Monthly Archives: November 2012

Meet my friend Jules – isn’t she lovely!

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Source: Unknown

 

This email was received on 5th November in reply to this post.

 

Dearest Dee,

Of course it is right for you to be angry! Of course it is right for you to wish to help facilitate the changes in perception and implementation of how women desisters are treated and viewed both within the system and when they are *freed* from the building but not from the chains that prison continues to wrap around their very being.
My own view of your melt down is it is the most natural thing in the emotional world to be brought down low by the kindnesses…let me qualify that…somehow a strong woman can bear the adversity more stoically because she still has her protective behaviours primed for further onslaught…genuine kindness comes as such a profound shock…surprise that it doesn’t hit those defensive force fields somehow it fires straight into the soul being of *you* your essence what makes you an entirely unique beautiful person being recognised and held in value by another… After isolation and rejection nothing could ever be so profound! My soul arms are enfolding you now and gently rocking…this part of you is new and vulnerable as an infant just birthed and needs that nurturing to feel its connectivness to whole for the first time… Welcome to the world again.
I can only send my love and strength to help cocoon you through the shock that all infants feel after going through the birth process. Does that feel an apt analogy? xx
My view of your vision is it is one that will work…for some reason my brain is taking my thoughts to the work done with HIV sufferers in Africa who have been shuned segregated and disempowered by their patriarchal societies…I feel much could be learned and applied from their journey to acceptance…a prison also not of their making and yet still as real as a physical one.
I realise I haven’t touched on the prison issue the system itself…this is a new area to me one I know very little about…what I do know is confined to males and their experience as this is where my works have taken me but only on a surface level.
I am also painfully aware that as a woman I lack sufficient empathy and experience with other women as throughout my life I have found women so alien to me…my protective behaviours were to be as male as possible…it is a new experience to me to even have friendships with women. Dearest Dee I think you also have opened your heart to what you have said is the worst of you so it cannot be used as a weapon against you by the accusation of *you hid this*. To me it is not inconsequential as it is part of your journey…but it is not what defines your wholeness…many commit deeds in their hearts and minds which remain hidden but none the less have impact on their souls and the people around them although they are hidden in the depths of their being. I do hope that is making sense to you? Not one of us has NOT practiced this in our dark selves.
I will think more on this and reconnect with you again…it deserves more depth of thought than I have just now given, however I sensed a reply from raw unprocessed thought was appropriate also.
You are more than welcome to blog any or all of this reply it is not within my ability to do so from work.
The most tender thoughts and unconditional love accompany this on its journey to you… Peace and grace I wish for you with my full essence of being…lean into my arms
Jules xx

 

 

Comment:

It would have been a sin to have died after receiving such an amazing message!

The Progress of a Broken Heart

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Source: Unknown

 

 

For those who don’t know, following my blog post on November 5th, I had a heart attack. I was admitted to hospital as an emergency because my bottom artery was blocked by a blood clot. The clot was cleared and a stent installed to keep it open. Apparently my other arteries were unaffected. Whilst I was released home a few days later, the clot affected one of the valves in my heart, causing blood to flow back into my lungs, resulting in a fluid build up there. This caused serious breathing difficulties which meant I needed to be readmitted to hospital for further treatment. This problem has been successfully treated with diuretics and I am presently at home again. For the record, I think there may be further problems that need tending to, given how I am feeling, but I don’t yet know what they are. I’ll be discussing these with the cardiac nurses during my hospital appointment next Tuesday as well as taking things very carefully between now and then.

 

The amount of personal support I’ve received during this time has completely blown me away. On a practical level, my immediate neighbours have enabled me to traverse this new environment without harm to my home. They’ve fed (and cleared up after) my cats, helped me with shopping and visited me in hospital – all volunteered freely and with good humour. Given that my criminal offence, nearly ten years ago, involved hostile neighbours I am fully aware of how my recent experiences could have resulted in a very different outcome. To say I am grateful for all these kindnesses and help is to put it very mildly, especially as my current neighbours are fully aware of my past. They tell me this no longer concerns them – their assessment is based upon their direct experience of me now. Whilst it may not seem much to them, their attitudes mean a very great deal to me. On one level, it means that I have finally come home after a long period of homelessness. Yet now, from my perspective, this is going to have to be a different kind of home at all levels.

