New brochure by ABC Bristol about CSC Units – The FIES of Britain – Introduction by Mark Barnsley, ABC Leeds (UK)
Coming Soon – A new brochure from ABC Bristol about the prison units of Close Supervision Centres in UK, the notorious and brutal equivalent of the F.I.E.S. units in Spain – the so-called “Prison within the Prison” of “Maximum Security”. Known as punishment and brutalisation units, the CSC’s are the subject of this new publication by the Anarchist Black Cross to bring to light first hand accounts of life inside these annihilation cells, where numerous methods of psychological and physical destruction are applied against rebellious prisoners, those who have been taken from the general prison population to try to break their minds and bodies. The forthcoming publication will be available soon in electronic versions for reading and printing, and also as a paper format zine available from ABC Bristol. In the text below, anarchist comrade and ex-prisoner Mark Barnsley of ABC Leeds provides an introduction to the publication, which is aimed to give fire to the anti-prison struggle and expose the terrible situation in the hellholes of the CSCs with the voices of those inside them.
Prison has little or nothing to do with ‘crime’; the greatest crimes are committed by the rich against the poor, yet prisons are full of poor people. It’s primary purpose, in reality, is as a ‘big stick’ held over our heads in case we decide to step out of line and challenge the rotten system that allows a few to live lives of gluttony while the vast majority of the world’s people live in abject poverty. As those arrested in the protests and uprisings last year are seeing, prison is a ‘big stick’ our masters are not slow to use. Once behind bars, these hostages of the State, will hear the phrase ‘carrot and stick’ an awful lot; it is supposedly the way jails are run. Most of them however, will see far more ‘stick’ than ‘carrot’. Not that the latter amounts to much anyway; maybe the chance to play ping-pong with some grovellers and grasses while everyone else is locked-up under the ‘Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme’1. Or perhaps the opportunity to get ripped-off renting a portable ‘idiot box’ you can watch when you’re not slaving away in some mind-numbing ‘noddy shop’2 to afford you the ‘privilege’. If you’re really lucky, or kiss enough arse, maybe you might even get a few months’ ‘jam-roll’3 where you live by the leave of a Little Hitler from Probation, or else early-release on an electronic ball and chain, locking yourself up every night. Since they’re not offering much of a ‘carrot’, and some cons are quite happy to tell them where to shove it, there’s been a need for a bigger and bigger stick in order to try and achieve the complete compliance the quasi-fascist system demands.
Prison systems have always had ‘dungeons’ of one kind or another, where they could ‘quarantine’ those who threatened to spread the infection of resistance. The banishment of these prisoners to brutal hell-holes few others witnessed first-hand, was held up as a deterrent in much the same way as the heads of executed enemies of the State were displayed on spikes. In the early days of Parkhurst prison, small boys who refused to comply absolutely were forced into a hole in the ground as punishment. If you know where to look, you can still see the hole, but later (as at many other jails) Parkhurst had its notorious ‘silent’ strong-box cells where men were deprived of all human contact apart from the brutality of their jailers. Two of these cells were located in the infamous ‘F2’ unit (located in the prison hospital) John Bowden reminds us about, where prisoners were subjected to sustained psychological abuse and ‘liquid cosh’4 treatment.
The Wakefield Special Control Unit became notorious in the 1970’s, both inside the prison system, and eventually beyond it, as a torture unit with the calculated aim of destroying prison-resisters both physically and mentally. It held many of those involved in the PROP5 protests of the day and in the 1976 prison uprising at Hull (including one-time Anarchist and Angry Brigade member Jake Prescott). While the control unit undoubtedly damaged many of its internees psychologically, it completely failed to destroy prisoner resistance, and following its widespread public exposure, in particular a high-profile legal action brought by the National Council for Civil Liberties, it was officially closed. The notorious segregation unit at Wakefield, named ‘F Wing’, however remained, and over the years has always existed as a primary punishment location for prison-resisters (in 1982 two semi-subterranean ‘cages’ were added where prisoners could be completely confined on a long-term basis6). Bearing in mind its history and the function the screws there have always fulfilled, it is no surprise that the site now houses the so-called ‘Exceptional Risk Unit’, which forms part of the CSC system this pamphlet is about.
