Tag Archives: John Bowden

Prisons: Factories Of Hate

state-prisoners-working-posterizedRight-wing Tory Justice Minister Chris Grayling’s declaration in late April that prisoners would now be made to “earn” basic privileges by “working harder” probably wasn’t just the usual “popularist” promise to stick the boot into one of the most powerless and demoralised social groups. During times of economic austerity and potential social unrest scapegoating marginalised and outcast groups like prisoners, is always useful as a means of deflecting and re-focusing public anger away from the true culprits of the country’s economic ruination, in this case Grayling’s pals in the city of London. Behind the rhetoric and the guise of “getting tough” on prisoners is the actual purpose of the prison
industrial complex: to turn prisons into privatised forced-labour factories.

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In The Belly of The Beast (John Bowden)

Fyoder Dostoevsky, the Russian novelist and sometimes political dissident, once wisely observed that a good barometer of the level and quality of a society’s civilisation is the way it treats it’s prisoners, the
most dis-empowered of all social groups.

There has of course always existed a sort of socially organic and dynamic
relationship between prison society and the wider ordinary society beyond it’s walls, and the treatment of prisoners is usually an accurate reflection of the relationship of power that prevails between the state and ordinary working class people in the broader society. It is how political power is shaped and negotiated between the state and the poorer social groups on the outside that essentially determines the treatment of prisoners on the inside.

Prisons are concentrated microcosms of the wider society, reflecting it’s
social and political climate and the balance of social forces that characterise it’s political culture. The more authoritarian and politically oppressive the society, the more brutal it’s treatment of prisoners is. The treatment and sometimes the very lives of prisoners is therefore critically dependent on the balance and alignment of power in society generally. For example, changes in state penal policy always tends to reflect shifts and changes in that relationship of power between the poor and powerless and the elites who constitute a ruling class, and it is always the more marginalised and demonised groups such as prisoners who feel and experience the repression more nakedly when society begins to shift even further to the right.

During the 1960s, 1970s and part of the early 1980s structures of
established power in society were seriously challenged and the atmosphere and movement of radical social change became manifested
within the prison system itself in prisoner protests, strikes and uprisings, and an organised movement of prisoner resistance that was recognised and supported on the outside by political activists, radical criminologists and prison abolitionists. The struggle of long-term prisoners was recognised by such groups as a legitimate political struggle against an institution originally and purposely created to punish the rebellious poor and as an integral part of an entire state apparatus of repressive social control, along with the police and judiciary. Just as the heightened social struggle of groups like the organised working class in the broader society caused a shift and change in the balance of power, within the long-term
prison system itself prisoners used the weapon of solidarity and self-organised to collectively empower themselves as a group. This climate of increased struggle and freedom that permeated society generally at that time found expression within long-term prisons and even found limited reflection in the thinking of those administering them with the adoption on policy of the one relatively liberal recommendation of the 1968 Mountbatten report concerning prison security: whilst Maximum-Security jails should make physical security as impregnable as possible the regimes operating in such institutions should also be made as relaxed as possible.

But just as changes in the balance of power can be to the advantage of
progressive forces in society so it can shift the other way, and that is what happened in Britain during the 1980s and 1990s with the defeat of the organised working class movement and the apparently finale triumph of Neo-Liberal Capitalism (deregulation, free trade, unfettered profits and minimal state benefits – in short, capitalism at it’s most savage) and a Thatcherite ideology of greed is good and “there is no such thing as society”. This found expression in the treatment of prisoners with the seizing back of the long-term prison regimes and their re-moulding into instruments of “Dynamic Security” and naked repression. The control and absolute disempowerment of long-term prisoners was conflated with the
necessity of physical security now. And of course the economic principles of Neo-Liberal Capitalism also found expression in the prison system with “Market Reforms” and the flogging off of increasingly greater parts of it to multi-national private prison entrepreneurs. Prisoners would now be bought and sold as commodities and also as a source of forced cheap labour. They would also be taught and conditioned to know their true place in a massively unequal society, and prisons would revert to their original purpose of re-moulding working class “offenders” into obedient slaves of capital and those who own it. Towards this end the huge proliferation and empowerment of behavioural psychologists in the prison system over the last decade is a symptom; the breaking and re-creating of
prisoners psychologically in the image of a defeated and compliant working class on the outside has become once again the purpose and
function of prisons. Rebellion and defiance in prisoners is now labelled “psychopathic” and “social risk-factors”, which depending on how they are “addressed” will determine the length of time one spends behind bars, especially for the growing number of “recidivist offenders” serving indeterminate sentences for “public protection”.

As what were once tight-knit working class communities on the outside
fractured and were destroyed following the last high point of organised working class struggle during the 1984 miners strike, so the solidarity and unity of long-term prisoners was broken and withered away. The flooding of heroin and crack cocaine into now marginalised and poor communities created an almost alternative economy and was reflected in the changing nature of the prison population. What had been a generation of prisoners from strong working class communities imbued with a culture of solidarity, mutual support and a readiness to confront and challenge official authority, was increasingly replaced by prisoners with no memory of a time before the victory of Thatcherism and the dog eat dog culture it bred and encouraged. The increasing prevalence of drug-orientated crime
found expression in the “Millennium convict”, lacking in principle and with an acquiescent, submissive attitude towards their captors and a focused determination to do whatever it takes to achieve an early release from prison.

The uprising at Strangeways prison in 1990 was the last significant expression of collective defiance and protest in a British jail and is unlikely ever to be repeated in such a form.

The current Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, with his Tory “Attack Dog” reputation and contempt for the human rights of prisoners, blended of course with his determination to sell-off virtually the whole of the criminal justice system to multi-national capitalism, is a perfect representation of the social and political climate outside prison. Deep economic crisis generates social fear and insecurity, and the scapegoating of marginalised and demonised groups who are used as a focus for public anger. Folk devils and moral panics are stock in trade for the tabloids, Tory politicians and far right groups when social climate is at its most receptive for easy, powerless targets. Grayling is pandering to what he imagines is the masses appetite for revenge, as long as its not focused on those actually responsible for the economic and social destruction of
people’s lives.

If, as Dostoevsky believed, the treatment of prisoners is an indicator of
a society’s level of civilisation then we seem to be entering another Dark Age, and of course history provides us with some chilling examples of what can happen when an apparently modern and developed society enters such a phase.

