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.