Long-term radical prisoner John Bowden denied parole because of his anti-authoritarian views and contact with Anarchist Black Cross groups (UK)
There is currently a massive population of “post-tariff” life sentence prisoners over-crowding British Prisons. Lifers who remain detained long beyond the time originally recommended by the judiciary or secretary of state, which includes prisoners sentenced under the IPP (‘Imprisonment for Public Protection’) Law. Although this law has been scrapped, it has left a legacy of thousands of prisoners still languishing in jail. Britain has more life sentenced prisoners than the whole of Europe combined, a consequence of a “lock em up and throw away the key” culture and mentality that pervades the bourgeois judiciary and justice apparatus, as well as a Parole Board that exists just to legitimise what is in reality the unlawful detention of thousands of prisoners. “Preventative Detention” was created by the Nazi Party in Germany in 1939 to “cleanse” society of anti-social elements and Britain is a zealous inheritor of that instrument of repression, while British prisons are now little more than modern day concentration camps, full of prisoners with no hope of release.
The collaboration of the Parole Board in unlawfully detaining Post-Tariff lifers who represent little or no actual risk to the community was typified in a parole judgement on my own case in June 2017, when after 37 years of my imprisonment, more than ten years beyond the original judicial recommendation, the board denied my release for nakedly political reasons. Officially, the position of the Parole Board when considering the release of post-tariff life sentence prisoners is determined by evidence of continued “risk to the public” and whether it is necessary for “public protection”. If there is evidence, release is denied.
On the 14th June 2017, a five hour parole hearing here at Swaleside Prison established conclusively from imports and evidence, that any actual risk I represented to the community was non-existent, so the Parole Board simply moved the goal posts and focused instead on my politicised “anti-authoritarianism” and refusal to obediently accept and comply with the omnipotent power of the prison system. I would continue to be detained not because I represent any sort of risk to the community, but because I have a “deeply held mistrust of authority” and because “your political affiliations could prove risky”. In fact, the claim is that it’s not the public or community that I represent a threat to, but to those enforcing the power of the penalogical state. To support this claim the boards quoted a report from a prisoner system hired psychologist who wrote: “Bowden will perceive professionals responsible for his supervision in the community as part of a larger corruptive system. This then provides him with an ideological justification for engaging with violence against them. Victims here are likely to be those in positions of authority and the type of violence could be severe, based on opportunity. Bowden is likely to be drawn into activist movements where violence is more easily justified. Victims here are likely to be people in authority who Bowden perceives to be advocating something he is against and could be severe given the likelihood to justify violence in such situations”. Equating my long history of struggling for prisoner’s rights with a risk of terrorism if I’m released says much about the reactionary middle class culture and mentality of the Parole Board, and also the sheer desperation of their attempt to manufacture a “public protection” rationale for my continued detention, when in fact none exists.
Quoting again from the prison hired psychologist report, the Parole Board decision says “Dr. Sorrow noted in her evidence that you had discussed with her situations where violence is justifiable, for the greater good, and to secure justice for the vulnerable. She was convinced that in the community this could be a “risk factor”.
So, because during an abstract discussion about the right of vulnerable groups to self-defence (I have expressed the opinion that such a right was inalienable), this made me a “risk” to the community. So because, in the words of the Parole Board, “you have seen violence as justified in some circumstances and you have a deeply held mistrust of authority”, my continued imprisonment is wholly justified and lawful.
My writing and distribution on the outside of articles exposing abuses of power by those working for the Criminal Justice System was also severely condemned by the Parole Board. Clearly my exposure of the lies of prison Probation Officer Matthew Stillman who, in a report to the Parole Board in 2007, claimed that I was linked to a “Terrorist Group” in the form of prisoner support organisation, the Anarchist Black Cross, was not going to be forgiven by the board. In relation to this it said: “The board sought your views about matters that were considered by previous parole hearings, specifically your on-line campaign against certain individuals. You told the hearing that there was a need to expose the behaviour of such individuals and the board considered that your claim did not demonstrate the insight and change in attitude that the previous panel had considered would be appropriate.”, i.e. no doubt silently accepting the power and authority, no matter how abusively used, of those responsible for my “supervision”.
Focusing on my political belief system and the support shown towards me by groups on the outside in distributing my writings was obviously felt by the board to probably be a questionable lawful justification for my continued detention, so it focused more specifically on my “difficult relationship” with the prison system as the ultimate rationale for my detention. In it’s final judgement it says “whilst the board entirely accepts that in 20 years there has been no prison violence, there remain concerns about your ability to deal with perceived unfairness and authority figures you consider are abusing their power.” In an attempt to prove or illustrate my “problem with authority” the board then completely distorts and misrepresents the facts relating to an incident in Greenock Jail in 2015 when I defended myself from a completely unprovoked attack from a prison officer. A court of law subsequently ruled that I had not acted unlawfully and there was absolutely no evidence that I had initiated the confrontation or assaulted the guard. The board, however, adopted a different perspective on the incident, claiming: “Whilst the board accepts that your views in relation to violence have changed, the board was concerned that when discussing the issue in relation to the most recent allegation of violence against a prison officer you felt that the officer was trying to humiliate you and, in the circumstances, physical conflict became the most likely outcome. The board was satisfied that this incident, whilst not leading to serious physical harm from to either you or the prison officer, demonstrates your attitude towards authority and your inability to manage your feelings.” When I pointed out to the Parole Panel at the hearing that I had defended myself from a physical assault by the guard, and the decision of the subsequent court hearing that there was absolutely no evidence that I had initiated the incident or behaved unlawfully, the board responded with the claim that I was being “defensive, argumentative, talking over the panel, and refusing to consider an alternative view”, even though they had to concede that “your actions whilst not leading to a finding of guilt, do nevertheless demonstrate your attitude towards authority”. In other words, the verdict of the court of law counts for nothing. For having the tenacity to remind the Parole Panel that even prisoners retained the human right of self-defence, the board, in visceral language, described me as “arrogant and self-confident” and dismissed, with contempt, my application for release after 37 years of imprisonment.
The appointment of ex-prison inspector Nick Hardwick, who had witnessed the massive overcrowding of prisons with indeterminate sentenced prisoners, and the climate of despair and hopelessness that now plagues prisons, as chairman of the Parole Board promised, by his own words, a real shift in cultural attitude within the Parole Board and a significant increase in the number of post-tariff lifers released. His words were predictably empty and the Parole Board continues to deny the release of thousands of lifers, without any “public protection” justification at all. “Life means life” continues to guide the decision-making mentality of the Parole Board, and as a consequence they have created human warehouses festering with rage and overflowing with hatred that will sooner or later ignite into open and desperate rebellion.
Write to: John Bowden, A5026DM, HMP Swaleside, Brabazon Rd, Eastchurch, Isle of Sheppey, Kent, ME12, 4AX, UK
This entry was posted on Friday, July 21st, 2017 at 2:41 pm and is filed under Prison Struggle.