John
Bowden, March 2013
HMP
Shots

State Using ‘Secret Evidence’ To Try And Keep John Bowden Behind Bars

From Indymedia UK:

For the past 30 years John Bowden has been at the forefront of the British prison struggle, and is by far our most prolific prisoner writer. Time and again, John’s articles have shone a searchlight into the State’s murky dungeons, exposing brutality and repression, and challenging the very nature of prison. For many years now, John has been held in jail because of his political views and his willingness to challenge injustice. That has never been clearer than now, as the State attempts to use ‘secret evidence’ to keep him behind bars. Leeds ABC

It is relatively rare that prisoners, originally sentenced for non-political offences, become so politicised whilst in jail, that their release is opposed by the prison authorities for exactly that reason.

In the case of life sentence prisoners who have served the “tariff” part of their sentence (or the length of time the judiciary stipulates they should remain in jail), the legal criteria determining their release, or not, are clear and straightforward: Has the prisoner served a sufficient period of time to satisfy the interests of punishment and retribution? Does the prisoner remain a risk to the community? Can the prisoner be safely and effectively supervised in the community post-release?

Of course the prison authorities would never openly admit that apart from the above criteria, there is another “risk factor” that would prevent a life sentence prisoner’s release: Their identification with a progressive or radical political cause. Opposing a life sentence prisoner’s release, purely on the basis of their having exposed and organised against human rights abuse in the prison system, would of course make a complete mockery of the claim that, apart from its punishment function, prison also exists as a place of reform and rehabilitation, a place where supposedly brutal and anti-social criminals are made better people by a system administered by humane and just-minded individuals. The entire legitimacy of the prison system is based on the premise that, essentially it exists to protect the public from individuals who represent a threat , so denying that some life sentence prisoners are kept locked-up solely because they embrace an ideology that actually believes in a society and world free from violence, exploitation, and inequality, is imperative if the myths and fallacy used to justify the existence of prisons is to remain intact.

The prison system actually employs a whole legion of compliant ‘Criminal Justice’ system “professionals”, like social workers, probation officers, and psychologists to provide, if necessary, the politically neutral lexicon of “risk-factors” and “Personality Disorder” to legitimize the continued imprisonment of life sentence prisoners, who in reality are viewed as politically motivated and likely to become politically involved on the outside if released. The narrative of my own life and experience from brutalised and violent young criminal to politically conscious prisoner activist, and how the prison system continues to respond to that, is illustrative of how that system actually considers politicised life sentence prisoners far, far more worthy of continued detention than those who might genuinely pose a risk to the community.

In 1982, I was sentenced, alongside two other men, to life in prison for the killing of a fourth man during a drunken party on a South London council estate. At the time, I was 25 years old, and a state-raised product of the care and “youth justice” system. The prison system that I entered in the early 1980’s was a barbaric and de-humanising place, where in terms of the treatment of prisoners, the rule of law stopped dead at the prison gate. My almost immediate response to prison repression was one of total defiance and resistance, that was met with physical and psychological brutality in the form of regular beatings, (in 1991 a civil court in Birmingham found that prison guards in the notorious Winson Green jail had subjected me to a sustained and gratuitous beating-up within minutes of my arrival at the jail), and many years held in almost clinical solitary confinement. Far from breaking my defiance, such inhuman treatment only deepened my determination to fight the system, and to use the only method truly effective in that regard – solidarity with other prisoners. As the years passed, I began to politically contextualise the struggle I was involved in against the prison system, and understand it as a part of a much wider struggle that transcended prison walls and essentially characterised all societies and places where the powerful brutalised and de-humanised the powerless.

The length of time that my original trial judge recommended I should remain in jail has now long passed, and yet I remain in a maximum security prison, and what can best be described as a campaign by the prison system to keep me here intensifies with the approach of my second parole hearing in over 30 years.
It is essentially my contact with prisoner support groups on the outside, or “subversive” and even “terrorist” groups, as the prison authorities have defined and described them, that is now claimed in some prison system reports, as the main “Risk-Factor” preventing my release. Of course , if necessary, for the purpose of officially legitimising my continued imprisonment, for the convenience of the Parole Board, the usual array of morally compromised and corrupt social workers and prison-hired psychologists will attest to the fact that my enduring “anti-authoritarianism” is just a symptom of my psychopathy and continuing risk to the public. But if there are any doubts that I remain in prison, first and foremost, because of my efforts to expose the prison system for what it truly is, then a document sent to the Parole Board by the Scottish Prison Service on the 2nd December last year, lays them firmly to rest.

The document, an “intelligence report” compiled by the Security Department at Shotts Prison in Lanarkshire, was comprised of two parts, one that I was allowed to read, and another part described as “Non-Disclosure”, which means secret information that I would not be allowed access to. It is rare for “Non-Disclosure” intelligence reports to be submitted to the Parole Board, and it represents a total negation of any pretence of open and natural justice, very much like the secrecy employed to imprison “terrorist suspects” without legal due process. Obliged as it is to officially inform prisoners if “Non-Disclosure” evidence is to be used against them at parole hearings, I received a letter from an “Intelligence Manager” at Shotts Prison in late December of last year, informing me that a portion of “intelligence” on me was so detrimental to “public interest” if it was revealed that it had to be kept secret. I was, however, informed that the “intelligence” related to articles written by me that were critical of the prison system and then placed on political websites. One seriously wonders how the posting of articles and information on the internet that expose abuses of power by the prison system, would so endanger “public interest”, unless of course we replace “public interest” with the more precise “state interest”. The purpose behind the use of “Non-Disclosure” evidence in my case is obvious – To convey to the Parole Board the clear message that my current “risk” is not so much about a danger to the public, but much more about my willingness to publicly expose the brutal nature of the prison system, with the assistance of “subversive groups” on the outside. The part of the “Intelligence Report” that I was allowed full access to confirms this.

Virtually every single one of the “entries” in the part of the report I was allowed access to focuses on what it describes as my “internet activity” and links to “subversive groups” on the outside:

“Bowden continues to leak information through a social networking site.”

“Website features articles relating to Bowden asking people to protest and fight for freedom.”

“Bowden continues to be involved in internet activity and there are plans to have a day of action in support of Bowden.”

“Intelligence provides that Bowden sends correspondence out of prison that is then posted on the internet.”

