When I publish material like this it upsets my friends. Some come to stand alongside my despair and urge me to rest whilst other fellow warriors demand that I fight on; to not let the bastards win. They are all right but, when seen together, these are paradoxical injunctions – a “Catch-22”.
Here is a woman prisoner’s Telling-Tale about that problem which, this morning, I found myself relating to a very dear friend of mine:
The stuff you talk about re fighters is quite true and 35 years ago I would have agreed with you – until I learned, in therapy, to take my armour off. Here’s why…
You are quite right to say we need armour when dealing with the Dark Side. The thing to remember is that, although there will always be one Dark Star somewhere in the midst of cruelty, they lead groups of ‘followers’ who, in one way or another, behave like Dark Stars but would choose differently if they believed they had an authentic free choice. A true warrior must be able to differentiate between the two – absolutely vital if we are not to ‘become’ our enemy – so we have to engage each person individually to find out what they are made of. Whilst Jesus might use the sword against the Dark Side, he offers the other cheek to brothers and sisters. To be able to learn these differences requires us to take our armour off. In therapy, the best defence is no defence and it is this that is the key to transforming others.
Here’s how it works: Those who battle the Dark Side need armour in order to survive – this is the Warrior aspect of shamanism – but our armour is our faith, which means we battle within the Law. We must make every effort to avoid inflicting unnecessary harm. However, once we have beaten our opponent, we must offer them a choice – true Faith is always rooted in Free Will. If our opponent – at any stage in the war – surrenders to the Truth, a true Warrior must immediately move to the Healer position. Our opponent may have fought with us because they needed to be shown that the Dark Forces, who had “possessed” their Soul’s absolute entitlement to free choice, can be vanquished because they didn’t know it could be. When they went into battle, they endured terrible losses instead. When that has happened to me personally, and my opponent has surrendered, I must immediately put up my weapons and extend the hand of friendship if I am to remain ethical – I must support and empower this new choice they have made.
The example I’m thinking of occurred on the block at New Hall – when I was first in prison.
In 2003, the women’s prison ‘Area’ which covered all of the North was managed by this man. So despite the fact that HMP New Hall actually had a very competent women Governor-In-Charge who authorised all kinds of innovations (certainly for me), she could be easily undermined by going over her head to this Area Manager. One governor who did this was in charge of the Segregation Unit where I was first remanded from court. He was an active Dark Star, so all the orders he issued would have carried that energy. Responsible for the day-to-day running of the Unit, was a chap – let’s call him John – who, although a committed ‘by-the-book’ man – carried out these orders, so his behaviour looked just like the governor’s. I was to learn later that he didn’t know how to challenge what was occurring on his watch. He did, none-the-less, have a very high reputation amongst those efficient staff he managed, and he needed his ‘governor-given’ authority to deal with the ones that weren’t (there were a few of them too).
So when I arrived in prison on remand, instead of coming into the prison on ‘standard-treatment’ (with my known suicidal ideation/behaviour less than 2 years old), instead of putting me on suicide watch (a very common occurrence amongst women on remand at that time) in Healthcare, I was actually taken to the punishment block and put straight on to their full-on punishment regime. I bet the unit’s governor got a nice little back-hander from the criminals in Hull for doing that.
Punishment regimes are 23-hour lock-up. No TV. No nothing apart from a fixed bed and a cardboard chair and table. I wasn’t inducted into the prison regime so I had to learn as I went along. I know the wing has me recorded as being ‘standard’ but that is not how I was treated. The wing day officers were casually abusive and the governor took great pleasure in ensuring our lives were as rotten as possible. Meds were abused by staff on the unit. There were a couple of bi-polar women experiencing the mania that is triggered by such casual abuse. ‘Nessun dorma’ (“No-one sleeps”) wasn’t the half of it. The whole place had the aura of a medieval torture chamber. So I fought.
It took me a month to force the unit to start treating me as a standard prisoner. I did that by putting in an “App” asking to be informed of the ‘sins’ for which I was clearly at fault, due to my punishment regime, but which I couldn’t correct because I didn’t know what they were. John, the SO – “Rulebook Man”, must have squared-off the governor because the way I was treated improved dramatically. It was still 23-hour lockdown but I was given proper furniture to begin with and, soon after, moved to one of the ‘long-stay’ cells for prisoners like me.