 

Firstly, the ‘home’ of my own body needs to be transformed – I cannot live the way I was living before my heart attack. This is now a life-and-death issue. I need to take all the meds the doctors have prescribed to keep my heart functioning and my lungs clear. I need to stop smoking (not as easy as it first appears). I need to take exercise (and already have a delightful volunteer neighbour stepping forward to help me with this) and I need the time to do all this before I can return to work. I doubt any of the doctors involved with this form of rehabilitation would disagree with me. Yet this needs to be set in a social context.

 

At a social level, I can count myself extremely lucky that my heart attack occurred when it did. If I were living in Iran, I would be being sent home to die due to the lack of available medication to treat heart problems. Given the current situation of the NHS and the UK government’s insistence upon privatisation, the services I received may not be there in the future. For example, there seems to be a suggestion that free prescriptions for those on benefit are likely to become a thing of the past. Those sickness benefits available in the past are not going to be there in the future. My housing benefit is being reduced next month – were it not for the compassion of both my landlady and her agent, I might have been facing a house move now (another reason for me to be deeply grateful). At a governmental level, it would seem that there is far less interest in my recovery. In fact, I find it easy to believe that my government would prefer me dead, such is their determination to reduce the ‘costs’ of my living. So whilst my immediate community supports me to live, my country apparently wants me dead – and I am a minor case compared with those whose own ill-health is far worse than mine. Therefore, I am deeply grateful to learn that there are those who are enquiring whether UK government policies towards people like me are criminal or not. Even if my own ‘value’ fails to meet the ‘life’ criteria, I think these questions need asking if we are to retain any vestiges of being a civilised society.

 

 

One of the problems I have in trying to bring everyone up to date with how I am is the fragmented quality of my awareness now. I experience what happened to my heart on 5th November as the equivalent of a mega-earthquake that is continuing to produce aftershocks in my physical, emotional and psychological landscapes. The structures of my past have yet to be tested for safety. I am no longer certain of where I am going or who I am capable of becoming now, in this new landscape. Any moves I make at present have to be tentative because nothing is certain anymore.

 

What I can be certain of, however, is that the epicentre of my personal mega-quake occurred deep in the subject of women’s desistance. I have not gone back to read the blogs leading up to 5th November because I know they will be filled – both accurately and inaccurately – with the pain and distress of trying to find a way through the social walls of a systemic resistance to listening. These are old, familiar and well-trodden paths that I had to follow many times in prison. Then it wasn’t heart attacks that cut through the barriers to common humanity but my blood-pressure which could register 240/130 during such crises. My BP would keep on rising until I encountered someone who thought I might be worthy of life. By the time such encounters occurred, I had normally been transferred to Healthcare. My heartful mega-quake was no different.

 

Jules replied to my 5/11 blog. In her reply (which I will post here at some point), she met me as one human being to another, following what I had experienced as a prolonged, terrible and abandoning silence in the face of what I was saying. Reading her email sent me into shock. I suspect that it was the impact of this shock that caused the crack in my artery which, coupled with my blood’s attempt to heal the crack through clotting, led to my heart attack. It might sound as though I am blaming her but, believe me, I am not. The compassion contained in her reply meant, in my opinion, that I survived this breaking of my heart. Without it, I probably wouldn’t have lived to write this.

 

Nevertheless, what is clear to me now is that I cannot survive my own desistance without kindness, compassion and a mutual willingness to engage another’s point of view from their perspective. None of our perspectives are going to be perfect but without a conscious capacity for humanity and compassion, we are likely to be unintentionally murderous, regardless of whether it arises from an individual offender; from those engaged within the Criminal Justice system; or as commenters/observers. I’m probably not explaining myself very well here but this might help. As you will see, my post elicited one response which required moderation because it was a personal attack towards me. The respondent had problems understanding that not every offender is a thief, mugger or murderer; that if I have paid the full price society has demanded for my transgression, then I am no longer ‘fair-game’ to blame for all crime; and that, as a desister, I have a continuing social responsibility to contribute to the lawful betterment of my community. As an illustration of the point I was attempting to make, the comment itself was ‘perfect’; so, too, the moderation which implies that there comes a point where such prejudice and hate must cease if a society is to retain its claim to humanity.

