Letter from Anarchist Prisoner, Emma Sheppard, in support of the International Week of Solidarity with Anarchist Prisoners.
For more info on Emma’s case see: https://bristolabc.wordpress.com/support-emma/
“The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings for freedom”
– Maya Angelou
Our fearful trill is the combination of frustration, despair, indignation and defiance. The “Incentives and Earned Privileges” scheme that dominates prisons today goes a long way to silencing our songs through its passive coercion and pastoralism, but they always erupt sporadically.
“We count ourselves among those rebels who count storms, who hold that the only truth lies in perpetual seeking”
– Madya Tulokonnivan (Pussy Riot)
Being in prison has made me feel humble. My fixed-term sentence is short, and unlike many, I have a release date. I am humbled by the fire and conviction which fuels long term anarchist prisoners, and the many rebels in prison who are “perpetually seeking” in their own ways, free from (and often unknown to) the anarchist subcultures. Quietly rejecting and challenging authority everyday in a way to keep sane inside. These rebels and actions give me hope.
“Tigers are more beautiful than sheep but we prefer them behind bars”
– Bertrand Russel
I do not consider myself a tiger! But as Michael Gove said in his first speech as ‘Justice Minister’: “Civilisation depends on clear sanctions being imposed by the state on those who challenge the rules”. So they put us behind bars and try to drown us in petty regulations. But being here has just made me stronger and given a depth of my understanding of concepts such as privilege and solidarity. They labelled us ‘criminals’ and try to shame us into compliance, or rely on other prisoners to do their work – policing, pandering and grasping of imagined rewards and “earned privileges”. But knowing I am not alone in my struggle gives me strength and vigilance.
Gove has begin to change the rhetoric surrounding prisoners: we are now potential assets, we are to quote him, “a literally captive population”. He is promising early release for those who ‘show their chained attitude that they wish to contribute to society’.
We are led through our time by those benign dictators, our ‘Offender Managers’, who calmly construct our sentence plans and ‘therapeutic’ programmes (also known as prisons-within-prisons). The Prison “Service” is like an abusive partner: offering calming reassurances whilst deliberately alienating, excluding, and physically and mentally controlling us. This can never be a therapeutic environment.
Martin Luther King said we are all “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. What affects one directly affects all indirectly”. These networks bear down on us in biased and relentless ways. Prison is often the final step for those who have been excluded and controlled by the wider mechanisms of the state their whole lives. The numbers of deaths (at the hands of the screws, filth and suicides) in custody and on the streets continue to rise, discussed and minimized. Self harm is rife within women’s prisons.
The Ministry of Justice plan to sell off many parts of the prison estate, its so called ‘dark corners’ (many of which happen to be in prime locations). Gove claims that it is this cleansing desire and economic, which is driving the developments. But whether its the Queen or rich landlords who will benefit, or the Ministry, is irrelevant… It’s all capitalist expansion.
“Whoever has passed by the front of a court house or prison and his look didn’t darken at the thought that he could be there as a culprit, then he did not live his life with integrity and dignity”
– Quote from Greece, unsure of author
I hope that I can serve the rest of my time and license with integrity. I mourn the loss of my anonymity every day. Writing can be terrifying, especially with limited resources, but I will finish with a quote from Audre Lorde:
“When we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it’s better to speak
we were never meant to survive”
Solidarity to all anarchist prisoners and everyone harmed by the prison system.
With love and rage,