Three Years Out and I’m Back In.

Three years after my release, where does life find me? I’ve attempted to break into the PhD world and received the cursory thank you but no thank you. There is never anything wrong with proposals, more to do with Michael. This has left me feeling disillusioned with the world of academia and slightly lost in my own personal head space. I’ll never give up.
Family, friends and academics have been as supportive as always and as per usual I consider myself extremely lucky. Depression and anxiety has been building over the past few months and to be honest I was getting back into bed with those old comfortable friends of boredom and hopelessness.

So, a few weeks back I started to get back into my breathing exercises and getting fit. I’ve lost 4st in the past year which makes me feel great but there’s still a bit to go. This coincided with an email from Prison Smart EU inviting me to come to London (where I’m writing this now) and attend a few events and hopefully to meet up with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of Prison Smart. This gave me the little boost I needed and I discussed my impending visit to London with senior DOJ officials. Unfortunately they could not come with me but I’ll be reporting back asap.

Last Wednesday I touch down at Heathrow and the old anxiety and panic is in full flow. I’m going to meet and stay with a friends of a friend called Sangeeta and Simon, need to dump my bag where Sangeeta works and collect it when her day is over. I arrive around 11.00am as planned and I’m greeted with a beautiful smile and hug from a complete stranger; who within five minutes is no longer a stranger. We have a quick chat and I now have four or five hours to kill/murder.

The hustle and bustle of London is mind blowing especially since one has been stuck in his own wee world and the gentle pace of Northern Ireland for the past year three years. As I’m leaving the hospital and walk below The Shard, who do I bump into but my lovely friend Gaurav Gaur (Art of Living Teacher). I mean seriously! There’s over ten million people in London and I bump into someone I know ten minutes after getting there. Is this an omen? He was jumping into a taxi and I knew he was busy sorting Sri Sri’s schedule and that I would meet him at HMP Thameside the following morning.

Yes, you heard me right, HMP Thameside but I’ll come back to that in a minute. So, off I head to Westminster and the hustle and bustle of London and stand once again on London’s bridges, watching the world and Father Thames amble by. Standing below Big Ben as he struck midday hypnotised me. A thousand memories of old and previous life invading my fragile head space. I head off down the Embankment and by sheer coincidence end up in Petty France, can’t resist a selfie and think of all the letters I’d written to this place during my time int nick.

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I’m tired and hungry so I grab a couple of banana’s and head off to St James park. I find a space on the grass (there are crowds everywhere I go), lay down and fall asleep. An hour later batteries recharged I head back toward London Bridge station. I get a text from my brother telling me some fantastic news. It seems new chapters are starting for him and I – great stuff.

The night is spent with my hosts in West Norwood and we discuss life in general and my impending visit to HMP Thameside in the morning. Katrien called me late on and told me there might be two hundred people there. Could have done without knowing the number. Didn’t sleep much as nerves and doubt and fear invaded my every thought.  The trains are all messed up due to industrial action and London Bridge is chaos and I have to thank the platform guard for helping me make my connection and arrive with plenty of time to spare.

Here’s me, nearly three years on heading back in to prison. Not for a visit but to deliver a talk to prisoners and staff about Prison SMART. Be careful what you wish for eh? HMP Thameside and Prison Smart had combined to hold an event in the prison at which I’d been asked to give a quick talk to the prisoners and staff on my experience of Prison Smart and how it helped me. Sri Sri will be there as guest of honour. I was so looking forward to meeting this amazing human being but still had to deal with my personal emotions of heading back inside to the prison gym.

Upon arrival I’m met by all the Prison Smart team. They all say ‘Hey Michael, how are you, it’s really great to meet you at last…’ I’m thinking how on earth do they all know me and my name. Then I remembered the video. Please watch and share this –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ME30DTayiAc&index=2&list=PLOcPa-S2j_J1PMqWGaqBjjJ3cQSI4d_ki

It was really weird being given a pass to head back into jail, no security, no dogs, no pat downs or strip searches. We were walking along in twos and I’m chatting to the lovely Sue about my ambition of getting Prison SMART into all jails in the UK and possibly doing a PhD on this one true rehabilitation course. As we approached the gym I looked up at all the cells and guys in prison garb and it hits me like ton of lead. Tears trickle down my cheeks at the enormity of it all and Sue kindly takes a moment to let me let it pass. After all this is what Prison SMART teaches you. To deal with your emotions. It passes and the gym fills up with prisoners and staff.

As I do my talk the old mouth gets a bit dry but I think I pulled it off. As my fellow Prison SMART graduate and teacher does his bit there’s a flurry of activity at the back of the gym and in comes Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The main man. The man who made it all happen and got me to where I am today. We’re sitting below the little stage and I listen intently to the questions from the prisoners and Sri Sri’s replies. All I can do is smile and any nerves or doubt I had have strangely disappeared.

