Things I thought

Monday 20 August 2012

Day 8 - Tossers, Tolerance & Tactical Cowardice

Please read this disclaimer before embarking. You can also read the original prison blogs here.

As the sun sets on my eighth day of incarceration my cell has become a bunker, both guarding from and storing me for an expected retribution. Every time a screw walks by I find the small of my back seizing up and my fist clenching tightly round my pen. Today wasn't supposed to be like this. I had a whole missive prepared for you lot about how hard it is to get a phone call round here. I can feel your anguish at missing that one. Events, however, have pre-empted my hard hitting expose and left me instead with the possibility of just getting hit, hard.

With Splinter gone and the TV resultingly off I am no longer constantly awoken by the dread incantions of Hubba-Hubba, merciless overlord of the Hoob people and coming curator of mankind's demise. I miss him, though expect I shall feel differently when I'm toiling in the kryptonite mines with all the other tiddlypeeps. Today began instead with an induction aimed at preparing me for prison life which, ironically, came a day after my resettlement that was aimed at getting me ready for life back out in the big wide world. The induction consisted primarily of a basic literacy and numeracy test (which contained a mistake) and a chance to wander round outside my cell for a bit, during which time I discovered I really should be doing much, much more of this sort of thing.

Officially, the Wandsworth E Wing schedule, which I found pinned to a noticeboard, looks like this:

7:45-8:15 Exercise

8:30-9:00 “Free Flow” movement for morning workers and those doing training (so prisoners can get from one wing to another)

9:00-11:45 Association time (prisoners out of their cells, mingling, fondu)

11:45-12:00 Workers etc return

12-13:00 PM Lunch

15:00-16:30 Association time

16:45-18:00 Dinner

18:00-19:30 Association

Maths fans in the audience will have worked out that prisoners should get 6 hours and 15 minutes out of their cells a day, not including meals (which, whether by incompetence or design, are collected at the canteen and eaten in our cells). The most time I've gotten out of my cell in a day so far is an hour, assuming the exercise yard isn't rained off and association isn't cancelled due to a lockdown. Like it was today.

Today's lockdown wasn't the product of prisoner misbehaviour, at least not misbheaviour by any prisoners who are actually here. Rather it's you lot outside, with your halfbricks, molotovs and utter contempt for Dixons who condemned me to missing my 30 minute afternoon wander. That and the fact this place already seizes to a claustrophobic halt if anything as unpredictable as Sunday happens, let alone the biggest riots in a generation.

Perhaps it was my ubercarceration that caused me to act more than a little unstably at dinner time today as I strolled down to the hot plate and found one of the guards mincing limpwristedly at the head of the dinner queue. Or perhaps I'm just going crazy. Either way my remaining few days in here now threaten to be rather more interesting than I'd hoped. 

A little background: prison is the most racist and homophobic place I've been since university, where I accidentally sat down at a Conservative Future social. Whilst I was more than happy to argue the respective merits of Martin Luther King and Hitler with the rahs of Royal Holloway, I've thus far decided that Wandsworth might be a good place to employ a policy of tactical cowardice in a calculated bid to keep all my teeth. In other words, and with a few exceptions, I've turned a shamefully blind eye to all manner of depressingly casual bigotry from otherwise nice people. Nicer than I'd have expected, anyway.

A major target of prisoners' prejudice during my stay here has been a guy who we'll call Snarf. To my untrained eye, Snarf seems to be suffering from some mental health issues. I say this partly because he's constantly talking to himself, and partly because his preferred method of ambulation around the prison is a pronounced mince, something my own staying-alive-strategy would counsel against. It's this, and the associated inference of ZOMGGAYNESS, which is causing consternation amongst the prison's close-knit community of likeminded bigots.

I've so far responded to my fellow inmates' intolerance with vacant smiles, non-committal grunts and silent wails of inner despair but, this evening, with the stalwart courage of a moth confronting a bang out of order flame, I finally said something.

