In early July, Extinction Rebellion UK released a statement discussing their “relationship with the police.” They explained how they now recognise that their tactics of civil disobedience and mass arrests have been insensitive to and “have excluded Black people, other communities racialised as non-white, and other marginalised groups and contributed to narratives that have put those communities at risk.” They also apologise that this recognition has come so late.
CW: police brutality, racism
We tend to think of them as a trio: the police; the firefighters; the paramedics. They all answer the same phone line; they all blare the same siren on their way to the scene. Not all three, however, exist to support civilians, nor do they operate in unison, and this façade is what enables the police to be revered no matter how much they tear communities apart and instil fear.
CW: racism, violence, police brutality
We need to talk about the rioting. And the looting. And the destruction of statues during recent Black Lives Matter protests. We really do. The failure to recognise the entrenched nature of historical and enduring structural violence in both the US and the UK speaks volumes in terms of the normalization of oppression, enforced poverty, racism and discrimination in contemporary society. Whilst there are certainly white victims of structural violence, it is an irrefutable fact that Black or minority ethnic communities experience the most severe intersecting consequences – not as uncomfortable rarities, but as a grinding, every day, relentless struggle, which as we have seen in the case of George Floyd along with so many other black men, women and youth, can too often have fatal results.
CW: racism, violence, police brutality
A tide of anguish currently sweeps our world, hammering at the white supremacist order. On the evening of May 25th, George Floyd was mercilessly killed by a white US policeman. The world watched from their homes as Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, ignoring his screams as he called out that he couldn’t breathe. George Floyd was suffocated of his last breath. Three other policemen stood and watched. The state brutally murdered a Black man. The people decided to revolt.
Right now, we are seeing mass protests from the US to the UK to the rest of the world, both on the streets and online, physically and mentally. Police brutality pervades our society and the recent piling up of Black bodies such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Ahmaud Arbery has become just too much. We need change. The only way to achieve this change is to abolish the police.
This is the second instalment of the Interviews with NYC Artists series. Part 1 is available here.
Later on that cold December day, after my meeting with Sally, I battle my way through the New York snow to meet the artist Cindy Ruskin in her apartment in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The apartment is filled with art supplies, paintings and other works, including a renovated garbage can laden with small models and storytelling sketches.
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?
“ICT and digital systems in prison must support more flexible access to learning that is tailored to the needs of individual learners and enables participation in distance and other learning.” (Coates, 2016)
People are sent to prison as punishment for a crime they are alleged to have committed. I say alleged as I am no longer confident that a finding of guilt in court is an indication of whether the alleged guilty party, is in fact, guilty; however, this is a separate debate.
Why are ICT and digital systems, and of course education, important in prison?
CW: mentions suicide, self-harm
In my previous article ‘Consequence of Conscience’, I mention a work titled Suicide by sociologist Émile Durkheim. In Suicide, Durkheim introduced us to the term ‘anomie’, suggesting it to be a breakdown of social norms resulting in a lack of standards and values. He also used this same term and definition to explain a reason as to why some members of society embark on a path of crime or ‘deviance’ – straying from the norm. Durkheim saw deviance as an inevitable part of life which is needed for innovation and change.
CW: mentions suicide
Recently appointed Home Secretary Priti Patel stated in an interview that she wants criminals to “literally feel terror” at the thought of committing crime. In my opinion, to make a statement like that shows how far removed from reality some of our politicians are.
In America, a lot of the States still use the death penalty. I would say that is the ultimate consequential terror for anyone to face. In the UK, the final execution took place as recent as 1964; in fact, the death penalty in the UK was only, totally completely abolished in 1998.
If the sceptre of losing one’s own life is not enough of a consequence to stop breaking the law, then what is the Home Secretary’s version of ‘terror’?
It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.
A message I have carried whilst campaigning for reforms in our prison system has been one of making the walls of justice invisible. The walls that ensconce societies; mums, dads, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, other family members and loved ones and/or friends.
