Resettlement cannot prepare you for this! If prison is societies answer to its social problems then we are in serious trouble.
It’s been two months the very hour after my release from HMP Norn Iron and one year and two months since my first faltering steps back into the real world. There are reflections and comparisons abound and they are mostly positive. However there is one nagging, niggling negating thought that keeps chipping away at my positivity and my hope is a phrase quoted to me around twenty years ago by a member of the authorities. This person had been involved in a very serious incident and had actually apprehended the culprits who had committed the deed. As is my inquisitive nature I asked him what it felt like and mentioned that if I had been in the situation I probably could not have contained my anger and popped a few rounds in said wrongdoers head. The response always stuck with me, especially throughout my sentence. “I’m going to fuck the rest of your life up and your families too.”
Obviously a very relative statement or as Billy Connelly used to say “Hangin’s too good for the likes of you!” I’ve wrestled with this for a while after a meeting with an old friend last week and another person who served a bit of time (and his wife) I’ve come to conclusion that this is exactly what prison does “it tries to destroy the rest of your life.” And, after watching the Shawshank Redemption again for the thousandth time last night it leaves me wondering – “what’s the point?” Prison is a paradox that gets lost in the perception of public perception and the grey area between revenge and social justice. Certainly bad people need to be addressed. But, how the heck do we do that. Prison destroys any semblance of identity, it is designed to break one then build one up – “Rehabilitate!” What the hell is “Rehabilitation?”
My goal is to create awareness about the experience in the hope that Government will do something about it. All I can do is bring my thoughts to the table and see if any one person will pick up on this and do something about. But, and there is always a but. Does anyone care? Do Government care? Do my friends care? Does my family care? I honestly can’t answer these questions yet as I haven’t been around long enough. Give it time, I think, the truth normally finds a way of surfacing at some stage. This can be via a careless comment, over enthusiasm, bad temper or much drink partaken. My personal experiences of the last week or two is that the truth is starting to find its way to me. Now that I’m getting my levelheadedness back. Two months of being fragile allowed people to allow me to get settled before they told me exactly what they think. Not all of it is good but at least they gave me time to be of sound enough mind to deal with it. My question is who does this help? Does this make them feel good about themselves or does it allow me to consider that I was right all along and I am exactly what society and I label myself – an ex-prisoner. How can one immediately dismiss and move on from something that has been your every breathing moment for the past five, ten or twenty years. No matter what is right or wrong the one thing I do know is that I not only care but… “I don’t mind what others think.” So, what’s the difference between ‘mind’ and ‘care?’ That’s the bit that doesn’t matter. It just is.
On the flip side there are significant others who see my experience as a positive from a negative. Like most they are shocked but when I tell them what I’ve achieved and after reading some of the pieces in these blogs they are proud of me and happy to be around me. Prison strips you, washes you and gives you a new identity namely “Prisoner C7874.” This is my label that the law of the land provides, the label I had to accept in order to survive the institution of prison. The label has changed but the ingrained resentment has not. Prison takes but it does not give back. “They” the Government, the system, the powers that be can make it sound as plausible as “they” like but the harsh fact is that the institution is an unstoppable train of dysfuntionality that cannot be fixed with simple prison reform and the odd change in policy. It’s very essence is destruction of one individual and all who belong to that person. I now see how words are meaningless unless someone is prepared to take action.
So, what are we gonna do now? Last night I explained and showed my Mum how Twitter works and I posted a nice thought about Mother’s. “It’s a bit like voting then” said Mum. And there we have it folks. Voting. This has been my thought since I met Mr Hirst in Lewes all those years ago. I didn’t get it at the time and I didn’t get him but when I moved to HMP Brixton the penny dropped. There is a popular belief by the civil servants of authority there are no votes in prisons and a prisoner belief that “I have no interest in politics.” We should because politics is actually the very interested in us. I scrolled down my list of ninety one followers and Mum asked “who is that person who just retweeted you?” I told my Mum who Roger is and how we chatted at the BSC and how nice he was. Mum said “So this nice man has given you a vote of approval then?” Mum and I then put the world to rights and as always parted with smiles, contentment and getting it. During the early stages of my writing my book I said “If my Mum gets this then it will all have been worthwhile.” Mum gets it.
Therefore I will keep going. Prison has not destroyed me, It has not rehabilitated me, it has not destroyed the rest of my life, it has not destroyed the love and care of some of the friends and family in my life, it continually makes it difficult but and there’s always a but “it has given me the chance to meet the one person in life I never expected to meet. MY SELF.” So let us not abuse the concept of harm to society and the reduction of risk to it. Instead, let us start voting for alternatives. If there are none there, let us create them. The world is a smaller place and a more linked up global society than we fully appreciate. If we can create trending via the ether then why can’t we ground it in a society via not voting for the lesser of two evils and those who are quite content to sit in their ivory towers defending a society they know little or nothing or “care” about. I’ll leave you with a wee thought. If all people who served a prison sentence and who now have the vote decided to vote for a new party how many years would it take to win a majority vote? After all we are citizens and have electoral cards to prove it. The non-person “Prisoner C7874” washes his “self” of the institution and label of prison when he gets released. Society expects one to forgive, forget and move on. Can we really do that?