Perhaps it helped that tonight's perpetrator of prejudice was one of the screws instead of a prisoner. I certainly felt more comfortable arguing the toss with a confirmed tosser than I would have with someone who dwells on my side of metal doors, though whether it was actually any safer is debatable. In fact, looking back, I'm not sure I considered safety at all. Either way, before I knew it, I'd squared up to the mock-flouncing fucker (who we'll call officer W133, HMP Wandsworth, E Wing) and demanded to know, in my most earnestly annoying inquisitive voice, whether he was being homophobic. He replied to my question with one of his own, like we were playing some kind of GCSE drama game. To wit: “do you have a fucking problem with that, mate?”. It's my custom, when I get out of my depth, to keep on swimming in the hope of eventually reaching the other side, so I replied that, yes, actually, I did have a problem with it, particularly as homophobic behaviour was contrary to the “standard compact” between prisoners and staff, so could realistically be expected to get the cock in question fired. It was at this point that officer W133 got right up in my grill, took out a notebook, told me I was “bang out of order” and demanded to know my cell number. I'm surprised he didn't put a note in my homework diary while he was at it.

As the adrenaline faded I began to get the creeping feeling that fucking off officer W133 might not have been the best idea I'd ever had, particularly considering that the conversation had ended with the Wandsworth equivalent of “I know where you live!”. My growing sense of worry was helped on its way by a lag who accosted me a few moments later, shaking his head and warning me that I'd picked the wrong screw to mess with.

Once this state of affairs was quickly confirmed by the uh-ohs and you-fucking-whats of other inmates, my adrenaline was back up and I was soon in full on panic mode. I went back to my cell and spent the next several hours making a list of all the bad things W133 could possibly do to me, a list which ranges from stealing my canteen ration to kicking my fucking head in. It's surprising how many ways there are for someone who runs your house to hurt you, and how few ways there are to reliably respond. For now I've opted for starting a paper trail so that, if something does happen, I'll at least have some evidence I can use to implicate the evil fuck. Sadly my paper trail largely resides in the “confidential”complaint form, which goes in a envelope on the front of which I had to write my name and cell number, thereby somewhat defeating confidentiality's purpose.

I don't know if anything will happen. I might be incredibly paranoid or not nearly paranoid enough. The worst thing W133 could do, besides beating me up (or getting someone else to do it), would be confiscating these notes before I can get them to the outside world. That's what really tightens my grip every time I hear footsteps by the door.

So, if you're reading this, ends day 8.

You can read day 7 of the prison blogs here or day 9 here

Saturday 18 August 2012

Why Pussy Riot would have been jailed in Britain

Unless you've been living under a particularly wi-fi resistant rock for the last six months, you've probably heard about Pussy Riot, the trio of Russian punk protesters who pissed off a literal patriarch and were sentenced to (the statutory minimum of) two years for hooliganism yesterday. If you've not heard of them, that last sentence may be of some use.

Commentators from across (almost) the entire western political spectrum have been rightly outraged at this draconian sentencing and lack of due process, with some talking heads going as far as to suggest this is the return of the good old fashioned Stalinist show trial. While it's great to see so many people, particularly on the right, finally take the side of protesters, it's hard not to detect a scent of xenophobia, or even propoganda, wafting from these proud mouthed denunciations of all things Putin, particularly when you remember there is nothing uniquely Russian about locking up protesters. In fact, what Pussy Riot's protest would have been an imprisonable offence right here in the UK. They might even have gotten more time for it.

First, let's take a quick look at what Pussy Riot actually did (if you're familiar with the case, feel free to skip this paragraph. In fact, even if you aren't, do whatever the hell you want. I'm not the boss of you): on February 11th this year, during the run up to the Russian presidential election, members of Pussy Riot and unknown others disrupted a Russian Orthodox service by running in front of the altar and singing an anti-Putin hymn, kicking and punching the air and brandishing instruments. They were dressed in brightly coloured balaclavas, short skirts and neon tights, an ensemble which mightily offended the presiding judge. The song they sang satirised both the church and Putin, and contained lewd and blasphemous lyrics. I strongly approve of this behaviour.