 

I support my own viewpoint with the evidence of my willingness to die in order to bring this message home to those who are capable of hearing it. It is a form of experiential teaching/learning like no other for it shows us all how much suffering we demand or require, both of ourselves and in others, before we empower ourselves to say ‘Enough’. What is interesting here is that when we realise and act upon our ‘Enough’, we find ourselves behaving lawfully. Sometimes we may also realise that, in all possibility, our previous failures to act may render us liable, or vicariously liable, to the charge of crimes against humanity.

 

I don’t teach this lesson to make people feel bad about themselves – those who need that lesson cannot hear me at all. No – my lesson is to help those who can hear me to feel good about themselves instead.  Yes, these are terrible tales we are relating – they are enough to break a woman’s heart – but if we can hear them, we can change them as we change ourselves. It’s not about apportioning blame – there is too much of it now to even begin to know how to share it out. It’s about saying ‘Enough’! It’s about saying we will not add to this appalling situation through ignorance, denial or refusal to acknowledge reality but will find other, better, healthier, humane ways to be with each other. It’s about gently removing the weapons of attrition from the hands of the wilfully ignorant and placing that responsibility into the power of wiser, legal and socially responsible minds and hearts so we stop treating each other this way. This is how we learn to feel good about ourselves and what we do. Ultimately, it’s about discovering that, no matter what we may have done in the past, we can all be forgiven… but only when we learn to stop sinning. This is the primal message of desistance and it belongs to us all, offender and non-offender alike.

 

The impression I am getting, in the aftermath of my mega-quake heart-break, is that I am not required to teach this death-centred experiential lesson again. The message I am receiving, from my neighbours and my immediate community, is that I am valuable alive and living amongst them. This blog – as fragmented and perhaps confused as it may be – is an opportunity for me to say thank you to my neighbours and those amazing friends I have made within my social media. If my neighbours overwhelmed me with their kindness when I needed them the most, my astonishing friends have been sending tsunamis of love that render me without words and what feels like an inability to respond. Yet, love demands response.

 

Until my body feels aligned to whatever life-force I must now dwell within to live, I can make no wise decisions about which pathways I need to be following. So I contemplate the aftermath of my mega-heart-break in order to see what needs to be allowed to die back and what can be cultivated to grow in healthier ways.

 

From this immediate perspective, what I can be certain of is that social attrition, cruelty, an absence of mercy and increasing austerity will grow nothing of any worth and is more than likely to destroy any remaining personal creativity any of us might be able to access. Whilst my neighbours and friends offer me the realistic possibility of a continuing life worth living for the benefit of my community, I cannot ignore that my government appears to want me – and all those like me – dead.

 

How am I supposed to respond to such a requirement?

 

Indeed, how is any law-abiding citizen supposed to respond?

 

 

And, finally, my apologies if this is hard to follow – it is, nevertheless, a true reflection of what is occurring within as I wander through the post heart-attack landscape I find myself in.

 

 

Reblog: The Astrology of December 2012

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This is Carl’s big end of the Mayan Calendar video, sort of. December’s vibes place the individual in the midst of a profoundly transformative field. After all the crisis and drama of recent years, the responsibility for bringing change fall squarely on the shoulders of individuals, who must, now, take responsibility for wrestling the world around them into more acceptable shape.

This will be a more complicated process than you might think,because individuals themselves are the focus of profound and powerful transformative energies. People will be working toward a greater understanding of who they are and what they really want, even as they try to transform the world they find themselves in.

The beginning of a lengthy and strenuous process.

A more polished, written version of this analysis will be available on Carl’s blog on or around December 1st. The link to Carl’s blog is on my blogroll.

Desistance, Resistance, Women and Fireworks

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Would be delighted to credit this beautiful artwork

 

Bonfire Night

 

 

My very dear Jules,

 

Warning: I really need to vent what’s inside. Blue-touch-paper is already lit, so stand well back from this firework 😉

 

Thank you so much for your intuition. I could do with a thoughtful woman’s response to this. Dusty provided the warrior-response by commenting that there was a lot of pain in the post which, through all the confusion and memories that were swirling through my psyche, I hadn’t actually felt – although I probably did at the time. That’s how trauma gets its hooks into me.

