Recently, I have come to follow the personal blog of Prisoner Ben Gunn – the first of its kind from a serving British prisoner. After a long period of contestation by prison authorities, Ben (having been originally sentenced to 10 years for his guilty plea of the murder of his friend when he was 14 years old) was permitted to publish his comments online. However, his firm belief in freedom of speech against institutional power has resulted in him being incarcerated for over 30 years.
Ben, who has been serving his sentence with home leave and release on licence to work, posted his latest entry on 14 June 2012. He reported that “in a fit of patriotism the nick rearranged meal times to allow a clear period to watch the [European Championship 2012] footie”. Prison commentators have investigated the way in which inmates attempt to retain the citizenship of less-territorially grounded communities, such as those of football supporters. An Art Teacher facilitating classes within prison noted that although Steve hardly spoke, when he did, one very obvious thread of thinking permeated everything and this was Liverpool Football Club:
Once, for example, when the subject of his nine-month-old child cropped up, he managed to get in, within about three seconds, that ‘he was the youngest member ever of the Liverpool Supporters Club in Britain” (Rudesind 2006, 45).
Scholars have been interested in the ways in which the normalcy of the outside world is accessed by prisoners. Baer (2005) writes about the display of toiletries which can often be found in prisoners’ cells. Many of these are often empty but become relics of life outside, and are cherished like more personal possessions such as letters and photographs. In a similar way, media outlets become a major link to the outside world. A BBC documentary about life in the women’s prison HMP Cornton Vale in Scotland described how inmates Debbie and Gemma found that celebrity gossip magazines helped them to keep up-to-date with the goings on and feel attached to the outside world, even if it was not the one that they would be likely to participate in if they were not incarcerated (BBC 2008).
On the face of it, decisions by the prison authorities to alter mealtimes to cater for fans of the major football tournament seem like inclusive and sensitive ones owing to the huge numbers of football supporters, timings of the games and the high-profile of the tournament. However, Ben’s blog reveals a darker side. He describes how this ‘overlooked the fact that 200 men working outside [of prison], returning after an 11 hour day, found the kitchen doors firmly welded shut’. He commented that he can now ‘add hunger and ineptitude to [his] long list of reasons to dislike our national game’. Furthermore, in a dramatic twist the editor of Ben’s blog posted the following comment:
Ben has just been grounded for 35 days! He had a go at the kitchen staff for not getting fed (see today’s blog post) and has lost his job, single cell, his town visits and home leave. A sharp reminder that open prison is still in fact prison.
It is interesting to highlight the significance of events within prison (either the desire to watch a football game, or merely to have meals served at the correct time), which would be taken for granted by those outside of prison. For me, the vernacular is a rich source of understanding into the lives of the prisoner – one which, if better appreciated, could help to aid a much more efficient working of prison life.
BBC 2008. Girls Behind Bars Accessed 1st October 2008 22:45.
Rudesind, A. 2006 Bang Up For Men: The Smell of Prison Starborn Books, London.