Pussy Riot were found guilty of (roughly translated) “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”, an offence which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in Russia. Coincidentally, seven years is the maximum you can expect in prison under the UK Racial andReligious Hatred Act of 2006. Could the act have been used to prosecute Pussy Riot had they played their gig in, say, Westminster Abbey? Probably not, partly because (in theory) section 29J of the act exempts “expressions of dislike and ridicule” (though it's hard to know how the difference between dislike and hatred would be assessed in practice) and partly because Britain just don't give as much of a shit about religion as Russia does. Indeed, if Pussy Riot were to storm your average C of E service, I imagine most of the parishioners would be glad of the distraction.

Let's assume, though, that Pussy Riot's hypothetical UK stunt did cause Daily Mail-esque public outrage (if you're having a hard time imagining that, pretend they said bad things about Tom Daley instead of Vladimir Putin) and also that section 29J works in practice. What crimes would Pussy Riot have committed?

A renegade legal system (of which ours is frequently one) could try them on at least two charges: Aggravated Trespass and Violent Disorder. There would also almost certainly be potential for an offence under section five of the public order act, but that doesn't carry a custodial sentence, so I'll leave it to one side for now. If you can think of any other charges an out-of-control judiciary could try them for, let me know in the comments section.

If Pussy Riot had acted in the UK, securing an aggravated trespass conviction would be fairly straightforward. For a start, AT is pretty easy to commit – you just have to be trespassing somewhere (which PR were) and attempting to disrupt alawful activity (again, yeah, pretty much). It is not a defence to say that your actions were part of a protest or otherwise politically motivated – indeed, as members of UK Uncut discovered last year,prosecutors can argue that a political context actually makes things worse. Aggravated Trespass admittedly only carries a three month sentence rather than one of two years, but conviction would be a near certainty: just like in Russia, the case would be heard, decided and sentenced by a single judge acting without a jury. As has happened in a number of sensitive political cases in the UK, a compliant, anti-protester judge can usually be found (in my case, the judge's name was Daphne Wickham, who is notorious for sending activists down and letting coppers off, and plies her dirty trade at Westminster Magistrate's court). The potential for corruption in this judge-no-jury set up should be obvious to all.

If the crown felt like slicing off a slightly more succulent pound of flesh, they could always opt for a Violent Disorder charge. “Don't be silly!” I hear you cry through my computer screen in a way that's frankly creepy “Pussy Riot weren't violent!”. Indeed they weren't, dear readers, but for a violent disorder prosecution to be successful no violence need be inflicted. Therelevant statute reads:

Where 3 or more persons who are present together use or threaten unlawful violence and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety, each of the persons using or threatening unlawful violence is guilty of violent disorder.

“But they didn't threaten violence either!” come your ethereal voices once more as the edge of my laptop glows a ghastly red. Didn't they? Those punching and kicking motions certainly SEEMED violent to me, and would doubtless do so to a sufficiently imaginative prosecutor. In fact, now I think of it, couldn't those instruments of theirs be used as weapons (as one pro-Putin blog bizarrely claims)? If this seems fanciful, consider that playing with a beach ball was described as “intimidating” at the UK Uncut trial by prosecution lawyers, who reportedly kept a straight face the entire time.

Lest you think I'm yanking your collective shin, consider further that the state wouldn't need to provide any witnesses to attest they'd felt threatened by Pussy Riot's hypothetical onslaught of music. Yes, their actions need to be likely to cause a person of “reasonable firmness” to fear for their safety, but, in the words of the law:

No person of reasonable firmness need actually be, or be likely to be, present at the scene.

So you and your three friends could kick the shit out of the empty air in a deserted street and, with a sufficiently motivated prosecution, be found guilty of violent disorder. Indeed in practice, such broad wording of the law means that its interpretation is entirely subjective, a situation which results in (to take one example) a man being sentenced to a year in prison for throwing an empty plastic bottle at the Israeli embassy.

So would Pussy Riot have faced jail in England? Probably. If the British public felt the same way as the Russian public do about Pussy Riot, then I think they'd be doing a long stretch. Which is one thing people always forget about the legal system – that it's not only subjective but subject to public opinion. We create the conditions judges judge in –whether those conditions are the mindless, knee-jerk cauldron of public disgust and misunderstanding that informed the UK riot sentences or, well, good ones.