 

The problem I seem to be having is finding a way to comfortably bridge the abyss of understanding that seems to exist between the desistance Criminal Justice professionals I want to impress and me. Why do I want to do I want to impress them? Firstly, because they are impressive people themselves and they are unlikely to take any notice if I don’t! Secondly, because my ambition to return to paid self-employment has just come one step nearer. My work has attracted an admirer who might be willing to invest in me financially while I pursue the issue of women’s desistance. The impact of that possibility has turned up the pressure on my professionalism – which is great, in one way, and proving to be an absolute disaster in others.

 

In every tough experience I’ve ever come through, I’ve always had a ‘crack-up’ point and, interestingly, it’s never been the battles themselves but either some unexpected kindness or cruelty afterwards. With the latter, I’ve normally crumpled into overwhelming emotional pain much to the alarm of my better ‘handlers’ (the memory here comes from New Hall, where the officers tried to stop my tears by telling me how strong they thought I was – I am strong, but I’m not invulnerable). The melt-down I’m in now is the result of a long sequence of kindnesses that have supported my desistance ambitions. There’s my potential benefactor and her willingness to consider funding me. There are people like you and James and Dusty who, after I’ve made certain you all know the worst there is to know about me, have become friends of profound creativity. There are my longer term friends from the Guardian; all now in exile on Twitter. But the ‘big names’ of desistance, like No Offence and all these University professors are new to their ‘experience’ of me. They are the ones I am going to need if I am to really return to public service in my own way and here I am in a global public melt-down apparently confusing the hell out of them. Each time I open my mouth, all I seem to be doing is changing feet.

 

I feel very passionately about women’s desistance. I feel very passionately about how women prisoners are treated generally. This country has a whole bunch of women in prison – mainly for acquisitive crimes – who, according to Lady Jean Corston, shouldn’t be there – they don’t belong in prison. She said that in her Report  five years ago and, I understand, there has been a great deal of work done to divert women offenders from custodial sentences since then but nothing is being done for those already in the system.

 

The women’s estate is very much a poor relative within the Prison Service. We account for between 4-8 prisoners for every 100 incarcerated. The Criminal Justice system knows very little – apart from those officers who take the trouble to learn – about women. Corston described the system as designed by men for men, and she’s absolutely right. For a woman, this means ours is the experience of highly-controlling condemnatory paternalism coupled with an absolute refusal to engage on the emotional level or, sometimes, to even recognise its existence. Remember I am looking at this with a psychotherapist’s eye.

 

The women’s response is to self-harm, suicide or, in some way or another, go quietly insane. We lose our bearings emotionally and the punishment regimes can be continuous over long periods until whole wings are screaming, which means something has to be done to ease the pain and a woman dies. The levels of emotional pain these 4-8 women prisoners carry is enough to fill around 50% of the self-harm statistics for the entire 100 – that’s how bad it is. These figures rise and fall, but in no significant degree away from half the pain for the whole bally lot of them. There are those who understand how bad it is but I’m not certain these statistics quite sink in with the best of the criminal justice ‘family’.

 

Jean Corston’s Report wanted the women out of prison within ten years. We have five years left and we haven’t even looked at what to do for the women still imprisoned. It’s as if everyone has found something more important to do. That’s not to say that there aren’t more important things – there seem to be so many of them these days, I have to be very selective where I put my energy. But I do think we need more energy around Corston and women’s desistance because while everyone is faffing around elsewhere, 4-8 living breathing women are carrying the emotional burden for 100. As the justice system swings into attrition mode, this burden will increase as will the cutting, ligaturing and inevitable suicides. Women’s prisons – at their best – are relationship-heavy. The Prison Service is cutting staff across the board, so this reduces the capacity for relating between women prisoners and staff as well as placing an impossible burden on the good staff themselves. They are the ones who see our distress and it hurts them when they can’t help us because we are being systemically abused. These are the staff who arrive in the ‘nick-of-time’ to save a woman’s life and they are being set up to fail. Fail to implement Corston, and the suicidal women who succeeds in dying may have cause to be grateful because the alternative is no life worth living. It is an argument I had with all the prisons I was in and I knowingly put my health and life at risk in my refusal to accept what was on offer. The need to implement this empty-prison aspect of Corston is becoming more urgent every day – these women don’t belong in prison. So why are they still there and why are they now being subject to a heavier level of systemic judicial punishment through the criminal neglect of their needs purely on the grounds of gender? These women are already recognised as having a far higher chance of being victims of abuse than the general population – so these victims are now being further victimised by a system that doesn’t know how to relate to women and demonstrates no interest in learning.

