“Where the bodies are buried” – a prisoner’s tale

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One of the advantages of “coming out” as an ex-con are the stories that can be told. As a story-teller, I particularly love those I have been discouraged or silenced from repeating in the past.

There is one story that keeps tugging at me, asking to be told. It emerges into daylight on 21 March 2000 when a young man of 19, serving a 40-day sentence for handling stolen goods and within five hours of his release, is murdered by his racist pad-mate. The young man’s name was Zahid Mubarek.

Had it not been for the campaign for justice, led his family, I would not be able to tell my story… and this is why. The result of the Public Inquiry into the murder of Zahid Mubarek did something rather unusual. It named the Governor responsible for a wing that would pad-up a young Asian man with a known and violent racist. It’s about as critical as a public inquiry can get in the UK and it’s all checkable.

But my story is not about Zahid even though it begins and ends with him. It’s about what happened inbetween; a “What the Governor did next…” tale.

You see, somehow being in charge of a wing where a vulnerable prisoner is murdered in a way that could be forseen didn’t seem to present any kind of career problems for this man. By the time I met him, in 2003, he was a Dark Star in the pantheon of Prison Service Gods. He changed things. He made a difference!

He certainly made a difference when, after Feltham, he became the Governor-in-Charge of HMP Durham. Durham was a high-security prison which, contained within the men’s prison, held the highest-security wing for women in England & Wales. So this Prince-of-Darkness brings in the kind of changes he will build his reputation upon.

The Women’s Wing was small and had only one suicide in over a decade on its record. The wing was, by prisoner reports told to me, stable and as quiet as such places are capable of being. By the time it was finally shut down in 2005, the dead had risen to eight. As a former consultant, I might wonder at the aims and objectives of HMP-HQ if this particular style of prisoner management is considered laudable.

By the time I met this man, he had been promoted further; an Area Manager for the Womens’ Estate in the North of England. Women prisoners (8% of total population) accounted for 55% of ALL prisoner suicide and self-harm statistics at that time. The figures are not much better today.

He had one of the darkest souls I have ever met. The death toll left in his wake suggests I was seeing accurately and he offered no life I considered worthy of living.

He disappeared from the Prison public view after he was identified as a contributory factor in the death of Zahid Mubarek. But he won’t have disappeared. I wonder whose lives he is playing with now.

My story thanks you for listening and gives deepest thanks to the Mubarek family for their loss and their strength in making this Telling-Tale possible.

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2 responses »

  1. Beautifully told. So sad. No excess in your mourning. Prison service is filed with failed wannabe corporate sociopaths. Only they’re not clever enough. I’d love to do a telling tale about a particularly weird governor specimen of a women’s prison. He hates women. And I can’t criticise his appalling reoffending rates because “there’s no comparable. ” Time has come to burn it all down and start again.

    • The impact of his leadership will be felt by every single woman in the prison. Women prisoners have been known to plead for mercy in such situations and have it denied them. What goes on in women’s prisons is grotesque and getting worse.

      The best male Governor-in-Charge I met – who’d been G-i-C for the high security men’s prison Frankland (a very tough place) – said that in his opinion, 80% of the women should not be there. Corston said it.

      Everyone is pleading for mercy and having it denied. Such people are not fit to ‘rule’.

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