There is also a reference to what was described as my attempt to set up a debating society in the prison’s Education Department to “platform his current political views, which are focused on poverty.”

This is the evidence that the prison system claims justifies my continued detention after more than three decades in prison. Not a single entry in the “intelligence report” suggests I pose a genuine risk to the community or am likely to re-offend in a criminal way, and yet the Parole Board, a wholly white middle-class body, will inevitably rubber-stamp my continued imprisonment in compliance with the prison system’s wishes.

The two men who were originally imprisoned with me in 1982 were released almost twenty years ago, and I, as a direct result of my struggle to empower and organise prisoners in defence of their basic human rights, remain buried in a maximum security jail, probably until I die.

I will of course continue to write and distribute articles exposing and criticising the brutality of prison as a weapon of social control and ruling class violence, and also highlighting my own victimisation as a consequence of that.

John Bowden

You can download John Bowden’s pamphlet ‘Tear Down The Walls!’ free of charge from the Leeds ABC website at: http://leedsabc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Tear-Down-The-Walls-2010.pdf

Also check out a pamphlet recently produced by our comrades at Bristol ABC to which John contributed: http://leedsabc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/cscs-torture-units-in-the-uk-screen31.pdf

You can read a recent interview with John here – http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2012/11/503068.html

Other articles by John can be read on the Leeds ABC website (www.leedsabc.org), as well on the websites of our sister ABC groups in Bristol ( http://bristolabc.wordpress.com), Brighton (www.brightonabc.org.uk), and London (https://network23.org/london/abc).

Please send letters/cards of support to John at:
John Bowden, 6729,
HMP Shotts,
Cantrell Road,
Shotts,
Scotland,
ML7 4LE.

You can also send e-mails to John (or any other prisoner) via: http://www.emailaprisoner.com

A guide on writing to prisoners can be found here: http://leedsabc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/writing-to-prisoners-2012.pdf

Leeds ABC have printed 4000 ‘Free John Bowden stickers’ – see http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2012/10/500839.html

Show your support for John by wearing a ‘Free John Bowden’ T-shirt – see http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2012/10/501867.html

FREE JOHN BOWDEN!

Interview With Militant Prisoner John Bowden

Interview With Militant Prisoner John Bowden by From Here On In

John Bowden was arrested for murder in 1980 and sentenced to life imprisonment. After twelve years of institutionalised brutality and repression, he managed to escape in 1992 and was on the run from the police for a year and a half. He was recaptured in 1994 and has since been moved from prison to prison for constantly speaking out and acting against the prison industrial complex.

FHOI – It would seem a bit false to start an interview without knowing anything more about you than the brief introduction offers. Tell you a bit about your life and how you feel that may have affected who and where you are now.

JB – The circumstances and history of my life before prison are familiar to many long-term prisoners; a materially very poor childhood, often accentuated by racism, and an inclination to rebel and challenge rules. Then the long trek through brutal institutions; children’s ‘homes’, secure-units, youth custody institutions, and finally maximum-security prisons. Most “violent offenders” are created and manufactured within youth custody institutions, where violence is used to maintain control and discipline, and used as an expression of power. Young offenders learn quickly that an ability and willingness to use violence determines one’s place in the institutional pecking order, an order sanctified by those in charge. Before my politicisation in jail, and discovery of solidarity as a true weapon of authentic empowerment, I was a classic example of a violent state-raised offender, a creation of the system.

FHOI – Tell us about the routine of prison life. When do you wake-up, eat, exercise and sleep, and how does this affect the mentality and morale of yourself and your fellow prisoners?

JB – The daily routine of prison life is structured and designed to crush the human spirit and engender total and absolute obedience. Long-term prisoners, especially, experience what feels like an eternity of timeless, soul-destroying, rigidly-structured monotony, where one physically ages in a total vacuum of psychological stimulation and emotional experience, apart from anger, despair, and complete disempowerment. It is a man-made hell, and intrinsically designed to break and destroy any spirit of resistance. Personally, my strategy for psychological survival is to recognise and interact with the official regime here as little as possible; although confined physically within the prison, I create my own personal daily routine and a small piece of my own space. I don’t work in the jail workshops on principle, so my average day is usually spent working-out in the gym and reading and studying in my cell. Although in jail, my mind is free and unrestrained, and ultimately that’s where the final struggle takes place – a struggle to maintain the freedom and integrity of one’s mind.

FHOI – What are the current conditions of your imprisonment and the legal context surrounding your case? For instance, are you due a parole hearing in the near future, and if so, is anybody trying to prevent that?

JB – My current situation is one of impasse with the system. Last year the Parole Board reviewed my case and decided that I represented minimal risk to the community and should be transferred to an open prison in preparation for release. The prison system refused to comply with the Board’s request, and basically said that unless the Board ordered my release, the prison authorities would decide if and when I would be transferred to an open jail, and at the moment there was no intention to allow me out of maximum security conditions because of my “anti-authoritarian” attitude and refusal to comply with whatever prison management dictated. The Parole Board’s position is that I must be in an open jail before they consider my release, and so it’s a vicious circle situation, with both sides, the prison system and the Parole Board, almost colluding to prevent my release. At some point, I will probably have to see a Judicial Review and take the case to the courts, and possibly even the European Court of Human Rights. In fact, I’m now being held under a form of preventative detention, which under European human rights law is illegal.

FHOI – Have you ever worked within the prisons you’ve been incarcerated in? If not, what are your reasons for refusal, but if yes, what have been your experiences of prison labour?

JB – I have very little experience of prison labour and on principle have often refused to co-operate with it on the grounds that it amounts to forced slave labour, which under European and UN law is of course totally illegal. I have, however, often organised mass work-strikes in jail, (in Perth jail in 1994 we virtually closed the jail down for four days). So there is real potential to use the prison labour issue as an instrument for creating and mobilising real and effective solidarity in jail.

FHOI – What is your opinion on immediate issues such as a minimum wage for prisoners, or whether prisoners should get the vote? How do you see these struggles (whether they exist in action or not) within the context of the struggle against the prison system, state, and capital as a whole?