In other words the state can only commit the crimes the public allow it to. So don't. 

You can help Free Pussy Riot here*. 

Day 9 - New Digs Old Tricks

I spent the night listening to helicopters buzz overhead and the morning on lockdown. You lot really are cross, aren't you?. I know my incarceration must be a shock to you, but don't you think burning down England might be a slight overreaction?

Rocksteady and I spent the morning safely tucked away in our cocoon of stone, an experience that is rapidly becoming as tedious as it is predictable. To mix things up it was exercise rather than Association which went missing today leaving both my legs horribly unstretched. Even more disastrously for my (mental) health, my supply of burn has finally run dry and I've been reduced to constructing fags out of the butts in the ashtray like some kind of teenager. Luckily I should only be subject to this juvenile indignity for 24 hours or so - my canteen ration's due tomorrow.

By mid afternoon the reason for our lock down became clear. From my cell window I was afforded a fairly unique view: easily a hundred prison guards and senior level cops (I saw at least 2 Chief Inspector lapels) squeeze themselves into the chapel either for a top brass pow-wow or, just as likely, to beg god for a way out of this clusterfuck. They shuffled back out an hour later, gravel faced and chain smoking.

The belly of the prison's belly rumbles as it wolfs down more inmates, and the latest mouthful of rioters has pushed me further along its digestive tract. A guard came this afternoon and told me to pack up my stuff. I had my choice of wings, so I chose B, where Charlie Gilmour, a man whose own ludicrous crimes I stand in bewildered awe of, is said to reside. Sadly upon getting here I discovered that the Pink Floyd scion and scourge of the royalty had been moved to a less shit prison. Good news for him, I suppose.

A new wing means a new cell mate who, for the purposes of obfuscation and at his own request, we shall call Ben 10. Ben 10 has told me many new and exciting things, mostly about how diabolically awful the mismanagement of this place is. The waiting list to see a doctor stands at 3 months, the waiting list for a dentist at 5. As he regales me with tales of the cons and cock-ups that characterize life here, the telly happens to roll round to the news. As if to back him up, a report has been released today calling conditions here "unsafe and demeaning". We grin through gritted teeth as the reporter informs us that some prisoners in Wandsworth can be locked up for as much as 22 hours a day. The least I've had so far's been 23.

Ben 10 is able to tell me a little more about how jobs work inside. The best ones, he informs me, are in the DHL centre, where the canteen packs come in. It pays better than anything else inside, and there's a £5 bonus if nothing gets nicked. The second best is as a cleaner - you get a £20 bonus for any "biochem" clean ups (piss, shit, vomit, blood) you have to do, and a tidy racket has emerged between clean up workers and prisoners willing to engage in a bit of dirty not-actually protesting. The split the cash.

I'm on the top floor in B Wing and the heat is oppressive and both Ben 10 and I sit around with our shirts off (we aren't allowed the windows open, lest we "escape" by squeezing through the 6 inch gaps in the bars and fall the 5 stories to our deaths in the exercise yard).  The whole place feels increasingly like a tinderbox, and we discuss what to do if/when it all finally sparks. We agree the best thing to do is to keep well out of it, shut the door and try and live off Ben 10's incredible stockpile of porridge, noodles and tea that's been a year in the making. It is, at least, a cosier vision of a prison riot than the one I had back on E Wing.

So ends day 9.

You can find day 8 of the prison blogs here or you can even go back to the start 

Friday 17 August 2012


A year ago on Wednesday, I walked out of prison and into my new life as a cynical social worker with a heart of gold just trying to keep kids off the pie-ing streets. I've been pretty successful – not one of the youths involved in my programme has gone on to pie mutli-billionaire wankstain Rupert Murdoch (in an unrelated statistic, gang related pie-ings are up 478,000%).

Prison was both the most boring and the most fascinating thing I've ever done. While I was there, I kept (not terribly) sane by writing about my experiences and trying, surreptitiously, to get those accounts published online. After around a week, I eventually succeeded, and was able to post seven days worth of what could only ironically be described as coverage from inside the big house.