Like the original Wakefield control unit, the establishment of the CSC system needs to be placed in the historical context in which it originally occurred. When the Wakefield SCU was set up (in 1974), the System were engaged in fighting unprecedented prisoner resistance, with the Wakefield unit being part of the System’s response and of their attempt to crush it. Likewise, when the CSC system was introduced, the System were engaged in introducing a programme of repression across the prison estate, and in ‘taking back’ the dispersals and long-term nicks (in particular) which they regarded as having to a large extent lost control of. The repression included such things as ‘volumetric control’, which restricted prisoners’ property and possessions, mandatory drug-testing, the ‘Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme’, a reduction in visiting hours, the closing of sports facilities, worsening ‘canteen’ facilities, the butchering of prison education budgets coupled with forcing prisoners into ‘noddy shops’, the introduction of more and more bang-up, and a general rapid worsening of conditions. Obviously there was considerable opposition to the wave of repression, and removing a number of individuals the System undoubtedly regarded as troublesome in terms of achieving their aims, was part and parcel of the establishment of the Woodhill ‘Big Stick’.
Of course there is a whole gulag of blocks and units through which prisoners are shunted on ‘lay-downs’ (usually of 28 days duration); the so-called ‘Ghost-train’, ‘Roundabout’ or ‘Merry-go-round’7. This system has been used for many years as a way of trying to isolate and disorientate prisoners, and officially existed, prior to the establishment of the CSC system, as the ‘Continuous Assessment Scheme’. The practice continues and like the brutal CSC system, prisoners have in reality to do very little (if anything at all) to be subjected to it. Almost all of the time I spent in different blocks and units was justified on the grounds of ‘suspicion’ of some form of ‘subversive’ activity rather than actually being ‘nicked’8.
Claire Hodson, the former Gruppenfuhrer of the Woodhill Torture Unit, refers (in her reply to John Bowden … ) to the involvement, “or alleged involvement” (my emphasis), of prisoners in “serious acts of violence”, but I know of one case where a prisoner was banished to Woodhill simply for telling a joke about screws getting cancer! For anyone who knows the Kafkaesque British penal gulag, where truth means nothing and lies are everywhere, Hodson’s words will have a familiar tone. My own prolonged segregation and confinement in the maximum security system was justified by various heads of the prison service, and even by a prisons minister, on the grounds that I had supposedly been involved in arson, riot, serious violence against screws and threats to kill them, etc. In reality, I had never been charged with any of these things, let alone convicted of them.
Though I was held in many blocks and units (including the blocks at Woodhill, Wakefield, and Long Lartin, and the Durham unit, which are all referred to in this pamphlet), sometimes alongside CSC prisoners, I was never put into the CSC system itself. Nor, (though he has been in more blocks and units than I could count – including the notorious Wakefield ‘Cages’ referred to above) was John Bowden. Nor, for example, were any of the Irish Republican prisoners that were held in the English jail system at the time the Woodhill Torture Unit was set up. The System seems to have been reluctant to take on avowedly political prisoners with strong support networks. They made some serious miscalculations though, and the first group of CSC prisoners included some sterling prison rebels who fought them tooth and nail, and with whose combined resistance Woodhill were unable to cope. Because of this the System have become even more cowardly in their choice of targets. In particular, prisoners with pre-existing mental health problems have been cruelly targeted for further abuse. Few human-beings, if any, could survive the grossly abusive conditions of the CSC system without suffering mental trauma, something which was recognised very early on at Woodhill.
Indeed, from the earliest days of its existence, such was the level of brutality, that even the screws who worked there began cracking-up. To subject those who already have a degree of mental illness to the calculated and systematic psychological mistreatment of the CSC system is a colossal abuse.
