The Importance of Fact – Coolmoyne House

One year on and it still makes my stomach turn

micsirwin

As I trudge up the stairs to go to the loo I look out my landing window as I often do. Looking across to the high rise flats and Colin Mountain is often hypnotic to me as it conjures memories of travels and coming home from some far off land. ‘Holy Fuck!!! That’s flames coming out of Coolmoyne House. Fuck!!!! My Dad!” I don’t think my feet actually touched a step as raced to the living room to phone my Dad.

Due to his diabetes my Dad has a sleep in the afternoon and sometimes he does not week until early evening. The answer machine clicks on and I calmly tell him “there’s a fire in the flats. If you get this leave immediately. I’m on my way over now.” As I briskly walk toward the flats I count the floors. From the ninth floor up it ‘looks like’ the…

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Two Years Down

No change 3yrs later (5 in total) just wiser. Tired and wiser.

micsirwin

9.30am 19/06/2013 Me and Davey are sitting in the prison van, being driven to the railway station. The officer driving, an old notorious hand, quips about my return. Davey (going on his first home leave) chirps “aye he’ll be comin back all right but not how you think.” My eyes widen. Mr Notorious gets quite irate, refers to me and demands to know what Davey means by this. “You know what Mr Notorious. My name is Michael Irwin ‘citizen’, that is none of your business and I don’t have to answer your questions anymore.” Mr Notorious replies “You know what Michael. You’re right. I can’t take you back but I can take you back Davey so wipe that effin smile off your face.” We all laughed for different reasons.

Over the years many people have asked me what it was like to get out after six years of imprisonment. My…

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Hospital Time Vs Prison Time

What is it with me and my bowel this time of year? Fekin thing was in the process of killing me a year ago and last week decided to give up my appendix. It seems that I may have had a grumbling appendix for quite some time and this may be the reason for me feeling like crap for the past six months. The symptoms are very similar to my diverticulitis problem hence the wait in diagnosis. The wee fecker is gone now and I’m getting better each and every day.

As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week I thought I’d take a bit of a more in depth look of the events leading up to and during my stay at HMP sorry, Hospital. See how easy the mind slips? But why is this? For the purpose of this blog I’ll do my best to keep it general as I’ve agreed to co-write a proper academic paper on this under-explored area.

As always, I’d like to convey me sincerest gratitude and heart felt thanks to the consultant, his team and the staff of wards 6c and 6b at The Royal Victory Hospital Belfast. They catered to my every irrational whim and sporadic doses of incomprehensible fury. In fact, two of the nurses were genuinely amazed and interested as to why I was the way I was. I did think I was going to write academically about this last year, but it fell by the wayside. I’m glad in a way that it did as I now have two sets of field notes, two lived experiences of same time and place in same environment with many of the same participants.

In the past few months my trips to my GP have been more frequent and my fear of going to hospital has not been lost as my Dr’s have done everything in their power to keep me out of prison/hospital. It’s quite simple really when I think about it. I couldn’t have done another minute in jail and made my promise that I’d never do another minute. If that meant ending it all then so be it. That is how much prison worked for me. I’d kill myself if I had to go back. End of.

When the stomach pains started up again last week I thought ‘oh shit here we go again’ and that constant fear of hospital and leaving with a colostomy bag fries my head, the anxiety builds up and I always ask the Doc for some emergency Diazepam. After four days of constant pain and no sleep, last Thursday morning, the dreaded words are uttered ‘it’s off to A&E at the Royal for you Mr Irwin’. To be fair I knew I had to and had already backed a bag. I was on the morphine and on the ward within four hours. When the A&E Dr pressed in a certain place I was quite surprised at my suppleness of folding in half like a deck chair, whilst trying to take a swing for him and exhaling one very long ‘fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuckin ‘ell. X marks the spot so to speak.

Upon arrival on the ward the Sister half remembered me and then when I explained my situation fully remembered and said ‘not to worry. I’ll get you sorted and make sure the other Sisters and staff are aware of your situation.’ This was really cool but of course it did not belay my fears or my uncontrollable bouts of ‘PTSD Terror’. I was put on the emergency procedure list and after the results of a CAT scan an operation (treatment) would follow depending on outcome of scan. But, it was almost certainly appendicitis.

I’d had an avocado at 5.00pm the previous evening and at 12.00pm on the Thursday I had my last glass of water. Scan was done in the morning, registrar arrived and told me appendix would be removed laparoscopic-ally (all being well). I was on a list and depending on how many emergency emergencies needed to be done I was fourth on a list within a list. It was now a waiting game and managing pain. I’m not going to go into the fine detail as I will do this in academic paper but let me just clarify that without my ‘emergency supply’ of dizzies from GP I’d have had to be strapped down and sedated. I would have left the hospital and probably died from a burst appendix. I lost count of how many times I span out of control. Crying, screaming, ranting, hallucinating et al. I had one episode the last time, this time I had several. I got my OP at 4.30am on Sunday and home on Monday.

On hindsight and with clarity I now see how it all fits with the policies and procedures of prison and hospital being so similar. The bureaucracy, the blame culture of modern day society and the fear of staff of not ticking the right box or heavens forbid thinking outside it. The easiest observation to make is that hospital visits are generally between a week and a month. A horrible experience but receiving, mostly, lifesaving treatment from attentive and caring staff. In contrast to the six months to fifteen plus years a person can spend in prison not receiving care by staff who nine times out of ten don’t give a flying… You get my drift.

In June 2017 I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and referred to a mental health specialist. After two evaluations I had two sessions with a mental health specialist in December 2017. This person informed me that they were unable to see me for the remaining four sessions as my need was beyond their professional capacity and I had to be referred to a more professional preprofessional. In January 2018 I had a further assessment at the same place I had the first two assessments and was referred to see a more experienced mental health professional as ‘long term’ treatment would be required. When I was with my GP last Wednesday we brokered this topic and I was informed that I would be seeing a mental health professional in or around October.

That works out at one year and three months after being diagnosed with pretty severe mental illness I will finally get some sit-down time with a psychiatrist. I do so love being a human Guinea pig (no offense to little cute balls of fluff) but have to ask the obvious question. In fact this was one of the main reasons why I wanted to do a PhD, how many men and woman who leave prison with PTSD will kill themselves due to the fact that they, nor their GP, knows what’s wrong with them. I’ve been out of jail five years now and it was only by going to hospital last year that I found out I had PTSD and had been suffering from it for four years and perhaps during my time in prison. It most certainly is a direct result of it and not this fucking stupid ‘adjusting’ period that so many academics and people in the criminal justice system refer to so readily.

Just remember I am a clean, often sober, middle aged man with a lifetime of knowledge and experience of the big bad world and I’m struggling and waiting for professional help. From day one, and one of the main reasons for writing my book has been, “If I feel hopeless and suicidal and suffer from a crippling mental illness, what about those who don’t know?” I hold on by the skin of my teeth some days because I know these episodes will pass. Is there a statistic for those who don’t?

