Strangeways protester Alan Lord tells his story

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• Life in Strangeways: from riot to redemption, my 32 years behind bars,

Alan Lord with Anita Armstrong, £7.99, John Blake Publishing, 2015

In 1981, aged 20, Alan Lord was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, following a bungled robbery. Following his release in 2013, Alan has written this autobiography, chronicling his life before prison, years of incarceration, participation in the 1990 uprising at Strangeways prison in Manchester, and eventual path to freedom.

This book is an easy read but not easy reading, graphically detailing beating after beating by violent, racist prison staff: ‘I sometimes regretted my actions in fighting the regime, but I was stubborn to a fault. I could have kept my head down like most inmates do, but it’s just not me. I wanted to make it clear from the start that they could have it the easy way, by treating me with respect as a human being, or the hard way. I always had it in my head that one day I’d beat the system and come out the better man.’ (p37)

Throughout his sentence Alan maintained a strict regime of physical training and Spartan living; on arrival at every new prison – and there were many moves – he would throw out the furniture, bleach the floor and lay a sheet on the floor. In this way he slept every night of his sentence on the ground.

Alan participated in many protests and acts of solidarity with other prisoners. The most famous, of course, being the 1990 Strangeways uprising. As everyone now knows, Strangeways was a ticking time-bomb in which the mix of appalling physical conditions and brutal staff was pushing prisoners to the limits of their endurance. Strangeways was the first prison Alan was sent to as a young man on a short sentence and he returned there in 1981 to begin his sentence as an imprisoned lifer. Then in April 1990 he found himself back there again, having been thrown out of Garth prison.

The actual events of April 1990 are dealt with relatively briefly although the reader gets a very good understanding of the grievances and mistreatment of prisoners which led up to the protest in the prison chapel, and how this then turned into a full-scale revolt as the prison staff fled the prison, leaving the prisoners in control. We are then taken through the aftermath of escapes and legal retribution and another 12 years of incarceration in high security prisons, including the special units in Hull and Parkhurst. Eventually in 2004 Alan’s security category was lowered to Category B (this followed a successful court action which changed the law on Category A reviews, and which we reported on in FRFI1, but which is not mentioned in the book) and he began the slow descent through the different security categories and regimes, culminating in his release from Sudbury open prison in 2013.

Alan subscribed to FRFI throughout his sentence and it features twice in the book: once, when like so many other prisoners before and after him, Alan is confronted with prison censorship and told he cannot read the paper because it is communist (p237); the other, when Eric Allison, who writes for both The Guardian and FRFI, and who has supported Alan since 1990, reports on his Parole Board hearing at HMP Kingston. Eric’s article2 is reproduced in full (p215-219) and highlights the absurdities of the process, as the panel deliberates as to whether Alan is now fit to progress further down the system or be released, or whether he is too ‘institutionalised’. Meanwhile, the biggest reason for his having served such a lengthy term (the Strangeways protest) is never once mentioned throughout the hearing – a scenario Eric likens to the ‘Don’t mention the war!’ scenes in TV comedy Fawlty Towers.

Alan also contributed extensively to Larkin Publications book Strangeways 1990: a serious disturbance, which up until now could boast of being the only publication to contain first-hand accounts of the uprising. We thoroughly recommend reading both books!

Since his release from prison, Alan has settled back into life in Manchester, where he runs a community gym.

Nicki Jameson

1Prisoners to see Cat A reports’ 

2Alan Lord: 16 years after Strangeways the punishment continues’ 

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 245 June/July 2015