My phone was in my jacket pocket so didn’t get the missed call until around 9.00pm. It was my mate phoning from prison just before bang up at 7.00pm. Gutted to say the least. Thank goodness for emailaprisoner.com at least it gives one the opportunity to reply sort of quickly but it does take a few days for emails to get to the wing depending on staff quota and willingness. He’ll probably phone back before then.
The reason I mention my friend (again) is because he still can’t get out on home leaves or town visits after serving eight years with one more to go. This is down to a plethora of bureaucratic processes set in place by prison management when ‘anyone’ dares question the yellow brick road of ‘re-ha-fucking-bilitation’ in prison. I think I’ll make it my business from now on to avoid using the word as it’s a complete myth. My mate and I were both sentenced in England and met at HMP Rye Hill I’d received twelve, my mate eighteen and both for drugs offences. My 1.1 Kilo was a bit different to his even if he was only the lorry driver. We both applied to go back home to the brand new restorative based drug free wing at HMP Magilligan. It’s now the committal wing!
My own battle to achieve resettlement at Magilligan was one of what can only be described of as ‘a war of legal penmanship’ between myself, senior management of HMP Magilligan and the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS). New management and removal of the old guard allowed me to gain access to semi-open conditions and the weekend home leave that comes with that in my last three weeks. This was secured after a judicial review of the processes afforded to me by the management at Magilligan. Unfortunately this does not seem to have made one bit of difference to my mate.
Two years on and they are still at it. There has been an error, an oversight, an initial loss of paperwork that has placed my mate back as a ‘B’ Category prisoner. He was a ‘C’ cat and should have been a ‘D’ as he has never had one charge made against him. A few scuffles over the years but nothing that is not normal in that institution of care. Again I use the word ‘care’ loosely. The latest is that the NIPS only review category’s every six months and he’s just had one and not eligible for another six months therefore as he’s a ‘B’ Cat not of low enough risk to live in semi-open conditions. Plus the fact that we were both sentenced in England so any proper legal challenge involving sentence etc must be dealt with via an English solicitor in an English Court. Mine was different as I was challenging policy.
The processes of taking on the NIPS and it’s bureaucratic firewall (no different in the rest of the UK) nearly killed me and I was studying for a degree at the time! What chance does my mate have? He’s dyslexic, believes what people tell him and clams up when annoyed and or confused. His Mother is eighty four and very fragile. No longer able to visit as she’s in Hospital with a broken hip. There are good people in the NIPS, I know, I’ve met them both inside and out. As with most of these situations all it takes is for one person of authority to apply a bit of common sense and the whole thing will be sorted. Mine just happened to be a judge! Can you imagine the complete incomprehension of an eighty four year old mother in hospital whose only wish is to live long enough to see her son out of jail. There will be those out there who will say “He did this to himself.” No he didn’t, the mistake of losing paperwork did. Why do we, as people who are at the end of our punishment, have to fight so hard for hope at the end of our sentence?
I’m back to my reading again – in between Grand Prix Highlights and Golf – and after a crazy couple of weeks I’m going back to work.
I read an interesting blog piece yesterday by Jean Trounstine @justicewithjean- “Phi Theta Kappa’s Policies? NOT GOOD if You’ve Ever Been in Prison” http://jeantrounstine.com/?p=2413 where the word ‘HOPE’ is used. I remember mentioning this to a roomful of the great and the good at an event I was allowed a home leave to attend. I also mentioned it in my speech to Minister’s and more great and not so good at Stormont in 2012 whilst still a serving prisoner. You should have seen the battle that was to get out for the day. It seemed the management didn’t want me talking to Ministers and NIPS officials even though it was the Department of Justice who wanted me there.
Beth Weaver and Fergus McNeill use the work of Burnett and Maruna to emphasise how hope and the hopelessness that accompanies it is paramount to the process of desistance – “More recently Burnett and Maruna have written persuasively about the role of hope in the process of desistance and equally importantly about how adverse social circumstances can suffocate hope” have a look at “Giving Up Crime A Direction For Policy” – http://www.esrc.ac.uk/_images/Giving_Up_Crime_tcm8-2569.pdf. This idea of hope is not owned by the prisoner. In fact in the past few weeks I’ve had several personal interactions with fledgling academics (not yet Dr’s) and indeed fully fledged ones too concerning the hopelessness of the work we do.
It was then that I realised how much my ‘epistemological phenomenological privilege’ afforded me. Like my namesake the late John Irwin describes the mountains a person who has been to prison must climb even when ‘punishment’ is served. Even in academia and institution of University there are those who will fetter the progress of the person with the ‘real’ knowledge of the lived experience for fear of… Yeagh, for fear of what exactly? What do we have to fear from the truth? What do we as a society have to fear from the truth? Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that we aint all that bloody social to begin with?
The past two weeks have brought me to a crossroads and possibly the start of the rest of my life. Three PhD applications and two interviews later I think I’m in with a shout of becoming a Dr of Criminology in three or four years time. Being in prison allowed me to find hope in the chaos of hopelessness. I cannot emphasise enough how much strength this takes. I’ve also had a Birthday and got drunk three times, layed in the sun in my back garden and did indeed do some gardening. Left the books and the world alone for a few days.
On Friday morning I had £3 in my pocket. I get my dole on a Saturday and there was food in the cupboard so no worries there. Just before lunch I received an invite for belated birthday drinks from a lovely guy who just happens to be a Civil Servant. I spent my £2.90 on my train fair and arrived at a bar in Botanic. Coincidently it was the bar I had a mineral water in on my first day of freedom with my Mum and Mr Shadd Maruna. As I chatted away to people involved in Civil Service things I smiled and realised how far I’d actually come from that frightened forty six year old wee boy who’s sat on the bar stool looking back at himself. It was time for the group to head to their dinner booking. My friend said “come on, come along i’ll sort it out and when you’re rich and famous you can take us all out for dinner. But then you already are famous aren’t you Michael.”
His cheeky smile lit me up like a Christmas tree and as the night progressed I enjoyed my first glass of South African red in eight years. It was Lekka (Afrikaans) for phenomenal. As, I popped out to the loo I got the missed voice message from my mate. Never told anyone. Carried on chatting about politics, civil service, politics, re-inventing the wheel, relentlessness and hope. On the last train home I got thinking (amid the throng who had just left the WWE wrestling at the Odyssey) and came to the conclusion that relentlessness allows for hope. Hope enables being relentless. I think it’s time for me to get back to work.