Attitudes towards Women within the Criminal Justice System

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Warning: Suicide and other PTSD triggers

 

When I was a prisoner, there were times when the atmosphere on the wing – or sometimes even throughout the entire prison itself – would become so toxic that I’d bang myself in my pad. There were times when I actually asked wing staff to bang me in so I could get away from it. I may be a battler but there are times when all I want to do is get away because my own mental health can’t take anymore. This worked but only to a certain extent.

 

A toxic atmosphere in prison as always very loud and nearly always violent. These are the times when the riot bell keeps going off until I no longer have to ask to be banged in – we all end up on lock-down because it’s the only way the staff can cope. Whilst there are always ‘screws’ in prisons, I was always grateful to the authentic professionals because they dealt with the worst kind of behaviour human beings can display. It may have taken time but it got sorted and those of us who simply wanted to get on with doing our time were able to with some degree of civilisation.

 

Mind you, there were times when even lock-down was a nightmare. Prisoners can still be loud and violent, even if they’re alone in their own pad. Flooding the cell, smashing up the fixtures and fittings, smashing TV’s, playing loud music, shouting at other prisoners, shouting at the staff and simply just shouting. The violence in the atmosphere would trigger self-harming and suicidal ideation amongst those of us with mental health problems, which meant that the pressure doubled on the staff. It could take days to sort out, which meant that if I was feeling suicidal or in need of support, I often had to wait as long for assistance to arrive. I often found myself caught between my own needs and the needs of those who were resolving the problem, simply because I was grateful that they were. My crimes had occurred because no-one stepped in to stop what was happening. I learned, in prison, the behaviour that would set the riot bell off. I learned that, in a healthy community, there were some attitudes that were simply not tolerated and which would incur sanctions if the individual persisted. Through the complaints procedures, I made certain this was applied to both prisoner or staff which was not difficult – staff are lawfully obliged, under Prison Rules, to set a good example too. All I wanted, when the prisoners went FUBAR, was for the Prison Rules to be applied fairly and equally to everyone. That’s not because I want to be particularly authoritarian because I believe some rules need to be broken; I wanted the Rules applied because, when they were, peace broke out. It meant we could get on with making life bearable. I lived on long-term sentence wings for the most part and, in peace-time, we could get our chores done – cleaning, washing, cooking and hanging out together. In peace-time, the staff were able to have conversations with their ‘no-bother’ prisoners that weren’t just about the emotional fall-out living with ‘prisoners-at-war’. We could remember we were human beings together instead of ‘just-doings’.

 

The reason I tell this story is because I’ve just come through a prisoner-inspired shitstorm. This one I wasn’t able to step away from, so I ended up doing exactly what I did in prison. I reported what I was seeing to those who hold positions of ‘authority’, both prisoners and ‘staff’. Because this kicked off outside prison, ‘staff’ in this instance were people who know what it is to hold authority within the criminal justice system that happen to be part of my twitter community, and particularly who have responsibility for enforcing either rules or law in person. I ‘spoke’ to both prison and police officers, together with one leader outside enforcement – none of them had any personal authority to act but they do know how to listen and I needed someone to hear me. In prison parlance, my counsellor put me on an ACTT last Friday. I hadn’t realised that this benefits torture stuff I’m experiencing had gone so deep but I’m way inside my Red Zone and the meter is still rising. I know about the ACTT because she did something afterwards that showed her concern for me and I’m very grateful to her for that. It validates how I’m feeling. The only other time I’ve experienced this has been in prison. An ACTT, for those who don’t know what I mean, is a suicide watch, which can range from four times a day to constant observation – I’ve been on every scale. What the procedure did, in my experience – (I think I’d probably be on around 15 min obs if this was an ACTT) – was to ‘concern’ the professional officers and, again, it showed in what they did.

 

I am so grateful that in this latter-day woman’s jail I find myself in, on an ACTT, the ‘procedure’ still seems work.

 

FireShot Screen Capture #074 - 'Twitter _ Prison_Screw_ @wildwalkerwoman hello my twitter ___' - twitter_com_Prison_Screw_status_372487098898857984

 

That kind of brief check brings a visit afterwards because I’m not only feeling suicidal, I’m expressing fear too. Fear usually comes after I’ve done something that challenges the thinking process of so-called ‘authority’ and attracted some inappropriate or unprofessional comment from a ‘screw’. The screws learned, the hard way, to treat me with respect but there are always those who don’t want to learn. Someone has to stop them but it comes at a very hard price for those who try – ask a prison officer. It means they can hear me when I say I just can’t take anymore and unless this energy stops, women are going to start dying. We’re already cutting up.

 

My friends are expressing concern for me but I appear to have fallen out with quite a few people who didn’t quite appreciate that I really do make up our my mind and reserve my right to strongly disagree with them. They are disagreeing with my conscience and, if their behaviour is being socially condoned, being behind my door seems like a wise place to be. I need to talk because this is how women work through their problems and I am a woman. I refuse to be silenced when, as a desister, I see a very serious problem concerning public protection that isn’t being dealt with.

 

If trigger behaviour like that of Ben Gunn (which involved these women – here, here and was complicated by this ) had occurred in prison, we’d all be heading into deep shit because, in the words of my bestest prison officer friend IRL, ‘the lunatics are running the asylum’. I’ve been told to leave this bloke alone by a number of people but, you know what, they can fuck off now. I’m not going to play this game even if it kills me!