Despite bouncing me round the entire English prison estate, everywhere from Durham to Cardiff to Parkhurst, the System never succeeded in isolating me from friends and supporters outside. Few prisoners, however, are able to rely on that breadth of support, and are relatively easy to isolate from any friends and family they have. It is only thanks to John Bowden and a few others, who have often suffered prolonged reprisals as a result, that we know anything about what is happening within the walls of Woodhill and the CSC gulag. When I first knew John, having met him at Full Sutton in 1998, and we began to organise together, our very first initiative was focussed on Woodhill to try and expose the torture that prisoners were being subjected to and to generate support for them. We hoped that a combination of prisoner solidarity and outside support, coupled with the spirited resistance of some of Woodhill’s victims, might bring the vicious regime to an end.
John and I wrote a joint article about Woodhill, which was published in the paper Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!9, one of the few radical journals that gets into prisons, and a long-time champion of prisoners’ rights. I also wrote a statement calling on supporters outside to focus their attention on Woodhill on International Prisoners’ Justice Day10(something which the Anarchist Black Cross and others organised around at the time). We had planned a national prisoners’ work-strike for the day, but had to rely on outside help to spread news about it to other prisons, particularly those outside the closed Dispersal System11. The old national ABC network was in a sorry state at the time, but we relied on them to help do this. It was a mistake; instead of using my statement in support of the work-strike we were organising, they arrogantly called for a hunger-strike, and dishonestly used my statement (which for reasons of prison censorship simply called for support for the “solidarity activities being organised”) in support of this. As a result of the inept propaganda the ABC mailed into prisons, the only place there was a solid prisoners work-strike was at Full Sutton itself12, where I had managed to print leaflets of my own, (John having by this point been shipped-out). The planned protest outside Woodhill itself was thinly attended, and for me this was the last straw in terms of the old ABC network, which collapsed shortly afterwards. With better outside support things could have been very different.
Even before the work-strike at Full Sutton, John had been ‘ghosted’13 out of the nick, and it wasn’t long before I was myself subject to similar treatment, being in and out of the block for the rest of my sentence14. It should never be forgotten that those who speak out against injustice from within prison are at risk of paying a heavy price in terms of their own treatment at the hands of Prison Service scum. When they were originally published, the articles contained in this pamphlet will not have gone unnoticed by those who hold their brave authors captive, nor will they now. John Bowden, who has been in prison for three decades, is no longer being held because it is claimed he poses any ‘risk’ to the public, but specifically because of these articles and others like them, something which is quite explicitly stated in the latest Prison Service reports opposing his release.
It is good to see this pamphlet produced, and I am sure that every prisoner who finds themselves isolated and brutalised in the nightmare world of the Woodhill Torture Unit will welcome it also.
From its pages the reader will learn much about what is going on inside the closed world of the CSC system, but it is so far divorced from everyday life for most people, that an empathetic imagination will be required to relate to it directly. Kyle Major, for example, talks about being on a “six officer riot unlock”. That means that every time his door is unlocked for any reason, he will first have orders barked at him to stand at the back of his cell, perhaps to face the wall or even to kneel and place his hands behind his head. Then his door will be opened by six burly block screws in full riot gear, all itching to show how brave they can be with their clubs and shields. Kevin Thakrar mentions taking a shower, his reality is that he will occasionally be frog-marched to an open shower by similar sour-faced bastards to the ones above. Here he will stand in full view, under water which is either freezing cold or absurdly hot, while the screws stand around making ‘jokes’ until they get bored and march him back to his cell.
Once again I am brought back to Gruppenfuhrer Hodson’s letter and her reference to “single serious acts of violence”. Prison is ALL about violence, concerted violence not single acts, from the basic act of holding another individual against their will, to the naked brutality few prisoners do not witness first-hand. But the violence at Woodhill Torture Unit is endemic, part of every regulation and procedure, of its very raison d’être. From the very beginning, it was conceived as a way of crushing and breaking the humanity of individual prisoners, and the longer this sick experiment has gone on, the crueller it has become.
