Les’ reflection from prison
Four weeks prison, suspended six month, and £201 in restitution, for the Vine & Fig Tree Planters.
I really enjoyed our community action; which was to plant vines and fig trees at the Aldermaston Nuclear Weapons base. I liked the way we did some enhancements to the fence, and promoted a different culture and set of values in what is a strange and dangerous place.
Later, whilst in the police station, I saw some writing on the wall of my cell, in small paper strips on the wall was written think lies. I enhanced this comment, partly to pass the time to think fig.
We had been detained at the police station for thinking and acting out the fig and vine prophecy of Micah (Micah 4:3-4). Later those words I enhanced came to mean increasingly more to me.
The support from those outside the police station was magnificent and I chuckled as we were passed fair trade cereal bars, soft drinks and yoghurts (sorry, I ate the other vegan yoghurt) by the security guards. I spent most of my time sleeping, reading or being unusually quiet (and eating the overcooked veggie breakfasts I have grown to love, yum yum).
Leaving Court for Prison
As the security van carrying the remanded prisoners left Reading Magistrates Court, I found myself in the unusual position of finding myself being one of them. I had felt that we ought not to be doing the prosecutions work for them and this resulted in my not giving my date of birth (saying Hiroshima today was the only date that mattered) and continuing to state that at least for that day my home address was to be Aldermaston. I would have liked to have camped overnight there and continued planting.
As I left the underground car park at the court for Bristol Prison I noticed that my new Vine and Fig Tree Planters Community and friends were waiting with messages to uplift me - it worked. I didnt know if they saw me. They had earlier brought me a newspaper and a card that was inspirational.
Prison was odd arriving in the dusk as we did. Everything seemed closed. I felt back home (Aldermaston) though, when I saw the razor wire and realized I was out of police custody after being locked in for so long. I decided to remind myself that this was ‘being released’.
I somehow felt prepared for this (the nonviolence training, particularly the community building, was harder for me), managing to focus on what I needed to do now, rather than what would happen or on what had happened. Its not the event, its what you make of the event which matters.
Nevertheless, its a vulnerable place to be released. I did not know the rules at prison and what breaking them would mean, nor did I know the people I would meet. One other remand prisoner, an asylum applicant shared the cell with me. We liked each other and got on well, he encouraged me to share more and told me about his home, Georgia, and the family he misses so much.
I felt very sleepy a lot of the time, at whim. Initially I was pleased with this. Later I decided to get my self a better routine. I tried to do chores in the daytime and stay awake as we were banged up, a lot of the time. I tried to eat healthily (no stodgy puddings) and I had rare time and stamps to write a few letters. In the cell we had a colour television, an en-suite toilet and bunk beds, I was allocated the top bunk by my companion (we later called each other brothers and will hopefully keep in contact).
Another memorable person was Jordan, a black youth from the London area. He was kind to us and told us the routine things, i.e. how to get an application to go to church meetings etc. He told me he had written a rap song about prison and how he wanted to change his life around, yet never seemed to get a break. He wrote it out for me and sang it for me in the exercise yard. I liked it and encouraged him to keep on writing songs. He also told me his father (who is a Rastafarian) was called Uplifter, and I felt, wow, what a great name. I need to be like this name to others, how often am I?
Returning to Court and Back to Work
Returning to court was pleasing, as I wanted to see people again and picnic. The previous day I got a visit and later several letters/cards of support from friends and supporters of our action which I appreciated, however they did not uplift my cell brother who had no visitors or cards and I found that difficult to manage.
At work, I needed to settle in again. I work with some lovely people and being away for a few days gets us out of our roles. I always think if you forget phone numbers ordinarily used, its a sign of a good break. Well I did. There has been mixed reactions to my break in Bristol, though I am not surprised. People will always have different perspectives.
So, what did I like best? The sense of being part of a community and doing something lovely. What would I change about prison? That my cell mate and others were uplifted as I was with support from outside (no cards for me or visits if they don¹t also get any). What will I take away? That we ought not to be afraid of prison. Its underrated and ought to be seen as the ultimate holiday destination especially for social workers.
So you all
Editor: Treena Lenthall, Web slave: Per Herngren