Uncomfortable Silences

Uncomfortable silences, like when someone tells you they have cancer. Or maybe when someone tells you that they’re recovering from the death of someone they held dear. We’ve all found ourselves cringing inwardly as we try to figure out how best to express our empathy or sympathy. Nobody wants too sound too trite or too flippant when they finally open their mouth. Even if they did, the bereaved one is hardly likely to respond with a mouth full of abuse.

They’re even less likely to contact all their Facebook friends, Twitter contacts etc.. and broadcast the message that you, a friend, had said something to them that they were at odds with or simply didn’t like. They’re struggling through a bereavement, somebody’s death, the death of somebody they personally knew, someone they loved. The death in other words of someone whose life has had and will have an impact on their life. So they’re not going to tweet or retweet your insensitive remarks to their mates, no way! Because this bereavement they’ve suffered? This event that has impacted their lives? Is way, way, too important for that. Still less will they be likely to encourage their friends and associates to retweet and tweet to all their friends and associates and then deluge you with abuse, in the fervent hope (bereavement aside), that your account will eventually fold and be shut down.

That kind of behaviour you’d expect of the type of individual who isn’t genuinely aggrieved by this bereavement they have suffered. What they really are, is glad about the opening this bereavement has created through which they can express their petty grievances and gripes about this life, nurse and settle a few scores and finally, display an ugly sort of power whilst hiding behind this….bereavement, as a sort of camouflage or even a defence. And so to the murder of two New York police officers a couple of days ago. Since I lack the sort of life experiences that would qualify me to comment effectively on this issue I will use the words of another more qualified individual,

Intimacy is not achieved in a week or a month, or even two. But then, real human connection is not a requirement for narrative journalism to find some measure of success. A story in which a reporter can walk into people’s lives, snatch a good tale and then walk away-this is an assignment to be relished; lives in the balance, acquired with comfortable dispassion and without the psychic cost.

Intellectually, that was how we imagined ‘the corner’ before we began the journey….We understood that as a non-fiction exercise we would be spending a year in a world in which tragic and brutal events would occur. We knew we would be meeting people consigned to…debilitating poverty and in many cases to the most unforgiving outcomes. From the first we saw the inevitability of the thing.

But did we feel it?

– David Simons and Ed Burns authors of ‘The Corner& Creators of ‘The Wire


Ho Ho Ho!

Christmas is almost here, but before we sail through Christmas and into the New Year here are a few facts to mull over. Suicide and murder rate in prisons in England and Wales have reached their highest levels in years according to figures released by the Ministry of Justice. In 2013, there were four alleged homicides – the highest number since 1998 – and 70 apparently self-inflicted deaths, more than at any time since 2008. There were 199 deaths in prisons in England and Wales in total. Depressing reading eh?

Hardly the reality being related by the Daily Mail, who on 17 December had this to say, ‘Prisoners in a new ‘superjail’ will have a choice of Christmas dinners costing taxpayers more than the food given to patients at nearby hospitals, it has emerged. Inmates at the £150million HMP Grampian, in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, will be tucking into chicken Balmoral and chocolate gateau on Christmas Day at a cost of £2.47 per prisoner. Patients in NHS Grampian hospitals have just 89p spent on them for a two-course meal on average – although it does rise to £2.17 on December 25.’

prison suicide jail

Bristling with indignation yet? Well, rest assured, Christmas isn’t always fun for the imprisoned, “It’s been the first Christmas away from my family…instead of my little brother and sister running in my room waking me up, it will be the guy in my cell just as pissed off as me being stuck inside at Christmas I guess. It’s my first Christmas inside so I don’t really know how things go…”

– Kano (Write To Freedom Writer)

– Caspar Walsh’s Article from ‘The Guardian’


Now for a little bit more truth, more than 230 prison officers are being asked to work in other prisons in the run-up to Christmas as governors across England and Wales face a major staffing crisis. Official documents, drawn up in the autumn, which outline measures to tackle staff shortages in prisons during November and December. Struggling prisons due to receive additional officers under the plans include Elmley, where nine prisoners have died so far this year; High Down, the scene of a major disturbance last year; Feltham; Wormwood Scrubs; Nottingham; and Woodhill, which holds maximum-security prisoners. The plans require 239 officers to be moved to other prisons on detached duty during November and December.


A specific document about staffing on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day indicates that about 56 officers will be asked to work in other prisons on these bank holidays. The document suggests that some officers will be required to work in prisons more than 60 miles away. The move comes after Howard League research revealed that the number of frontline officers in public-sector prisons has been cut by 41 per cent in less than four years. Almost all the prisons asked to provide additional officers in the run-up to Christmas are themselves having to contend with severe staff cuts, coinciding with a deepening prison overcrowding crisis and an alarming rise in the number of self-inflicted deaths in custody.

– Taken from ‘The Howard League For Penal Reform’ Website

Question: will Grayling be home for Christmas enjoying a hassle free roast? Or will he be chained to his desk pondering the difficulties of running the prison service on a rapidly shrinking shoe-string? Whilst we’re at it, how is the Labour party aiming to address the deterioration of conditions within the prison estate if they should gain power?