The thought of yet another set of tunes released by the Johnny Cash gravy train wasn’t something I thought I’d give any heed to. I couldn’t help thinking “What would the man in black say about his horse suffering yet another unmerciful flogging by the money men?”, but after listening to Out Among The Stars, I’m damn glad I did.
Well, one of the big prison stories in recent months has been the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) “book ban”, that has so outraged the British middle classes and the country’s intelligentsia that it has brought them out on the streets to protest… to read poems outside Pentonville nick. We’ve had the likes of Mark Haddon, Philip Pullman, Sarah Waters, Mary Beard, Carol Ann Duffy, Alan Bennett, Salman Rushdie… even Jeffrey Archer (whose books are of course much more likely to be available in prison libraries than these others), expressing their outrage at the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s mean spirited actions. He had described the IEP crackdown as “right wing solutions [brought] to bear on social problems where the Left has palpably failed”, yet even his own side (an unnamed senior Tory) has slagged him off as being “the government’s least enlightened minister.”
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The Korydallos prison complex in Piraeus is Greece’s main “Type B” maximum-security prison. It is massive, with a designated capacity of 8,500 across its numerous wings, which hold both male and female prisoners – many of whom the Greek State consider to be the worst of the worst. It is also grossly overcrowded and currently holds over 12,500 people, some in wings designed to house half their number. A significant factor in these excessive numbers is the high percentage of pre-trial prisoners being held there rather than, as would normally be the case, in lower-security “Type A” prisons. Historically, Greek prisons have long been prone to serious overcrowding problems, which have precipitated regular prison uprising and protests, but the country’s current economic crisis has further exacerbated this endemic problem.
Rob Ray talks to Lee Humphries, founder of prisoner support charity Haven Distribution, which specialises in educational literature
The newest addition to the denizens of Freedom Press made a noisy entrance late last month by thumping down a huge mountain of literature destined for inmates up and down the country. The small but active collective has been delivering educational texts, dictionaries and large print books aimed at helping people educate themselves since 1996. The timing, and this interview, coincides with a controversial ban on prison books from secretary of state for justice Chris Grayling.
From humble beginnings the Christian faith, and its collective expression the Church, spread rapidly through the Roman World. After experiencing several periods of persecution it was co-opted by the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century CE as the official state religion of the Roman Empire. Since then the Church has had a chequered history globally, often working to maintain the status quo and usually siding with the ruling class. Historically the Church has been hierarchical, patriarchal and sexist. However, in Anarchism and Other Essays Emma Goldman refers positively to Tolstoy – an enthusiastic, idiosyncratic advocate of Jesus teachings and John Ball (maverick Priest who was a key figure in the Peasant’s Revolt). Some Christians go as far as to claim Christianity and anarchism are compatible. One of these is Dr Keith Hebden, Anglican vicar, activist and author, who agreed to an interview with Freedom…
First produced in 1886, the monthly British anarchist newspaper Freedom has ceased print publication with the second edition of 2014, after the Freedom bookshop collective concluded that “a sold hardcopy newspaper is no longer a viable means of promoting the anarchist message”. Freedom will become an online publication, supplemented by an occasional print newssheet.
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Tom Gilliam is a survivor of the Vietnam War. He was a Navy medic, a conscientious objector medic, assigned to a Marine Corps combat unit during the war. Throughout his time in Vietnam, Tom was surrounded by the noise, the disorientation, and the butchery of raw combat. He still has shrapnel in his body from the experience of that war. Nevertheless, Tom did not run. More than a few Marines owe their lives to him, as he patched them up and kept them from bleeding to death in the jungles of the night. Read more »
In the United States making money out of criminals is nearly as huge a business as crime itself is. In mid-February a new scandal of crimes committed by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), one of the biggest private prison companies in the world, came to light as they agreed in the previous week to pay US$1 million (£600,456) to the state of Idaho. They made up or otherwise falsified thousands of staff hours to boost their profits at one of their notoriously dangerous prisons. While guard posts were unstaffed, CCA claimed nearly 5,000 hours. Further, an audit ordered by the Idaho Department of Corrections was conducted by auditing firm KPMG; it found that CCA had left ‘more than 26,000 hours of mandatory guard posts unstaffed or inadequately [staffed]‘.
Over the last few years we’ve had a Royal Wedding, the Queen’s Jubilee and this year we’re remembering 100 years since the start of WWI. All these occasions are expressions of, and vehicles for, something that sociologists call ‘civil religion’.
National civil religions are concerned primarily with creating a sense of national identity and unity, of reaffirming national mythologies, of reinforcing the elite’s story and version of the nation. It uses rites, commemorations, ceremonies, symbols (1), weddings and sports events to reaffirm as “right” and “natural” the existing hierarchy and oppressive class structure and gives the elite the opportunity to tell their story of who we are and how we should be. It is one of the ways a nation is told what to think about itself by the elite, part of “the spectacle” referred to by the Situationists. You could see this going on under New Labour as they sought to present Britain to itself in ways that justified the UK’s presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, by continually commemorating and emphasising Britain’s military history.
You scale the wall under cover of darkness, past the barbed wire and weird razor defences that seem inordinately vicious to protect what has been thrown away. Dropping into the yard, you scurry to the containers and heave them open one by one revealing the gourmet pantry within. Life is like a Waitrose garbage bin – you never know what you’re going to get.