As John Bowden says, in his article ‘Abuse Of Prisoners With Mental Health Issues In Close Supervision Centres’: “It is not just prison guards but the whole web of prison psychiatrists, doctors, managers, supervisors …and ultimately the entire prison system…that also perpetrate the abuses meted out on those held in the CSCs.” We should expect no act of conscience or contrition from those who designed and run this loathsome system, in an earlier time they would have happily run Auschwitz. They have the same moral equivalence, and they deserve to be held similarly accountable.
On a lesser level, we must also hold to account our own movement, who along with the wider movement of supposed radicals, have through sheer apathy allowed Woodhill Torture Unit to function, largely unchallenged, for well over a decade, and who for the most part do not give a stuff about what goes on behind prison walls. We need to expose and challenge prison abuses such as the CSC system, not as reformists, but as part and parcel of opposing the human rights abuse that prison ALWAYS represents.
Lastly, prisoners themselves must wake up to the fact that, as Kevin Thakrar makes clear, the CSC system functions as one extreme of the arselickers’ charter known as the ‘Incentives and Earned Privileges’ scheme, and that every time one of them actively participates in this scheme, by signing a ‘compact’15 or grovelling their way onto ‘Enhanced’16, they validate the scheme and thus what is happening to those at Woodhill and its satellites. Perhaps with the support and encouragement of a strong prisoner solidarity movement more of them would find the integrity and courage to resist. We outside need to build that movement and actively challenge what is happening to those from our class who fall into the hands of The Enemy. As the Anarchist Black Cross slogan goes: “No-one forgotten! Nothing forgiven!”
Burn every prison to the ground!
(Leeds Anarchist Black Cross)
1. A prison class system introduced in 1995, which splits prisoners into three basic ‘privilege’ categories ‘according to their behaviour and overall compliance’. Everything from the number of visits to ‘time out of cell’ is determined according to the ‘privilege ‘level’ assigned.
2. A prison workshop, where prisoners are typically required to perform some highly repetitive, boring task, which would ordinarily be automated if the (usually) private company running the place wasn’t allowed to exploit forced prison labour.
4. The forced injection of psychotropic drugs such as largactyl. The doping of prisoners was pioneered at Parkhurst by the notoriously abusive prison psychiatrist Dr B D Cooper.
5. The national movement for the Preservation of the Rights of Prisoners.
6. These became known as ‘The Nutcracker Suite’ or simply as ‘The Cages’.
7. Prisoners are continually moved from block to block, sometimes for years, with no notice being given of transfer and their property (including legal papers) often only arriving after they are already on their way to their next location. Through this process a prisoner’s visits, both legal (ie with their lawyer) and social, are disrupted, as is their incoming mail, access to funds, ‘canteen’ (the prison shop), medical treatment, and their ability to do legal work.
8. To be ‘nicked’ in prison is ‘to be placed on report’ and required to attend an internal kangaroo court for ‘offences against prison discipline’. One of the range of punishments meted out is segregation for a set number of days. However, most prisoners who are held in segregation units are not ‘serving sentences of cellular confinement’; they are segregated under the notorious prison GOAD rule, which effectively allows the System to segregate prisoners indefinitely for the ‘Good order and discipline’ of the prison.
9. Issue 149 – June/July 1999.
10. 10th August.
11. The so-called Dispersal System is made up of a small number of maximum security prisons designed to hold prisoners deemed to be of the highest security risk. Despite heavy censorship and monitoring of phone-calls, networks of friends and relatives, and prisoners being transferred, make passing news around the dispersals relatively simple and fast. Spreading news to the wider prison system beyond is less easy however.
12. It was almost 100% solid.
13. To be ‘ghosted’ is to be taken from your cell (or sometimes from another part of the prison you have been tricked into going to) while everyone else is locked-up, and transferred to another prison, usually via the block.
14. Being released from Whitemoor, a maximum security prison, in 2002.
15. A type of ‘good behaviour contract’, with no legal validity, which the Prison Service have been trying to peddle to prisoners since the early 1990’s.
16. The top tier of the IEP scheme, known to prisoners as ‘The Enchanted’.
This entry was posted on Monday, April 23rd, 2012 at 3:43 pm and is filed under Prison Struggle.