 

As a desister, I want to register a formal complaint with the entire Criminal Justice system about this! Why isn’t his behaviour being reined in? It wouldn’t be permitted on the wings! This is deliberately provocative behaviour and I’m appalled that anyone is colluding with it! Could we please remember what often happens to these so-called ‘predatory’ 13 year olds after a middle-aged man has finished with his statutory-rape fantasies about her! Let’s have some fucking reality in here!!!

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/mar/30/prisonsandprobation.mentalhealth

http://www.newstatesman.com/alan-white/2012/11/women-are-suffering-prison

http://www.howardleague.org/francescrookblog/women-and-the-criminal-justice-system

 

What is this? I hear a great deal about his ‘rights’ but whatever they consist of, they are inhuman to women like me. The Criminal Justice system has been told about this time and time again, and you are still not listening! Let’s have a discussion about who actually HAS any Human Rights in this situation. I haven’t ‘spoken’ to a single woman who agrees with his views about us. When we step out to object to his deeply disrespectful and offensive behaviour, we are subjected to the most appalling responses. Any woman who approves of what he’s been doing is in an absolute minority – we’ve all told him and I bet he’s still not listening (don’t tell me, I don’t want to know – I’m just dealing with the impact this is having on me – I’m on an ACTT, remember).

 

Do you know the thing that worries me the most? It’s this: I’m being told that there are political reasons why this “*removed under threat of libel*” ** seems to be untouchable – I question the standards of anyone involved in such an arrangement and I question them as a desister. I have no doubt that the man has buried himself deeply into the CJS changes going on at the moment and, as a woman, I have the strongest objections possible to that continuing. Not after this. Given his publicly proclaimed ideas about my ENTIRE GENDER his contribution could only worsen conditions for women prisoners. This is why I object so strongly and will not be silenced. Aren’t the women already in the CJS, or caught the aftermath in this concentration camp of a society, suffering enough for you already? How dare any of you point to this criminal as some kind of model of rehabilitation! I don’t give a fuck if he ‘doesn’t know any better ‘cos its environmental damage’. That’s absolute bollocks! I know ex-cons from far more hardened criminal backgrounds who do desistance – they wouldn’t dream of treating me this way. Neither would any of the other authentic CJS professionals! We treat each other with respect even if we can’t stand each other to begin with. I much prefer respect because it continues working in the worst kind of places.

 

In a place like this, the very best staff listened and made up their own minds – we were allowed to tell it like it is, not have to spout some misogynist fantasy. Ben makes out this is the old sex war stuff and what a hero he is. Bollocks! What kind of hero sides with a convicted rapist? Every hero or heroine I’ve ever met is looking out for the victim but is willing, with conditions, to allow sinners to repent – which is desistance in a nutshell. And every quality prison officer knows the procedure for dealing with bigots and bullies – which does not include staying on normal location. Not unless the lunatics are running the asylum.

 

I know I’m going to be hated for this but you know what? Each time I’ve done something like this in the past, the people I wanted to help often told me how grateful they were that I did. I know exactly what kind of prisoner I’m dealing with in this man – he likes hurting people – they come in all genders and they are the ‘few’ women that need to remain in prison as a matter of public protection. I’m not involved in a sex war – I go after women who do this too. He won’t change because he doesn’t want to – he’ll always hold these opinions – and this is the man ‘politics’ is making untouchable? Whoever is involved with this has no business in the Criminal Justice system unless they can wake up and see whats going on here. How dare this man have any traction or influence within the CJS? And exactly what else is being condoned because, one thing is for certain, its got nothing to do with public protection! Not if half the population have to tolerate this level of disrespect and no behavioural sanctions are being imposed!

 

Perhaps it might be worth remembering that the UK is being told – by EVERYONE – that it’s treatment of women is already breaking Human Rights law. This is how it is done – by giving abusers the power to abuse and not stopping them. I think what is occurring here is hate crime.

 

If you could see a way out of this – my fucking ‘reality’ – do let me know because I’m damned if I choose to live with this. And that’s my own moral and ethical judgment as a desister. And I choose to be ‘banged-in’ about it because that’s what desistance is all about.

 

And the biggest thank you to every prison officer who ever caught me in this frame of mind and managed to get me laughing after I’d ranted and so I could remember to cry. This stuff is so hard on every single dimension. It hits me physically, emotionally and instinctively. It makes me hyper-sensitive, touchy, with very sharp claws that I have to use very wisely – in the face of abuse and abusers, we have to be so fucking perfect because they’re so fucking not.

 

Oh, and if anyone wants to check if Ben Gunn’s knowledge about women is reality-based or merely carved out of a bar of prison soap, get him to write about me. He knows exactly who I am. Get him to tell you about this woman and then you can really get to choose which reality you want to live in.

 

Oh, and I’ve already bagsed the Lawful one in the name of desisters everywhere!

 

 

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**

I notice how quickly the world comes in to edit me. As a woman, I believe I can justify the phrase I used in fact, which then makes it fair comment. As a desister, I will take the advice as a way of demonstrating my ability to learn and correct my behaviour. I’m sure I am as regretful, in this instance, as the man is himself – I would suggest he be very careful with his thoughts though. They can kill.

 

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One response »

  1. Having been on ‘twitter break’ I was oblivious to the events leading up to your,as usual, poignant & honest post; having read through the links, your comment on the ‘Green Goddess’ page momentarily stunned me.

    The need to be Constantly alert to what you say/do for fear of being deemed to have ‘re-offended, is something I’d never considered, I like to think I try to do this as a human being but… always in the safety of it having no bearing on my liberty ( I hope).

    Once again I thank you for your candour & consider myself honoured to call you my generous, & brave friend xxx

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