Thursday 1 July 2010

Association of Prisoners - National Campaign Launch

Association of Prisoners - National Campaign Launch

By Ben Gunn

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

We all know that dealing with PSHQ is task for the unwitting and dim-witted. They are a slippery bunch at the best of times. But PSHQ has been causing the Executive Committee of the AoP a headache for the last year and that has meant that we have been grappling to see the best way forward.

After much drinking of tea and several ounces of Old H being consumed in endless little meetings, we have a solution to the problem. Did I mention the problem? Oh, well... When the AoP was first founded by John Hirst, Pete Smith, John Coyne and others the PS accepted the legal reality - they just couldn't stop it happening. For the first time in British penal history, HQ had to find a means of dealing with organising prisoners that didn't involve harassment or brutality. And so lines of negotiations were opened and it looked as if the PS were going to be sensible, just for once.

But no. Obviously. They then put out PSO 4480, which told governors that they could ignore us. It also created the stumbling block that has had us scratching our heads for the last year. The PS claims that we cannot have a national association, because prisoners just don't have enough common interests.

We hummed. We ahaad. We smoked, drank, argued and banged our heads off many brick walls. Until we found this solution - ignore HQ.

We don't care what HQ says. It's as simple as that. Article 11 of the ECHR says we can have an association and so we damn well will. Of course HQ doesn't want to see that happen; they have always hated the idea of cons having any sort of voice, let alone an organised one. Well, tough. We are here and here we stay.

We have written to the DG to tell him that we are going national, recruiting members and encouraging prisoners across the country to set up branches in their prison.

Instead of us wondering how to deal with HQ, we decided to act and then let HQ decide how to deal with us. And we expect a bit of grumbling, a bit of fancy footwork, and we won't be surprised if they formally ban the AoP. We would welcome the legal fight -that way we can get them into court and skewer them properly.
The idea that prisoners don't have common interests is barking mad. Whilst prisoners come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, colours and creeds, genital arrangements and so on, we all share common burdens. We are all prisoners.

The PS is a national service, not a loose collective of individual fiefdoms. We all live by the Prison Rules and Prison Service Orders. These instruments increase the weight and depth of the burdens felt by every prisoner no matter in what location or category. When the Minister of Justice has a bad day, we all feel the consequences.

That the only, the best, argument that HQ has against the AoP is a claim that prisoners don't have common interests only reveals the desperate corner that they are in. They don't get to decide if prisoners have common interests - prisoners get to decide that. They cannot stop cons organising; that is the law. As long as we don't go around trying to overthrow the system, if they ban us then they will face the legal consequences.

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