Friday, 7 November 2008

It's SO not fair.

Injustice isn't fair. Obviously. That's the definition of it. But it really makes you want to say it aloud, or shout it aloud: "It's not fair".

One example I've been thinking about this week is the issue of false imprisonment. Many of our prisoners deny they committed the crime for which they were found guilty and sentenced. Most of them are lying (to themselves too, very often, and that's an interesting challenge to deal with). But occasionally there is a miscarriage of justice and a man is falsely imprisoned. I was speaking recently to a prisoner who claims to be innocent of the crime for which he was committed. This may be true. It may be lies. I take everything I'm told with a very large pinch of salt, which can't be good for my arteries.

Anyway, imagining for a brief moment that that prisoner is telling the truth about his innocence. He is in a dilemma. In order to progress towards release from prison, he must comply with all that is suggested to him in terms of addressing his alleged offending behaviour. If he goes before the parole board and denies his crime, this will not go down well. Likewise if he says he wasn't entirely to blame, for example he was acting in self-defence, that will be termed "minimising his crime" and won't go down well either. The best chance of progressing to parole and liberation is to demonstrate to the parole board remorse for the crime, and to have evidence of steps that have been taken to address the offending behaviour. I was asked recently, "What should I put in my letter to the parole board?" by a prisoner who doesn't want to say he committed the crime because (according to him) he didn't, but who doesn't want to stay in jail forever either. It's a conundrum. I have no idea if that particular individual is telling the truth or "full of it" but in general terms this is a real issue. And it makes me want to say aloud, "It's not fair".

I also wanted to say, or indeed shout, "It's not fair" when I sat with two prisoners in their fifties today who have recently been reunited after coming to our prison from two separate establishments. As boys/young teenagers, they were at the same approved school. I listened with horror to the stories of physical abuse they endured from the staff, and other inappropriate behaviour fromt the staff, only just falling short of sexual abuse in their stories, but according to them leading to sexual abuse for some of the other boys. Later I spoke to a younger man who grew up twenty years later in care homes and was also subject to sexual abuse. Again, I wanted to shout "It's not fair", and perhaps to stamp my feet for good measure.

It was also my privilege today to read an anthology of prisoners' poems (and some prisoners' artwork) which I hadn't seen before but which was published in one of the jails in Scotland. Much of it was absolutely superb. Really powerful descriptions of life prior to and during custody. This didn't make me want to shout so much as to sit and cry (if I'd had the space and time). How sad it was to reflect on the wasted talent among these guys whose lives have been given over to addiction and/or crime when they had so much going for them. And I know that many of those with such a lot going for them in terms of talent don't even recognise it in themselves. Society tells them they are the dross. Certain aspects of their behaviour have brought that upon themselves, but the potential for so much more was there, and it's sad. Desperately sad.


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

The waste is sad. I hope some of them can find good outlets for their talent.

Bystander said...

Sad. There are few things more likely to produce a screwed up repeat-offending adult than a period in what is laughably called 'care' while they are children.

Sage said...

It is one of the main reasons, that I oppose the death sentence. It would be too difficult to apologise when you later find out they were innocent of whatever crime they were accused of.

Something that Dad and I couldn't agree on and had many a challenging discussion.