Every once in a while, I encounter bare-faced personal bigotry aimed at me. In many ways, I am deeply privileged and fortunate – as a member of the White tribes – to not experience this on a daily basis; a point made regularly by those who experience bigotry they cannot ‘hide’ from, with racism being a prime example. There’s an aspect of me that believes my complaints are anaemic by comparison. They probably are if we’re playing comparison ‘games‘ where we point-score to see who has the greatest claim to being the ‘victim’. This ‘victim-competition’ between groups often seems to me to contribute to the overall problem because it continues to frame us within the bigotry dynamic and it is this that I am trying to get a handle on. I want to understand, on my terms, exactly what is going on.
The advantage of my example is that, because there are clearly disturbing facts involved, it forces people to think about their attitudes and identifies those who refuse to. My example concerns bigotry towards criminals, particularly prisoners. When it turned up on my twitter timeline this morning, it looked like this:
For those interested in the full exchange this tweet was contributing to, it can be found here. This ‘contributor’ brought with them a whole barrel-load of bigotry to a twitter conversation between a serving prisoner (with an illicit cellphone) and a former prisoner. The conversation focused mainly on our own experience, so this ‘new’ contribution was unsought yet shines a very clear light on how bigotry works within the UK prison system. For example: there is the contributor’s assumption of the reasons we were banged-up at ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’. Despite the fact that I have no criminal convictions for murder, rape or paedophilia, here are the same old ‘charges’ because… well, you know, all prisoners are ‘bad’ so who cares about the details? In addition, the ‘contributor’ was also under the impression that s/he had been very clever in ‘outing’ us two criminals because, well, we were busy hiding our true status from our followers. S/he really ought to have checked out facts first before leaping to such conclusions, as I pointed out in my response:-
Whilst I may not always agree with @Prison_Diaries, one thing is for certain; neither of us disguise our status. We are upfront about our situation, so we can already begin to see the signs of bigotry from our contributor. S/he obviously thinks that s/he’s got one ‘over’ the pair of us when, in fact, the so-called ‘revelation’ is nothing new to any of our followers. In my own case, I discuss my offences and their consequences regularly because I believe these are conversations that need to occur.
@Prison_diaries had a longer twitter conversation with this contributor and came to the conclusion that he was probably talking to a prison screw. ‘Screws’ are the prisoner’s pejorative term for Prison Officers who believe it is their personal mission to make our lives as miserable as possible. I’ve met quite a few on my journey through prison but I have also met those staff who are genuinely professional and have earned their title of ‘officer’. Those are the Officers who comply with Prison Rules, which clearly state the standards expected of both prisoner and officer alike:
Purpose of prison training and treatment
3. The purpose of the training and treatment of convicted prisoners shall be to encourage and assist them to lead a good and useful life.
Maintenance of order and discipline
6.—(1) Order and discipline shall be maintained with firmness, but with no more restriction than is required for safe custody and well ordered community life.
(2) In the control of prisoners, officers shall seek to influence them through their own example and leadership, and to enlist their willing co-operation.
(3) At all times the treatment of prisoners shall be such as to encourage their self-respect and a sense of personal responsibility, but a prisoner shall not be employed in any disciplinary capacity.
Use of force
47.—(1) An officer in dealing with a prisoner shall not use force unnecessarily and, when the application of force to a prisoner is necessary, no more force than is necessary shall be used.
(2) No officer shall act deliberately in a manner calculated to provoke a prisoner.(my emphasis)
As a prisoner, I met and came to deeply respect all those Prison Officers who understood the spirit contained within these rules. With this standard of staff on duty, it was possible to meet the requirements laid upon me under Rule 6(3). With ‘screws’, however, it was not because they failed in their own responsibilities. After a while, prisoners learn to tell these staff apart because it shows up in their attitude. For example:
This does not bode well for any lifer or IPP-sentenced prisoner, even though professional Prison staff are perfectly capable of treating prisoners with human understanding – as has been my own experience by the very best officers. If this contributor is actually working in the Prison estate, I wonder how s/he complies with Prison Rule 3.
Then came this:
So if this were a Prison Officer on duty and I, as a prisoner, had a genuine problem, what kind of ‘extraordinary’ job would s/he do. Even an ‘ordinary’ job might be better than anything done by someone with this attitude. But I saved the best for last:-
I wonder, from this tweet, exactly how this ‘ordinary’ person is doing an ‘extraordinary’ job. Precisely how does this comply with Prison Rules 6 or 42(b)? In fact, as far as I am aware, the Prison Service screens-out such people from their recruitment process because these screws cause far more problems than they ever solve. It is a build-up of such attitudes within prisons that eventually result in riots.