For now, I’m feeling better each and every day and looking forward to watching Chelsea kick Man Utd’s ass tomorrow. I had such a laugh with one of the auxiliary nurses in hospital. I rang my bell to get the drip changed over and he came in to the room cried with horror and said, ‘I’m sorry man I can’t help you. I have to go get someone else” and proceeded to walk out the room. He was pointing at me and shaking his head. I quickly twigged it was because I was wearing a Chelsea top. We both had a good old laugh and a bit of banter. Good fun during the bad stuff. Maybe I’ll stay off the tablets tomorrow, have a beer and watch it with my mate Les.

 

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Stone Cold Crazy or Batshit?

Not that I have anything against bats! In fact, I love sitting here on these longer evenings watching the little feckers darting around my back garden. Why do I feel continued need to explain myself?

My long-suffering friend Les reintroduced me to some old Queen songs over the past couple of weekends. These encounters take place in a free space, a man shack, where beer can be swallowed, and shite can be talked, and nobody gets offended. In fact, if some form of abuse is not received one can feel somewhat offended. A song called ‘Mustapha Ibrahim’ really got my old juices flowing again. I thought to myself and out loud ‘I wonder if Freddie would get away with that in today’s ever so politically correct climate’? More to the point, would Freddie get away with being himself if he was still alive?

I first saw Queen performing ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ on Top Of The Pops way back in day when pubic hairs were just sprouting. I recall the bit in the video when Freddie got his t-shirt ripped off by two scantily clad ladies in PVC outfits. I also recall my mother exclaiming ‘oh my god! Would you like at the cut of yer man?’ That statement in itself needs explaining to the un-irish amongst you but I’m not going to as this is my blog and I can write whatever the hell I like on it without always having to explain myself. I discovered at the time that it was the scantily clad ladies that caused that unknown and yet undiscovered stirring in places some refuse to admit exists. I thought Freddie was just a bit weird.

Fast forward a lifetime of mistakes, regrets and balls ups mixed with knowledge, amazing people and love; mucho love. Some might even call it ‘experience’. All experience/knowledge, good or bad is constantly changing. We are constantly bombarded with the knowledge and experience of others. Environment, space time and circumstance also play a major role in who we are. I’ve learnt so much from the baul Sri Sri fella and I’d encourage anyone living in the UK or anywhere else for that matter to look up The Art of Living Foundation and sign up for a ‘Happiness Course’, nine and a half hours of your life, spread over a weekend that will change it forever.

And so, to the main reason of this rant/blog. When I wake up I normally check my phone to see what time it is, have a quick look on twitter to make sure that the world hasn’t exploded during the night and if there is anything interesting I might want to revisit later, once I sort my bobs and bits out. I viewed a picture on someone’s Tweet showing a noticeboard on London Underground. For those of you not aware sometimes someone at station writes a nice positive quote or sentiment in the off chance that a beleaguered commuter might just read it in passing and that it might put a smile on their face or heavens forbid give them pause for thought.

The notice board said “When you see something beautiful in someone, tell them. It might take a second to say but for them it could last a lifetime.” Nothing spectacular about that and I thought, ‘nice one, cool’ and in fact one of the things we are constantly reminded to do from the Art of Living Course is commit a random act of kindness to someone you don’t know each and every day. I then saw the words ‘sexual harassment’ and jumped out of bed to get to my laptop and investigate this further.

Upon further investigation I’ve seen that another person has given a five-point plan about why this might cause some sort of problem to some people in society. I mean fucking seriously! We can all be very clever at manipulating a sentence or picking up and worrying it to death like a wragged nail or a wee fecker of a jack russell with a bone, again nothing against nail, bones and or wee skips. But there is one thing that we are all forgetting and that is that we are nearly always born out of love. We grew up being given love and sharing it. It’s our natural state to be kind and loving. We need to be taught hate. Bitterness more than likely comes from our love being snubbed.

Over the past few months I’ve seen, read and heard a lot of nasty shit coming from people I love, respect and care about. It seems to me that you can’t make an innocent tongue and check remark about anything nowadays lest every word and sentence is deconstructed, worried to death and reconstructed to fit the purpose of said other. Maybe I’m doing the same?

And this is my point. Every word on here has been used somewhere else at some stage in time by another person to create a narrative (plagiarism). As a human being our points of view and attitudes change every day, depending on what you are reading or listening to. We are a product of our environment. How on earth can we tell someone how to feel when our own feelings are constantly changing. Oh, that’s the thing, they only change if you let them. I’m always open to suggestion and criticism mind you that’s not hard as I say what I feel and always speak the truth as I know it and normally don’t give a flying fuck what others think. A good example of this is my early thoughts of Freddie being weird are now that the man is a complete genius and his openness about who he was has my greatest respect.

I’ve not been in the best of shape or form lately due to ongoing health problems and it was only yesterday that I realised my mood and reaction to others was nothing to do with them but about me. Someone mentioned that things can get lost in translation and in my last blog another person didn’t get what I said. By reading the thread about the tube notice board it has made me realise that I need to get back to feeling better about myself via my breathing and meditation. I’ve also remembered that women are the stronger of the species and why I remain single. That being a given what I will share with you is that when I do my breathing exercises daily and meditate twice daily I seem to give less of a flying f*#! in more eloquent terms if you are in a good place people around you tend to feel it and be in a good place to. So, don’t let the five-point plan destroy a lovely gesture. That is possibly why I’m stone cold crazy batshit.

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Unsound Justice.

In the wee small hours of Tuesday past I lay, half awake, listening to the winds ratting the bins and battering my house. As I drifted off to memories of Africa, reading Wilbur Smith books as a kid, meeting the man and fulfilling child hood dreams I was blissfully unaware of the impending storm about to hit my #Twitterworld.

At 15.38 on Tuesday I received a phone call from Injustice (I had him down in my contacts as this as I have a couple of other Lee’s on their and didn’t want to get them mixed up) informing me that there might be no more film as he had been ‘outed’ on Twitter.

I’d been following with great interest the developing popularity of this ‘Injustice Film’ and decided it needed screening over here in Norn Iron. In order for me to do so I needed to see the film and speak to the makers of said film. After all, how on earth can I promote, share or be associated with something I haven’t seen or really know about.

After only one email and an exchange of phone numbers I received the movie, watched it, sent a text to the maker of movie enthusiastically telling him or her of it’s brilliance. Ten minutes later I got a phone call from an English guy telling me he was the director and loved that I loved it. We chatted and rambled for a while before I asked the question “why do you remain anonymous?” If it was me I’d be standing center stage and proud as punch. The guy told me “my crime is horrible and disgusting and received a lot of press coverage and I don’t want this to be what the film is about or detract from it.” “Fair enough” says I and ever so briefly, wondering what could be so horrible and disgusting (the natural voyeur of human nature raising its ugly head) but dismissed the thought as quickly as it entered as it was not up to me or my business to say what other people should do with their business.

During my six year stay in six prisons, four in England and Wales in my first two years and two in Northern Ireland for the remaining four, I never once asked a person what they were in for (or in the past five years since my release on six year license). A lot of people wonder why. There are several reasons and the rationale may be right or wrong, but I’ve found it beneficial to me as a person and self-preservation of self. One being that everyone in prison had one identity in society that they would carry for the rest of their life ‘Criminal’. The other being that I could never buy into the hierarchy of criminal offenses one being the lowest of the low and at the other end of the spectrum the ultimate crime. However, in my experience nearly all the men I met who had committed the ultimate crime carried themselves with a certain arrogance. Not all but most. There are many other reasons, but they are too complex to explain now.