 

You may not know this, but research into women offenders ‘in their own right’ is relatively new. For years, all research on offenders was based upon male offending. The researchers were just beginning to take notice of us women when I was in prison in 2008/9 and they found they had to go back to the drawing board. The reasons women offend are totally unrelated to anything men do – we have our own reasons. When women are imprisoned, families break down and children end up in care – men don’t seem to have that problem so much.  Issues around housing and work are harder for women offenders. As far as I can see, because the Criminal Justice system doesn’t know how to deal with women, they are doing what they usually do by putting their heads in the sand and hoping the problem will go away. They won’t take any real notice until the death toll gets embarrassing. Evidence? It’s what they did with the women’s wing at HMP Durham, eventually closing it down altogether but not before one last suicide. When the last lass died, the number of women being held in that prison was in single digits. That fucking regime couldn’t muster any compassion for a small handful of women when just ordinary compassion would simply be to treat women with the same level of consideration given to men. It illustrates just how bad it can get in prison on a very bad day.

 

I’m pushing women’s desistance because I think it would be a way to implement Corston. It could look out for the lasses on their terms and still meet reparative justice demands but it would have to be reparative on both sides. I have this fantasy of a women’s desistance project in my village. We have unused allotments, impoverished villagers and a global famine on the way. In my mind, I see women desisters earning their freedom by growing food; by ensuring there is a free breakfast club at the local school; by any number of other ways we could identify to contribute to the community – with the eventual aim of sending our ‘graduates’ out to teach other people how to do it, either as employees or paid consultants. Such a project would, by its very nature, be labour intensive but it would be a fixed term thing. Once the women are out of the system, there’d be no need for more unless the men steal our ideas because the methodology might work for them too. Before then, in my mind, desistance women would have taught themselves about social enterprises and creating their own work. Homes, work and a new social worth might go some considerable way to enabling these women to let go of their past.

 

The women emerging from these prisons have been living in emotional concentration/death camps – some have been in them all their lives. They are going to be disoriented and suffering from extreme emotional damage. I suppose that’s why I thought it so important to ‘do’ my melt-down in public – if people can begin to get a grasp of how I continue to be affected, then that might elicit some compassion for those women who have come through much, much worse. Example? How about Naz (eventually transferred to a psychiatric hospital (what was needed from the outset)) who performed her own mastectomies – not once but on several occasions? That was not her worst behaviour. When I talk about the women who cut, I’m talking about those whose arms, legs and probably elsewhere consist of scar tissue. There is no place on their arms where they haven’t cut. My sweetest friend, Melissa, has arms like that. The women’s obvious distress is so bad it disturbs the sleep of independent witnesses.

 

I wonder if part of the reason criminal justice finds this so hard to get to grips with are due the levels of professional complicity in not only creating but perpetuating this situation. They can’t say they don’t know anymore because Corston told them. She was shocked by what she saw five years ago. It seems some women’s prisons still refuse to learn today. As far as I am concerned, this report about New Hall suggests that they continue to use psychological torture on some women prisoners held within the Segregation Unit.

 

I wonder if they still fuck with our meds, like they used to. Or put newly remanded, first-time-in-prison, first night woman into solitary confinement at BASIC C&C and keep her on that regime for a month (without induction). I had to put in an app asking what it was I’d done wrong to be treated in such a way so that I could correct it, before I was brought up to STANDARD (the automatic entry point for all new prisoners). But that won’t show up on the prison’s computer in just the same way that my correct conviction didn’t either. New Hall transferred me to Durham with a record that claimed I’d been convicted for attempted murder. No – I was charged with attempted murder, based on fraudulent documents; I was convicted of wounding-with-intent after I successfully defended myself in court by demonstrating the documents were frauds. I had to write to Hull Crown Court and ask them to inform HMP Durham about the facts of my convictions because we can be certain that the prison would never have taken my word for it. They certainly thought I was lying about my psychotherapeutic past because they told my vulnerable young friend from New Hall solitary this after they’d ghosted me out. Fortunately, I had a good enough relationship with Toni to be able to laugh it off by saying that perhaps they could fill in this missing seventeen-year gap in my history where I’m convinced that’s what I was and can produce witnesses. Toni ended up cutting badly and now has a long history of suicide attempts including one very near miss indeed. It is profoundly unethical to lie to someone with existing mental health problems. Fortunately, Toni made it to hospital too – there are many who don’t.