As someone that became, somewhat, institutionalised to the safety and comfort of prison, I saw those walls as keeping people out. I also saw this as a good thing. How ironic then, that here I am now, writing an article promoting transparency to those very same walls that were my protectors.
It wasn’t until February 2016 when the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, in a criminal case under the doctrine of ‘joint enterprise’ (JE), decided that intent and not just foresight would need to be proven to find a secondary suspect guilty of a crime, such as murder.
One of the most famous JE cases saw, at 9am on January 28th, 1953, 19-year-old Derek Bentley hung, at the hands of Albert Pierrepoint at HMP Wandsworth in London. Before I continue, please bear in mind that the person who “let him have it,” the one who pulled the trigger that killed the policeman Sidney Miles, Christopher Craig, was released in May 1963. Ten years after Derek was hung. Three years before Derek’s remains were removed from the prison burial ground to a family grave. Two lives were taken, one by Christopher, one by the state.
It’s hard to look at photos of the US Border Patrol Facilities and not be horrified. Cramped and overcrowded rooms, sometimes stuffed with double the maximum capacity; people confined for well over the allowed period; children separated from their parents and thrown in rooms with strangers. And this may not be the worse yet, as a Trump administration lawyer went viral when she argued that the government was not obligated to provide basic hygiene products and beds to immigrant children detained at these facilities.
“Freire’s central notion is that ‘hope’, as an idea, ‘is rooted in [our] incompleteness’ and that what makes us human is the ‘constant search’ to become more fulfilled. This is something we pursue collaboratively, and in communion with others.” (Smyth, J., Critical Pedagogy for Social Justice, 2011)
The question I ask, ‘Where do you stand?’, is in relation to our prison system. I could ask instead: “Does your perspective and belief of prison match the experience of those it holds?”
by Ana M. Fores Tamayo
Continued from Part I here.
When the police in Guerrero, Mexico told this young woman to leave their station, not to report her missing brother or something worse could happen, she realized she could not count on the police’s help to go after the cartels. Luckily, her brother was returned, beaten up but alive. hen she began to get harassed later that year, because she saw a woman abducted and then murdered, when she began to get subsequent death threats, when she began to hear that they were going to take her small son unless she complied to whatever they wanted from her, when they began accosting her sexually — so that she had to leave her job — she knew she could not go to the police: she had learned her lesson that first time.
by Ana M. Fores Tamayo
I went to an Immigration Merits Hearing at the Dallas Courts recently — the last hearing before an individual or family is deported or given asylum — and this young mother and child from Guerrero, Mexico, lost – as asylum seekers in the majority of these cases do. Although the judge admitted that the young woman “might be in danger,” he said he could do nothing about the consequences such criminal activity affects these poor folk in the countries from which they are escaping. The actions perpetrated in such countries were individual criminal proceedings, not governmental undertakings, and thus the people who suffered individually were not privy to meriting asylum under our government statutes, according to the judge’s ruling.
How can these learned men say such a thing?
Part two of a three-part series
CW: graphic mentions of sexual harassment, voyeurism, and physical and mental abuse
In the first instalment of this story I chronicled the sworn Affidavit of Corey Donaldson, a former immigrant inmate at a low security prison in Georgia at McRae C.I. Corey provided evidence of industrial-scale prurient crimes targeted at the dignity of immigrants and carried out by Core Civic.
Part one of a three-part series
CW: graphic mentions of sexual harassment, voyeurism, and physical and mental abuse
EXCLUSIVE – An independent investigation into original documents and an Affidavit supplied by an Australian whistle-blower has revealed that the private prison Core Civic runs an organized sexual harassment program against Immigrants, supported by its head office in Tennessee, and federal government watchdogs at the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) and SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) know about it — as does the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) — but each have proved apathetic, doing nothing to penalize it.
Cw: suicide, self-harm
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
Once again, we witness more self-inflicted deaths in custody routinely followed by lessons not being learned, recommendations being ignored, and worst of all — even in cases where an inquest jury has delivered a unanimous decision on a failure to provide an individual with a duty of care — no action being taken against those who failed to provide the care that loved ones and families of those in prison have a right to expect.