After a few more phone conversations I asked the guy (he went under the alias of Unsound Robin at the time) what his actual name was as I found it difficult to greet him with “hello ‘unsound’ how are you today.” He told me his name was Lee and in the name of respectfully keeping his anonymity I promised not to tell anyone. Whether or not it was his real name was neither here nor there as at least I had a name. Over the past weeks and months, myself and Lee have developed a lovely friendship as I do with most people, I mean seriously, what’s not to like in me. There’s a lovely quote from Sri Sri Ravi Shanker (Art of Living Foundation) “just remember you are the most amazing person that you know on this planet. Love yourself first and the rest will follow.”

Another reason for my non prying nature is because I was a Listener in prison which involves sitting in someone’s cell listening to this person, at their lowest, talk about why the want to end their lives. Nine times out of ten this would involve the person talking about their crime. My stomach used to literally heave at some of the stuff I had to listen to. My heart also broke at the sheer hopelessness. It also used to jump when moments of clarity arrived, and the person climbed out of the hole they were in. It really was a mixed barrel. During my training by the Samaritans I was told that the ‘Listener Head’ never really leaves you once you understand it. This has been true in many ways upon my release. Even though I’m not frightened of sharing a story or ten, when I listen I really do.

When I share my experiences/phenomenology it’s not a me, me, me fuelled ego trip it’s more to do with maybe listen, listen, listen and learn learn, learn. During my combatant years with the criminal justice system on Home Leaves and post release I was fortunate enough to attend many a gathering of the great and the good up at Stormont (our non-functioning Government here in Northern Ireland). Sitting with my family after one of these gatherings my cousin asked me if I was not worried about one of these clever wordsmiths (politicians) or the press tear me a new asshole or make a full out of me. Way back in 2008 after completing my first Prison Smart course I looked into my eyes in the piece of polished metal in my cell and made a promise never to lie to myself again ever. The reply to my cousin was “I only know one version of what I speak about and that is my experience of it. So how can they hurt me or make a full of me. If they do that’s their problem not mine.”

In fact ‘The Press’ this was one of the biggest worries of my Father and immediate family. My dealings with the press/media over the years has been positive (I have turned down a few though) and I’ve gained a great deal of respect from those who have listened to me on radio or watched me on TV. In a way it has been a bit of reverse psychology as by standing up and having the balls to say what I believe has enabled people to be more welcoming of me. You need to remember that my crime was drug trafficking. Therefore, I am responsible (not all the time of course) for all the other crimes committed by people who are in prison if it’s drug related. I am also responsible for fueling wars, guns, genocide, social harm and deprivation (a heavy weight to carry). When I was a co-facilitator for the victim impact programme in prison I used to think that my crime was victimless. I was quickly and rightfully put to rights.

(I’ll leave my War and drugs essay at the end of this if anyone is interested).

During this time there was a guy who’d been in and out of prison for most of his life (he was a header) tentatively ask me why I did all this ballix. I told him I’ll tell you when you get it. This guy had never looked me in the eyes; ever. During a meeting he broke and admitted guilt to his crime. He cried, I cheered and cried the whole room cheered including the Victim Support representative. He came into my cell after words and we hugged and he looked me right in the eye and said “that was amazing.” He was ten feet taller and half a stone lighter. I got right in his face and screamed into his eyes, he held mine, poking him in the chest “you want to know why I fucking do what I do you fucking cunt. This is why. You right now is why.” I’d the biggest smile on my face and he burst out laughing. He then sat with his head in his hands sobbing. The regret and the remorse had finally hit him but this was the first step in him getting on with his life. I wanted to work for Victim Support but wasn’t allowed because I was a criminal. I mean seriously who could get their head round the fact that a low life scum bag would want to help victims of crime. Could a victim accept me. Don’t go telling me I don’t understand victims and what they go through. I learnt a hell of a lot through victims and restorative justice.

Lee Salters crime and conviction of physical abuse was brought to my attention on Tuesday evening via Twitter and a newspaper report (newspapers always telling the truth). I read the newspaper article and my immediate reaction was disgust and shock. I have always believed that any man who hits a women is a coward. This happened to a friend a couple of years back. She promised me she wouldn’t let him back into her life. She did and he got a bit lary one night and she didn’t like what he was saying and ended the relationship. She gave him a second chance and it didn’t work for her and I live in hope that he has learnt from this and can move on with his life. My opinion will not waver for anyone.

A couple of little mantra’s I strive to live buy are ‘don’t bee a football for other people’s opinions’ and ‘understand the intention behind another person’s mistake’. I’ve always walked my own walk and it has taken time, strength, heartache and digging deep to come to terms with my crime and the harm I’ve caused. I quickly skimmed Lee’s blog last night and will read it in more depth after this. I think it’s the first step and a brave thing to do and the only way to move forward is to own your own identity and claim your own story. There are many people who have been convicted of a crime know this. There are also a few who should take a long hard look at what they are saying. I’ve only dipped in and out of Twitter yesterday as I spent the first warm summer half sunny day with my Mum in the morning, my Dad at lunch time and few beers with headers I call friends in the in the bar later. I’ll take a further look later. Remember, I don’t buy into the jailhouse jargon on hierarchy of crime.

I often sit in pubs with murders and more. There are plenty knocking about. I’ve been friends with some these men most of my life. I only know of their crimes because they have been well documented. I am disgusted by what they have done. I don’t like or agree with it, but I let it go as this is what I believe we need to do in life. These men always have been and always will be my friends. A few of them are dead now. Died too young. Maybe they couldn’t let go of the harm they caused. We need to move on and let people live. I know this is and is impossible for some people to do, but that is their choice. Is this not what the ‘Injustice Film’ is about. We also need to remember that nobody is in prison for doing a good thing. Admittedly there are plenty who are innocent and even more who should be receiving care in the community. There is so much harm pain and suffering by criminals and victims and it’s difficult sometimes to know where this begins and ends.

I did not know the crime Lee Salters is convicted of. I did not know that he had not been to prison. If memory serves me correctly he never told me he did. I am lucky enough to have built up a personal relationship with another human being who passionately shares my views about crime and justice. I see past the madness the hurt the pain the anger that he feels and that others send to him. I do not agree with any sort of violence full stop. There is obviously much more to come. I have to say that I will continue to support Lee in his work and help him through this difficult time. I am also glad to call him ‘mate.’

War on drugs essay –

After forty years of ‘The War’ on illicit drugs what have we discovered in relation to power, social harm and the relationship between the global and the local? 

