Another excerpt from magnum opus in progress

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a further section of the magnum opus I am writing concerned with my activities with people in prison

Submitted: June 20, 2012

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 20, 2012

A A A

A A A


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Awaiting the Post

Morning enters my room. Gulls herald the new day, a sound I have always loved. I am warm, comfortable and at peace yet I had better move albeit reluctantly. The new day, a new and unique creation, my post will be here soon.

At these times, I often think of my prisoners. Waking again to yet another day of existence in what one of them has called “Dead time.” No safety, one’s dignity, personhood and integrity constantly undermined. I can recall waking in a police cell vulnerable and damaged by the lies, brutality and pain. It was good to hear Gulls crying outside. They carried a welcome vibration of space and freedom, a reminder to look up.

The coming of mail can be a vital part of anybody’s day especially when confined in prison. Links with outside existence are still there reaching out across all the brutality and despair.

I suspect many people, like me, await the post with mixed feelings. I know there will be bills, adverts, and items from the main political parties (with whom

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I have no links) or the local council. Occasionally we even get a newspaper from Sussex Police and other such generally useless junk. Other items will be letters from friends that it is always good to receive. There will be work from my distance education students. At the time of writing, I am a tutor with The Open University while also having input into St John’s Extension Studies Nottingham. This mainly involves me with home study courses where I assess and comment on students work. A good deal of this comes to me via the internet these days. Some however still arrives by post and is hand written.

I have had an interest in Distance Education for some time and have completed a good deal of my own studies by this means. Many of my prisoner students have studied with me through Distance Education and have often proved to be very diligent, engaged people working in inevitably difficult

circumstances and every credit to them. In this context, they began telling me about themselves. Their circumstances hopes and fears. Then, as now, I would

not slip into the dangerous mindset that says, “They’re prisoners, they would say what they do wouldn’t they.”

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I live in a quiet area of Hove in East Sussex where I am able to get on with my work. As mentioned earlier I have the crown courts at the top of the road with Hove Police Station situated just around the corner, only a few minutes’ walk away. I frequently pass by. I often see the vans transporting prisoners from Lewes Prison that holds remand detainees.

When I notice the vehicles, I often wave and give the thumbs up and it is good when people bang on the side of the van in response. Especially good as I know they will be handcuffed. It is needless dehumanising brutality. People, including the police have asked why I do this and I simply reply “Why not?” I know that at this period people need all the good will and encouragement they can find.The usual badly ventilated ‘Serco’ van consists of a number of small, dirty and

claustrophobic boxes into which people are confined and then they make the journey in a state of discomfort and mental as well as physical distress. I am

always glad to hear them banging on the side of the van. It shows they are looking to the life outside. They have seen my gesture of good wishes.

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The overall experience is of control, fear and dehumanisation as the so-called justice process grinds cruelly and inexorably on. One of the hard questions is simply this -where does injustice start? It is surely long before this stage and is borne from an attitude of mind that says a person “in the frame” or in custody is less than human. It is almost as if they cannot stand in the shadow of others and all manner of demeaning and vicious treatment is possible and acceptable. Mental bullying and cruelty are conspicuous from the moment of arrest onward. I remember someone shouting at me “Police! Stand Still!” I was already still and had flagged them down. The person concerned sprinted round to me I was handcuffed and treated roughly right from the start. There is far too much police can easily get away with and they know it. There is the clear aim of controlling mind as well as body. Shouting, harsh handling, interviews in circumstances of

extreme duress, such as was my experience, are not uncommon and often the circumstances are much worse than I have described.

________________________

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I was born in Shoreham by Sea in Sussex (1) and have lived for most of my life in the Brighton and Hove area apart from some periods in London, Sutton, and West Malling near Maidstone in Kent. I had a usual state school education and overall I never did well only achieved academically when I left school and moved into adulthood. This is often the way and a substantial number of students that I work with today are adult learners.

I am proud of my essentially working class background. I well knew the hardship and struggle my parents endured so as to be able to put food on the table for Richard my late elder brother and myself. We lived in one of the many Public Houses in Brighton called ‘The Rising Sun’ in Tidy Street off Trafalgar Street a long road leading into one of Brighton’s shopping areas and to its Parish Church of St Peter where I once attended Sunday school and sang in the choir. This was extremely hard work for my parents to manage. Dad took on additional

work to make ends meet and they both often knew the pain of physical and mental exhaustion. They were days of great struggle and I know that Mum and Dad often went without food to ensure my brother and I had enough. We had a

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dog called Peter who I can just barely remember and for many years we had a lovely dog called ‘Trixie’ and a succession of cats called ‘Tinkle.’ These were, good times in which to be alive.

Many characters of differing kinds came into the pub. Among these were artistes staying at the theatrical boarding house a few doors along and appearing at The Brighton Hippodrome when it was a variety theatre and not the Bingo establishment it is now. There were hard times and I know Mum and Dad were glad to move to Hove when I was thirteen.