If the Prison Service wants me to report the good work done by Prison Officers – often in the teeth of opposition from those who regard prisoners as worthless – I would be happy to provide chapter and verse because I met many staff who truly were extraordinary but this contributor is not one of them. S/he may well have ‘reported’ @Prison_Diaries for breaking prison discipline but let’s make sure the reporting is evenly balanced because I’m not sure it is at present. Perhaps it might be worth noting that my own prison disciplinary record in prison was spotless and I never lost my enhanced IEP status over a total period of almost five years. Somehow I doubt this ‘contributor’ could manage that themselves based upon their present behavioural standards. Indeed, from my perspective, there is little difference between the attitudes expressed above and the worst of the worst prisoners I ever came across.
So I can take these exchanges apart to see where the problems are occurring – if prison staff cannot model the behaviour they are demanding, they are really not in any position to complain when prisoners break rules too. Personally, I regard this contributors behaviour as provocative, which was why I blocked them. But that is not what this blog is about. This is about ‘stealing goodness’ and I wonder if it applies to all forms of bigotry but I won’t know until I ask.
If we accept that human beings – regardless of individuality – are a mixture of good and bad, then what seems to occur is that bigots steal ‘goodness’ by colonizing it for themselves whilst irresponsibly dumping all their own undesirable personal aspects upon the ‘object’ of their hatred.
Those who are hated in this way are reduced to having ‘no good in them at all’ whilst the bigots claim all the best parts for themselves. This contributor ‘dislikes murdering bastards a lot’ – clearly this is considered ‘good’ in his/her eyes because there is no hesitation in tweeting it. S/he claims to be an ‘ordinary’ person doing an ‘extraordinary’ job – I wonder if the Muslim prisoners would agree… ah, but they are “fuck-off and die ‘retards'”. Notice how even their prayers are hijacked to bolster the self-claimed ‘goodness’ of this screw.
To “turn away” from the “self and/or other” destructive evil impulse within ourselves and to “turn towards” and reorient ourselves towards the good is to genuinely “repent.” Repentance is the highest expression of humanity’s capacity to choose freely – it is a manifestation of the divine in humanity. Repentance is a living manifestation of the power within us to extricate ourselves from the binding power of… the chains of endless causality that otherwise compel us to follow a path of “no return.” As Jung points out, “The sin to be repented, of course, is unconsciousness.” From the Kabbalah’s point of view, a “sinner” who “repents” is on a higher level than the saint who has never sinned. (link)
In a civilised society, prison is a corrective measure but in an uncivilised one, it is a tool of repression. This ‘contributor’ assumes that his/her views are acceptable – why else make such remarks or comment so negatively on a conversation between two people who were sharing personal experiences of prison? The contributor is quick to implement procedures to silence @Prison_Diaries but I do wonder where they think they got the power to silence me. My sentence was spent in 2010, I haven’t reoffended and I continue to work to desistance standards even now. Yet this possibility seems to be beyond the imagination of this contributor. Indeed, I’d put my chances of rehabilitation at zero if I were ‘managed’ in this way and from this perspective. The contributor feeds his angry, jealous, greedy, resentful and inferior ego with lies and denies those s/he despises of any joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth – despite the fact that the Prison Rules themselves point in that general direction.
This is bigotry and, as far as I can see, it crosses all the intersections that link universal bigotry of all descriptions. Perhaps it is rooted in inferiority – it must surely be a painful place to live if the only goodness we can ascribe to ourselves has to be stolen from those who we attack, despise and look down upon. Are these people not capable of funding their own goodness by feeding their personal Good Wolf?
And if they can’t, then they have no business working in the criminal justice system because, until they start locking-in their own bigotry and learning what it means to rehabilitate their own attitudes, they are unfit to do the job and consequently bring the Prison Service into disrepute. Prison staff are not exempt from discipline, no matter how much our contributor may like to think otherwise:
Code of discipline
68. The Secretary of State may approve a code of discipline to have effect in relation to officers, or such classes of officers as it may specify, setting out the offences against discipline, the awards which may be made in respect of them and the procedure for dealing with charges. (Prison Rules 1999)
Stealing goodness from others is a lazy and incompetent way of failing to live your own life. Because this goodness is stolen from those who are willing to learn – in any number of different ways – it cannot last. Our own shadow will find us out – as it appears to have done to the contributor today. It isn’t the prisoners/former prisoners who emerge from this situation looking dishonest, but a self-proclaimed ‘extraordinary’ employee of the Prison Service.
And we wonder why we fail at rehabilitation in this country!