 

“Therefore to have servants is power; to have friends is power: for they are strengths united. Also, riches joined with liberality is power; because it procureth friends and servants: without liberality, not so; because in this case they defend not, but expose men to envy, as a prey. Reputation of power is power; because it draweth with it the adherence of those that need protection. So is reputation of love of a man’s country, called popularity, for the same reason” (Hobbes, 1651).  Social harm (inequality, discrimination and poverty) and power has been at the fore of many global and local social policy decisions made by states, governments and institutions throughout the 20th century. The War on drugs via laws and policies was initially intended to make this world (and America) a safer place to live in.  This essay examines the War on Drugs, UK Drug policies and selective research which will consider and make use of concepts, evidence and policy and highlighting their affect on society at a local and global level.  This essay also discusses how the concept of the War on Drugs is entangled, linked and married to social welfare, crime control and criminal Justice and is used as a powerful tool by politicians and policymakers when defending the just cause of war.  This essay asks the question is today’s war on drugs a modern day ‘Vietnam’ waged by nation states upon it’s people and after forty years of ‘The War’ on illicit drugs how much has society at a local and global level benefited from it?

The defining literature.

The policy document used in this essay is the UK Drugs Strategy 2002 which opens up the debate whereby the Secretary of State (2002) states “The Drugs Strategy covers numerous areas of policy, but the clear overall aim must be to reduce the harm drugs cause.  Key to this aim is a clear focus on reducing problematic drug use educating and protecting the young.  Further expanding services, improving quality and building lessons learnt about what works will achieve this.” As opposed to Gyngell (2006-2010) who states “The previous “labour governments drug policy priority was to get as many ‘problem drug users’ (heroin and crack cocaine addicts) into treatment as [fast] as possible to reduce drug related crime and other harms associated with their drug use (Gyngell, 2006-2010).”  Critical authors such as Shiner (2003) suggest that “the UK constructs its drugs policy on a medical basis which considers levels of harm, perceived dangerousness and propensity to addiction.  While American reforms campaigned for a more British approach, in the world of realpolitik the process of transatlantic policy transfer appeared to be working in the opposite direction. … According to Stimson (1987) the character of British drugs policy changed so profoundly during the 1980’s that it could be meaningfully characterised in terms of a war on drugs.  The outcome of this was an emphasis on punitiveness (Shiner 2003).”  Similarly Dorn and South (1990) state that the UK drugs policy favours a punitive and social control approach to individuals who abuse drugs.  Dorn suggest that the markets are better organised and even if there is not a monopoly of a few suppliers there is in fact a more professional and organised approach to the supply of illicit drugs.  Whilst Ballantyne (2007) considers how Opiates were a common sight in chemists, doctors and opium dens at the turn of the century but it was only when they became regulated by “‘The Drug Enforcement Act in the UK (1920) and the Harrison Act in the US (1918)’” where they stigmatised and in a similar way to the later introduction of prohibition a highly lucrative and profitable illicit drug trade emerged.  The bigger question may be whether regulations have succeeded at all in controlling drug misuse, but the more immediate question for doctors in the US and elsewhere is how they should control their own prescribing so that interference by regulators does not discourage appropriate medical use of opiates (Ballantyne, 2007).”

Alternatively Michael C. Ruppert (2004) fascinating book explores and illuminates via investigative journalism how the globalisation of the planet, global economies and the dealings of governments are inextricably linked with the legal and illegal supply of drugs.  This marriage not only causes social harm and violence but demonstrates the hypocrisy of criminal justice and the flouting of the rule of law at a local and global level.  This topic has been addressed in policy terms in Schaffer (2001) who states that “nation states do ‘the minimum’ required to meet their obligations.” When considering policy in relation to the course themes it is relevant to clarify that DD301 Course Materials (2009) are organised around three themes of ‘power’, ‘harm and violence’ and ‘relations between the local and global’ and are used to consider how “there is a strong argument, therefore, that a conception of crime, without a conception of power, is meaningless; in particular , a social harm perspective allows us to explore wider considerations of responsibility for economic and geographical inequalities, injustices and exclusions and requires analysis of the role of government and corporations in their perpetration; the global free-trade market has produced a series of ‘uncontrollable’ economic forces that have shifted power, influence and authority away from the nation state and towards ‘external’ transnational capital.  This has placed fiscal and political limitations on the type of welfare, social policy and criminal justice policy that individual states can support (Companion 1, pp. 16-18).”

What is the war what is the war on drugs?

“War is a phenomenon which occurs only between political communities, defined as those entities which either are states or intend to become state. Classical war is international war, a war between different states… Certain political pressure groups, like terrorist organizations, might also be considered “political communities,” in that they are associations of people with a political purpose…” So, what is statehood?  Max Weber suggests “A nation is a group which thinks of itself as “a people,” usually because they share many things in common, such as ethnicity, language, culture, historical experience, a set of ideals and values, habitat, cuisine, fashion and so on. The state, by contrast, refers much more narrowly to the machinery of government which organizes life in a given territory. Thus, we can distinguish between the American state and the American people…” (Orend, B. 2008).  This essay suggests that the very concept of society in democracy must involve the diversity and impartiality of governance by the state over ‘all’ citizens. Furthermore, Clausewitz (1874) suggests that war is “the continuation of policy by other means… war is about governance, using violence instead of peaceful measures to resolve policy (which organizes life in a land) [and war is defined as] an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will (Clausewitz, 1874).” Richard Nixon created the concept in the public psyche that a drug user was the epitome of all that was wrong with society, the sole perpetrator of much of the causation of social harm and the main violator of the many facets of crime and criminality related to and with drug use.  In the early seventies the ‘war on drugs was seen as a viable way of addressing social harm at local and global level, public perception was not as informed as it is today, and this enabled the power of the state to construct an enhanced collection of self serving political policies alongside a continues subliminal rhetoric fuelled by media which condemned the drug user into the socially and morally repugnant label of ‘criminal.’  The idea of a ‘war’ is to inflict as much violence upon the enemy for as short a time as possible to inflict maximum damage resulting in the annihilation of the threat but the state needs to be wary of declaring war on its own citizens as Machiavelli states “For, although one may be very strong in armed forces, yet in entering a province one has always need of the goodwill of the natives (Machiavelli, 1532).”

Nixon cleverly declared this war on drugs on the population of America to further his political ambition and this essay suggest that the statement that follows by William J. Casey signed and endorsed by Nixon belays the consideration of the citizen, be it global or local to the injustice of state sanctioned violence on its own population:

“Freedom is a precious commodity.  The amount of freedom you enjoy is a result of the amount of vigilance you invest.

My actions may be recorded as criminal condemning countless Americans to drug dependency.  I don’t care.  All wars produce casualties.  Generally the more violent the war.  The shorter the length.  My choice was either to stare down a protracted cold war guerrilla insurgency in Latin America or use the means available to finance and wage a war of short duration for democracy.  The tool is cocaine.  The trick is to understand that the drug user had the freedom to make a choice.  They choose the drug.  I choose to use their habit to finance the democracy that all Americans enjoy.  To keep those Americans safe from the communist threat knocking on our back door in Latin America.  For a change the drug user will contribute to society.

I declare under penalty of perjury that the above facts are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief (Dowbenko, 1999).”