With the passage of time, I have seen many changes both nationally and locally. Often it has been difficult to decide which of them are for the better, indeed for the betterment of exactly who. A disturbing and sinister constant is the increasing numbers of people sent to prison as a greater number of social actions become labelled criminal by the state. The right to protest and demonstrate is

increasingly undermined and met with severe violent opposition from the state. I have seen this many times and experienced it myself.

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I had some awareness of crime and problems with the idea of justice in my early years. I well remember the execution of Ruth Ellis the last woman hanged in Britain on July 13th 1955 and how this touched so many people nationwide. It was felt too in my own social framework of the time. Even now, so many years later I can recall the widespread feelings of sympathy and compassion for Ruth. My young friends and I stood quietly together in the school playground as the fateful hour struck and Albert Pierpoint carried out his awful work. (2) The trap crashed open and Ruth plunged violently into the next life. Another disgusting ritualistic murder by the state. Even then, a voice within me seemed to be asking, “How the hell can they call this justice?”

There are wealthy areas, regency houses and big fast cars. There are also impoverished council estates largely inhabited by disadvantaged people and families. Crime rates in these areas tend to be predictably high. There are predominantly elderly occupied areas. There are other parts where the age range is mixed. There are other kinds of areas including those inhabited by a transient

population who have come to the area to work or, often, to study at one of the universities or language schools and who will move on in due time.

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Increasing numbers from ethnic minority groups have come to the area often setting up their own businesses. Hove, where I now reside, has a Jewish community whose origins extend back to the late nineteenth century.

Brighton University was a Polytechnic when I studied for my first degree. In common with Sussex University it was, and still is a place where political activity abounds usually on the far left. There is often much talk of revolution. There are demonstrations and at one time buildings would be occupied yet this is as far as it ever goes. I found the only political form I could identify with would be the far left yet I often felt there was too much discussion and argument for the sake of argument and not enough determined direct action. I often felt the need to be a revolutionary in deed and not just thought and word. Anarchism began to attract me. My revolution began when I looked deeply at the nature of the state and said “no.” When I looked at the horrors perpetrated in the name of justice and said “no.” I find the only political ideas that make sense are from Anarchism and the thinking of Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman and others some of whom

we will encounter as my book proceeds. True revolution always has and always will begin with the anger and pain of a broken and wounded heart. Many

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homeless people of all ages and in differing states of health can be seen on the main streets, in shop doorways, car parks, graveyards and anywhere that might afford them shelter even if for just one night. Often they have come from far afield and have been ‘on the road’ for several years. There is a lot of good work done among them by individuals and organisations.

Several have known the inside of prison and many have become homeless following release from incarceration. I have spoken to some in this position myself on more than one occasion and know that Lewes Prison advises people to call at the local Salvation Army centre in Brighton for help. I also know of one recently released prisoner from Lewes prison who was homeless as many are who said he had thought about going and hitting the nearest police person in order to get a roof over his head. It is a significant problem. The charity shown to them is commendable.They are frequently moved by the police who devote a good deal of time and personnel due to having had complaints from people who have roofs over their heads.

If moved the homeless on the obvious question is where to? As well as people taking food etc to them these folk also need those who will fight for them

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especially in the face of police harassment some of which I have personally witnessed.

There is a significant problem with illicit drug distribution significantly though not exclusively among younger people often done visibly and openly. A few years ago I was sitting at the bar in a pub near where I used to live. One of the bar staff sat next to me and, quite openly a young man approached this chap who worked in the pub and ordered “a packet of reds and a packet of blues”.

This same staff member also had a partner who went out distributing drugs and bringing money back to him. All done publicly as if this were an accepted part of everyday life as, in many areas of Brighton and Hove that is exactly what it is. Brighton and Hove are also not without its brothels, pornographic bookshops and off licences selling alcohol to anyone thus encouraging under age binge drinking as well as many other serious problems. Over the years Brighton, once

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the seaside home of George the Sixth, has become increasingly notable for night clubs cinema cinema complexes and casinos.

An ever increasing profusion of pubs in public areas as well as the back streets which are significantly the haunts of ‘the sad and the bad’ where drug dealing as already described prostitution and other blatantly anti social activities are quite commonplace.

There are many betting shops casinos and other places where people and their money are all too soon parted. I have even heard Brighton referred to as a ‘small scale Soho’ and I am only unsure as to exactly how appropriate the ‘small scale’ description actually is. During my life I have had a good many traumas to cope with one way and another not the least of them being the passing of my wheelchair disabled mother whose carer I was for many years and then, a few years following, my father also passed on. More recently my brother who lived in Malta for many years has died as well as an Aunt and cousin yet, the series of events leading to my involvement in the activities I’m engaged with now have

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been, for me distressing in a deeper, more sinister and dangerous way. They have shown me just how very bad things actually are.