 

Jules – is it alright for me to be blisteringly angry about all this? Or did I have it coming because I’m a criminal? This is the criminal justice mind-fuck. I know how I feel and I hear the other trotted out often enough even from the criminals in the men’s estate. But the biggest perpetrator of the “had-it-coming” mind-fuck, as far as I am concerned, is Probation.  This is where desistance becomes necessary on all sides. Whilst the Criminal Justice system fails to desist in its profoundly cruel and unjust treatment of women prisoners, nothing gets done to stop it. The system is so busy looking round pointing its fingers at us, it forgets three other fingers point straight back. But I’m not going to help matters if I join in the blame game too, even though the desire to deal with some of those bastards is, at times, overwhelming.

 

*SCREAMS*

HOW DARE YOU TREAT WOMEN – TO WHOM YOU OWE A DUTY OF CARE – IN THIS WAY!!!! HOW MANY TIMES DO YOU HAVE TO BE TOLD THAT WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS ABUSIVE AND CRUEL????

 

I’ve been a desister from the moment of my offence. If I can do it, so can they. We simply have to be professional about it. You’re a wise woman, Jules. How is a woman like me supposed to feel in the face of this stuff? How is she supposed to behave? And how am I doing in my ambition to be professional around women’s desistance?

 

And, just thank you, thank you, thank you for asking and, more especially, my friend.

 

All my love

 

Dee

 

“Shattering!” – A Personal Experience of #PTSD

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Professional advice regarding self-reflection

When you read the following, it is worth remembering that you are listening to my emotional past. Because our human psychic unconscious is vastly opportunistic when faced with an opening to unfinished business, many of my PTSD flashbacks relate to prison memories. Whilst this is connected to the present, the emotional impact still contains the shock of not just one, but many traumas. This shock, if experienced by the reader with whatever emotional triggers are felt as a result, is what is meant by projective identification. However, I am merely being myself during a PTSD episode – I’m having enough problems of my own navigating this hurricane of feeling – I don’t have time to be worried about manipulating you. Therefore, whatever is triggered has to belong to you, not me.

This is useful information for women’s desistance – please make a note of it.

The more you know about your own desistance trigger points the more you will begin to grasp where I am coming from.

 

 

As I’ve already indicated to Richard (*waves*), I am still working through the PTSD affect which I realise now, was mainly triggered by a problem I had at home with npower. My problem with npower is highly political and takes me right to the core of the problem I have with God/Queen, but hasn’t quite yet fully affected ‘my Country’. I have yet to be able to bring this to a more rational closure which means I am more susceptible to triggers that, at better times, might simply wash over instead of through me as they are now.

 

There have been a variety of triggers too – all of them related to the issue of integrity in public service and the standards we now seem to have to adhere simply to be kind and respectful human beings. But we do it. The Hurricane Sandy Storify – created by @PrinceOfRazors, himself a Katrina survivor – has integrity. It is the living story of people who, via the Occupy Movement, know how to respond to disaster from the bones of their humanity. I found this energy in prison. People from whom everything had been taken still finding that they had something to give.

 

When I remember the trauma, I am also required to report how this tragedy is balanced. My experience was validated by the prison officers who, when it got truly awful, talked me back from the edge. I was a very difficult prisoner to deal with if the officer wasn’t able to be human. What it meant, especially when I was in good hands, was that I got to meet some really amazing human beings and the way they talked me back was by telling me about themselves. I am a very easy person to talk to, or so I’ve been told. I got to hear stories about wolves, bears and helicopters in the wilds of Canada; or listen to the sorrows of grief from bereaved staff. These were the ones who understood that my rage was at the system and never personal – sometimes I got the sense that I might simply have been voicing how they were feeling themselves. I remember the small kindnesses and intelligent conversations whilst we went through the motions of the system because neither of us had any choice in the matter. I remember the astonishment on some officer’s faces when I treated them with respect and the way they always treated me fairly (but without unearned favour) as a result. They made my time in prison easier and I was grateful then and I still am now. These memories are the best human beings can be in the worst of times.