Then I was released. I had originallyintended to continue straight on with the blogs, writing up notes from my time inside and getting the whole weird, ghastly business out in the open. Then time did that thing it does where it passes and, try as you might to gain purchase, your fingers slip through it like a waterfall of custard. A mixture of laziness, business, poorliness and weirdness delayed the project till I just started feeling guilty about the whole thing, delaying it further in a seemingly endless spiral of self-flagellating bullshit. “The prison blogs will continue next week!” my posts would cry with the best of intentions and the least of ability. “I'm actually working on the second half right now!” I'd confide with people in the pub, the lies slipping out awkwardly through my forced grin.

One of the more salient problems I had with picking my pen back up was that there was an honesty to theoriginal week's worth of blogs, written in the cramped confines of my cell, that could not be recaptured now I was back in thewild. I should have, wish I had, written everything up properly while I was inside, ready to type when I got out. Instead, I left prison with a carrier bag full of messy notes, half finished scribblings and barely legible missives. It's these that I've tried to transform into a second week's worth of blogs.

With some days I was lucky and I'd already begun embryonic or even foetal attempts at an account which then only needed a bit of spit and polish to complete. For other days I've had to piece together a narrative from spidery little jots that saythings like “13:32 – tuna attack at Friday prayers”.

In short, what I'm trying to say is that this second week's worth of stories, while accurate and honest, were produced under different conditions to the first seven. In some cases this is bad – I can't help but feel I've lost somevisceral truth that came from writing in the very moment – but in others I think it's an improvement - in my account of what happened on day 8, for example, which I would not have felt safe publishing all the information while I was still inside. Likewise the internet has afforded me use of a thesaurus and spellchecker, which I've used liberally and without regret. 

I hope you find these blogs enjoyable and enlightening, perhaps enough so to offer me a lucrative record deal or a high-power blow job. Perhaps they will even inspire youto visit prison yourself.  

Thursday 2 August 2012

Post Pie Post Post Script Post

To celebrate/commiserate a year since I chucked a pie in Rupert Murdoch's face I recently wrote a lurid tabloid expose about the ins and outs of my flan flinging adventures. I realised today there was one interesting detail I left out of the narrative. Until a couple of minutes before I actually did the fucking thing, my accomplices and I had planned to send out a press release. At the last minute, though, for reasons I think probably had more to do with adrenaline than common sense, I told them not to, reasoning that sending an email might somehow implicate them more than, say, being sat next to me just before I did it.

So, here for the first time, is the press release the hastily named "Cake Bloc" would have sent out to newspapers around the world (the XXXs indicate information we didn't quite have yet):

For Immediate Release

At XXX today activists acting on behalf of Cake Bloc successfully pied media mogul, oligarch and billionaire Rupert Murdoch.

Tyrone Winstable, a spokesman for Cake Bloc, said “No matter what they believe, men like Rupert Murdoch do not have the right to trample on those less powerful than themselves, whether by hacking the phones of murder victims or misleading millions of voters on a daily basis. Sadly, as the last few weeks have shown, we cannot trust the Government, the police or the press to hold big business to account, so we decided to take matters into our own hands. Long after the mess has been cleaned from Murdoch’s face, we will still be cleaning up the mess he has made of our democracy.

Murdoch has ruthlessly thrown his subordinates to the dogs while protecting his own position, even going as far as to sack hundreds of blameless secretaries, journalists, security guards and cleaners from the tainted News of the World. He clearly has no care or compassion for anyone but himself. This action will hopefully remind him that we are all human and that those who refuse to treat others with dignity and respect have no right to it themselves.

News International’s rags have humiliated innocent people time again for no other motive than profit. We are glad Murdoch has had a taste of his own medicine.

We call on people of all races, faiths colours and creeds to unite in throwing stuff at Rupert Murdoch.”

Rupert Murdoch has been involved in corruption scandals around the world, and his media-empire has been ruthlessly right wing in its sympathies from its very inception. Cake Bloc is opposed to the unchecked power of big business and governments across the globe.

One activist was arrested after today’s action and is being held in XXX XXX. We ask sympathizers and well-wishers to join us outside the station for a solidarity demo in support of our incarcerated comrade.

For more information, why not hack our phones?