As per usual it’s all over in the blink of an eye and as we’re all heading out Gaurav introduces me to Sri Sri. As we spoke all I could feel was the warmth and sincerity oozing from this wonderful human being. I told him I’d heard him sing on a tape recording (Long Kriya) in 2008 and to this day I have no idea what he is singing about but it didn’t matter as he still sings to me every day and this has allowed me to be here today.
He smiles says “Thank you. Why don’t you become a teacher?” I hear a few wow’s coming from our team.
I’m totally blown away and blurt out “Ok then.”
Sri Sri looks over at someone, I have no clue who it was, and says “Let’s do it.” The deal is done, just like that, I’m going to be trained as a Prison SMART teacher! We gather outside for a group photo where Sri Sri presents me with an orange shawl. A mark of respect/gratitude and a welcome to the family. I speak quickly and briefly with my companions and officials and thank the Governor for making it all happen. By now we’re back outside and Sri Sri is in his car saying goodbye to everyone.

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I gave him a big thumbs up and say “Looking forward to seeing you in the Albert Hall on Sunday night.”
His reply rocked my world “Why don’t you come on stage with me and share your experience?”
“Oh, OK then” came out of my mouth. Don’t know how as the smile on my face was from ear to ear. Sri Sri nods at someone and says “Let’s do it.” And off he goes. Phone numbers and emails are frantically exchanged and I head off to the train station.

As I sit on the train a numbness envelopes me that is simply impossible to explain. My life, my future, my destiny, in the blink of an eye has just been decided. I phoned my Dad and then went back into my numbness. Didn’t even realise the train had stopped at London Bridge. I floated through the crowd and found myself in a Pub by HMS Belfast watching the England and Wales game. Then it hit me, a lightness, a weight being lifted off me, leaving me and floating down the Thames. Oh, my God! I’m going to be on stage at the Royal Albert Hall on my three year anniversary 19/06/2016. I will refrain from expletives but you can imagine my thoughts. On stage to a Sold Out Royal Albert Hall. I quickly googled it. 5,272 – no biggy, I can handle that. Not!

So, the next few days, with my future are spent in what can only be described as bliss. On Friday night I met up with Sacha Darke and Shaun Attwood and on Saturday I met up with some lifelong friends. Jim and Andy, I hadn’t seen for twenty four years and Danielle it had been nine years. All in all a magical few days of reminisce and laughter.

I arrive at the Albert Hall early, collect my pass, meet the organisers and shown to my dressing room. I was warned that my appearance might not happen as it was a last minute addition to an already packed schedule but to be on call from 5.00pm. I nip out to the Café to meet July and Tina. July buys me a pint as my nerves are shattered.IMG_3658

I head backstage and wander onto the stage and take a few pics. Wow, this is amazing and mind blowing all at the same time.

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From the wings I watch Sri Sri make his entrance and listen for a while. I’m asked to go back to my room and await my call – if it happens. Time stood still from then on and I could not settle. I walked up to the wings and took a pic of Sri Sri on the stage. I was then informed that I would not be going on.

I have to be honest here and say that I was absolutely fuming. I didn’t show it. A couple of folks tried to get me to come in and watch the rest of the show and politely asked them to let me be for a while. Ten minutes later I’m sitting in a box with Nicolai smiling and laughing with the rest of the crowd. After all, isn’t this what Prison SMART teaches you. How to deal with stress, anger, frustration, disappointment and to calm down? It does and it did.

Met up with Brian after and we headed off for a few pints in South Kensington. The night was not about me, it would have been the icing on the cake, but it was about Sri Sri and what he does for people. As I sat on the train back to West Norwood I thought to myself who’d have ever thought you’d be at The Royal Albert Hall on the third anniversary of your release?

The next day I stop off for a pint in The Horns Tavern across the road from the Station. I meet Joe McGrieves and the Governor Allison White. Joe held the record for the longest serving Governor in West Norwood which is (in the coming weeks) to be surpassed by Allison. We shared Governor stories of times in pubs past and present. I told them my story and they wished me well. I hope to see them again in September.

As I touch down in Belfast I’m tired but full of smiles on the inside and out. My future has been sorted. Meeting Sri Sri has been another life changing experience. I met him in HMP Highdown in 2008 via a tape recording. He changed my life. I met him again in person at HMP Thameside on 16th June 2016; he changed my life again. I’m thinking “hey Sri Sri, we’re going to have to stop meeting like this…”

I’m now back in my Library in my home in Belfast. The world is waking and going about its business. I’m off to Dublin in the morning for a criminology conference and to hook up with some old friends. Guess what I’m going to be talking about. Thank you Katrien and the Prison SMART team for making it all happen. My deepest gratitude, of course, goes to the main man himself. Thank you Sri Sri Ravi Shankar you’ve rocked my world.

