- Created: Thursday, 09 October 2014 11:01
The power of collective organisation in prisons
Eric Allison’s excellent piece in FRFI240 (‘Prison overcrowding – squalid and dangerous’, August/September 2014) raised some extremely important questions regarding what actually determines the ‘quality’ of prison regimes as well as the balance of power between prisoners and gaolers. Eric correctly answers the fundamental question that what in reality determines the treatment of prisoners is their ability and willingness to organise, resist and fight back, just as it does the poor and disempowered in the wider class-divided society.
In prison (a brutal microcosm of social control), the only true weapon possessed by prisoners is their solidarity and willingness to collectively fight back; this determines the nature of the regimes under which they exist. Eric quoted from Shelley: ‘Ye are many – they are few’. Such is the obvious numerical and physical advantage that prisoners have over those who guard them, an advantage so potentially powerful that even just a peaceful, non-violent collective withdrawal of co-operation (for example, a mass refusal to work or participate in worthless offence-related courses and programmes) would definitely result in the total collapse of prison regimes and their replacement with straightforward lock-down measures, removing the veneer of ‘treatment’ or ‘rehabilitation’ and reducing the role of those who operate and run gaols to that of simple gaoler.
Locking down long-term prisoners indefinitely is not a strategy the prison system likes to employ – it represents an acknowledgement that control over prisoners is lost unless they are firmly locked down. And because it inevitably generates tension and hatred there are psychological consequences for those directly enforcing the lock-down. Obedient and compliant prisoners create a far more satisfying atmosphere for those ‘supervising’ them, whilst maintaining a relationship of power that is the direct causal reason for the degradation of prisoners.
Potentially, prisoners can be the final and definitive arbiter in how they’re treated and what sort of conditions and regimes they live under, providing of course that they recognise a common interest and shared struggle, and organise accordingly.
HMP Shotts, Scotland ML7 4LE
Challenging bigotry and censorship at HMP Barlinnie
I am due to be released from HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow on 19 September. First of all I would like to thank you for sending me FRFI. It’s good being able to read about what’s going on, stuff the tabloids don’t tell us about, so I’m grateful.
When you first sent me the paper back in March, I was told that I wasn’t allowed it. The excuse given by the officer was that ‘prisoners are only allowed to buy papers from the list in here, and it’s only papers that are bought with the prisoner’s own money, you are not allowed to have them sent in’. Soon after this I was also refused an Irish Republican newspaper called The Sovereign Nation, from the 32-County Sovereignty Movement, this time by a different officer, with the different reason that it was ‘sectarian’. A couple of days later I tried to take a book out of the library, called The Famine Plot by Tim Pat Coogan, about England’s role in Ireland’s greatest tragedy. The officer from the library told me it had been removed that morning as ‘it could encourage terrorism’.
When I pointed out that this was anti-Irish censorship, I was told by the officer to ‘hand in a complaint form’ – this said with a smirk on his face. So I did, along with an Equality and Diversity form, pointing out this was discrimination and censorship. The book was put back in the library and I was allowed both the Republican paper and FRFI. The governor replied to my complaint saying the officer had removed the book with what he thought was ‘legitimate cause’ and ‘we have confirmed with him that the Scottish Prison Service does not withhold or censor any books...we will ensure that we put in place a policy to ensure staff are aware of their role in the library.’
The head of security, who was dealing with my complaint, sat down with me after this and said the officer had an excuse that there had been complaints about the book. However the book was new to the library, and the excuse was never mentioned to me by the library officer, so it just appears as a clear attempt to brush the bigoted views of the man under the carpet. The head of security went on to suggest that perhaps I’d ‘taken things the wrong way in the heat of the moment’. It was clear he just wanted to drop my complaint and that nothing would be done about the officer’s suggestion that the Irish potato famine, which claimed over one million lives between 1845 and 1851 could encourage terrorism, and that the bigoted views of officers at HMP Barlinnie will just get covered up by their colleagues.
Solidarity with DJ Taylor
I have heard from DJ Taylor in Connecticut. He is now out of the ‘medical unit’ unit he was on, having agreed to suspend his hunger strike following court intervention in order to open up negotiations about his transfer out of Northern Supermax and changes to Northern as a whole. It seems DJ will now re-enter the general prison population in late September, and he has given the court until then to address areas of contention.
DJ has felt let down by local media in his attempts to publicise conditions at Northern. ‘On the whole people couldn’t care less,’ he says. DJ again describes the hell of being force-fed.
He was delighted with the news regarding the release of Talha Ahsan and that Babar Ahmad will be released ‘this time next year’. He describes their imprisonment as ‘absolutely unjust’ and mentions the debates they had together which meant a lot to him. Again he expresses his appreciation for our solidarity.
Islamic State is also the enemy
Trevor Rayne’s article on the origins and consequences of the First World War (FRFI240) was excellent. It shows a clear link with the situation in the Middle East today and the advance of imperialism throughout the 20th century.
However, as communists, we should be raising our voices against the extreme religious movements that are on the march today in Syria and Iraq. Decapitating people and putting heads on spikes, just because they interpret the Koran slightly differently, are hardly the actions of a progressive movement.
We must be prepared to accept that my enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend.
After months of fighting to receive a copy of FRFI 239, which carried an article about his harassment in prison, Rangzieb Ahmed writes from HMP Frankland:
‘The June/July edition of the paper which you sent me was previously withheld from me. Thanks to your support and letter to the governor I have now received it – but with the article removed.
Nothing new is happening with my case. My case in the European Court of Human Rights is on hold and my civil case in the UK will be heard in December. Thank you for all your help once again.’
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 241 October/November 2014