12% over the same period, with 2,843 incidents in 2013, 289 of them classified as serious.’
Table 3:8 MofJ 2014 Safety in Custody Stastistics Quarterly update to March 2014. Death in prison custody 1978 to 2013, London: Mof J)
At the House of Commons and in answer to a question by Andy Slaughter MP, Andrew Selous (Under Sec of State) disclosed that, in 2014, there had been 153 (to 30th Sept) Concerted Indiscipline incidents (where 2 or more prisoners act together to dey a lawful instruction or against the requirements of the establishment. They do not use the word ‘riot/ so the number of riots are disguised in this number.
On assaults at Wakefield, the Inspector of Prisons’ Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Wakefield between 30 June – 11 July 2014 states:
‘1.18 There have been 38 (recorded) assaults in the previous 6 months,of whicn six were serious, and 20 were against staff’
This is on par with the national average.
It would be easy to take a black and white view that all prisoners are predisposed to violence. This is not my experience. Further, whilst doing a tremendous job in hightlighting the failure of the prison service to significantly bring these figures down, without looking a ittle deeper into the motivations of each assault we cannot determine how to solve this problem. For example, have any of these guys had to endure months or even years of maltreatment by staffr/the system or were they brutalised in their pre-prison life?
I’m in no way making excuses. I do not condone violence in any shape or form, including state sanctioned violence. My own beliefs are pacifist in nature. However, I know from my observations in prison that there can be an accumulation of maltreatment and emasculation from various staff and departments which, if you do not have the tools to deal with pro-socially, can lead to an explosive situation. I’ve witnessed many times prisoners frustrations building over long periods of time until one final straw, which on its own would be nothing, tips them over the edge. That being said, no doubt some of these assaults have been motivated by power and control, an equally problematic character trait in here.
the lesson to be learnt here s, do not come to prison if you want a safe, stress free and comfortable life.
Be happy, be safe, see you next time.
Graham Coutts 1st January 2015