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Prison Education 2008 – What has changed?

Considering the current climate on prison reform and education int nick I thought I might share another snippet from my book. I’m editing this chapter as we speak and found it quite ironic. It’s been eight years since I wrote this at HMP Brixton. I think I may have been plagiarised. Book should be completed in the next couple of weeks all being well.

“HMP Brixton 2008

I’ve got loads of plans for my future, all positive. Need to get out of Brixton as soon as possible though – I’m in limbo here. Will definitely continue writing. I’ll start a new piece after my trial – see how my life pans out.
Oh God, I’m frightened.

Another new day with a new set of feelings and emotions. Been getting up a bit earlier each morning. Purely in the interest of motivation, building my resolve for next week. I’m convinced I’ll be getting a long stretch, but find it hard to write about. When I see it in black and white it looks so final.
Ten years.

My education classes are coming on leaps and bounds. I’ve started to learn how to design web pages. To tell you the truth, come night time I’m knackered. Eight weeks ago could do spreadsheets, data base and word–processing as I’d already had a qualification in C.L.A.I.T, gained many years ago in Northern Ireland. Here at Brixton I’ve learned about power-point presentations and went on to make some animations using the GIMP (free computer graphic design similar to photoshop.) Managed to put all of this together and by Monday I’d started to design my own web–site.

Well chuffed with what I’ve achieved in such a short period of time especially with the constant aggravations of my impending trial and the day to day bollocks of being in prison. B, Clarkie and G have been brilliant. Clarkie has taught me a lot, not just about design, but how to help others. He has a warped and twisted sense of humour and has a real cleverness in his teaching methods. Pushing the arsiest of arseholes in the right direction.

Feel as if education is my saviour. It feels like my own type of sanctuary when I leave the wing and get into the classroom. Nothing else matters when I’m working. I’ve finally found something I would like to be good at, to take pride in something again. For far too long I’ve been living it up and letting my standards slip. In a weird way, don’t mind if I get ten years.

You have to be serving at least four years if you want to be considered for an Open University Degree. Three or three and a half is no good; so I’ve been told. Could make a long list of faults with education within the prison system. Especially the prison officers’ attitude to prisoners even attending education classes. There are so many restrictions and conditions attached to education it makes it very difficult to deliver anything more than the basic skills. There are so many creative and resourceful guys in any prison, yet very few within the prison establishment want to channel this creativity into something productive. Prison policy is to protect the public, to help stop prisoners from re–offending and to make them acceptable to the community upon release.
This is all a crock of shit.

Here at Brixton they want to halve the sessions at education so that the core day is easier to manage. Due to staffing levels they find it impossible to deliver a regular regime. Someone in their infinite wisdom has decided that the solution is to have one session of association and one session of education per day. So, the people who want to do something constructive are having their time halved to spend the other half of the day standing around getting into trouble.

The future of prison and disrupting re–offending is through motivation and generating hope. Motivation to create, add confidence and encourage people to change their ways. What type of message can the prison service deliver to average illiterate crook? Think I may have already said ‘do they use education like a carrot.’ Only to take it away if you don’t play ball or things aren’t going too smoothly.

In my humble and limited understanding of the well oiled machine, it is clear that we are living in an environment that is totally adverse to the natural quest to find an answer to our social problems. If a person’s negative energy can be turned into something constructive and creative then the individual’s desire to learn more will be insatiable. Adding a new strength to a person’s will to live and to be a better person. An energy that if and when it is tapped and used properly could be worth its weight in gold. Why can’t the authorities’ see this?”

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Dream a Little Dream

HMP Rye Hill – 15/11/08

It’s time for me to go to court for my confiscation hearing. I’ve been told it’s going to be a formality by solicitor, but I must attend. Need to pretend that I don’t want to leave this horrible place. In prison, if you want something the opposite always happens. So I’m telling everyone I see that I’ll be back and will see them soon. The reception manager has told me if I’m not back today I’ll be back within three or four days. I asked her if she was sure.

‘Look,’ she said ‘you’ll have to leave some of your stuff here as they will only let you take four bags with you to court.’ She’d labelled the rest and wrote on them ‘Not to be sent to Branston.’ This is the general storage place for prisoners’ belongings. If you have the misfortune of having your stuff sent there then you can kiss goodbye to it for at least two years.

‘What about my CDs?’ I asked.
‘Don’t worry they are in your stored property,’ she replied.
‘May I see them with my own eyes before I go please, I want to be sure
they are there before I admit to or sign any forms.’
She headed off round the back and came out with a big basket with all my stuff in it. There was loads of stuff in there, stuff that I had asked to be thrown out ages ago.
‘Get rid of half of that crap,’ I said.