JB – I think we need to be very careful about supporting palliative reforms, like voting rights for prisoners and the minimum wage, because there’s a danger of legitimizing prison as an institution. That is the danger of the whole prison reform enterprise, that it seeks to reform an institution and system that is intrinsically irreformable, and instead should be completely abolished. We also need to ask ourselves which reforms of the prison system undermine and weaken it, and which ultimately legitimize and consolidate it. Tactically, I’m certainly not opposed to liberal reforms of the prison system, but only as a means to weakening and subverting it, and definitely NOT as an attempt at making prisons “better” and more respectable places. What has our so-called “liberal democracy” fundamentally achieved for the poor and powerless in our society? And will allowing prisoners access to that sham REALLY improve their conditions and make jails less oppressive and inhumane? I think not.

FHOI – A lot has been written from radical perspectives on how society on the outside more and more resembles the prison. What is your personal or shared experience (with other prisoners) of this depiction?

JB – Prison has always existed as a microcosm of the wider society, and also as a concentrated laboratory of repression and social control. In so many ways, the society beyond jail is little more than an open prison, where people’s lives are controlled and regulated by an omnipresent state. The unfortunate difference is of course that the majority of people on the outside in the wider society are unaware of their captivity, and so are mostly compliant with it, whilst in here we KNOW we exist under the iron heel of the state, and even the most co-operative prisoner harbours a hatred of it. The state generally is becoming more oppressive and intrusive, more all-controlling, as the economic fabric of our capitalist, class-divided society disintegrates, and rich and poor become even more polarised and antagonistic. And whilst we in prison are daily confronted with even more repressive regimes, so the poor in the wider society will also experience greater repression. Ultimately, it’s one struggle and one fight against a common state enemy, inside and outside prison.

FHOI – You have written a great deal on the purpose and development of the prison industry whilst inside. Why do you do this, and how do you imagine the information continues after leaving your hands?

JB – I have written much about the development of the prison industry because I think it’s important to highlight the way prisons are being used increasingly as a source of profit and cheap enslaved labour. I hope that the information and perspective that I communicate is used to raise awareness and inform a debate and struggle.

FHOI – Finally, what has been the most inspiring or heart-warming moment of your time behind bars?My life in prison has mostly been hard and difficult, and a real struggle against overwhelming adversity. But there have been moments of victory and inspiration, when my faith in the strength and beauty of the human spirit has been deeply confirmed.

JB – I still vividly remember my first participation in an organized protest at Wormwood Scrubs prison way back in about 1981, and how it changed me deeply as a person. The guards in the jail had been routinely brutalising prisoners, and had created a regime based on absolute fear, even terror. A few days before the protest I was involved in a peaceful protest by prisoners in one wing of the jail, which had been crushed with savage violence and brutality, and its “ringleaders” beaten and batoned all the way to he punishment unit. An atmosphere of fear subsequently prevailed in the jail and the guards swaggered around with an almost omnipotent arrogance and confidence. When a prisoner on the exercise yard one day suggested we should stage a sit-down protest, in solidarity with the prisoners whose recent protest had been so inhumanely crushed, I recall how a shiver of fear and apprehension ran through everyone on the yard. To protest in such a place was to invite terrible retribution, and yet all of us silently nodded and agreed to refuse to obey the order to leave the yard on the completion of the one hour exercise period. Initially, the guards grinned and smirked when we remained on the yard and refused to return to our cells, and then their mood and demeanour grew serious and more hostile as time passed. There were about 200 of us on the yard that day, men who usually associated only with their own groups or gangs, men from a diversity of ethnic backgrounds, men who imbued with prison culture, usually treated each other with suspicion, hostility, or indifference. On this day however, on that drab prison exercise yard, with fear and anticipation in the air, a unity developed that was unbreakable and absolute. We all recognised a common purpose and humanity, and we all knew that together we were strong and would prevail, whatever brutality was inflicted on us. The guards also saw and recognised our collective defiance, and fear replaced their arrogance. For the first time in my life, a life largely spent in brutal state institutions, I felt incredibly strong and empowered, and began to understand the dynamics of true struggle and solidarity, and it changed me irrevocably. Despite countless struggles and protests in jail since, the feelings of that day remain very precious and memorable.

Recent articles about John’s situation here:  http://leedsabc.org/john-bowden-time-to-get-him-out/ and  http://leedsabc.org/the-unlawful-detention-of-john-bowden/

You can download John Bowden’s pamphlet ‘Tear Down The Walls!’ free of charge from the Leeds ABC website at:  http://leedsabc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Tear-Down-The-Walls-2010.pdf

Also check out a pamphlet recently produced by Bristol ABC to which John contributed:  http://leedsabc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/cscs-torture-units-in-the-uk-screen31.pdf

Other articles by John can be read on the Leeds ABC website (www.leedsabc.org ), as well on the websites of our sister ABC groups in Bristol (  http://bristolabc.wordpress.com/ ), Brighton (www.brightonabc.org.uk ), and London (  https://network23.org/london/abc ).

Please send letters/cards of support to John at:
John Bowden, 6729, HMP Shotts, Cantrell Road, Shotts, Scotland, ML7 4LE.
You can also send e-mails to John (or any other prisoner) via:  http://www.emailaprisoner.com

A guide on writing to prisoners can be found here:  http://leedsabc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/writing-to-prisoners-2012.pdf

Leeds ABC have printed 2000 ‘Free John Bowden stickers’ – see  http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2012/10/500839.html

They also have ‘Free John Bowden T-shirts available. See  http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2012/10/501867.html.

FREE JOHN BOWDEN!

ABC Prisoner Art UK Tour

Click on image to download full resolution poster

 

TOUR DATES

SEPTEMBER 2012: London – Colorama #2
OCTOBER 2012: London – Freedom Bookshop (London ABC)
NOVEMBER 2012: Cardiff – Red & Black Umbrella (Cardiff ABC)
DECEMBER 2012: Nottingham – Sumac Centre (Autonomous Nottingham)
JANUARY 2013: Bradford – 1 in 12
FEBRUARY 2013: Liverpool – Next to Nowhere
MARCH 2013: Brighton – Cowley Club (Brighton ABC)
APRIL 2013: Plymouth – Venue TBC
MAY 2013: Bristol – Emporium (Bristol ABC)
JUNE 2013: Belfast – Warzone Collective
JULY 2013: Dublin – Seomra Spraoi

PRESS RELEASE

After a debut viewing at Kebele Social Centre in Bristol, the Anarchist Black Cross Prisoner Art Exhibition in September 2012 began it’s UK tour; visiting 13 venues in 10 cities across England, Wales and Ireland over 11 months. The exhibition features over 30 pieces, as well as poetry, from current and past radical prisoners including – Phil Africa, Peter Collins, Lucy Edkins, David Gilbert, Alvaro Luna Hernandez Hier and Thomas Meyer-Falk. The tour aims to show the artistic and poetic talent of those behind bars, as well as highlighting the political cases of the prisoners themselves. Additionally the exhibition features a wealth of sketches and writings from a Close Supervision Centre (CSC) prisoner, yet to be revealed.

