- Created: Wednesday, 13 May 2009 15:12
- Written by John Bowden
On 10 October prisoners at Glenochil high security prison in Stirlingshire, staged what was initially a peaceful protest over repressive conditions. The over-reaction of prison staff, however, almost resulted in the death of prisoners and provoked a general mood of unrest that overwhelmed the administration and led to a total lockdown of the gaol. John Bowden reports.
Prisoners in C Hall began the protest by draping a large banner between windows and barricading themselves into a section of the cellblock. The banner read ‘This is a peaceful protest. Leave our visitors alone, Drew Rutherford.’ Rutherford, a senior security screw and hard-line opponent of prisoners’ rights, had enforced a ‘no physical contact’ policy under the guise of combating drugs. As far as prisoners were concerned, screws supervising visits were encouraged to behave in an oppressive and intimidating way and to actively discourage their family and friends from visiting.
The anger over visiting conditions simply brought to a head the general resentment towards an oppressive regime that was failing to meet prisoner’s basic needs. For example, financial cutbacks in medical provision have resulted in prisoners being routinely denied treatment and even access to a doctor. In response to complaints, governor Kate Donegan implemented a policy of encouraging prisoners to purchase a growing list of basic medicines from their own money. Poorer prisoners of course are excluded from this mini-privatisation scheme. Medical neglect at the prison is symptomatic of an administrative mentality that views the basic human rights of prisoners as meaningless.
Another source of anger is the ritual of prisoners being made to make their way in single file to workshops along a narrow route (dubbed the ‘wall of shame’) lined by screws, bearing aggressively down on them. This ritualised intimidation takes place three times a day and is designed to remind prisoners of their powerlessness and weakness.
Soon after prisoners barricaded themselves into C Hall, the administration decided violence was the only response appropriate and sent in the riot squad. An earlier protest in August had ended with prisoners being attacked and dragged off to the punishment block where the violence against them continued into the early hours of the morning. On this occasion the protesters decided to repel the riot squads by setting fire to their barricade.
As the blaze took hold, the riot squad retreated, and then stood back and did nothing as the fire spread into the cellblock. Eventually, huge flames were even roaring from windows and it became obvious that the entire building was being consumed by fire. Prisoners in the cellblock now began screaming for help as total panic set in. Prisoners in nearby cellblocks that had been locked down were shouting from the windows for the fire brigade to be called and, finally at least an hour after the fire started, the screws summoned fire engines.
The first reaction of the senior fire officer at the scene was to call for body bags, so convinced was he that prisoners had perished in the fire. Once the fire was subdued, screws and firemen entered the building and discovered five unconscious prisoners, two of whom appeared to be close to death. An ambulance was summoned but was kept waiting for over an hour and boxed in by a van full of screws in riot gear. The anger of prisoners in the rest of the prison was palpable.
That evening, the Scottish Prison Service fed a story to the press, claiming the disturbance had been a reaction to a crackdown on drugs in the prison.
The following day, 11 October, prisoners seized control of part of D Hall and systematically wrecked it in solidarity with the prisoners in C Hall. Predictably, Governor Donegan decided to lock down the prison completely in a last ditch attempt to regain control. She claimed her decision was motivated by concern for the personal safety of prisoners and staff. In fact, it was motivated by desperation, anger, and a realisation that her regime had failed.
The Scottish prison system is currently in crisis, with record levels of overcrowding as a result of Scottish Labour’s current ‘law and order’ obsession. In early October the Scottish media produced some scare stories, concerning the ‘loss of control’ in Scottish prisons, claiming the level of assaults and drug abuse had risen dramatically – the message was clear: it was time to crack down and reassert control.
The selected ‘ringleaders’ of the Glenochil uprising now face charges of arson, mutiny and endangering life, and face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Such victimisation and repression will not, however, stem the anger or deter prisoners in Scotland from continuing the struggle.
Prisoners take a stand against conditions in Full Sutton seg unit
On 18 August 2003 Robbie Stewart went on hunger strike at Full Sutton segregation unit. A few days later Keith Pringle arrived from Whitemoor and started a dirty protest over the ridiculously over-the-top security requirements. The next day he was joined in solidarity by Stephen Lawlor. On 26 August Robbie came off hunger strike and joined the dirty protest, as did another prisoner, Harjindher Pooni. All prisoners were asking for a transfer – to anywhere. The screws tried to get us to come off it at first by switching off the water supplies. When food was brought to the cell on paper plates, it was turned face down on the floor and stamped on.
Keith was the first to go – to Wakefield on 5 September. Stephen, an Irish traveller, and Harjindher, an Asian man, were both subjected to almost daily racist abuse by screws. Harjindher was moved between cells every three to four days and sometimes went periods sleeping on the floor with no blankets, as did Stephen.
On Wednesday 17 September one of the POA fanatics was assaulted by a prisoner who had nothing to do with the protest. This was a huge damage to the screw’s ego and almost immediately the beatings happened that day. Phil Simmons, who is mixed race, was attacked and placed in the ‘box’. The following morning Harjindher was severely beaten, leaving him barely able to stand up.