This chilling ‘lawful’ statement “my actions may be recorded as criminal condemning countless Americans to drug dependency.  I don’t care.” suggests that Casey’s actions may be considered criminal but also highlights a shift from the cause of crime to the label of criminal was made fifteen years after Richard Nixon declared his war on drugs.  This 1986 declaration is at odds with current recognised policy and the UK drug policy of (2002) clearly states that “work at community level will be expanded with a clearer focus on reducing drug related crime, empowering individuals and communities and regenerating neighbourhoods.  We will address the major gap identified in the strategy – aftercare.  Those leaving prison or treatment need help back into the community and employment if they are to remain free from drugs.”  This essay suggests that he actually declares war on America, his own political community/electorate and the moral justness of war so widely used today was not substantiated then and is still not today as the state was actually trying to eradicate opposition the ‘Vietnam war’ by targeting social protest in the form of firstly hippies, then the black panthers and ultimately the youth of America who he originally said he was trying to protect.  The fact that the Cold war and provision of freedom from communism by the American state opens up a complex and inextricably linked association behind the politics, power, social harm at a global and local level justify the reasons of Wars in different countries, in this case Afghanistan.  This essay considers the idea that getting involved with the Russian invasion of Afghanistan was a strategic move which allowed ‘justification’, policies, funding and political gain of a continued war on illicit drugs condemning the world to a perpetual set of social harms and creation of criminal justice systems both locally and globally that not only devastated communities but fed the power of the state via the industry of war. In 1980, a US senator Charlie Wilson initiated a response to the soviet invasion of Afghanistan which started out with funding of CIA operations at $1 million but increased the CIA budget for its Afghan operation to an unprecedented amount – In 1983, he won an additional $40 million, $17 million and in 1984, CIA asked Wilson for $50 million more.  “Wilson succeeded in giving the Afghans $300 million of unused Pentagon money before the end of the fiscal year.”  When the soviets left defeated in 1994 Wilson could not get $1 million to build schools and aid with infrastructure he famously said “we came and we achieved great thing but we fucked up the end game (Wikipedia, 2013).”  It is important to recognise the war on drugs is not simply about production and control of opium in Afghanistan but that is being fought at many different levels in countries across the globe; more recently in Mexico and Columbia and this leads this is to consider if the war is being won.

Is the war being won – the yes camp and the no camp?

Are Drug users victims of their environment or of their own personal vice or have they become a politically motivated post war tool that is manipulated to feed social and welfare policies, crime control and criminal justice at local and global level.  During Nixon’s administration the idea was formed that addicts/abusers had a moral choice if they partook of drugs and the rational decision making is the basis of the forming of criminal laws against society’s expectations.  If the basis of founding these laws are poorly informed at conception then how are they still in operation today.  There is much discourse across political dialogue surrounding the many policies involving rehabilitation, methadone, needle sharing and more specifically early intervention involving:

“Vulnerable children and ‘those at risk of criminality’, including those whose parents are in prison and/or among the 300,000 problem drug abusers, are to be ‘actively case managed’ by Children’s Trust social services staff and youth justice workers from ‘the earliest possible point’. Universal checks on every child throughout his or her development to help ‘service providers’ identify those most at risk of offending throughout their development, including at 11 when they go to secondary school. Preventative programmes to tackle social exclusion, drugs and alcohol abuse. (Source: The Guardian, 28 March 2007 Boo2 p 128 Early intervention).”

This been used in policy for years but what are the actual success rates.  Gyngell (2006-2010) states that the previous “labour governments drug policy priority was to get as many ‘problem drug users’ (heroin and crack cocaine addicts) into treatment as [fast] as possible to reduce drug related crime and other harms associated with their drug use”.  “The conviction that harm reduction treatment is a pragmatic and ‘evidence based’ public health policy…that must be extended to the entire ‘problem drug using population’ has driven an unprecedented investment into treatment over the past 10 years.”  The current UK policy states that “we believe drugs policy should primarily be addressed to dealing with the 250,000 problematic drug users rather than towards the large numbers whose drug use poses no serious threat either to their own well being or to that of others… the annual economic cost of class A drugs in England and Wales are between £10.1 and £17.4 billion.  Problematic drug users account for around 99% of these costs (Secretary of State, 2002).”  The figures are staggering but do they give proper representation of the true scale of the ‘problematic drug user’ especially when more recent research demonstrates that at least 10% of the UK’s population suffers from ‘addictive personalities’, a medical condition whereby people become addicted to ‘anything’ be it drugs alcohol, chocolate or religion.  Russell Brand presented to the UK Home Affairs Select Committee in 2012 that out of ten people taking drink or drug for the first time at least one will become addicted because of this medical disorder, “this condition of addiction is a health issue as opposed to a judicial and criminal issue and that there should be complete abstinence from state sponsored opiates such as methadone (Brand, 2012).”

Therefore, the figures used in the policy suggest that there is an alarming problem costing the country economic damage but by criminalising it further the costs of criminal justice, policing, courts and prisons making the figure significantly higher.  Consider a drug courier who gets caught with 1K of  Cocaine entering the UK at cost of £12,000 per kilo, with an upper end street value set by HMC&E of £84,000, receives a twelve year prison sentence where the custodial part of the sentence alone costs £500,000.  Stephen Mason (2009) states that “the problem with the War on Drugs is that it creates far more harm than it eliminates. If drugs can’t be kept out of prisons, how can you possibly keep them out of a mostly free society? The “War” won’t go away because by now it’s become a major industry. It creates jobs on one side of the law and provides the opportunity for huge financial rewards on the other.” The Schaffer library considers “major cultural shift in attitudes to drugs and their use has occurred in the United Kingdom over the past 30 years. Social attitudes towards drug use have become more nuanced and sophisticated, not only among the young… among adults aged 16-59 twice as many as not regard cannabis as less harmful than alcohol – but the great majority do regard heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and tobacco as particularly harmful. If anything, more people aged 45-59 years saw cannabis as less harmful than alcohol than did those aged 16-24. (http://www.druglibrary.org.)  Ultimately making laws and declaring wars that cannot be justified or enforced only serves to negate public opinion and perception of the state, especially in today’s global information age and introduces Tony Ward’s (2004) notion that “…any political decision can be considered harmful to someone (Ward, 2004)”

What harm does it cause society?