Commenting on the art exhibition in July 2012, Ben Gunn a recently released lifer who spent 33 years inside said; “In attempting to see into the darkest corners of the states activities, we are privileged to have the spotlight provided by prison artists… Struggling to obtain their bare tools for creativity they tower above their captivity to reveal their unique perspective – I hope that their art invites you to think – and be moved to ACT.”

Since the beginning of the 20th Century the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) has been on the frontline supporting and showing solidarity for those imprisoned for struggling for freedom and liberty. The organisation has by many states been deemed illegal, “terrorist” and many members have been tortured, killed, arrested, imprisoned, and fled persecution. ABC in the early years took part in the 1905 Russian Revolution (where six members were imprisoned), organised defensive units under the anarchist Black Army in Ukraine, fought against the Bolsheviks regime a decade later, and aided anarchists fleeing fascism during the Spanish Civil War and Second World War in the 1930’s.

After it’s revival in 1967 in England to aid prisoners of the Spanish resistance, ABC eventually grew into a global network of anarchist prisoner support groups; organising international days of solidarity, letter writing nights, prison demos, financial aid for prisoners, art shows, supporting struggles inside (and on top) of the prisons, and much more.

With this tour we therefore distance ourselves from mainstream, state-funded prisoner art shows, such as the exhibition launched in London by Koestler Trust this month, campaigning instead for abolition of the prison industry and all states. Or as social prisoner John Bowden puts it: “There are frontlines of class struggle thoughout the whole of society, violent interfaces where the poor and their oppressors confront each other, and prison represents one of the most overt and undisguised frontlines of class struggle that exists.” – Solidarity without prejudice article, 2009. Continue reading

John Bowden Writes From HMP Shotts

John Bowden writes about his treatment at the hands of a megalomaniac social worker and an all too acquiescent Parole Board. Further articles by John, and others about his current situation and what you can do to help, can be found here and on the Leeds ABC website.
 
In June of 2011, the Parole Board for England and Wales finally carried out its statutory obligation to review my continued imprisonment after 32 years of captivity. Its official terms of reference were clear and straightforward; to be reassured that I represented no risk or danger to the public, (the main legal criteria determining whether a life sentence prisoner is safe to be released or not), and that I could be safely managed or supervised in the community beyond prison.The circumstances of my original offence of murder were indeed brutal and terrible, although confined to a sub-culture of petty criminals and alcoholics who existed on the margins of South London working-class society. Along with two other men I was convicted of the murder of another man during a drinking session in a South London flat; ordinarily a fairly unremarkable event in that part of inner-city London. This killing stood out more because of the means by which the victim’s remains were disposed of than by the actual act of killing itself. At the time of the offence I was 25 years old, and had already spent the greater part of my life in repressive institutions and jails, and was considered the leader of the group of men who had committed the murder basically because I was considered marginally more intelligent and articulate than the other two. I was sentenced to life imprisonment, with the judge’s recommendation that I serve no less than 25 years. The other two received recommendations of 15 years, and were released almost two decades ago.Two leading forensic psychologists , one a world authority on “psychopathic personality disorders”, Professor David Cooper, interviewed and assessed me before the parole hearing last June, and submitted written and oral evidence at the hearing which essentially said that I no longer represented a risk or danger to the community and was safe to be either transferred to an open prison or be released completely. The first and most important legal criterion determining a life sentence prisoner’s release; public safety or protection, obviously justified releasing me. Overall, the general consensus of professional opinion presented at the parole hearing was that I could be released and safely managed in the community, and in fact I already had been to some degree by being allowed to work in the community for a number of years on external prison work projects and schemes. A post-release supervision plan was also presented to the parole hearing by a community based social worker, which envisaged my living a reasonably independent life in my own accommodation whilst being regularly visited and monitored by a social work team. Legally, the Parole Board would have been justified in ordering my release, but they chose not to do so.

Throughout the hearing the Parole Board panel focused insistently on my “anti-authoritarian” character and attitude, and defined it not as a result and product of my experience of prison, but as a lingering residue of a “psychopathic personality disorder”. My prison history of protest and resistance, as well as legal actions taken against serious abuses of power on the part of the prison system, was not defined or characterised as a positive conversion from hardened de-humanised criminal to politicised prisoner and human rights activist, but as simply evidence of a pathological hatred of authority and discipline, and a potential risk to the community. As far as the panel were concerned I remained a psychopath, although one probably mellowed by age and manageable by the strictest and most robust post-release supervision plan.

Rejecting the independent living post-release supervision plan presented at the hearing, the Board decided instead that if released I should be required to live in a closely-supervised hostel and allowed minimum freedom and autonomy. Although I represented no real danger to the community, my “anti-authoritarian” character was considered, by the Board, justification for imposing as much authority and control over me as possible following my release. In order to allow Edinburgh Criminal Justice Services, who would be responsible for supervising me in the community, sufficient time to arrange such a stringent post-release supervision plan, my release was denied for a further twelve months, during which time, the Board suggested, I would be transferred to an open jail and prepared for release. The Scottish Prison Service representative at the hearing agreed to arrange such a transfer at the earliest opportunity.

Following the parole hearing, two crucial things happened. First, the prison authorities reneged on the agreement to transfer me to an open jail, using two earlier absconds from prison to justify insisting that I be psychologically risk-assessed and made to complete whatever behaviour-modification programmes and courses were recommended, before consideration would be given to transferring me to open conditions. There were, of course, long waiting lists for both the assessment and programmes. And second, responsibility for formulating a post-release supervision plan was given to Brendan Barnett, a social worker employed by Edinburgh Criminal Justice Services.