Then, among my post, there will be letters from people in prison. It is not difficult to appreciate how important letters are for prisoners. I have been writing to men and women in this situation, helping in any way I can and maintaining an interest in their welfare and progress for some time now. Recently I assisted a Finnish journalist with information, pictures and other matters regarding one of my prisoners. I was mentioned in the article and I have been able to get a copy of it to the man concerned, Peter Hakala who is currently held in H.M.P. Wakefield in yorkshire. I have also written about Peter and the essay concerned may be located Part Two.

It is good to communicate in this way. Letters are something you can hold, return to again and again and treasure. They give solace, comfort advice and generally help the person to cope and if ever there was an environment where these things are desperately needed it is that of a prison. It’s just good to have a visible reminder that someone in the world beyond the wall outside is with you

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because you are a human being. Letters can be held tangibly like a hand that is there and reaching out for oneself through all the near and ugly darkness.

My support for prisoners and action against “the system” took a new turn five years ago .After a series of distressing events leading to my arrest on a false and distorted charge of “harassment” of a young female who had in fact, approached me publicly for help on more than one occasion. This person had shared much about herself including notably the feeling that she could not find peace with herself. I used to patronize the bar where she worked and this at her express invitation and I remember her telling me more than once my presence there was welcome and even, I distinctly recall her describing my coming to the establishment concerned as “real cool”.

I also got healing groups I was involved with at the time helping with her then very ill grandmother which she told me she “deeply appreciated.”Yet this female, who I will refer to by her initials as HB, she and others know who I mean, was someone who I had first encountered working in a pub near where I used to live

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came over often as very kind which I had then valued following my deep sense of loss when my late mother died.

Subsequent events demonstrated clearly how wrong one could be. No doubt manipulated by her then employers as well as the police she showed herself to be a liar two faced and questionably motivated and with others played an active part in my being fitted up by particularly vicious, ‘scalp hunting’ police in Brighton and Hove, certain of whom I now know spent and still spend significant amounts of their (presumably) off duty times in this place.

They were well known to H.B. and paid unquestioning heed to the words of herself and other liars among them her employer, people who knew me in my own drinking days and her notably very young and immature male companion at that time who she often spoke to me about as a young person seeking advice from an older person might. Once she told me, she wished he would “bloody grow up.” Concerns around legal conflict of interests and impartiality did not crop up then as indeed they seldom if ever do in judicial matters. Often she also spoke of being unsure what her future might hold. I have found out since that this

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person, H.B. and others held grudges linked to my academic and other successes. My growing interest in prisoners was known to some. The fact that I would never indulge in the kind of life style that was commonly available in pubs, clubs and various other locations was also known and not generally approved of.

They lied to police. Many of them knew of my prisoner sympathies as well well as criticisms of the system which in all its visciousness ranged against me and secured an unsafe confession obtained under the obvious duress that I hinted at earlier (so bad at one point that the duty solicitor intervened) and this at a time when I was in a bad state of mental and physical health. Yet this found acceptance with the court. This kind of fitting up has happened many times before and is something the police often indulge in. I was committed to a period of community service working on an allotment in Brighton.

A Probation Service psychologist described me, at the time, as a suicide risk and self-harm risk yet why was I working in a situation where I had easy access to sharp gardening implements and other means of harming myself? My ‘supervisors’ and colleagues were very kind and helpful and I gladly pay tribute to them yet these questions must be asked instead of constantly ignored.

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There is no authentically independent complaints system against police or any area of the judiciary, let’s be quite clear about that. It is a disconcerting fact yet, it is a fact and I now devote time supporting those caught up in an intrinsically evil system. I do so because I am concerned, and I invite the reader to be in no doubt that he/she could be fitted up anywhere and at anytime.

In the case of the Birmingham Six, the accused were told to their faces by the policemen interrogating and brutalising them that they knew they had the wrong men, as Paddy Hill recalled after their appeal was finally successful -

''They said, 'We know you didn't do the bombings, we don't care who did the bombings, our job is to get a confession and get a conviction because this keeps the public off our gaffer's backs and that keeps the gaffers off our backs.' To this day, those words are burned right into my brain.''(3)

In the ensuing pages I reveal something more of how I became interested and involved with prisoners and those who are hurt, often continually, by our pernicious and cruel system.

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This will include discussion and thought on the nature and meaning of justice and also on the true condition of the administration and effect of the so called “justice” system and is it justice? Is it just mindless, cold blooded and vindictive revenge? Other matters will also arise as we proceed. Well please stay with me on this arduous and at times frightening journey through what I have to say but ultimately, as our title suggest Justice? –You Decide as ultimately you must decide and in doing so ask yourself on what your decision is actually based.