Michael C. Ruppert (2004) considers how the globalisation of the planet, global economies and the dealings of governments are inextricably linked with the legal and illegal supply of drugs.  This marriage not only causes social harm and violence but demonstrates the hypocrisy of criminal justice and the flouting of the rule of law at a local and global level. How much does the United States spend fighting the war on drugs? The annual US budget is approximately $12.7 billion, with 65% spent on “source control,” or supply control, and 35% going toward treatment and prevention (about twice as much is spent on treatment than prevention), disruption of the supply market consists of $721.5 million will be spent in the Andean region, $297.4 million for counter-narcotic programs in Afghanistan, and $152.4 million targeted at customs and border-patrol operations Office of National Drug Control Policy (Wikipedia).  Ruppert (2004) states “the amount of money generated by the drug trade, if it is known with any accuracy, is probably one of the most closely guarded secrets in the world” (Rupert, 2004, p.57).  Even though Afghanistan is recognised as the main source of opium and the current war in Afghanistan today mirrors what happened with Wilson’s War in the eighties as troops prepare to withdraw whereby:

“Twelve years after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan is heading for a near-record opium crop as instability pushes up the amount of land planted with illegal but lucrative poppies, according to a bleak UN report.  Poppy cultivation is not only expected to expand in areas where it already existed in 2012 … Opium traders are often happy to provide seeds, fertilisers and even advance payments to encourage crops, leaving farmers who do not have western or government agricultural help very vulnerable to their inducements. At the same time the more powerful figures in the drugs trade, from traffickers to corrupt government officials, who take over half the profit from each kilo of opium, have shrinking opportunities to earn money from NATO or international aid contracts – and may be preparing a war chest for upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. If this year’s poppy fields are harvested without disruption, the country would likely regain its status as producer of 90% of the world’s opium. Afghanistan’s share of the deadly market slipped to around 75%.  Eradication programmes that do not provide farmers with benefits such as healthcare and education, and support growing other crops will just push the Taliban or other insurgent groups that do tolerate or encourage poppy production, he added http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013.”

The indelible image of a bemused Afghani soldier and Afghani farmer in the middle of field is a simple scene but portrays a difficult and complex set of issues.  The farmer states “instead of beating my plants, why don’t you beat me? For God’s sake, give us food and you can take all of this.” (The Open University, 2009d) suggests the farmer and the soldier are unaware at a local level how the power play at global level results in harm and violence between two countrymen fighting over a source of income.  One has orders (the state controlled by global relations) to destroy the crop; the other sees his only source of income being destroyed. This is a complex dynamic as the poppy has always been a culturally specific, secure farming commodity which thrives in an otherwise non-arable and barren environment.  Therefore, at grass roots level the farmer will sell his harvest to the highest bidder – be they legal or illegal – and in recent times it has become abundantly clear that, as the legal control of opium affects global relations, then, whoever has a monopoly on the harvest controls these markets and can then influence power relationships globally.

This war is not limited to Afghanistan there are also the Mexican and Columbian drugs wars to contend with when combined this is a war being fought on frightening scale at a local and global level and the scale of social harm is difficult to ascertain.  The Mexican problem has been rising significantly over the years and what once was something that consisted of a few nasty gangs has now become a global enterprise ruled over by extreme violence.  Even though there are many atrocities carried out by the cartels, gangs, individuals and states one of the most disturbing issues raised in this research is that the fact that the war on drugs has caused developing countries to implement policy controlling the use of what we in the global north consider everyday pharmaceutical morphine usage as they have become a black market commodity where countries already suffering from social detriment are unable to receive the most basic of healthcare needs. Dr Russell Portenoy (2009) states “Some countries have simply created such a complex system of record keeping and transportation of drugs that the average hospital, the average clinician, can’t get access to them. And in those countries the government would say we’re not limiting access, we’re just controlling distribution (The Open University, 2009d).” Rupert and the course material both suggest that “there are two types of money generated by the drug trade … all stages of growth, manufacturing processing wholesaling and retail trade [and] funding law enforcement, court systems and prisons; prison construction alone costing $30billion dollars a year (Drake, Muncie and Westmarland, 2010, p.50).”  The American experience teaches that over aggressive regulations that ignore legitimate needs for opiates compromise doctors’ ability to treat pain. Ballantyne (2007) states “As the pendulum has swung here between medical underuse and overuse, patients have been harmed. Now that it is becoming clear that the outcome of chronic opioid treatment is often poor, studies are urgently needed to investigate who benefits and under what conditions.  The bigger question may be whether regulations have succeeded at all in controlling drug misuse, but the more immediate question for doctors in the US and elsewhere is how they should control their own prescribing so that interference by regulators does not discourage appropriate medical use of opiates (Ballantyne 2007).”

In conclusion, the war on drugs is a perfect example of how modern day nation states create the self perpetuating and inextricably linked process of criminal justice, punitiveness, politics of law and order and shape them to become a standard party political discourse.  It is this essays view that this tough talking soap box rhetoric is one of the most dangerous social harms to have come to the fore since Nixon declared a ‘war on drugs’ in 1971.  Upon closer analysis this so called just war is a legal use of force on its own population sand is originally contrived and fuelled by the abhorrence of populist media upon a percentage of the population of the USA snowballing from a containable local threat to a national moral dilemma culminating in a global industry. Dorn and South (1990) state that the UK drugs policy favours a punitive and social control approach to individuals who abuse drugs; where markets are better organised and even if there is not a monopoly of a few suppliers there is in fact a more professional and organised approach to the supply of illicit drugs; the UK would be better served if its policies focused more on the responsibilisation of drug markets and re-visited to be less repressive to already socially excluded sections of the community where strict policing strategies contribute to social harm (Dorn and South 1990).  This essay suggest that if the war on drugs has been going on for forty years it is therefore only natural to consider that there are winners and losers but what of the real cost to society when the true economic value of the legal and illegal trades are controlled, manipulated and enforced by the state which never fully divulges the cost of declaring war on its citizens. Why then after so much time and so much money and so much waste of life are there inequalities in these communities and why is there such an obvious drug culture especially when drug addiction is being exposed as medical condition affecting 10% population.  Is it then the case the war on illegal drugs has created a social underclass where a certain section of the community will always be ‘criminal’.

Words 4,385

 

A reference list.

Ballantyne, J.C. (2007) ‘Regulation of opiod prescribing: over-regulation compromises doctors’ ability to treat pain’, BMJ, 334, (21 April), pp. 811–12.

Brand, R. 2010 online ref

http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/home-affairs/Home-Affairs-Committee_drugs_evidence_24_April_Brand_Hitchens.pdf

Clausewitz, Carl von. (1874) online ref http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1946/1946-h/1946-h.htm

Dorn, N. and South, N. (1990) ‘Drug markets and law enforcement’, British Journal of Criminology, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 171–88.

Dowbenko, U. (1999) Online ref www.wahle.to/b/dowbenko.html (VI. Dead spooks Don’t Lie) accessed 22/04/2013.

Graham – Harrison, M. 2013 online ref http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013.

Green, P. and Ward, T. (2004) http://www.theacademiclibrary.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/title_display.cfm?

Gyngell, K. (2006-2010) ‘The Uk’s Treatment War on Drugs: A lesson in Unintended Consequnces and Perverse Outcomes’, The Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice 2006-2010.

Hobbes, T. (1651) Leviathan online ref

http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/hobbes/leviathan-contents.html

Machiavelli, N. 1532 The Prince Translator: W. K. Marriott Release Date: February 11, 2006 [EBook #1232][This file last updated October 19, 2010].

National Drugs Strategy (interim) (2009-2016), Department of Community and Gaeltacht Affairs [Ireland]. Online ref – http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/12388/1/dcrga-Strategy-2009-2016.pdf

Orend, Brian, “War”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/war/&gt;.

Portenoy, R. 2009 The Open University (2009d) ‘Film 4:Control and regulation’ [Video clip], DD301 Crime and Justice. Available at http://learn2.open.ac.uk/ mod/ oucontent/ view.php?id=143279&section=1.6(Accessed 21st April 2013).

