This short blog is in response to Mr Erwin James post on Twitter – –http://prisonwatchuk.com/2015/05/07/erwin-james-the-ban-on-prisoner-voting-is-iniquitous/
“Nobody will fully understand the strength it takes to survive a day in prison.”
This statement has nothing to do with the misnomer of populist media on the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll that goes on in the holiday camp of HMP. Rather, it’s more to do with how we as a society foolishly think and believe that prison fixes people. In the middle of a talk delivered by Erwin James in 2011 at HMP Magilligan a PO announced that house block 3 and HH1 had to return immediately as there was an early lock up. His quip might have gone unnoticed to many; it didn’t to me – “it’s a sunny Friday afternoon, the pub is open and the officers must be leaving early for a BBQ.” I smiled as I walked away.
Today, at 09.00am I put an ‘X’ on slip of paper and slipped it into a black box. Today, I knew it meant nothing to the status quo in a democratic society, but today it meant everything to me. Today, I used my Electoral Card (provided by the Prison service as a form of ID) to legally announce that I am a citizen of my country and society. On a legal note, possibly worth exploring, I have still not finished my sentence passed down by the law of the land. I have finished the custodial part… so, is my vote legal as I have still not finished my sentence?
Met Mr Hirst in HMP Lewes just after it was announced that he had won his case for the right of prisoners to have a vote. I thought and asked “sure who gives a s.h.1.t. about what we have to say ?” His reply “You need to see the bigger picture big lad.” Is it not the case that politicians represent ‘all’ of society? Is it not the case that the deal sealer in the Good Friday Agreement here in Northern Ireland is that ‘all’ the people of this part of the UK will be represented and listened to? A populist phrase in current official discourse is that of ‘returning citizen’. Where the hell did I go for six years?
From whence did I come? In prison, I still have the same rights as a citizen provided in law but I don’t bare the title of citizen. I wear the title of ‘Non person’ yet ‘we’ as tax payers fork out millions on keeping ‘me’ as a non. Where is the clarity in this iniquitous grey area?
In 2012 (still in prison) I was allowed out for a day to deliver a speech to the Justice Minister, MLA’s and the great and good of criminal justice in the Long Gallery at Stormont. How was a non citizen allowed to do this? Under great bloody duress by all who wanted me there and the repercussions are still going on. I’ve spoken to a few important people who were there that day and asked them if they remembered what I said. The response was obviously ‘No’ but this was followed with a smile and “but the fact that you were there speaks volumes.”
Erwin James and Lord Wolff are correct in that I don’t think many prisoners will vote. However, the fact that a Prime Minister feels physically sick at the thought of, a not yet returned citizen, having a say in a society, that he/she is temporarily exiled from does not bode well for those in power. There might be 90,000 odd prisoners in the UK at any given time. But, and there’s always a but; how many have served time in the last fifteen – twenty years and now have the right to vote. If only there was someone to vote for!