Barnett considered his role to involve far more than just arranging a release plan and hostel accommodation, and decided also to write for the Parole Board a thorough personal assessment and analysis of my life before the murder offence, a forensic description of the killing itself, and what he believed were my psychological motivations both before and during my imprisonment, all of which he coloured with subversive moral opinion and obvious antipathy. His completed report to the Parole Board was a mixture of amateur psychology, distorted fact, and obvious prejudice, with an actual post-release supervision plan almost an incidental addition. He also blatantly lied in his report, claiming to find a reference in an obscure early prison social work report, that justified his outrageous subsequent claim that I was convicted of racist and homophobic hate crimes! Despite every bit of evidence to the contrary (police reports, trial transcripts, and indeed every other report and document in my file), Barnett presented as fact his ridiculous lies. Equally incredibly, when presented with his report, the Parole Board chose to remain silent, despite KNOWING that his report was seriously and inexorably flawed.

When I made a formal complaint about the lies in Bartlett’s report to his superiors at Edinburgh Criminal Justice Services, what immediately kicked-in was a concerted attempt on their part to close ranks around him, and despite all the evidence clearly ascertaining what he had wrote was untrue, reject my complaint out of hand. Truth and fact were clearly secondary to the absolute priority to defend and protect a colleague, even one so seriously and worryingly lacking in personal and professional integrity.

Barnett’s response to my complaint was vicious and single-mindedly spiteful. On the 14th May this year, he held a “multi-disciplinary meeting”, and persuaded a hostel in Edinburgh, that had agreed to accept me as part of the Parole Board inspired post-release supervision plan, to now refuse me accommodation. He also persuaded a representative from Edinburgh Housing not to provide me with accommodation. He then persuaded Scottish Prison Service Headquarters that I should be transferred back to the English prison system because I had no links or contacts in Scotland, which he knew to be completely untrue. He then persuaded a remarkably compliant Parole Board that my next parole hearing, scheduled for June this year, should be postponed until I was “psychiatrically risk assessed” by a psychiatrist of his choice.

The Board were aware, of course, that I had already been thoroughly psychologically risk-assessed before the hearing last June, and there was absolutely no justification for introducing a psychiatric dimension to my case, but they agreed to Barnett’s recommendation nevertheless. Neither did they question why Barnett, who was effectively engineering my transfer out of the Scottish system, and beyond Edinburgh Criminal Justice Service’s responsibility and obligation to supervise, should happily provide the funding for a psychiatrist of his choice to “risk-assess” me. Brendan Barnett had effectively wrecked any post-release supervision plan, and yet the Parole Board appeared content to go along with and support him.

At the parole hearing last year, the parole panel clearly set it’s face against releasing me, despite the legal criteria supporting that release, and it then insisted on a post-release supervision plan of such severity that it was virtually inevitable that an authoritarian zealot such as Barnett would emerge to abuse the power such a plan would exercise over me. Barnett has created a justification to further prolong my imprisonment, and the Parole Board seem happy with it.

Earlier this year, the outgoing Chairperson of the Parole Board, once safely distanced from responsibility, warned that the Parole Board‘s hindering and delaying the release of life sentence prisoners, of which there are over 1200 in England and Wales, would inevitably and eventually create serious unrest in the prison system. The deliberate design in preventing my release suggests a total disregard for personal or institutional consequences.

Barnett meanwhile, continues to use the system to exercise his hatred of “offenders”, supported and defended by his colleagues at Edinburgh Criminal Justice Services, and clearly within a social and political climate of increasing authoritarianism, intolerance, and hated of “offenders” and those on the margins of society, he will feel empowered to continue wrecking the lives of the powerless.

John Bowden
6729
HMP Shotts
Cantrell Road
Shotts
Scotland
ML7 4LE

‘Criminalising Children In The Care System’ by John Bowden (UK)

Criminalising the behaviour of working class children and feeding them into the Criminal Justice System is a practice that has existed for generations and is now responsible for Britain having the unenviable reputation of Europe’s worst jailer of children in terms of the numbers imprisoned.

“State raised convicts” form a substantial part of the adult prison population and all share a common genealogy of Children’s Homes, Approved Schools, Borstals and Young Offenders Institutions, and finally the long-term prison system. Many children who through no fault of their own enter the so-called Care System are percentage-wise seriously at risk of graduating into the Criminal Justice System and a life disfigured by institutionalisation and social exclusion.

There are currently 10,000 children in local authority care, their number doubling in the past four years, and the government’s current “Austerity” agenda with its attack on state benefit and services will so deeply impoverish an already desperately poor section of the population that the number of children from this group entering the Care System is bound to increase significantly.

A leading magistrate and member of the Magistrates’ Association Youth Courts Committee, Janis Cauthery, has openly condemned the care system for operating as a doorway into the penal system by regularly prosecuting children for behaviour such as pushing, shoving, and breaking crockery. Behaviour that in normal circumstances would simply be punished by parents is frequently being referred to the police by Children’s Homes and children are being charged with criminal offences and placed before the criminal courts. Ms Cauthery has warned that children in care who receive criminal records for what is in reality normal adolescent behaviour are being drawn into a “vicious cycle” of crime, joblessness and imprisonment, that would go on to seriously affect the lives of their own children. Ms Cauthery said: “Many of the young people we see coming to court have never been in trouble before going into care. These young people are often charged with offences that have occurred within the care home, including damage (e.g. to a door, window, or crockery) and assault (often to one of the care home staff involving pushing and shoving). This behaviour is mostly at the lower end of offending, and in a reasonable family environment would never be dealt with by the police or courts. We worry about these children being criminalised”. She added: “Surely the home has a duty to try to help the young people and find other solutions rather than resorting to the courts for minor offences which, in a normal family environment, would not be thought of as offending behaviour”. She went on to warn that the maltreatment of children in care might be the reason for the “anti-social behaviour” in the first place, which is what classically happens in total institutions when inmates resist and challenge brutal regimes.

Recent high-profile cases when neglect by social workers has seriously contributed to the deaths of children already at serious risk from abusive or drug-addicted parents has created a public mood and climate favourable to the placing into care of even more poor and disadvantaged children, and for many of them an entry route into the penal system. The massive empowerment of social workers in the wake of tragedies like the Baby P case to remove more children into care, often for contentious and contested reasons, makes it reasonable to ask the question if many of these children actually face even greater abuse and the risk of destroyed lives by being placed INTO care.