Ruppert, M.C. (2004) Crossing the Rubicon, The decline of the American empire at the end of the age of oil, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, Canada.

Schaffer, 2001, Library of Drugs Policy. Online ref http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/runciman/default.htm

Secretary of State, 2001 No. 3998 DANGEROUS DRUGS, The Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001, under the authority and superintendence of Carol Tullo, Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery office and Queen’s Printer of Acts of Parliament.

Select Committee on Home Affairs (2002) The Government’s Drugs Policy: Is it Working?, London, The Stationery Office.

Shiner, M. (2003) ‘Out of harm’s way? Illicit drug use, medicalisation and the law’, British Journal of Criminology, vol. 43, no.4, pp. 772–96.

The Guardian, 28 March 2007 in Drake, D. and Muncie, J. (2010) Risk prediction, assessment and management in Drake, D., Muncie, J. and Westmarland, L. (Eds.), Criminal Justice: Local and Global (p.128), Milton Keynes, The Open University.

The Open University, 2009, Welcome Introduction, 2.2 Harm and violence DD301 Crime and Justice Available at http://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=143270&section=2.2.2

The Open University (2009d) ‘Film 4:Control and regulation’ [Video clip], DD301 Crime and Justice. Available at http://learn2.open.ac.uk/ mod/ oucontent/ view.php?id=143279&section=1.6(Accessed 21st April 2013).

Wilson, C. 1983-1984 online ref http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Wilson_(Texas_politician

 

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Back To Basics

A Very Happy New Year to everyone. So, 2018 didn’t quite start off with the bang that I was anticipating. Just before Christmas I felt as if I’d turned a corner in relation to physical and mental health issues. In fact, I had the most amazing pre-Christmas week with friends and family and managed to squeeze in three concerts in one week (I’d been saving up all month) and the loveliest of Christmas dinners with family. Then the lurgy hit, the same one that half the country mind, so I know I was not alone. Then the shock of dear friend’s sudden death a couple of weeks ago took the wind completely out of my sails. RIP and sleep well Mr Jimmy Donaghy (Jimmy was an advocate for prisoners rights here in Northern Ireland). As with all things patience and time allows one to bite the bullet and get on with life. I’m just back from my first gym session of the year and realised that I have gained all the weight I’d managed to lose over the past year. Back to the drawing board me thinks. Which brings me nicely to the purpose of this blog.

It’s been a rather interesting week in the Narnia of prisons and criminal justice. On Tuesday I watched the Justice Committee debate on HMP Liverpool. You can watch the whole session here if you haven’t already seen it – http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/58eb5044-3476-4100-8bc6-f2be25185c85. I listened with great interest and as per usual ended up shouting at the TV in the privacy of my own home. I’m glad there are no flies in this house. As always, not all of us see things in the same way and my views and opinions are mine. I’ll not comment on Michael Spurr as I don’t have the time or inclination to do so. I do however, welcome and applaud the comments made by Mr Rory Stewart, poor man, what a poisoned chalice he has inherited. I do like the fact that he unknowingly agrees with me.

Since my release in 2013 (and before) I have attended and spoke at many different academic and political gatherings on the state of the institution of prison and my experience of it. At most of these gathering I have been posed the question “Ok Michael, so what is your solution to prisons?” My answer has and still is the same “A clean sheet of paper and start again.” There is a slightly different, not so polite version, some of you will know what that is. I feel it’s ironic that Mr Stewart uses ‘Broken Windows’ as starting point. This is of course a great place to start but I’ll not rehash old ground as it’s not just the windows that are broken in prisons and criminal justice.

Is it just me or are we all blind? This is the same Government that has caused the current crisis. The cost to the taxpayer of a prison place needed to be reduced. So, the great and the good decided to get rid of long term prison staff. And now, low and behold they need to recruit more staff. Before the cull started in and around 2010 I had the pleasure of serving in four prisons in England and Wales between 2007 and 2009. There were 22 hour lock ups then due to lack of staff. Would this be any different under a Labour Government? When will people realise that the institution of prison has survived numerous changes in Government since the introduction of The Prison Act of 1952 (and before). Prison as an institution does not fit the purpose of a modern so called democratic society.

So, what are we going to do about it? I came across this article from last year “8,000 UK Veterans form political party to start ‘war with politicians’” Metro online – http://metro.co.uk/2017/06/29/8000-uk-veterans-form-new-political-party-to-start-war-with-the-politicians-6742304/. Given the number of ex-veterans who are in prison and or are homeless would this be such a bad thing? Take it a step further and consider the prospect of a political party made up of ex-vets and ex-prisoners? Is this why prisoners still don’t have the vote? Imagine if we all stood together due to the failings of Government and our society.

This leads me to an article by Professor Shadd Maruna in the Irish Probation Journal discussing the future of desistance stating “I argue that the most fruitful approach would be to begin to frame and understand desistance not just as an individual process or journey, but rather as a social movement, like the Civil Rights movement or the ‘recovery movements’ among individuals overcoming addiction or mental health challenges. This new lens better highlights the structural obstacles inherent in the desistance process and the macro-social changes necessary to successfully create a ‘desistance-informed’ future.” (Maruna, S. 2017, P.5,) Desistance As A Social Movement, Irish Probation Journal, Volume 14, Online
http://www.probation.ie/EN/PB//WebPages/WP17000059.

This then brings into the politicisation of academia. In 2015 my PhD application to a University in England was declined as my views were more political than academic and never the twain shall meet. I recall showing this to Shadd and seem to recall he was not too impressed. There are plenty of us out there with first hand experiences of prison who have walked the walk, now know how to talk the talk and are not frightened of telling the truth to power. After all it is only the truth of experience. I refer here to two News interviews with Shaun Attwood and Jack Hill. One on SKY and One on Channel Four News. Both are a must watch if you haven’t already seen them.

Shaun Attwood –
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PiT2VH6z6z0&feature=share

Jack Hill –
https://www.channel4.com/news/former-inmate-jack-hill-prisoners-are-sent-to-prison-as-punishment-not-to-be-punished

For me my message is simple. Let someone in Government grow a set and employ us. Create a team of people like Shaun, Jack, myself and way too many more to mention here. Let’s face it, most of us are much more qualified via academia and experience than those currently in charge, to make a difference. Combine our knowledge and experience, include us and let us bring some truth and reality to this broken and damaged institution of prison and hopefully we can make our society a better place to live. After all, is that not what we all want? Time to reinvent the wheel or simply get back to basics?

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Prison Trauma and Coffee a Holistic Approach

My body only allows me six hours of kip at night and I’ve been lying in bed for the past hour craving a cup of coffee (it’s 6.00am). I haven’t had a cup of coffee since the spring as it seemed to trigger my anxiety/panic attacks. I’ve succumbed to the craving so forgive me if this blog ends up all over the shop.

A telephone conversation and a text last night from two ex HMP colleagues has piqued my ever-inquisitive mind/brain cell. I’ll get back to that in a minute and feel like most good ramblings one must start at the beginning. I’ve just revisited one of my first ever blogs (Michael Irwin: Suicide Vs Reintegration https://micsirwin.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/michael-irwin-suicide-vs-re-integration/) a few days after my release in June 2013. The reason being that I need to ask the question ‘What has changed after four and half years of freedom?’ I’ve still got one and half years to go on licence by the by.

