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Surviving Prison

Britain has the largest prison population per capita in europe and if Jack (lock'em up) Straw has his wicked way it'll carry on growing! More and more people are likely to do time for crimes they did or didn't commit, partly because the state is always creating more + more laws that we can break, especially laws criminalising political protest. The fear of prison is one of the state's ultimate deterrents to stifle dissent and protect the ruling clases from the wrath and poverty of the masses. This deterrent only works as effectively as we are fearful of it, and this is an attempt to dispel some of the fears and myths that surround prison.

Experiences of prison can vary greatly from person to person and from prison to prison. Obviously there's a big difference between a short stay and a long stretch, not so much on the

experience while there but mentally it can be harder to remain unaffected, and will take longer to re-adjust to the outside world as it will have changed more, and old skills will have to be remembered. Being in prison on remand can be mentally and emotionally taxing, because of the uncertainty regarding length of sentence, and the stress of an approaching court case, etc. Women's prisons are also quite different, not only are you likely to be further from friends and family because of the scarcity of womens' prisons but my women are in for gender/poverty related in a way that men aren't, basically because most coppers/judges are male chauvinists. Category 'A' prisoners (high security) also have less priveleges than Category 'B', 'C' and 'D' respectively. It should be remembered worldwide, British prisons have a reputation for being soft compared to elsewhere especially outside of Europe.

If you know in advance that you're gonna be going inside it's helpful to talk to others with experience of prison. It's good to tie up any loose ends regarding family, housing, money, support before you go in. Also get a few good reading books together!!!

This guide is aimed mostly at those who do time for political 'crimes' or crimes(?) of conscience although it can apply to anyone. Some political activists see going to prison as a natural extension of direct action. Political prisoners have the advantage of being part of a wider movement, which can offer practical support and boost moral. Having a good understanding of why you are there can give a degree of inner strength, calm and confidence and so from this perspective prison can be an empowering experience, and can also be somewhat amusing at times as well!

Most folk on knowing they're about to go down have a flood of varied emotions and/or passing attacks of anxiety and fear. It can feel like the whole weight of Babylon is falling upon your head.

"with the threat of prison hanging over my head I try and find out as much as I possibly can about the prison I am likely to be sent to... I worry about what the other prisoners are like; will I fit in? How much stuff I can take with me? Will I be on my own or sharing? When I arrive different questions become a problem: where do I go to eat, to shower, where is everything, this place is big. After you come out of prison, take a holiday, or rest, to give yourself time to adjust to being out again and having space to move about. Give yourself time and tell others how you are feeling

"Prisons and prison experiences vary enormously.. the first time I went to a British prison was one of the most hellish weeks of my life: I was beaten up by the guards, denied a vegan diet, taken before the governor three times (and threatened with everything from the punishment block to the psychiatric wing) and put in a cell with someone in for murder and someone in for manslaughter. In contrast, much of my five months in another prison was a leisurely rest - badminton, jogging, table tennis, evening classes, my own cell, passable vegan food, friendly enough screws"

"I had sort of expected I was going to prison and actually felt quite prepared and calm. As the prison van pulled up at the gates I felt a strange sort of excitement mixed with a bit of nervousness and uncertainty. I found it fairly easy to settle in after the initial 'crikey! I'm in prison' type feelings. Getting used to the regime can be a bit hard - so many rules. When your life is totally in the hands of authoritarians you just have to adapt and get used to it, and know that they can't confine your thoughts or hold your true freedom. It's important to use the time well with things to focus your mind. There lots of potential for self development and learning from people of different backgrounds. I really benefited from doing lots of meditation and tai chi, which helped me keep calm, especially when dealing with some of the screws who would try and draw me into confrontation because of my beliefs"

However the reality is a lot easier than the fears, and when you start meeting the other cons you realise most of them are just ordinary enough people brought here by unfortunate circumstances, rather than the social monsters the government and media would have you believe. Obviously there are some nutters but they ain't that common, and lets face it there's plenty of nutters on the outside as well! Very few people are looking for a fight 'cos that can mean time in solitary and less parole, soo if you're not looking for trouble you're unlikely to find it. If you try and act hard, someone's gonna challenge you, so just be yourself and be calmly confident, and, keep a good sense of humour!!! Political prisoners tend to get a fair bit of respect in prison, if not a few strange looks for having somewhat alien beliefs. Most trouble in prison is over drugs and addictions (including tobacco) and bullying to get them when personal supplies run low (the prison shop's only open once/twice a week and everyone's skint anyway)... Time to give up? Sometimes, especially if it's obviously your first time inside, you may find yourself challenged in some way by other prisoners, as a kind of test of strength which as long as you stand your ground in a calm but confident manner, will generally pass off without incident. Backing down to any threats or bullying leaves you wide open for abuse and bullying later if you become seen as an easy victim, so stand your ground. It's pretty similar to school playground philosophy really.