There is clearly a greater propensity on the part of staff supervising the behaviour of children in care to view any non-conformist or disruptive behaviour on the part of such children as potentially criminal and therefore requiring intervention by the police and courts at the earliest opportunity, which also absolves such staff of the responsibility of working closely and consistently with young people in dealing with such behaviour in an emotionally supportive setting. How much easier to just offload such “difficult” children onto the courts and Young Offender System, where an awful self-fulfilling prophecy then takes place along with the process of criminalisation and institutionalisation. Ultimately, the wider society reaps the cost and consequences of this abandonment of vulnerable children to the Criminal Justice System.

John Bowden
HMP Shotts
June 2012

Day of Action in Support of John Bowden MON 11th JUNE 2012

Day of Action in Support of John Bowden

Monday 11th June

Imprisoned since 1980, (and in fact for most of his life before that), John Bowden has been a thorn in the side of the English and Scottish prison systems for three decades. John has paid a heavy price for being a staunch defender of prisoners’ rights and a committed opponent of injustice, spending years in the most brutal conditions, and suffering numerous physical assaults and treatment that has frequently amounted to torture.

Over the past decade though, John’s captors have been using a new tactic to keep him behind bars – the lies of prison social workers and quack ‘psychologists’. First, a few years ago, Matthew Stillman alleged that the Anarchist Black Cross were a ‘terrorist organisation’ and that John was therefore a ‘terrorist’ by implication. Brendan Barnett has now made even more ludicrous allegations against John, but such is the corruption within Edinburgh ‘Criminal Justice Services’ that John’s complaints have led to his victimisation, rather than the disciplining of Brendan ‘Pinocchio’ Barnett.

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Criminal Justice Services continue to cover up lies about John Bowden

Edinburgh Criminal Justice Services, or what used to be know as the plain Social Work Deptartment, has seriously compromised its professional integrity by defending a member of its staff who deliberately told lies in a report to the Parole Board in an attempt to sabotage my chances of release from prison. Behaving like corrupt policemen instead of traditional social workers seems now to be acceptable practice at Edinburgh Social Services.

In an official report for the Parole Board written on the 29/2/2012 Brenden Barnett, who works for Edinburgh Criminal Justice Services, made the following incredible claims about my original case in 1980. “Secondary motives for using violence described by the trial judge and acknowledged by Bowden himself suggest a pattern of behaviour that allowed for the predatory targeting of vulnerable human beings on the margins of society defined by race or sexuality”. “Bowden has suggested that his victims were easily discriminated against on the basis of race or sexuality”. “There has been no investigation of the values and beliefs that informed Bowden’s targeting of individuals, i.e. what particular characteristics deemed a person worthy of attack; ethnic background, deviant sexuality”.

There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support Barnett’s bizarre claims and in fact I was convicted in 1982, alongside two other men, of the murder of a white Caucasian heterosexual male during a drunken party in South London. If ethnicity was any sort of factor in the case it was actually represented in the defendants, two of whom were Irish and the third second-generation Irish; the victim was a native white south Londoner. Neither the police who investigated the case or the prosecution authorities or indeed trial judge had ever claimed that either racism or homophobia had played any part in the case; Barnett’s claims are a total lie, as he well knew.

Naively, I imagined that by officially complaining to Barnett’s superiors his lies would be exposed and the record put straight as far as his report to the Parole Board was concerned. Instead I was about to enter a sort of Kafkaesque nightmare.

On the 2/4/2012 I was interviewed by Jackie Peters, Manager for “Risk Management Services” and Barnett’s immediate boss, and Sheila Ritchie, a “Sex and Violent Offender Liaison Officer”, and also a colleague of Barnett’s. Both made it absolutely clear that they intended to defend and support their colleague no matter what, even if it required some twisting of the facts and a total disregard of the truth. Throughout the interview I was treated with obvious contempt and at one point I was actually asked if any of my victims (I was convicted of one murder) were black or homosexuals. Despite my constant protestations that neither race or sexual orientation played any part whatsoever in my conviction, as the official files make clear, they steadfastly determined to somehow defend and justify Barnett’s lies. I eventually realised that the interview was meaningless and their intention was simply to defend their colleague, so I told them that I would pursue my complaint beyond them and do whatever it took to expose Barnett’s lies. In their subsequent report they would describe this as a “threat” against Barnett. They also alleged I had been “angry and aggressive” towards them and tried to shift the focus from Barnett’s lies onto my behaviour during the interview, which they insinuated suggested a potential risk to both themselves and the wider community. The issue of Barnett’s lies in their report was glossed over and my complaint rejected. It’s important to remember here that we’re not dealing with some miner factual inaccuracy or a biased interpretation of established fact, a fairly common phenomenon in social work reports on prisoners; Barnett wrote blatant lies in his report, claims that had absolutely no basis in fact or reality, lies that are easily disproved by reference to the mass of information in my prison and social work file, and yet those supposedly responsible for investigating my complaint decided that Barnett had done absolutely no wrong and his report was completely acceptable. Protected by an occupational culture that views and treats “offenders” as things to be monitored, supervised and policed, authoritarian characters like Barnett believe they have total power over those under their supervision and with it the absolute right to increase their demonisation and dehumanisation, even by writing blatant lies about them.

Those who employ Barnett and those who work alongside him in the Edinburgh Criminal Justice Services must ultimately take responsibility for his behaviour because by defending and supporting him they have seriously compromised their own integrity and are complicit in his dishonesty and abuse of power. A more senior social worker, Stephen Laird, signed off Barnett’s report and therefore gave the official seal of approval to his lies, which is why those supposedly investigating my complaint, Peters and Ritchie, felt an even greater predisposition to support Barnett, even if his lies regarding my original offence were obvious and indefensible. This is how corruption spreads within institutions like the police and Social Services; defending and supporting colleagues who have abused their power, especially over people considered something less than human and utterly powerless, creates complicity and a culture of abuse generally. The prison system and police are riddled with this culture, which is why the abuse and death of people in custody is widespread and why those directly responsible are rarely identified and prosecuted. It would seem that the “Criminal Justice Services” generally, including social workers and probation officers, are also contaminated by this culture of lying and treating “offenders” as people stripped of all basic rights; my experience with Barnett and his colleagues certainly illustrates this.