 

The officers and staff who gather in the above paragraph – and you know who you are – healed me on more than one occasion and I healed them in return. As a shaman, I can remove the harmful impacts of dealing with direct abuse from others – in my last prison, Low Newton, staff honoured me by letting me take all that crap off them. I did it for them – that kind of abuse has a corrosive power that eats away at our self-esteem. I did it for the wing or work area – because the energy of an off-balance officer affects everyone. A balanced wing has a lot of humour and prisoners can get things done – it’s a women’s wing, remember! There’s cleaning, ironing, washing, cooking, writing letters, hanging out and work. An off-balance wing is a nightmare.

 

Memory-release *In the segregation unit in New Hall, there were a couple of night staff who spent their duty healing all the wounds created by day. A softly-spoken woman who could spend hours talking down highly-provoked prisoners by, in my case, simply telling me that she saw the same things I was seeing; or the ex-miner who knew what it was to need a tab.*

 

When I remember these things, I remember the route out of darkness. At some point in any confrontation I may have had with the system – and I fought every step of the way through the proper procedures (being the good shop steward that I am) – I ‘won’ by bring transferred out of New Hall to Durham, and then subsequently transferred out of Durham to Low Newton. I owe far more than four Koestler Awards and a very great deal to be grateful for when it comes to HMP Low Newton. I notice that, as a prison, it scores as zero on prisoner suicides which isn’t quite the whole truth. There has been one suicide at the prison – I was there at the time and the Governor in Charge visited every prisoner personally. Perhaps the lass who died was on remand and not convicted, which is why she doesn’t show up in the statistics. Her death meant that every cell of its kind was changed to prevent further successful suicides.

 

*2004 memory of Ray, in F-Wing HMP Durham exercise yard, talking about creating a memorial for all our lost lives of F Wing – anyone who knows me from those days will know exactly who I am talking about*

 

The thing about Low Newton is that once officers and staff get the hang of working with women prisoners, they can ‘sense’ when a woman is in danger. This scale is measured by the near-misses Low Newton has experienced – I know exactly how near some of them have been. When that happens – especially if the woman is, in her own way, trying to desist – a shock wave goes through the prison. This is because officers and staff genuinely care about and are interested in the women as far as they are allowed to be by either system or individual. I would never have achieved Koestler Awards at New Hall or Durham. But after my recall to prison, Low Newton staff chivvied me into four of them by insisting on giving me resources I felt guilty for not using (bastards). Then they created a display along the main corridor which began with an exhibition of my paintings and was followed with commissioned Equality displays on subjects like Black History month, which was given a nod of respect for “Not bad for a white” by my beautiful black sisters. I remember each of you very well indeed and still treasure our experiences together in my memory. The compliment I value most, however, came unprompted from a highly disciplined officer and related to the display I had prepared on the Holocaust. It seemed that some of my posters had given officers an opportunity to educate prisoners about history. Not only had I got the right approach to open minds, I had also honoured the validity and integrity of those who died, civilian or service. Somehow, I had enabled a creative meeting place between prisoners and staff.

 

What we created was a cycle of validation.

 

I remember the friends I made among the prisoners. The ones who thought I was nuts. And the ones who would never dare do what I sometimes did, but were breathtakingly kind with their gratitude. I remember every hug, every tear shed, every tab and precious teaspoon of coffee shared. You know who you are as well. I remember stories too painful to share or too dreadful to relate here. This is just the beginning and the worst are forming a queue along the landing. These will be my prisoner stories.

