Over the past three months since this blog was launched I’ve been amazed at just how much general interest there is in the whole issue of prisons. As regular visitors will be aware, I decided to start posting about my own experience of prison and different aspects of life inside following my earlier contributions to The Guardian online comments section.
One of my main objectives in blogging is to provide a personal insight into as many different facets of prison life as I can, based mainly on my own experiences and reflections, but also referencing information I’ve received from fellow cons and ex-prisoners. I’m very keen to be able to offer practical information and advice to anyone who might face imprisonment, as well as to their families and friends.
|Ben's Lifer on the Loose blog|
When I first started blogging, I was only vaguely aware of a couple of fellow prison bloggers: ‘Ben’ (John) Gunn and Adam Mac. Ben started writing for his award-winning prison blog Lifer on the Loose while he was still inside serving a life sentence; Adam writes his Blogging Behind Bars while currently a prisoner at HMP Wakefield.
I always think that it’s a much braver thing to blog by mail, often writing the text by hand, when you’re still inside the slammer because of the potential ‘blowback’ from governors and screws, many of whom do follow prison blogs online. A misjudged – or even misunderstood – comment when you are still a con can leave you at risk of very serious consequences, perhaps even a nicking (disciplinary charge) or a security review.
Adam recently posted an interesting piece on an interaction he had with one wing screw who had read his blog. You can find the post here. Writing under such conditions involves treading a very thin line at times and there can be negative consequences if those in authority don’t like what they read. When you are still a serving con you can be particularly defenceless behind those high walls, so I salute Adam’s fortitude in continuing to post.
|Jack Hill: armed blogger|
My friend, and fellow ex-con, Jack Hill has also recently launched his own blog (link here), after having become well-known for his series of video blogs (vlogs) on YouTube. His first blog post is the fascinating and heart-breaking background story of how an intelligent university student ended up committing an armed robbery and then serving a prison sentence.
What I particularly appreciate with Jack’s commentary is that he never seeks to make excuses for his criminal offence, but does his best to explain how and why he did what he did and the consequences of his actions. That he managed to complete his degree (despite being inside), has now found professional work in the media industry, has successfully finished his period on licence and has rebuilt his life after having been a prisoner is a positive story that should appeal to anyone with an interest in the rehabilitation and resettlement of ex-cons. I feel that his blog provides a refreshing antidote to the general crisis, mismanagement and chaos that seems to be engulfing our criminal justice system.
Even better, Jack is willing to share his thoughts on his prison experiences with a wider audience. As regular viewers of his vlogs will be aware, he confronts some of the more ‘gritty’ issues of life inside the nick without flinching. At times, his honesty can be painful, which is why it’s good that he manages to balance it with infectious good humour and a bit of musical talent.
Prison blogs are not limited to the UK. During the last few months I’ve become aware of a number of fellow prisoner bloggers from the USA and Canada. Occasionally, I’ll flag up one of their posts that I have found particularly interesting. There are some odd parallels between the prison systems over there in North America and our own, as well as many differences.
|What goes on within these walls?|
So why is there such interest in what we write and post online? Prison, by its very nature, is a closed world and that encourages a climate of misinformation – often propagated by the tabloid media – as well as popular distrust and fear of crime and criminals. It’s perhaps not entirely surprising that people who are faced with the likelihood of imprisonment for the first time panic at the prospect and can even consider committing suicide as a means of avoiding being banged-up.
I’ve been pleased to read recent comments made on Prison UK: an Insider’s View by those who are in this position that indicate how helpful they are finding the opportunity to find out more about the whole prison experience from ex-cons, as well as to ask specific questions. Since its launch at the beginning of July, this blog has attracted around 300 comments or questions, all of which I’ve tried to answer as best I can.
I’m always chuffed when other former prisoners (or their families) contribute their own responses to the discussions. Anything positive that people can take from these posts or online comments will mean that this blog is having a worthwhile impact by helping those readers who are at risk of being given custodial sentences find some answers as they prepare for the possibility of doing time in the slammer.
|Preparing for prison: information|
In addition to the blogs already mentioned above, there are also several excellent websites that publish contributions from serving or ex-cons. A good example is Comment with Convictions. These sites allow for a wider dissemination of peoples’ thoughts, reflections and experiences of the criminal justice system, positive and negative.
Having a loved one or close friend in prison also seems to be a strong motivation for searching out reliable information online. There are various websites and blogs that focus on either general prison issues as they affect families (Prisoners Families Voices, for example) or on specific campaigns against wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice. I think that these demonstrate just how severe the impact of imprisonment can be on the families of prisoners, as well as their friends and supporters.
Other interesting blogs cover different aspects of the criminal justice system, whether in the magistrate’s courts (for example The Magistrate’s Blog and The Justice of the Peace) or Probation (eg On Probation Blog). There are also a few blogs by serving police officers, ex-prison officers and I’ve so far found one written by a prison chaplain - Get Out of Jail Free. Although there is an online forum for prison officers (PrisonOfficer.org.uk), as well as a few members of the uniformed prison staff who use Twitter, it would be good to have a regular blog written by a serving screw, obviously under a pseudonym in order to avoid any problems with management or the National Offender Management Service (NOMS).
|New monthly newspaper for prisoners|
Where prison-themed blogs and websites have least impact – ironically – is actually in our jails where virtually no prisoners ever have access to the internet or online media. I’ve been delighted to have been asked to contribute a recent feature article for Jail Mail, the brand new monthly newspaper aimed at prisoners and those working in the criminal justice system. Maybe this is an example of how a crossover between online media and print journalism can make relevant sections of the ‘net more accessible to serving inmates.
I certainly intend, my real work permitting, to continue blogging, at least while there is still popular interest (at present the blog is getting 1,000 hits or more each day). I plan to include a mixture of personal experiences, with some commentary on current political developments and relevant news about our prison system. God knows, we sometimes need to challenge the misrepresentations, lies and smears about prisons and prisoners that we read almost every day in the likes of the Daily Mail and The Sun.