Off we went through all my stuff and she filled out a new property sheet. One of the officers who was standing behind me says
‘Is this going to take much longer?’
‘What’s your problem,’ I said ‘the transport isn’t even here yet.’He was obviously late for his breakfast or something and just wanted to get me processed and back to whatever he should have been doing. I’d met him on a few occasions on the wing. He was new and a bit of an ass hole. He knew I didn’t like him, but I didn’t care, he meant nothing to me.

After a very long wait the transport turned up. It was half past eight and I was due in court in London in an hour and a half. There was no way we were going to make it and I voiced my protest at having to leave.
‘They don’t need me at the court and I’m sure if you ring them the court the Judge will carry out the hearing without me.’ I remembered that, at my trial, the Judge had said  he thought a confiscation hearing – in my case – was a waste of time and the tax payers money.

That’s another thing you get labelled with in prison; you’re in court, you’re a criminal, guilty until proven innocent. So, you’ve obviously been one all your life, never had a job therefore never paid taxes. I’ve paid more taxes in one week than these guys earn in a month.

Just before I left the officer who was sorting out my property said ‘don’t worry if you’re not back within a week we’ll send your stuff on to you. As you can see it’s all here.’ I thanked her and headed off into the back of the van and plonked myself down in the seat. The door was closed by the driver. The impatient officer gets in and starts to go through his procedure and said ‘are you Michael Irwin?’ ‘Do you know where you’re going?’ I replied ‘Yes,’ to my name and then said ‘I don’t know why I’m being sent to court so late.’

To which he replied ‘shut the fuck up you cunt!’ By this stage I was locked in the cell in the back in the van.
He put his face right up to the window.
‘I hope they take all your money off you and your families too.’
‘I hope they make you suffer, you bastard.’ With that he was gone. I just sat there dumbfounded. The venom with which this man spoke was quite hard to believe – frightening. It’s amazing how these brave men always wait until you’re locked up or in handcuffs before they abuse you.

‘Just remember, I’m coming back,’ I roared. The van door was then slammed shut and when the driver got into the front seat he said ‘fuckin ell mate he’s calling you all the names under the sun out there.’ ‘Do you want to make a complaint?’ I asked them if I could have their names and if they would back me up. The passenger guy shouted in ‘don’t worry mate our names or on the log and if anyone asks us we will remember what he said.’ So, off we went heading for London. Not so. We pulled into the car park of HMP Onley, which is a young offender centre next to Rye Hill.

‘We’ve just got to pick one up here,’ the driver shouts.

Now I definitely know there is no way we are going to make it in time. forty minutes later we leave Onley. I ask them to phone control and ask if I’m still required in court. If they can sort it out fast enough they can take me back to where I just came from.
No such luck. We’re half way to London and they get a phone call saying that the trial will be going ahead without me, but they still need me at court. What a load of bollocks. I bet you they don’t need me and someone just wants to speak to me or something daft like that. Mind you it was probably just as well as I could have gotten into some serious shit the next time I saw that officer. I don’t mind having to deal with abuse, but my family has done nothing and this man knew what he was saying. There is no excuse for what he did. I just wish I could remember his name.

We have to take the guy we picked up at Onley to Southwark magistrates first. It turns out he’s being released, knew fuck all about it and left all of his gear back at Onley. We arrive at Croydon Crown Court at twelve thirtyish. When I get into the reception area one of the officers comes up to me and says ‘it’s OK they’ve already had the hearing and they’ve dropped the confiscation order.’
What a relief I felt a lot lighter. Asked him why I was still brought to court.
‘Oh, your barrister wants a quick word,’ came the reply.

I bloody well knew it! Why on earth couldn’t I have spoken by phone or letter, after all the trial was done and dusted?

In Croydon – my solicitor had already left and I spent ten minutes with the barrister and was taken back to the same green cell in which I’d spent the days during my trial. Déjà vu, not quite, but it did feel as if I was going to have to endure another long and meaningless day. The barrister wanted to talk to me about appealing my sentence as it was now painfully obvious that I wasn’t the mass drug baron customs and excise had previously thought. The barrister did say that she thought my sentence was a bit excessive, but the Judge, the right honourable Judge Josey Wales was the same Judge who conducted my trial and it was unlikely that he would change the length of my sentence as the sentence he had handed down was still well within sentencing guidelines for the offence I was charged with. I hear all of these prison experts inside and outside slaggin off Judges, but have they ever stopped to listen to themselves? Agreed, there are a lot of miscarriages of justice, but the stem from the police and customs, not the Judge and in the majority of cases, mine included, it was me who got into trouble and I know that a Judge has to do his job.

So, for fucks sake if you’re guilt, be a man and dry your fuckin eyes and get on with it. I still hear guys five or six years into their sentence saying ‘there’s another day up the Judges arse!’ Is the Judge on that particular day thinking ‘oh good there’s another day done for wee Johnny I hope he suffered,’ I think not. Wise up and stop trying to attribute blame. I digress, my barrister went on to tell me that if I appealed and lost I would have to start my sentence all over again.