 

The one I will tell now is of my exquisitely beautiful Muslim friend; an Egyptian woman with the long-necked Nubian look of Nefertiti – when she bound her hair, she was a dead-ringer for the Egyptian Queen. She was the one subjected to the most appalling racial and religious abuse on our landing by a treacherous old lag (a dead ringer for the ugly witch in fairy tales – a view that may be shared amongst staff as well). What was surprising was not the prisoner – she was no surprise at all – but the prison’s lack of response. My friend has to endure this for days and it had an awful impact upon her. On a spiritual level, I was once able to silence the verbal ordure with this – The Call To Prayer – and on a human level, I could be her friend and make sure that she knew she wasn’t alone. Between us and our faith, we were able to turn it around. Although we have lost touch, I hope my Egyptian friend, already traumatised through gender mutilation (she will not mind my speaking of this), understands how much I still love her. *There’s a great big hug for you tucked into this message, Nurat, wherever you are*

 

And then who’s next in this PTSD timeline trailing out along the prison wing at Durham? Hello TJ.

 

TJ is one of the loveliest souls I have ever met *”No – I haven’t forgotten you, shazza!” See, I told you they were queuing!* and one of the most honest. TJ is a local lass who could, when I knew her, only cope with life if she took the painkiller heroin. I asked her once if she could envision a life without it and she said ‘No’. In my opinion, she gave a fair answer to the life she was being forced to live. Whilst she may have given staff the run-around, TJ was always immaculate in her dealings with me. That – in my opinion – is a measure of potential desistance.

 

As for my Egyptian friend, she is already a model of desistance. During that prolonged racial abuse to which she was subjected – and which numerous prisoners, from two separate wings, complained about both during and afterwards – she never once retaliated. If she is still in prison and has not been released, she is a Corston woman.

 

And then there is shazza who, along with a member of staff at HMP Durham, was subject to predicted (by both prisoners and staff) violence causing actual bodily harm to both. I’m trusting she won’t be in prison anymore because she finally met the right woman. But the pair of them might be interested in the continuing potential of desistance (if I can find them –they are local (Durham)).

 

I carry the stories of everyone I ever met in prison, including the prisoner, whose name I now forget (a failing of mine, I’m afraid), who asked for her name to be included in the dedication of any book I wrote.

 

This how big my Prison PTSD reaches. I’m grateful for prison because it showed me, very clearly, what happens when the rules are broken. It also showed me that, sometimes, Governors and Governments – in all their forms – break these rules with malice aforethought. It is this malice that causes the trauma wound. When the wound is untreated, we get PTSD.

 

The only way to heal PTSD is with the truth. Sometimes we betray ourselves. Sometimes we are the betrayed. PTSD – the disorder, not the shock – is caused by a systemic refusal to acknowledge AND ACT upon the validity of authentic objections to abuse; a callous disregard for the existence, let alone the life of another.

 

Evidence? The governor of the Segregation Unit at New Hall who told me, to my face during a suicidal crisis, that my death would make no difference to him. Or the lazy officer on that unit who ‘lost’ my plastic knife? His behaviour resulted in my cell-spin and strip-search immediately following a 20:52 review – great way to treat a prisoner in segregation with an existing suicidal ideation. I gave every single officer absolute hell for his behaviour after that. I made sure they counted my plastic cutlery out on each and every occasion. That man also left his barbeque in the Seg’s office. I know that because I got on extremely well with the officer who told him to clear it out. So – a prisoner’s query here – with all that security, how the fuck did that man get his barbeque into that office. I was banged up in the cell opposite the office – I heard every word!

 

The SO in charge of the Segregation Unit in New Hall is one of the finest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. The Unit’s governor – who once thought he could legislate my ability to love in a 20:52 review (I kid you not) – was a henchman for the Prince of Darkness.  The Prince of Darkness was HMP New Hall’s Area Manager – the man, who as prison governor, was named and implicated in the death of Zahid Murbarak at Feltham YOI. It was the “worry-wart” SO who went through the experience of a Catch-22 with me because he thought I was taking the piss. He learned something extremely important along the way because, forever after, he was always respectful and as kind as he was permitted to be within the rules of the unit. There are no rules that will ever confine how much gratitude I feel for that man… just for being willing to learn. When he ‘got it’, things really changed for the better for prisoners on that unit. Those with mental ill-health benefited from being there and those on C&C found it harder to misbehave. The changes that SO ordered – in full and proper accordance with rules, PSO’s, etc – and with the full support of the Governor in Charge ( a most excellent woman) included the level of legal kindness required by prison rules etc that had previously been denied. By the time I left, I don’t believe staff on that Unit would have got away with treating a prisoner the way I was treated at the outset.

 

But I’m not quite ready to tell that story yet.