Undoubtedly at my next parole hearing Barnett will claim that by challenging the lies in his report I have also challenged his authority over me and therefore I represent a “High Risk of Re-offending” because of my adversity to being supervised by Barnett in the community. As always Public Protection will be cited and used as a justification for my continued imprisonment, when in reality I shall probably remain in jail simply because I challenged Barnett’s lies.

I have now complained to Peter Gabbitas, Director of Health and Social Dept. in Edinburgh, who has overall responsibility for Barnett and his colleagues, and he has yet to even acknowledge my letter, which suggests a disinclination on his part to recognise either my existence or that of my complaint. Incredibly it would seem that a pathological liar like Barnett has the absolute freedom to describe someone in an official report as a “racist and homophobic” serial killer without a shred of evidence, and absolutely no-one in his entire dept has the integrity or moral courage to criticise or expose him, and that apparently includes even the dept’s Director. The complete absence of any basic integrity amongst those at Edinburgh Criminal Justice Services is both scandalous and deeply worrying for those under it’s supervision.

The response of Barnett and Edinburgh Criminal Justice Services to my exposing his lies has been to ask the Scottish Prison Service to engineer my removal back to the English prison system, and on the 4/5/2012 Sharron Di Ciacca, Legal Service Manager of the Scottish Prison Service, wrote to me informing me that such a transfer would take place soon. Moving the “problem” on is of course a classic method of controlling and punishing “difficult” prisoners.

Edinburgh Criminal Justice Services should not be allowed to suppress or simply get rid of “offenders” who complain about and expose individuals like Brendan Barnett, and I ask all groups and individuals concerned about the treatment of prisoners and ex-prisoners at the hands of a corrupt social work dept like Edinburgh Criminal Justice Services to write letters or e-mails of complaint to the following addresses:

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
4 Melville Street
Edinburgh
EH3 7NS

Social Work Advice and Complaints Service
Waverley Court
Level 1/7
4 East Market Street
Edinburgh
EH8 8BG

Michelle Miller
Chief Social Worker
Grindlay Court Social Work Centre
Criminal Justice Services
2-4 Grindlay Court
Edinburgh
EH3 9AR

Peter Gabbitas, Director
Health and Social Care Dept
Waverley Court
Level 1/8
4 East Market Street
Edinburgh
EH8 8BG

John Bowden, 6729
HMP Shotts
May 2012

Is the Parole Board deciding on the continued detention of life sentence prisoner?

From: UK IMC

The review process itself, known as an ‘Oral Hearing’, at which the lifer is present, is conducted like a semi-judicial hearing where reports by social workers, prison staff and psychologists are considered and assessed, and the lifer is given the opportunity to present their own case for release.

Is the Parole Board deciding on the continued detention of life sentence prisoners before their hearings?

Periodically reviewing life sentences by the Parole Board is a process required by law and such reviews, known as Tribunals, are intended to assess the current level of risk presented by life-sentence prisoners at the expiry of Tariff point of their sentence; Tariffs are the minimum length of time trial judges specify a lifer should spend in prison to satisfy the interests of retribution and punishment. Once the tariff point has been reached or exceeded by the lifer then the Parole Board has a legal duty to review and make an informed decision on the lifer’s continued imprisonment.

The review process itself, known as an ‘Oral Hearing’, at which the lifer is present, is conducted like a semi-judicial hearing where reports by social workers, prison staff and psychologists are considered and assessed, and the lifer is given the opportunity to present their own case for release. It is from these hearings, or Tribunals, that the critically important decisions are made about the lifer’s future, especially the one regarding whether to release or not. It would be absolutely wrong, as well as unlawful, if a decision regarding release was made BEFORE the ‘Oral Hearing’ had taken place and the paper work regarding that decision was written up to convey the impression that the decision had been made following such a hearing. In the case of a lifer called Malcolm Legget there exists indisputable evidence that such an unlawful practice took place and its discovery was purely by accident and incompetence on the part of the Parole Board.

On the 6 February 2012 a parole hearing took place at Shotts prison in Scotland to consider the case for release of Malcolm Legget who has been in jail since 1986. During the hearing Mr Legget asked that a prison-based psychologist, Sharron McAllister, be produced as a witness at the hearing to explain what Mr Legget claimed were significant inaccuracies in her report regarding him. The panel agreed to Mr Legget’s request and the hearing was adjourned for a period of six months.

On the 21 February the Parole Board for Scotland wrote to Mr Legget saying the panel had made a definite decision regarding his continued imprisonment and had decided not to direct his release. It claimed the reason for its decision was that it still considered Mr Legget a risk to the community. Understandably, Mr Legget was concerned and confused by what appeared to be a final decision of the Parole Board when in fact his hearing had been adjourned and not yet concluded. Then on the 24 February Mr Legget received a second letter from the Parole Board informing him that the information in the previous letter had been what it called ‘an error’. Mr Legget is convinced that in fact the letter from the Parole Board of the 21 February was a pre-prepared decision made before the hearing on the 6 February and the real ‘error’ was that it was delivered to Mr Legget before the definitive conclusion of his hearing.

If Mr Legget’s suspicion is true, and the letter from the board on the 21 February suggest it is, then it indicates a serious and unlawful abuse of Parole Board procedure and power, and the rubber-stamping of the continued imprisonment of life sentence prisoners without proper procedure.

It also constitutes a clear breach of human rights under Article 5[4] which states that, “Everyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention shall be decided speedily by a court and his release ordered if the detention is not lawful”. This clearly stipulates that a proper, legally-based hearing should take place to sanction the prisoner’s detention, and in the case of the lifer the parole hearing is constituted to consider the continued detention, or not, of the life sentence prisoner who has reached or exceeded the time stipulated he should remain in jail. The so-called Oral Hearing is the forum where reports and evidence is considered by the panel, which is usually composed of a judge or legally qualified person, and a psychologist and senior probation officer or criminologist. It is from the evidence presented at these hearings, conducted in the presence of the lifer, that the final decision to release or detain is made. The letter Malcolm Legget received from the Parole Board on the 21 February would suggest that a decision to continue detaining Mr Legget was made in private and before the Oral Hearing itself. Clearly, if this did happen then ether a unique and unlawful precedent was created, or the rubber-stamping in private of the continued detention of life sentence prisoners is an established practice and the Parole Board is operating on an unlawful basis.

John Bowden 6729
HMP Shotts
April 2012