‘The Law,’ is mad. Can see how they play their games, justice has nothing to do with it. I told the truth, but I didn’t follow the correct procedures, didn’t admit guilt at the earliest opportunity. If I had I’d have received around eight years.

At least I’m free now, to get on with my time and my life as best as I can.

Next stop, HMP High Down.

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The Memory of Prison Mattresses.

Yesterday morning, after completing my breathing and meditation exercises I head out to meet an old mate for a cup coffee. He’s out walking, losing some weight and we discuss the size we used to be. We discussed how and why we put on so much of it over the years.

Was asked why a few times over the years and the answer can be comedic ‘I bulked up to go to the gym but forgot to go’ or ‘it was a form of self harm’. The self harm answer normally throws people until I describe how I felt ugly inside and wanted to look the same on the out. When I get back home I nip round to the local gym after signing up for a year.

Later in the day I’m making plans and head up for a shower after a good work out. Then it hits me. A full blown panic attack. No warning signs, totally uncontrollable and a frightening experience. The rest of the day is cancelled as I climb under the duvet for an hour or two, scream into the pillow and use all of my knowledge and breathing tricks that enable me to ride this storm of fear, dread, panic and seeking of oblivion. I’m lucky in the fact that I know what it is and that it will pass. Come teatime I’m back in the land of the living.

So, where does it come from?

Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) – is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/basics/definition/con-20022540

Panic Attack – The sudden onset of intense apprehension, fear, terror, impending doom, depersonalization, and derealization, occurring in phobias, schizophrenia, and major depression. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/panic-attack

The worst one I can sort of half remember was the night before my release. Was having a chat with my probation officer. Saying our goodbyes. Then it hit me. My probation officer was horrified and in tears. My probation officer told me what happened as I have no recollection of it. All I can really remember is the fear of exploding and asking to go to the SEG. Apparently my eyes rolled in my head, I went sheet white, lay on the floor and started trembling. It passed and I was able to spend a sleepless night laying on top of my bed waiting for the dawn to come. Ironically I’m editing that part of my book at present but strangely it’s all a bit of a blur.

My prison time has become a bit of a blur until I watch programmes like HMP Norwich aired on ITV last night. It’s the little things that stir me (and many other people who have been to prison), the things a TV programme cannot tell you, the images that trigger smell, feelings and emotion of that old time and place chestnut.

The new guy putting pictures up on his wall. What was not shown is the scraping off the wall the dried toothpaste used by previous occupant. Toothpaste is blue tack in prison. Most prison do not allow you to put stuff on the wall as a small notice board is provided. The security notion of prison being that covering any part of a wall can hide a tunnel or escape attempt of some sort. Too much Shawshank me thinks.

The guy being put on basic after stealing clothing from his workplace. The ease of which twenty two hour bang up is accepted. Yet, in most prisons if you cannot get a job or education course one is on twenty two hour bang up anyway. If you are lucky enough to be in a cell on your own – is this not solitary confinement. In most prisons food has been reallocated in policy whereby the prison only has to provide one hot meal a day. This means that a breakfast and lunch pack can be given the night before and they don’t have to let you out until the following night for your one hot meal. You want to try juggling that lot when you have to walk up three flights of old Victorian stairs. A one way system is imposed at feeding time – an HMP version of Ikea. Standing at the grill (The bars that segregate the servery) with blue plastic, bowl and cup hoping you’ve been let out early enough to get a decent place in the queue.

The compulsory wearing of prison clothes for the first two weeks in any prison. A further addition to Goffman’s stripping of personal identity and becoming an institutional number see http://orthomolecular.org/library/jom/1982/pdf/1982-v11n04-p267.pdf

The blue mattresses piled high in the store room. Blue mattresses are normally used in police cells and SEG blocks. The standard HMP issue mattresses are white and made of… Actually, I don’t know what they are made of. What I do know is that they are approximately four inches thick and end up being nothing thick depending on the size and weight of said prisoner. Prison mattresses can only be reissued very six months or a year depending on local prison policy. This must be a fantastic contract for the supplier of mattresses as the need is perpetual and costs HMP an absolute fortune. The reality is that you spend most of your time sleeping on a metal shelf with a bit of cloth to cover it. Most prisoners stock pile towels etc to try and get some semblance of softness. Over a period of six years my hips still ache. The memory (not memory foam) still haunts me and I so appreciated my lovely mattress when I climbed into bed last night.

Then there’s the in cell kettle. Here in Northern Ireland, prisoners are still not allowed in cell kettles as boiling water can be used to attack staff and other prisoners. Lock up here involves the cry from a member of staff ‘hot water’ and the ensemble traipse to a boiler and fill up flask for the night and morning ahead. Hot water is not normally hot come morning.

