by David Breakspear

As an active prison reform campaigner, I have wanted the fences and walls which surround our prisons to become metaphorically invisible. But why is this important to me?

As a former prisoner who, due to sentence and not a conviction, will always have to disclose parts of my criminal record, and who will forever have my life open to scrutiny, privacy is not an option; I had or have no choice in the matter. If I’m asked, I must tell. This despite the fact that I am not involved with the system as a ‘resident’ or ‘service-user’ anymore and no longer considered a risk to society. A reformed character, my new label?

I do not wish to minimise my responsibility in all this. I did the crime(s), I accepted the time, along with any future consequences of my unlawful actions. The blame, personally fixed by me, is firmly secured to my door.

This is me. ‘It is what it is.’

However, what of those tasked, rostered, employed, sub-contracted, or contracted who had a duty of care to me and continue to have a duty of care to the many thousands of children, men and women incarcerated behind those fences and walls in what comes across now as the dis-United Kingdom? Out of sight, out of mind, it seems.

I would like to bring your attention to three articles recently published on the Norwich Radical. The pieces: CORE CIVIC DOES NOT DISPUTE ORGANISED SEXUAL HARASSMENT PROGRAM AGAINST IMMIGRANTS, CORE CIVIC CAUGHT CONDUCTING SEX-BASED EXPERIMENTS UPON IMMIGRANTS WITH A SECOND IMMIGRANT WITNESS COMING FORWARD and CORE CIVIC’S CORPORATE CULTURE OF HIDING STAFF FELONIES UPON IMMIGRANTS highlight the atrocities and injustices faced by just one man among the millions of prisoners incarcerated in prisons around the world, and the no doubt hundreds of thousands of individuals who are facing their own problems ‘inside’ as well as their own personal internal struggle(s).

You may think the story of Corey Donaldson is extreme or maybe rare? I can assure you that a simple search on Google, using ‘abuses in prison’ as keywords, will show that not to be the case, in either extremity or rarity.

Two quotes spring to mind with respect to the point I wish to make, one which I use regularly, both by Russian philosopher and novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky:

“A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens but by how it treats its criminals.”

Along with:

“Whoever has experienced the power and the unrestrained ability to humiliate another human being automatically loses his own sensations. Tyranny is a habit, it has its own organic life, it develops finally into a disease. The habit can kill and coarsen the very best man or woman to the level of a beast. Blood and power intoxicate … the return of the human dignity, repentance and regeneration becomes almost impossible.”

This part in particular: “it has its own organic life, it develops finally into a disease.” It would be difficult to find a riposte, especially if one followed my Googling advice, to counter Dostoevsky’s argument.

A friend once said to me, “we can’t change the principle, we can only change the practice.” But what if the principle is wrong in the first place? What then?

Does the practice become one of merely being left to pick up the pieces? To work to try and mend the ‘damaged goods’ sent directly from the warehouse? Resetting the internal memory? What can we do to halt the tyranny of some, to mend the morals of others and the point of principle of all?

“Lessons will be learnt” is the system’s mantra, and yet a recent tragedy (one of far too many) will show that lessons never have been learnt if indeed they were ever sought in the first place and hugely affected the lives, among countless other families, of  Linda and Stuart Allan, whose daughter Katie Allan, 21, after being bullied by other prisoners at Polmont young offenders institution in Scotland took her own life.

“The Allans, with the help of the University of Glasgow, where Linda Allan is an honorary clinical professor, reviewed information published by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) on 258 prisoner deaths between 2008 and 2018, cross-referencing this with causes of death and other information recorded in FAIs, where it was available.”

Not only have the numerous years the system been able to hide behind cloudy and gloomy defences, allowing so much abuse and heartbreak to go on, to staff as well as prisoners (management seems to do okay though) – it has also enabled the media to fill the lack of information vacuum and transparency with their own narrative, one based on and influenced by fear followed by the propaganda of said fear.

I will ask once more: what can we do to halt the tyranny of some, to mend the morals of others and the point of principle of all?


For the truth shall set you free.


Featured image via CYCJ

The Norwich Radical is non-profit and run by volunteers. All funds raised help cover the maintenance costs of our website, as well as contributing towards future projects and events. Please consider making a small contribution and fund a better media future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.