Phil went to join the protest and was again beaten. He was then put in a body-belt and sent to Frankland. Two days later Michael Stone was beaten on the exercise yard after speaking out over the treatment we were receiving. On Monday 22 September Robbie Stewart was sent to Woodhill. At that time none of the three on the protest had had food or fluids all weekend. There were two left on the protest then, and at the end of the week Stephen was found unconscious in his cell. He was taken to York hospital, suffering from dehydration and malnutrition. The following morning, Harjindher was also found unconscious. He was also taken to hospital for the same reason.
On return to Full Sutton seg they continued the protest. The doctor then declared Harjindher unfit for segregation and took him on the wing, where he went on hunger strike. Stephen was later sent to Altcourse. Harjindher was taken to the hospital wing on his hunger strike where the governor told him there was no way he would meet his demands, despite giving in to the three others’ demands.
Harjindher is now in contact with solicitors and attempting to get some kind of investigations into the attacks down the seg and the racist abuse.
Thessalonika 7 freed after hunger strike
Seven men arrested, framed and imprisoned in Greece after demonstrating against Fortress Europe at the EU Summit on 21 June 2003 have been released from gaol after a 66-day hunger strike and an international solidarity campaign demanding their release. It is not believed that the hungerstrikers’ health has been permanently damaged. The Thessaloniki Seven still face trial and cannot leave Greece.
Early on Wednesday 26 November Greek doctors refused an order to force feed the hungerstrikers, despite facing homicide charges if the prisoners died. By the afternoon, a council of magistrates, pressured by public opinion, ordered the immediate release the prisoners on bail.
After being beaten by Greek riot-cops, the seven were fitted up with identical black bags containing axes, hammers and petrol bombs. The charges included making petrol bombs, rioting, arson and insurrection, for which they faced 25 years in gaol. They were refused bail and subject to up to 18 months pre-trial confinement under Greek law.
Simon Chapman, from London, was among the Seven. Photo evidence from the press show Simon's blue rucksack being replaced with a black one. Greek TV news channel ET3 broadcast footage of the police stitch-up. The judge refused to accept the footage as evidence in the bail application and bail was denied three times over five months. In protest, five of the seven started a hungerstrike.
Syrian refugee, Solaiman ‘Kastro’ Dakdouk, refused food from 21 September. Simon and two Spanish prisoners, Carlos Martin-Martinez and Fernando Perrez Gorraiz, joined him two weeks later, followed, in three days by Greek national Spyros Tsitsas. Two Greek minors, Michalis Traikapis and Dimitris Fliouras joined in the final two weeks. They were demanding release on bail and for Kastro to be given asylum in Greece.
The Olympic Games will take place in Greece in summer 2004. The evidence of cops filling bags with petrol bombs has undermined the credibility of the Greek justice system. The international campaign must continue to demand the charges be dropped altogether.
Victory to the Thessaloniki Seven!
Letter from Eric Allison
Long-standing readers of FRFI will know that for the last decade or so I’ve occasionally sounded off on these pages: mainly concerning strokes pulled in the lousier nicks. Six months ago, I applied for the, new post of Prisons Correspondent for The Guardian. Somewhat to my surprise, I got the job and started a couple of weeks ago.
I trust that anybody who knows me personally will know exactly whose side I’m on in the war against bad practices in the worst prisons. I now want to assure all prisoners, irrespective of sex, race, nationality or ‘nature of offence’, that I will be fighting their corner whenever and wherever I can. Write to me, at the address below. Every letter will be answered, in time. (Please remember that I’m on my own.) If I can’t help, then I’ll pass your problem on to somebody who possibly can – and I’ll tell you what I’ve done.
I’m not into mainstream journalism for the money. (I earned far more from villainy, 20 years ago, than I’m earning now). The Guardian is part of a profit-making media group, but the paper itself has sound, long-standing ideals that I’m proud to be associated with, and profit is not the main driving force. Therefore, I strongly suggest that, if you’re going to buy a national daily while you’re inside, that you make it The Guardian. And keep reading FRFI. This paper has long been the staunchest of friends to prisoners. Certainly, I will be privileged to continue to write for it, if and when I am invited to do so.
Yours in solidarity
Write to Eric at The Guardian,
Manchester M60 2RR
Eric was the joint author, with FRFI’s Nicki Jameson, of Strangeways 1990: a serious disturbance, the only book about the prison system’s biggest ever revolt (available from Larkin Publications, BCM 5909, London WC1N 3XX price £7.95). The views expressed about The Guardian are his own, not those of FRFI.
Lincoln prison mutiny charges
Twenty-four men have been charged with prison mutiny following the Lincoln prison uprising in October 2002. Twelve are still in prison, while the remainder have been released. FRFI sends solidarity greetings to them all and asks readers to send cards and messages of support to those still inside:
HMP Lowdham Grange, Nottingham, NG14 7DA
Neil Dunn, HMP Rye Hill, Willoughby, Rugby, Warwickshire,
John Richard Lambert, Adam Steven Pidduck, Gavin Errol Collins, HMP Nottingham, Perry Road, Nottingham, NG5 3AG
Paul Bogle, HMP Dovegate, Uttoxeter, Staffs, ST14 8XR
Jason Robert Bush and Ian McBeth, HMP Doncaster, Marshgate, Doncaster, DN5 8UX
Alan Brown, Peter Anthony McCabe, Gary Desmond Oldham, HMP Hull, Hedon Road, Hull,
Benjamin Lee Daws, HMP Leicester, Welford Road, Leicester, LE2 7AJ
FRFI 176 December 2003 / January 2004