  1. There is also a Shoreham in Kent; a lovely village that I visited often when living nearby and which was once the home of the artist Samuel Palmer

  2. Pierpoint came from a long line of hangmen and was responsible for the execution of many Germans found guilty of war crimes. For an excellent study regarding Ruth Ellis see the book written by her sister Muriel Jakubait called Ruth Ellis –My Sister’s Secret Life “ The truth about the last woman in Britain, her wrongful conviction and the identity of the real killer.

  3. Quoted on an internet B.B.C. news source

A Day in July

It was a memorable day. A special time time in the playground of the boys’ school I attended. Myself, and a group of friends were talking quietly. This was somewhat unusual for us but, as usual a teacher and a couple of prefects were pacing about. They watched us as if we were convicts in a prison exercise yard. They were menacing as they strode about occasionally glaring at us causing one to sense their own delusions of self importance.

These were the days when they were strict in schools, corporal punishment was very much the norm. I never thrived in any academic sense until I left school and felt at a very early age that brutality only teaches people to be brutal.

Passers by paused and looked in. This often happened and I for one never welcomed it and, even as an eight year old boy I found being stared at disconcerting. Perhaps they joined with the teacher in thinking we were up to something. For some reason people often think a group of boys together were up to something but no, that day was very different. There was a girls school next door and perhaps this day was different for someone there too, I was never able to find out.

It was July 13th 1955. We were held together not by any sense of joyful mischief plotting or of sharing each others needs and concerns. I was eight years old and the same age as my friends. We knew and were together by a strange sense of horror, curiosity and fear. We could not understand even then and, I have had problems for different reasons since but, how could they do it? This was the day Ruth Ellis died in London's Holloway Prison, Ruth was the last woman in England to be hanged. The execution was carried out by Albert Pierpoint (March 3rd 1905 – 10 July 1992) who came from a long family line of executioners, he was extremely skilled and proficient and, with him the job would be done in an average of seven seconds.

We had heard grown ups talking and seen many pictures of the large crowds,among them women with young children, holding vigil outside Holloway Prison. Ruth's hanging attracted widespread concern. A petition to the home office in her favours igned by fifty thousand people was rejected. The novelist Raymond Chandler then living in London wrote a scathing letter to the London Evening Standard in which he referred to “...the medieval savagery of the law.”

We had noticed the forthcoming execution in the newspapers and youngsters do notice and feel things. Their feelings are important. Now, all these years later I recall wondering what Ruth was feeling. Was she afraid? Perhaps listening for footsteps on the landing outside the condemned cell.

Ruth Ellis, who had been found guilty of the murder by shooting of her abusive boyfriend David Blakely who had repeatedly physically abused her. Ruth's injuries included punching in the stomach which occasioned miscarriage.

Ruth Ellis died the victim of a bullying man and a cruel system that could only see with narrow and blinkered vision. Two years after Ruth’s death the possible defence of diminished responsibility became law and even now where it should be established it is often infact difficult to make this defence plain.

In a BBC radio interview the public executioner Albert Pierpoint said he thought the legal system in England was the fairest in the world; yet then as now prison and all its worse manifestations was and still is a predominantly working class experience and this is somewhat of an inevitably as our laws are framed and administered around the laws of private property.

I digress slightly. We return to those boys together and quiet in the noisy playground. Wondering what it’s like when the time comes, the cell door opens and your wrists are pinioned behind you. There is the command “Follow me” and you walk through to the execution room. When your face is covered the rope is carefully and precisely fixed around your neck and then there comes the drop.

I remember this so well and it was in no way a kind of morbid curiosity. What held us together was a fear not of the unknown or of anything grown – ups in all their short sighted stupidity might not expect us to understand; it was a sense of how could they do this terrible thing to her; it was all so horrible.

As an eight year old I tried to express myself in words. I well remember writing a poem about Ruth that sadly has got lost among the passing of the years. But what is left in memory is what I felt at the time and also a sense that Ruth's murder by the state may well have been one of the significant formative events in my life.

Now, many years later I am a prisoner support activist; I write, paint and also work as a tutor, a role I am due to retire from at the end of this year, 2012, when I have reached sixty five . My support work extends to a number of prisoners in this country and in America some of whom are on death row.

My compatriots of that day so many years ago have long since moved along their own pathways in life yet; I have a notion that from time to time, wherever they are and whatever life may have thrown at them they too will think back to that day all those years ago, a day though engulfed in the mists of time is still a beacon to the memory and, perhaps a teacher.

We need to learn that we do not really have a clear notion of what justice is. We need to look for decisions reached with impartiality and with concern for the unifying and betterment of society and mankind at large and to be aware of justice in Ruth’s condemned cell, in courts and prisons being an anguished wanderer who cries “Not in my name”

George Coombs (1028 words)


© Copyright 2020 Chiang Yee. All rights reserved.

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