The Listener smoking on his way to visits and walking onto a block. That is a hanging offence in most jails as the prison cell is the only designated area where a prisoner can smoke. And, we are all aware that this is being made illegal.

There is so much more I could go on about but I want to get back to the question about PTSD et al. In its duty of care toward prisoners and staff prisoners must be checked at night to make sure all is safe and well. This involves a torch being shone into a darkened cell or light being switched on. In England and Wales it was infrequent and only really used if you were deemed as ‘at risk’ or under some sort of security observation. Here, in Northern Ireland it used to be every hour on the hour. After a Judicial review I got this reduced to three times a night. In simple terms what this means is that a prisoner will not get one nights uninterrupted sleep for the length of their sentence.

I served my first two years in England and last four in Northern Ireland. This then leads to a plethora of questions. How does one survive the day in prison without the aid of a good night’s sleep? How can a human being be expected to function without the biological need for sleep? What psychological damage does this long term duty of care/institutional need have on a person who has been to prison? I’m sure, like me, many others are still feeling the repercussions many years after their release.

Prison is a horrible place. It’s meant to be. Last night’s programme was a sad attempt to demonstrate the good things that can happen in prison. Story Book Dad’s is a fantastic concept and gives Fathers (and Mothers) hope. Visits are essential but in reality the trauma of going to and from visits for both prisoner and family is a psychological nightmare.

I don’t know how long these panic attacks will plague me but at the very least I understand them and know that they will pass. What about the people who have been to prison who don’t know what they are? How do they cope? Back to more of the same me thinks and the repetitive cycle of drink, drugs and self harm. I craved all of the afore mentioned, all at the same time for about an hour yesterday. It passed. Therein lie the rehabilitative affects of imprisonment.

I’m off to vote! Please don’t start me on that one.

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The Memory of Prison Mattresses.

Yesterday morning, after completing my breathing and meditation exercises I head out to meet an old mate for a cup coffee. He’s out walking, losing some weight and we discuss the size we used to be. We discussed how and why we put on so much of it over the years.

Was asked why a few times over the years and the answer can be comedic ‘I bulked up to go to the gym but forgot to go’ or ‘it was a form of self harm’. The self harm answer normally throws people until I describe how I felt ugly inside and wanted to look the same on the out. When I get back home I nip round to the local gym after signing up for a year.

Later in the day I’m making plans and head up for a shower after a good work out. Then it hits me. A full blown panic attack. No warning signs, totally uncontrollable and a frightening experience. The rest of the day is cancelled as I climb under the duvet for an hour or two, scream into the pillow and use all of my knowledge and breathing tricks that enable me to ride this storm of fear, dread, panic and seeking of oblivion. I’m lucky in the fact that I know what it is and that it will pass. Come teatime I’m back in the land of the living.

So, where does it come from?

Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) – is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/basics/definition/con-20022540

Panic Attack – The sudden onset of intense apprehension, fear, terror, impending doom, depersonalization, and derealization, occurring in phobias, schizophrenia, and major depression. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/panic-attack

The worst one I can sort of half remember was the night before my release. Was having a chat with my probation officer. Saying our goodbyes. Then it hit me. My probation officer was horrified and in tears. My probation officer told me what happened as I have no recollection of it. All I can really remember is the fear of exploding and asking to go to the SEG. Apparently my eyes rolled in my head, I went sheet white, lay on the floor and started trembling. It passed and I was able to spend a sleepless night laying on top of my bed waiting for the dawn to come. Ironically I’m editing that part of my book at present but strangely it’s all a bit of a blur.

My prison time has become a bit of a blur until I watch programmes like HMP Norwich aired on ITV last night. It’s the little things that stir me (and many other people who have been to prison), the things a TV programme cannot tell you, the images that trigger smell, feelings and emotion of that old time and place chestnut.

The new guy putting pictures up on his wall. What was not shown is the scraping off the wall the dried toothpaste used by previous occupant. Toothpaste is blue tack in prison. Most prison do not allow you to put stuff on the wall as a small notice board is provided. The security notion of prison being that covering any part of a wall can hide a tunnel or escape attempt of some sort. Too much Shawshank me thinks.

The guy being put on basic after stealing clothing from his workplace. The ease of which twenty two hour bang up is accepted. Yet, in most prisons if you cannot get a job or education course one is on twenty two hour bang up anyway. If you are lucky enough to be in a cell on your own – is this not solitary confinement. In most prisons food has been reallocated in policy whereby the prison only has to provide one hot meal a day. This means that a breakfast and lunch pack can be given the night before and they don’t have to let you out until the following night for your one hot meal. You want to try juggling that lot when you have to walk up three flights of old Victorian stairs. A one way system is imposed at feeding time – an HMP version of Ikea. Standing at the grill (The bars that segregate the servery) with blue plastic, bowl and cup hoping you’ve been let out early enough to get a decent place in the queue.

