Ben Gunn: An insider's view of life behind bars

I hope to offer insights into imprisonment that our Glorious Leaders and media fail to deliver
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The Independent Online

Should prisoners be allowed to blog? That's the wrong question, really. As long as I don't identify staff or cons, charge money, or rabbit on about guns, bombs or escape plans then the law allows me to inflict myself on you for as long as I want.

Some would find this objectionable. I appreciate that view, but my response is, 'Tough, deal with it'. As a matter of law, my punishment was the loss of my physical liberty, not the loss of anything else. And you need to endure that to appreciate its weight.

Having a blog or a TV doesn't quite make up for loss of liberty. But we are not really talking law here, but more a sense of morality. Should a convicted murderer ever intrude into the public arena? I blame you that I feel the urge to. I don't write this to feed my giant ego. I write this because there is a total absence of genuine, informed debate about imprisonment. The ether is swamped with trite opinion, fuelled by a mixture of bile, anger and ignorance, and some occasional thoughtful interjection may be useful. Who better to offer that than a serving prisoner, whose life's work has been the study of prisons?

On a wider point, don't forget that I remain a part of society. I may be tucked away in an obscure and dull corner but, nevertheless, prisons are part of the whole. Every law, every social obligation and each cultural and politico-economic shift falls as heavily on me as it does on the free person. As a sovereign individual in a liberal democracy, I assert an untrammelled right to voice my views. There are those who will instantly argue that my first post should be a profound apology to my victims. And that I should stop at that point.

Patience, my enemies, I will of course discuss these things. And my lifetime's effort to live a non-violent life may suggest that I do recoil from my crime and intend to try, no matter how futile it is, to repair some of the social harm that I have caused. But I refuse to be defined solely in terms of my crime and my past.

In the meantime, I hope to inform, provoke and entertain by offering insights into imprisonment that our Glorious Leaders and media fail to deliver.

Imprisonment should be a perpetual discussion: the human suffering that follows from crime should be carefully considered, and not relegated to atavistic headlines. Isn't it rather pathetic that it is left to a prisoner to call for this debate, rather than political leaders?

The author has served 30 years of a life term, having pleaded guilty to murder, aged 14. He is general secretary of the Association of Prisoners, and is in HM Prison Shepton Mallet prisonerben.blogspot.com

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