(Let’s observe here that I spent 9 months continuously on that block – solitary confinement. Prison Rules forbid the use of solitary confinement for longer than 28 days if a woman has been convicted – if, however, you can use mental health reasons, there is no limit to how long you can keep a woman in solitary confinement. If you are guilty, it’s fixed. If you are ‘innocent’, they can throw away the key – or that’s how it seemed to me at the time. Certainly, there was one 21 year-old who spent 14 months there. The Unit taught her serious self-harming and suicide – fortunately she ended up at Rampton but not before two other prisons had fucked her over too.)
So, anyway, my conditions improved but by this time, I’d become very difficult. I was demanding copies of the Prison Rules, Orders, Advice etc from governors who had to visit me daily (Prison Rules require that prisoners in solitary are visited daily by a governor, a GP and a ‘priest’). There were some lovely people who were ‘forced’ to visit me daily and there were some absolute dogs. From the best, I would ask for things I could reasonably guess were permitted (like library access) and they’d issue the orders to John who would carry them out. He would also carry out the Dark One’s orders and, much like now, I got handy with the complaints procedures to deal with the problems they caused.
This one day I put in a complaint about the way I was being treated and said it put me in a Catch-22. As Senior Officer on the wing, John was always first port-of-call for complaints and, although he was a competent man, he hadn’t had the benefit of a wider education. I didn’t know this. From what followed, I learned a great deal about what he thought I was doing. He marched into my cell whilst I was sitting writing, threw my complaint on my desk, furiously demanding I write in plain English and cease using my intellect to play tricks on him because he didn’t know what a Catch-22 was. He thought I was trying to make him look stupid when I was, in fact, treating him as the intelligent human being I believed him to be. It was a moment studied with irony and paradox. He was also wrong and I had to sit and take all his pent-up aggression (probably from dealing with his governor boss) in silence and without response. How does anyone respond to such an attack anyway? Fighting would certainly not have worked!
When we are good people, we know when we’ve done something wrong. If we’ve been subject to abuse we were unable to stop ourselves, we are instinctively drawn to people who do know how to stop it. John will have figured out – somewhere in his being – that here was someone he could ‘show’ his problem too (however unconsciously). By getting himself into that ‘sin’ of mistreating a prisoner, he woke up. I don’t know what happened to him but he never treated me that way again. I think I got hold of the Segregation Unit PSO soon afterwards. It was the strangest experience because here, written down in Prison-speak, was exactly what I had been arguing for in the unit in my own ‘over-educated’ way (not bad for a 16 year-old school-leaver!). When I started using PSO rules, the SO and I were singing from the same hymn sheet. That was when I could start showing him that the unit governor was issuing forbidden orders.
For example: the treatment on meted out on that block triggered my suicidal ideation and I was eventually put on suicide-watch (PSO2052) by the Governor-In-Charge. The Unit governor hated this but although he was forced to follow procedures, it meant he did it badly, seething with fury all the while. On one occasion, when my ideation was running high, I asked this governor – during his daily visit – if it made any difference to him whether I lived or died? I insisted on a Yes or No answer. His answer was No. John was witness to that. When I complained about it, I was informed – by one of the governor’s acting-PO lackeys, that I had asked an inappropriate question. When I appealed, it was answered by the Governor himself (I’m sure I sent a copy of it to Ann Owers – I met her when I was on that Unit); when I appealed again, it was was the lackey who replied again; he was indignant that I had dare to question a governor (as far as I recall). I suspect that particular complaint never found its way into the records – there was something odd about the reference number – if John wasn’t around, some staff had no problem with circumventing the system for their friends. (Another example was how the Unit managed to update my computer records to show I’d been convicted but failed to update the reasons why. I discovered my record showed I’d been convicted of Attempted Murder when I was in HMP Durham. I had to write to Hull Crown Court asking them to correct the Prison Service because they clearly were mistaken. I wonder what difference that mistake made to my treatment in Durham?)
I have a very great deal of affection for that New Hall SO. He was a good man, subject to managerial abuse, trying his best in a nightmare situation for all of us. He had to witness the governor ‘ordering’ me not to ‘Love’ him, at which point I asked if it was alright for me to like him instead? It is not possible to share such experiences without developing affection – call it ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ if you like but people who know – or are willing to learn – how to remain human under fire are worth their weight in gold. We take off our armour in the presence of such people and compare scars, treat wounds, heal each other.
But to do that, we have to know how to take off our armour. If we can’t, all we can ever do is repeat the problem. We need every bit of armour we can muster when we are dealing with the Dark Ones but we MUST take it off when we are amongst friends so we can find out just how much our battle is costing us.