The Queen vs Trenton Oldfield – A prison diary

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[Published by Myrdle Court Press, 2013]

On 7 April 2012, Trenton Oldfield disrupted the Oxford vs Cambridge University Boat Race in the River Thames in protest against elitism, inequality and government cuts and surveillance. He was arrested and initially charged under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, which does not carry a custodial sentence. Following a politically instigated CPS review, this was then changed to ‘causing a public nuisance’, for which he was sentenced on 19 October 2012 to six months’ imprisonment. He served a month and a half of this in Wormwood Scrubs prison in London, before being released on Home Detention Curfew electronic tagging. Trenton – an Australian who has lived in London for ten years – is now fighting an attempt by the British Home Office to make him leave the country on the basis that his presence here is ‘not conducive to the public good’.

The Queen vs Trenton Oldfield chronicles the period the author spent in Wormwood Scrubs in the form of an observational day-by-day diary, interspersed with comment and analysis of his unfolding experience. It also contains transcripts of his trial and of an in-depth interview by Voice of Russia with his partner Deepa Naik, alongside various articles written on his case and a ‘Visual Diary’ comprising colour photos of prison issue items from clothes to tobacco and reproductions of documents which relate either to his individual imprisonment or to procedures in place at Wormwood Scrubs. Most notable amongst the latter is a Notice to Prisoners on ‘Racist offensive material’, which contains a list of ‘Prohibited Organisations and Publications’, beginning: ‘Black Panthers, Ku Klux Klan, White Wolves, UDA/IRA, British National Party…’

This book is a refreshing contrast to the endless patronising and scaremongering prison diaries written by middle class people who for one reason or another have ended up in prison and who once released rush into print to chronicle their experiences, list the crimes of the people they have encountered, show how they survived the ordeal and set out their own blueprint for improving the criminal justice system. The main aim of The Queen vs Trenton Oldfield is, in fact, the opposite of scaremongering; instead, whilst describing in some detail the alienating effect of being in prison and the destructive effect it has on relationships with people ‘outside’, it seeks to demystify prison, in order that the fear of being sent there will not be a barrier to those engaging in political activism. At a time when prison struggle activists frequently lament the lack of solidarity in British gaols compared to that which was evident in the 1970s to ‘90s and which has been systematically destroyed, Trenton’s account of prison life is full of examples of prisoners supporting one another. The Prison Diary section of the book begins: ‘My fellow prisoners are great – real comradeship! Lots of humour, banter and sharing!’

There is plenty of such energy in this book, as well as lots of political commentary and opinion, not all of which FRFI supporters would necessarily agree with! There is also some sound advice: ‘always carry £20 cash, the phone numbers of loved ones and a lawyer on a piece of paper. You never know when you will be taken and you need some money in prison straight away to start any chance of a decent defence in court and your own life.’

Nicki Jameson

To sign the petition against the deportation of Trenton Oldfield go to: www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/theresa-may-home-office-stop-the-deportation-of-trenton-oldfield