The compulsory wearing of prison clothes for the first two weeks in any prison. A further addition to Goffman’s stripping of personal identity and becoming an institutional number see http://orthomolecular.org/library/jom/1982/pdf/1982-v11n04-p267.pdf

The blue mattresses piled high in the store room. Blue mattresses are normally used in police cells and SEG blocks. The standard HMP issue mattresses are white and made of… Actually, I don’t know what they are made of. What I do know is that they are approximately four inches thick and end up being nothing thick depending on the size and weight of said prisoner. Prison mattresses can only be reissued very six months or a year depending on local prison policy. This must be a fantastic contract for the supplier of mattresses as the need is perpetual and costs HMP an absolute fortune. The reality is that you spend most of your time sleeping on a metal shelf with a bit of cloth to cover it. Most prisoners stock pile towels etc to try and get some semblance of softness. Over a period of six years my hips still ache. The memory (not memory foam) still haunts me and I so appreciated my lovely mattress when I climbed into bed last night.

Then there’s the in cell kettle. Here in Northern Ireland, prisoners are still not allowed in cell kettles as boiling water can be used to attack staff and other prisoners. Lock up here involves the cry from a member of staff ‘hot water’ and the ensemble traipse to a boiler and fill up flask for the night and morning ahead. Hot water is not normally hot come morning.

The Listener smoking on his way to visits and walking onto a block. That is a hanging offence in most jails as the prison cell is the only designated area where a prisoner can smoke. And, we are all aware that this is being made illegal.

There is so much more I could go on about but I want to get back to the question about PTSD et al. In its duty of care toward prisoners and staff prisoners must be checked at night to make sure all is safe and well. This involves a torch being shone into a darkened cell or light being switched on. In England and Wales it was infrequent and only really used if you were deemed as ‘at risk’ or under some sort of security observation. Here, in Northern Ireland it used to be every hour on the hour. After a Judicial review I got this reduced to three times a night. In simple terms what this means is that a prisoner will not get one nights uninterrupted sleep for the length of their sentence.

I served my first two years in England and last four in Northern Ireland. This then leads to a plethora of questions. How does one survive the day in prison without the aid of a good night’s sleep? How can a human being be expected to function without the biological need for sleep? What psychological damage does this long term duty of care/institutional need have on a person who has been to prison? I’m sure, like me, many others are still feeling the repercussions many years after their release.

Prison is a horrible place. It’s meant to be. Last night’s programme was a sad attempt to demonstrate the good things that can happen in prison. Story Book Dad’s is a fantastic concept and gives Fathers (and Mothers) hope. Visits are essential but in reality the trauma of going to and from visits for both prisoner and family is a psychological nightmare.

I don’t know how long these panic attacks will plague me but at the very least I understand them and know that they will pass. What about the people who have been to prison who don’t know what they are? How do they cope? Back to more of the same me thinks and the repetitive cycle of drink, drugs and self harm. I craved all of the afore mentioned, all at the same time for about an hour yesterday. It passed. Therein lie the rehabilitative affects of imprisonment.

I’m off to vote! Please don’t start me on that one.

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The Hope Machine

5.30 am, Belfast.
Sitting here listening to the central heating crack awake sucking the chill from the morning air as the dawn breaks (still blue sky – but this is Northern Ireland) on another day in the life of ‘I’. Like all things in my weird and wonderful world it takes my back to a time and place in memory. A time not so much filled with ‘Hope’ rather more to do with surviving and getting through the day. Wrote this wee number around 5.30am on the morning I went to Stormont back in 2012 (see this blog, The Re-Entry Conundrum – jail or working overseas.) to deliver my speech about writing, art and education in prison to the great and the good.

Diamonds and Skin
By Michael Irwin
HMP Magilligan

Drinking coffee, listening to ‘Elbow’
The desk lamp on –
The cups elongated shadow
Limp across the page, centre stage.
The scarred table, empty, bereft
Of all but bubbles of varnish
This soft glow of light
This Time rubbed bare
Visible through the darkness
Blurred as hesitant light
Where ghost and ghouls
Dance in the merry half night.
This tune you hum
As speckles of dust, clean clear and vivid
They settle on diamonds of skin
Near the base of forefinger and thumb
Like wrinkles of an old leathery elephant
Through time and age in increments
On a translucent blue ruler
Grain in wood, fibres in paper
This day breaking in floods
Mixing ink ‘n’ light, paper ‘n’ darkness
Tick tock, in my cell, my graveside
‘Throw those curtains wide.’

Four and a bit years on – what has changed? Apart from the obvious of ‘not being there’ it’s everything and nothing really. Must apologise first for plagiarising half the title from Shadd Maruna and Ruth Armstrong’s recent presentation at Cambridge “Beyond The Rhetoric of Reintegration : Getting Inside The Hope Machine.”

