Letter from John Bowden about his parole application (UK)

Please sign the petition to the Parole Board for England and Wales and the Scottish Prison Service to release John Bowden

Imprisonment as a human experience probably has it’s closest parallel in slavery. People in prison are systematically stripped of basic human dignity and bodily integrity and reduced to the condition of caged animals. In terms of their relationship with the state and those who directly oversee and enforce their captivity prisoners are disempowered to the extent where even their most elemental of human rights are frequently treated with contempt and are in reality non-existent. By it’s very nature and intrinsic purpose imprisonment denies the imprisoned their very humanity. As a system and institution prison is incapable of being reformed and it most definitely doesn’t “rehabilitate” those held within it, and neither is it intended to; how can degrading and humiliating a human being improve the condition of their minds and characters. How can imprisoning and de-socialising someone make them more able and inclined to integrate back into “normal” society when they’ve emerged from such a brutalising and alienating experience? Prisons prime purpose is to punish and suppress and enforce social and political control – it is nothing more than a weapon of the state. It derives it’s legitimacy as an instrument of “law and order” or “public protection”, when in fact it manufactures anti-social behaviour as evidenced by high rates of re-offending and the transformation of young petty offenders into seriously alienated, angry and violent criminals. In that regard, prisons are actually a danger to public safety, and in any case only imprison working class people, leaving untouched and unpunished the behaviour of corporate criminals that has a far more socially and economically damaging effect on society and the lives of ordinary people.

Like slavery, prison is an inhuman and anti-human system, and in any genuinely civilised society would be relegated to a museum piece, an example of man’s inhumanity to man. Instead neo-liberal capitalism has created a prison industrial complex that feeds on the suffering of prisoners as a source of profit and corrupts any basic notion of prison as a “public service”.

I have been imprisoned for 34 years. Originally I was sent here as a violent and extremely damaged young man from the slums of South London, who with two other men brutally killed a fourth man. All existed on the margins of society and on the edge of existence. I remain imprisoned long beyond the length of time stipulated by the judiciary and twenty years after the release of the two men imprisoned with me, not because I continue to represent a risk to society but because the prison system or some of those enforcing it believe I should be detained indefinitely because of my activities during the 1980s and 1990s in organising prisoner resistance and creating struggle in prisons. They demand that I now surrender my political integrity completely and unquestioningly comply with their power and authority. When reviewing my continued imprisonment last year the Parole Board said there was no question that I had changed fundamentally as a human being during my long imprisonment and now embraced the cause of prisoner’s rights, but it refused to order my release because I continued to question and challenge the authority of the prison system, which it nevertheless conceded was often characterised by a clear abuse of power. The board refused to order my release because it considered my defiance of prison system abuse an inappropriate response from someone who should, on the contrary, be completely broken and compliant to official authority, no matter how corruptly it is administered. It also condemned my use of the internet through radical groups on the outside to expose and highlight abuses of power against prisoners and publicly name some of those responsible for it. I remain in prison therefore exactly because of what the Parole Board described as my “impasse” with the prison system, or my refusal to remain silent in the face of it’s abuse of power. I am told by those responsible for my continued detention that unless I acknowledge and accept the total authority of the prison system over me then I will remain here until death. So the price for my release is total and abject surrender of the very thing that has provided me with the strength to survive the last three decades of my imprisonment – my personal and political integrity. I must effectively die as a principled and thinking human being before I am granted physical freedom. That I cannot and will not do.

Solidarity is the only effective weapon that prisoners possess in their struggle against a system that treats them as something less than human, and the solidarity of those who while not sharing their physical captivity nevertheless share a common desire for freedom is absolutely crucial if the state violence that prison represents is ever to be significantly resisted and overcome. I therefore ask all those who identify with the prison struggle to add their names to the petition supporting me; by doing so they are making a statement to the prison system that it’s authority is by no means universally recognised and that I am not completely alone and isolated. By isolating prisoners and surrounding it’s treatment of them with secrecy as well as walls and bars those operating the prison system believe they possess an almost omnipotent degree of power that is accountable to no one. By publicly supporting those prisoners targeted by the prison system and victimised by it, groups and individuals on the outside can significantly challenge that power. Just by adding their name to this petition supporters are making a significant contribution both to my own struggle and that of prisoners everywhere whose isolation and powerlessness is significantly diminished when solidarity is extended from those beyond the belly of the beast.

John Bowden
HMP Shots
March 2014

The petition can be found using this link:


or search for ‘Avaaz John Bowden’ to find it.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, March 6th, 2014 at 2:42 am and is filed under Prison Struggle.