*TRIGGER WARNING* – I discuss mental health and suicide in this blog.
In a comment to a post, I replied with the following: “Knowing oneself is a powerful feeling. Doesn’t mean life gets any easier but it allows you to appreciate it more. The negatives in life, I’ve found anyway, only have longevity if you feed them.” Believe it or not, that led onto a breakfast table (office desk) discussion with ‘Keef’ about prisoners going on hunger strike and why it was something I once chose to do in prison as part of a protest, and ‘Keef’ said I should write about it. As it is something that is no longer a negative in my life because the experience I gained from it has enabled me to be able to talk about it, I hope, and one of my main reasons for sharing my experiences, is it gives people a better understanding as to what goes on in the mind of a prisoner. I can only talk about things from my perspective & experience, and although as individuals we go through our sentence in our own way in a complex, and sometimes volatile, environment there are a number of similarities. One, and a startling, statistic alone can show that more than anything. 88% of children in custody have been excluded from school at some point. The rate for those in adult prisons who had been excluded from school at some point during their childhood is over 40%.
It was January 2009, HMP Norwich B1-11. I hadn’t long returned from the Norfolk and Norwich hospital after spending the night there chained to an SO following an attempt on my life by taking a cocktail of medication in B1-11 when my world fell apart. Coincidentally, my hunger strike protest, which I’ll come back to later, was over suicides in prison. They even kept my letter informing the prison that I was on hunger strike in my F2052SH/ACCT document opened following my suicide attempt. The letter contained my reasons why and what I want to see done because of it. Do I need to explain at this point that I wasn’t in the most rational of mindsets?
Over the Christmas period of 2008/09 we had more than one successful suicide attempt at HMP Norwich. Two of whom I had had some dealings with in my role as listener within the prison. One more so than the other. A year later following the suicides and whilst still serving in prison I attended the inquests of both men. They held one at the coroners court in Great Yarmouth, the one I had more of an involvement in was held at the Assembly Rooms in Norwich. I arrived in a sweat-box around the back (the tradesman entrance) and handcuffed to a G4S guard was taken straight to the room where the hearing was being held, questioned by a number of barristers gave my side of events, left in the same way I arrived and driven back to prison. By saying I was more involved with one than I was the other is by no meant in detriment to his memory. I was working in reception, it was a Saturday, half past 12 in the afternoon, Christmas was literally just around the corner, the following week. Adam had just arrived. He had been sentenced to 14 days. Prior to coming to prison, Adam, who was a heavy drug user, had spent a couple of days in a police station so wasn’t feeling great when he arrived to us in reception. Fortunately for Adam, you’d have thought anyway, the doctor was still in his room. At 5:40 pm that evening Adam was pronounced dead in his cell on E-wing. He had hung himself.
I have taken the following from a story in the Eastern Daily Press in a piece titled ‘Call for psychiatric training after Norwich prison death’ written after an inquest into the death of the third prisoner, a man whom I didn’t know : “Leonovas’ death was the third at the prison in less than two months – Martin Dixon, 48, and Adam Baughurst, 22, were also found in their cells – leading to a review of safety within the jail.” Martin’s suicide affected me deeply. I had been working with Martin for about 6 months. He became more of a friend who I would listen to rather than be a prisoner I was a listener to.
I mentioned before that I had already made an attempt on my own life prior to my hunger strike. The reason I informed the prison as to why I was taking the course of action I was in relation to my hunger strike was: ‘for there to be one suicide is bad enough just before Christmas, but then to have two more suicides in a matter of weeks apart then serious questions needed to be asked by way of an independent transparent public inquiry as to what the fuck has just happened?’ I should add that I was already under segregation but in my own cell and not down the block. G.O.A.D (Good Order and Discipline) it was known as, there is also the more in-tune acronym of G.O.O.D (Good Order or Discipline).
Did it work?
Did it fuck!
To add insult to injury, after a few days an SO and an officer visited me for an ACCT review just as they were serving tea. I’ll never forget what it was either. Pork chop with boiled potatoes and runner beans. Picture the food how you wish, eating it is another thing. I was told that although the SO respected my principles they can be expensive and that times have changed. They could quite simply nut me off to healthcare and feed me through a drip. I questioned both the validity and legality of that course of action but was soon queuing up for my pork chop supreme.
I can understand that people may think it weak of me to have given up so easily. However, being on hunger strike wasn’t the point, the issue was and my course of action could quite easily have been different. There are a number of ways that prisoners protest, or use for attention. Refusal to come in at exercise, get on the net, go on the roof, take a hostage in their cell or elsewhere. For me though, until I learnt that the pen was mightier than the sword so to speak, those ways affect other prisoners in the prison. Going on hunger strike and a dirty protest only really affects you. In fact, a dirty protest benefits others in some ways. The B.I.C deep-clean crew get a nice bonus and the staff working nearby also receive a bonus each day the protest goes on. However, over the years the impact of protesting has been kidnapped for almost anything from getting a roll-up to getting a transfer. The days of protesting for the good of all in prison seems to have disappeared to the annuls of history.