I was recently asked to be a guest speaker on an American live radio show to talk about the collateral damage of injustice and corruption in US prisons. The show is aired from Colorado Springs, so in order to be able to talk about local issues, as I usually cover correctional facilities in Florida, I set about researching prisons in Colorado – which also led me to Louisiana – and I came across a company formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) that changed their name to Core Civic in October 2016 during ongoing scrutiny of the private prison industry in the US.
- Prison – noun – a building in which people are legally held as a punishment for a crime they have committed or while awaiting trial.
- One of the Ministry of Justices’ four strategic priorities is “A prison and probation service that reforms offenders” (Ministry of Justice).
Number one is definitely the case, but what about number two? Well, based on the latest government figures in relation to self-harm, violence, and suicides, I would suggest that the Ministry of Justice is not delivering on one of its key strategic priorities.
Whilst going about my daily ritual of spending hours in front of a computer screen researching in a variety of areas, one of which being the criminal justice system, I came across this piece with the headline ‘Mental health trust takes back contract for more serious conditions at Norwich prison’. It was a report in an edition of the Great Yarmouth Mercury.
I have served as a prisoner for a good number of years at HMP Norwich, and as someone who has a complex mental health history, I came into contact with the mental health team on a regular basis. I was also a trained listener and would have dealings with the team as a third party on behalf of individual prisoners.
“Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time!”. In terms of reform and progress within our penal system, the proverb is about as much use as eating soup with a fork. For a start, how would you know?
Unfortunately, we do need prisons. Ever since Eve – reportedly – ate the forbidden fruit from the garden of Eden, crime has been in existence in human narratives. Crime, either directly or indirectly, affects us all; victims of crime or the family/loved ones/friends of the victim, perpetrator of crime, or, yet again, the family/friends/loved ones of the perpetrators. You may even pay higher insurance premiums due to crime. Crime affects all, therefore, crime is the responsibility of all, especially the prison system.
by Jonathan Lee
Content warning: article contains strong language, ethnic slurs, and graphic descriptions of death, suicide, prison environments and torture.
On April 9th 2018, the day after International Roma Day, a crowd gathered outside the doors of the Murcia Regional Government building in Alicante, Spain. They were not there to celebrate, but to mourn and demonstrate about the unexplained death of twenty-eight-year-old Romani man, Manuel Fernández, on 22nd October 2017. His case is one of many unexplained deaths of Roma in prison.
The Spanish government continues in its relentless pursuit of Catalonians who dared to seek further autonomy and independence. An international warrant was issued from Madrid for the arrest of Carles Puigdemont, the leader of the Catalan separatists, and his recent arrest in Germany has sparked new demonstrations, reigniting the Catalan debate. Puigdemont faces charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds – all of which means he could face the next 25 years in prison.
However, for him to be extradited successfully, German judges need to assess if the charges are punishable under German law. He could be extradited but only to face the charges that are criminal under German law. Five other arrest warrants for other separatist politicians have been issued; some already have been arrested in Spain and sent to prison awaiting trial.
Saturday the 10th Feb 2018, a day that I will always remember. I had been invited to speak in relation to prison education and the arts. I was speaking to an audience alongside Jacob Huntley, a lecturer in English literature and creative writing from the UEA. I met Jacob whilst I was a serving prisoner at HMP Norwich. One of my roles at HMP Norwich was as an education mentor and I was told that there would be a new creative writing course starting, which would be facilitated by Jacob. I have always found that penning emotions onto a piece of paper allowed me to free my mind.
by Hannah Rose
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked.
Allen Ginsberg, San Francisco. 1955
Aliyah has lived in San Francisco’s Mission district her entire life, which I estimate at being around twenty-eight years. Mission is the city’s working class and Latino area. She sleeps on the living room floor. The TV is on and throws intermittent light over her slumbering form, phone still in hand. I have to step over Aliyah on my way to her room—which I am renting through Airbnb for the week—and am careful not to wake her despite the blare of the TV. On the wall, beneath a tangle of half-deflated gold balloons left over from a party, is a giant poster of Whitney Houston—the queen of pop. Behind the water cooler is the silhouetted form of Michael Jackson—the king of pop—suspended on tippy-toes and ‘He Lives’ stencilled beneath.