“… 24/06/2013 A free man? 
This wave/tsunami swept over me again yesterday – on the bus on the way home from a Job Centre interview.  I jumped off the bus two stops before I was meant to and got home and under the covers as fast as I could.  I cried and screamed and shouted and slept for about two hours.  It passed.  The thing is – I know what it is – it’s a process, a frightening one yes but all the same it will pass.  I’m lucky I know it, what about those who don’t?  Think it was the questions at the Job Centre, they did nothing wrong by the way.  For me, My hypothesis is that after six years where every question asked by a prison officer can end up with one getting in the shit one becomes mentally processed to be guarded – much more than guarded, some might call it fear or the bodies way of dealing with an abnormal situation.  It’s about time somebody paid attention to this.  One minute i’m sitting with a beautiful woman signing up for ‘Tango’ classes the next i’m wanting to throw the ropes up. I never will, but I know there are those who don’t understand what’s happening to them and they end up back there or underground.
On a footnote for my next blog – left Prison a week ago with £71 discharge grant, went to Job Centre Friday £2.80 return by train. Had two Preliminary interviews Yesterday (Monday) £2.80 return by train.  Had to sign on this morning (Tuesday) £2.80 return by train.  Money gets paid into my bank (yes I already had an account) on the 11th of July today is the 25th and I think the 11th is a Bank Holiday.  Is this why guys re-offend?  I’m lucky I’ve got a house and a family to support me.  What of those who want to change but have nowt?  The reality of leaving prison is much more than the Narnia of the real world.”

The text I received was from a guy who shared a wing with me for a couple of years and he’d just read the bit in my book were the officer left my hand hanging as I’d wished the officer a Happy Christmas whilst setting up the breakfast on Christmas morning. Needless to say, he was not amused. I never told him at the time. In fact, I don’t think I told anyone at the time. Or maybe it was just a select few.

The phone call came from Angel. What he told me piqued my interest as to the long term effects of prison on a person’s psyche. Angel told me that he had suffered a head injury and had to go to hospital. He’d fell and banged his head whilst running for a train. Ironically, he was on his way to get a flight to meet me in Dublin for an event hosted by the Samaritans where we were meant to do a joint presentation. Neither of us made it that day. I couldn’t go due to two flat tyres. Nothing traumatic about that.

Since his head trauma Angel has suffered a similar experience to mine as he has had several meltdowns and has had trouble deciphering reality aka Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I listened with interest as he explained. The episodes are obviously unique to the individual, but the mental reactions bare a surprising similarity to my own experiences over the past six months. When I had my first episode I was in hospital after nearly dying from an abscess in my perforated bowel. I recorded what happened at the time and at one stage I thought hospital Dr’s and nurses were prison staff and that they were trying to kill me via my IV drip.

Angel served a couple of years more than me and got out at roughly the same time and I find it interesting that after all this time that we are both sharing similar mental problems immediately after a physical trauma and hospitalisation. Was it prison that caused this or does it go further than that. In 2011 Shadd Maruna posited the question “How much damage will another months incarceration do to this individual?” (ref Maruna, S 2011, ‘Why do they hate us? Making peace between psychology and prisoners: Making peace between prisoners and psychology’ International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, vol 55, no. 5, pp. 671-675. DOI: 10.1177/0306624X11414401) Angel despises psychiatrists but played along. I was referred to a psychiatrist but only lasted two weeks as I’ve had to be re-referred to more special specialist as the six week programme would be insufficient to attend to my needs. My Mum jokingly quipped “Is the psychiatrist OK?”

As psychology was part of my studies I fully, maybe too well, understand the process of revisiting past trauma childhood et al. Angel had a military background. I grew up in Belfast where my father had a security background and living under the threat posed to him and immediate family and friends. Did that daily way of life remain hidden until now? Did the trauma of prison enhance, lock or unlock past life events? I think it’s interesting that prison is based on the military model of care but is it connected? I don’t know the answers yet but will continue with the process and hopefully it well shed some light on the matter. As always with me, watch this space.

I’ve been following with great interest the experiences of the most amazing Michaela Booth @michaelabooth7 on twitter and blog – https://michaelamovement.blog/
The similarities by Micaela, from a female perspective, are not only enlightening but remarkably similar in context. I’ve jokingly christened Michaela my ‘Female Doppelganger’. As a single middle aged (being kind to myself coffee kicking in) without children I have no clue as to the experiences of a young mother in prison. However, if you compare and contrast our experiences of prison and the criminal justice system one will find them remarkably similar.

The fact that I have shared my experiences for the past ten years via my blog and recent book ‘My Life Began At Forty’ https://www.amazon.co.uk/My-Life-Began-at-Forty/dp/0992903769 and it has left me exhausted and mentally broken is a stark warning to those of us who believe and hope our shared lived experience will help make a difference to our society. Professor Phil Scraton (my Masters’ supervisor) warned me of this way back in 2013. Maybe I should have payed more attention.

There is no doubt in my mind that sharing experiences, including people like Michaela, myself and many others in the so called ‘holistic’ approach to offender management (I so dislike that term) and policy making is the way forward. I’ve been barking on about it for years. How can you call it ‘holistic’ if you don’t include us? And, I don’t just mean the guest talks at criminal justice events. I mean real paid employment within criminal justice departments as part of the solution. David Cameron’s swan song speech where he states

“…But I also strongly believe that we must offer chances to change, that for those trying hard to turn themselves around, we should offer hope, that in a compassionate country, we should help those who’ve made mistakes to find their way back onto the right path.
In short: we need a prison system that doesn’t see prisoners as simply liabilities to be managed, but instead as potential assets to be harnessed.” is indeed in stark contrast to his comments on prisoners voting rights in 2012 where he felt ‘physically sick.’
http://www.timesandstar.co.uk/news/national/article/Prisoners-on-day-release-will-be-allowed-to-return-home-to-vote-reports-8e2d6b7f-a52b-4c79-be15-1d8f01cb2fef-ds

I mean seriously, does anyone believe what this current Government says? They have caused the problems in our prisons. It’s the same bloody Government!!! How can you feel ‘physically sick’ about the same people you want to be seen as a ‘potential asset’? I think the onus is on the word ‘seen’ as most of criminal justice policy is focused on being ‘seen’ to be doing something – normally the bare minimum. But that’s a different conversation for a different day.

As I’m writing this my attention has just been drawn to this morning’s article by the BBC on HMP Magilligan – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-42314792 I’ll read the report later. Maybe ‘they’ should ‘all’ read my book to see if and how far they have really come?

Time has caught up with me as usual. As always events and experiences leave me with more questions than answers. 2017 has been a roller coaster of a year and I remain proud of the fact that I have made a small difference by enabling ‘Prison Smart’ to be piloted in Northern Ireland’s prisons – http://www.prisonsmart.eu/
I’ll continue with my efforts. On that cheery note I shall bid you farewell for 2017 and wish you all a Very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. God that coffee was good.

 

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