An open mind and a bit of common respect can go a long way in prison meeting half-way the many different lives, experiences and expectations that you'll meet there. It can be a time of 1earning and an insight into the inner workings of Babylon, both in the oppressive and overly bureaucratic organisation of prison and in the inmates themselves, most of whom are in for some kind of poverty (class) related crime. Prison can be a lonely place, it is designed to isolate. Communication and solidarity is essential, both with other inmates and with the outside world as well. Political prisoners usually get a lot of support correspondence from the wider movement, this gives a big boost to morale and in some cases can be a lifeline (make sure they know you're there - see contacts below) It also makes a prisoner feel less anonymous, less of a number in a system to be pushed about.

Adapting to prison regime can be strange (if not interesting)... it's a culture unto itself- so many new rules and regulations, new behaviour norms, respective routines, social hierarchies, different language. You can expect some overcrowding, frustrating and irritating levels of noise and distraction and little personal space or privacy. It may be difficult to sleep properly, radios blaring, bars, loud arguments etc. Food will be starchy and dull.You will learn to wait...for a phone call, a shower, a meal, the answer to a question even the time of day. Time can become distorted, days will slip by but each hour could seem like an eternity. Focusing your mind on something like a campaign, reading, studying, drawing, yoga etc. can be a great help in dealing with the monotony and stresses of prison life. Different diets can be catered for upon request although you are only guaranteed a vegan diet if you're a member of the Vegan society before getting sent down. Some progress has been made recently on getting GMO-free diets, although such decisions (as are most decisions regarding personal welfare) are at the arbitrary discretion of the individual prison Governor. Visits and the sending of books, money stereos, what you can and can't send in/out varies greatly from prison to prison so check with the Prison Visitor Centre concerned. The screws are generally alright, if not a bit uptight, with a predisposition towards having authoritarian fantasies. Their prime concern is to preserve order through obedience and submission. However you don't have to indulge them in this fantasy and as long as you don't take the piss they generally leave you alone. Let them be responsible for keeping order while you stay responsible for keeping your conscience.

A sense of humour goes a long way in dealing with the daily routine of being inside, and a smile can disarm all but the meanest screws and cons. Sometimes it's hard not to laugh at those in authority when they take themselves far too seriously especially if their authority and power in not having the desired effect on you. Just because your body is behind bars doesn't mean you've got turn in your conscience or convictions with all your other belongings at the gate. Whether in prison or not, the freedom we enjoy is the freedom we claim for ourselves, and while the body can be incarcerated the spirit is as free as it wishes. Being in prison can be an incredibly empowering experience by bringing this message home.

When you come out, give yourself time to adjust. If you've been in for a while, take it easy, it can take a while to psychologically adjust to looking after yourself again - cooking, cleaning, socialising. Tell friends how you're feeling and above all keep smiling!! 'cos there ain't nothing you can't laugh at...

LEGAL ADVICE + PRISONER SUPPORT

LIBERTY 21 Tabbard St, London, SE1 4LA (020 7403 3888)

RELEASE - 388 Old Street, London, EC1V 9LT (020 7603 8654)

ALF Prisoner Support Group - BCM 1160, London, WC1N 3XX

EARTH Liberation Prisoners - BM HEAL, London, WC1N 3XX

VEGAN PRISONER Support Group - P0 Box 194, Enfield, Middlesex, EN1 3HD (0181 292 8325)

London ABC - 27 Gloucester St, London WC1N 3XX

CONVICTION PO Box 522, Sheffield, S1 3FF

PAGAN FEDERATION - BM Box 7Q97, London, WC1N 3XX

English Collective of Prostitutes P0 Box 287, London, NW6 5QU

Sexual Freedom Coalition - PO Box 4ZB, London, WiA 4ZB

National Prisoners Movement BMPROP, London, WC1N 3XX (020 8542 3744)

WOMEN in Prison - do Women's Environmental Network (6171.247 3327)

PEACE Prisoners Support - do 16 Sholebrook Avenue, Leeds, L57 3HB

DO SOMEONE A FAVOUR, WRITE TO A PRISONER!!!

 
SchNEWS, PO Box 2600, Brighton, BN2 0EF, England
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email: schnews@brighton.co.uk

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