Out of the frying pan and into the fire and trying to get back in the pan again comes to mind or Michael Irwin logic – jumping from one institution to another. It dawned on me over the past few days that I had indeed lost the plot. Spent six years in the wonderful institution of Her Majesty’s Pleasure (HMP) fighting, kicking, screaming and biting at the criminal justice system whilst quietly yearning for the day I escaped it’s clutches. Then, full of ‘Hope’, on my first home leave I enter the ‘Canada Room’ and the hallowed halls of the institution of academia. I’d got a little taster of ‘hope’ and a year later (upon release) found myself sitting and getting a Master’s in Criminology.

Question – To what end? What was my rational behind it all? This question has plagued me for the past six months.

Answer – To get back into the institution I’d just left and pass on my knowledge, experience, epistemological privilege and to bring some reality to the worlds of academia and criminal justice.

Not a bad answer and it worked for a while. The trouble is, I’m not the same person I was back then. At the time I was fuelled by a sense of injustice and I’m not ashamed to admit ‘anger’ at the institution of prison. Then I discovered the institution of academia! I’ll leave the subtle innuendo out there for those who wish to translate.

Last week a received the cursory gut wrenching letter that said thank you for your PhD application which has been unsuccessful and we wish you all the best with your future career… My gut hasn’t wrenched like that for a very long time. Why am I gutted and to what end will my guttedness get me? Therein lay the conundrum. As per usual it takes me a while to work things out. I’m always thinking, always questioning myself, always reaching for hope. Why do I want this?

As per, living life and paying attention gives me the answers. Recent events in my personal and family life have enabled the pieces to gently fit into place. Firstly, A few weeks ago my friend Les published a book of poems about growing up where we live. These poems (bloody brilliant by the way mate) allowed me to remember stuff I’d forgot about growing up and the power of creative writing. Secondly, watching my Father fight and win his second operation in six weeks, kicking the ass of the beast of Cancer allowed me to realise where I get some of my strength from. A most amazing man who humbles me. Thirdly, my Art of Living breathing exercises and meditation. I haven’t properly practised since the end of last year and had lost my direction. I went to my first meet up last Sunday and practised every single day for the last two weeks.

I need to explain, in layman’s terms the power of these breathing exercises. Two weeks ago I sat in a coffee shop waiting to pick my Father up from the hospital. I was in full blown panic/anxiety attack. Trembling, shaking and spilling the coffee and couldn’t sit still. Yesterday morning, waiting to pick him up from his post op consultation, I sat in the same seat in the same coffee shop with the sun on my face as calm as you like. Not a drop was spilled and I felt at ease ready to deal with the result. “All Clear” by the way. I’ll be doing the exercise as soon as I finish this.

Fourthly, I watched the result of Hillsborough Inquest come in yesterday. The tears flowed. If, anyone has any doubt about the power of critical research and why academia is essential in our society. Well, yesterday proves it.

So, it then hit me like a thunderbolt. Why on earth am I attempting to spend the rest of my life getting into an institution in order to get into another institution that I spent six years trying to get out of? There are other means and ways of achieving and imparting my knowledge, experience and epistemological privilege to the afore said institutions. Getting my book published is number one on the list. Getting back to work – whatever that may be. Reading and writing creatively and academically and most of all living my days via breathing and meditations.

The most important thing in life is to feel grounded and centred in one’s self and recent events take me back to a certain time and place. I wrote poem one week after doing the Art of Living Prison Smart Course in 2008. I now have a BA, MSSc and will continue to write and learn.  Nothing has changed yet everything has changed, the ‘Hope Machine’ trundles on and lies at the centre of my world. I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote last Saturday morning.

Socks
By Michael Irwin

Slipping on socks on a sanitised floor, craggy nails, sliding, taking, sucking, feeling, taking, taking on circulation, life. Lived life in toes, tell a tale like rings on an aged Redwood tree. Glad it’s not me. Baby toes once, you all right Jack, toes take the weight off a my back. Carried me for years, harboured all my fears, nurtured, loved and murdered by insolent constriction of shoes. Ahhhh, the comfort of socks, slipping in and out of life with ease. Father slips on a sock to his baby with bereft, delicate intimacy, tough as old boot yet silently quiet. Fifty years later son reciprocates with a life so scarred and broken, two men healed by the sliding on of socks, in gesture that heals time itself.

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The War on Drugs

As I mentioned in my previous blog I’d been asked to appear on a local radio programme and I’d declined. I did listen to the programme and what struck me the most was the sensationalism of media and desire of society for revenge without knowing or wanting to know the facts. Thought I’d share this 2nd year undergrad essay mainly for my academic friends.

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’.

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