Photographs of Aliyah and her husband smile back at me from heart-shaped frames that decorate the far wall and on a small, white canvas the words ‘Life is the Flower for which Love is the Honey’ are in poppy-red. One of a few splashes of colour in this windowless, dimly lit apartment.
by Lotty Clare
Content warning: mentions violence against women, abuse, rape, self-harm, suicide, racism, harassment, homophobia.
Last Saturday, a group of UEA students and Norwich residents travelled to a protest at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire. This protest was the fifth Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary (MFJ) has organised to shut down detention centres. As I approached the building, hidden inside an industrial estate, surrounded by fields, in the middle of nowhere, it was just as intimidating and depressing as 6 months ago when I went to Yarl’s Wood for the first time. It looks like a prison, except that it is ‘worse than prison, because you have no rights’, as former detainee Aisha Shua put it. Some women are in Yarl’s Wood because their visa expired, others because their asylum claim was unsuccessful. They have committed no crime. And yet they can be detained there indefinitely.
This week, Norwich Pride held an emergency demonstration outside City Hall to protest a new wave of abductions, imprisonment, and killing of LGBTQ+ people in Chechnya. Over 50 people gathered on the steps of City Hall to hear speeches from local activists, and to show solidarity with LGBTQ+ people in Chechnya. These acts of solidarity are vital, and it has been encouraging to see similar displays across the country, but our actions must go beyond this.
by Tara Gulwell
Content warning: mentions death row and execution.
Arriving at Angola prison is a bit like realising the horror film you’ve been watching is actually a documentary. Suddenly a landscape that was far removed from my own experience was coming into focus before me as I arrived at the gates. I’ve had family members who were imprisoned or have gone through the criminal justice system, but this was Angola. This was the Alcatraz of the South, one of the most violent subjects of intense fascination in American mythology.
by Zoe Harding
Trigger Warnings: Islamaphobia, casual Ableism
Last week, an infamous mass-murdering terrorist was granted repayment of his legal costs and a court-enforced relaxing of the conditions under which he is imprisoned for the killing of 77 people. In her ruling, Judge Helen Andenaes Sekulic agreed with his claims of inhuman treatment and reminded us that the European Convention on Human Rights states that the right to not be treated inhumanely applies to all people, therefore including ‘terrorists and killers’ under its protection.
by Sahaya James
Harmondsworth detention centre, near Heathrow, is set in an anonymous business park. You can only tell it’s a detention centre because of the barbed wire.
Campsfield detention centre, near Oxford, is accessible by a nondescript turning on a nondescript a-road. The whole site is ringed by a line of trees.
Yarl’s Wood, however, is even more hidden than the rest. It sits hundreds of meters back from the road, behind a double layer of fencing, miles and miles out into the Bedfordshire countryside.
It is, essentially, a prison. Like every detention centre, it doesn’t contain people accused and convicted of crimes — it contains people without UK passports. Specifically, Yarlswood contains women and children.
by Adam Edwards
If this is how the Queen treats her prisoners, she doesn’t deserve to have any.
— Oscar Wilde
Every few months the ongoing tit-for-tat between the UK government and the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg develops. Strasbourg will insist that the UK must extend suffrage to the country’s imprisoned populace, and UK politicians will line up to express how nauseating they find the idea. It’s a piece of political theatre that unfolds with the predictable reliability of a soap opera.
It should serve to remind us as to the purpose prisons serve. Episodes like this ought to help us scratch the Ministry of Justice’s PR varnish enough to remember that prisons exist primarily as an expression of the power of the state over the individual; cross the line and we will lock you up. Not only will we take your liberty, but inasmuch as we seek to ‘rehabilitate’ and ‘reform’ you, we will take your identity too. We will arrest your body and your conscience alike; we will isolate you and remove you. While we’ve got the keys, you don’t exist. Just cross the line.