Category Archives: prisoners

At Winson Green

Gatehouse (dismantled and removed to storage)

Dalrymple writes that he arrived at HMP Birmingham in 1990, to take up a job as a psychiatrist and medical officer. He came to have a high regard for the prison officers, who were

intelligent, shrewd and often kindly.

It was, he says,

out of the question that they should cower in their offices for fear of the inmates, as reported in August 2018. They were brave.

New gatehouse

A vital factor, Dalrymple points out, in the successful management of any prison is

the morale of the staff. If morale is low, the prisoners easily take over, and it is abundantly obvious (as any prisoner will tell you) that the worst prisons, the ones most to be feared, are those in which the prisoners, not the officers, are in control: which in effect means the rule of psychopaths. The prisoners may pretend that they hate the officers, but they know that the officers are what stands between them and hell.

He remembers one officer who was accused of cruelty but on whom no one would inform, though they did not approve of what he did.

I went with him once into a cell in which a prisoner was having an epileptic fit and he said in a stentorian voice, ‘Don’t you do that in front of the Doctor!

Britain, Dalrymple notes, has the highest rate of violent crime in Western Europe. The chief problem is

the long-term failure, lasting more than half a century, of the British state to perform one of its primary functions: the keeping of the peace.

Burgess’s Nadsat is the equal of Orwell’s Newspeak

Dalrymple notes that in addition to being philosophically profound and socially prophetic, A Clockwork Orange (1962) is linguistically highly inventive, Anthony Burgess marking the separateness of his novel’s young protagonists from their elders

by their adoption of a new argot. Vital for groups antagonistic toward the dominant society around them, such argots allow them to identify and communicate with insiders and exclude outsiders.

Although Dalrymple worked in a prison for 14 years, he never came to understand the language that prisoners used as they shouted to one another across landings and between buildings. It was, he says,

their means of resisting domination.

Anthony Burgess

In the banlieues, les jeunes

use an argot derived from words spelt and pronounced backwards, and incomprehensible to educated speakers of French.

People of Jamaican descent in Britain

use a patois when they want not to be understood by anyone else.

The connection between argot and criminal purposes

has long been close, of course; and the importance that Burgess ascribes to the new argot in A Clockwork Orange suggests that he saw youthful revolt as an expression more of self-indulgence and criminality than of idealism—the latter, shallower view becoming orthodoxy among intellectuals not long after A Clockwork Orange appeared.

Dalrymple describes Burgess’s creation of a completely convincing new argot more or less ex nihilo as

an extraordinary achievement.

As a linguistic invention, Nadsat

is the equal of Orwell’s Newspeak. A vocabulary that is entirely new and incomprehensible at the beginning of the book becomes so thoroughly familiar to the reader at the end that he forgets that he has ever had to learn its meaning: it seems completely natural after only a hundred pages.

To require expressions of remorse from prisoners is to demand to be lied to

Remorse, writes Dalrymple,

is a private emotion, and is sullied and rendered doubtful by the possibility of personal advantage if it be expressed.

Moreover,

there are some crimes so heinous that remorse for them is beside the point, at least where earthly judgment is concerned.

And

while people may pride themselves on their compassion when they claim that no person is beyond the reach of remorse, redemption, and rehabilitation, in fact what they show is a lack of imagination. There are some crimes that are properly beyond secular forgiveness; there were many in the 20th century; and we should not confuse the realm of the secular and divine.

Wild animal

Man

Dalrymple recalls a story told by Vera Hegi in Les Captifs du Zoo (1942), which he summarises as follows:

One day a man gave an elephant in the zoo three bread rolls, into the last of which, from malignity, he insinuated a razor-blade. The elephant managed to remove the razor-blade with its trunk.

Well, Dalrymple has a story of his own. He writes:

In the prison in which I worked as a doctor, a man repeatedly tried to cut himself, sometimes dangerously. He was under the constant watch of two guards.

However,

a prisoner slipped him a razor-blade embedded in a potato.

The prisoner managed to extract the razor-blade from the potato, and with the razor-blade,

he cut his throat.

Yes, says Dalrymple,

Man is definitely different from other animals.

Britain’s bone-headed prison system

Many British jails, writes Dalrymple, are characterised by

  • squalor, moral and physical
  • brutality
  • lack of any rehabilitative function whatsoever

Harmless convicts are sometimes sent to

wings with the worst criminals, some of them in the Hannibal Lecter class. The prison officers are indifferent to their plight, when they do not derive pleasure from it.

Rooftop protest at HMP Cordingley

Daily life, Dalrymple notes,

is made up of arbitrary regulations of which new and inexperienced prisoners are not informed: they have to discover them for themselves as best they can. This gives the officers opportunities for sadistic nit-picking.

HMP Coldingley is an example of a jail where the prisoners rule. Here, says Dalrymple, is

a Hobbesian world, where each is the enemy of all, and every moveable object is a potential weapon. The majority of prisoners are black, and each is allowed his ghetto-blaster.

The resultant noise is a torment.

Dalrymple points out that there is

  • bullying
  • violence
  • extortion
  • suicide attempts

Drugs may be smuggled into British prisons with the greatest of ease.

There is a complete lack of effort to prevent it: it amounts to complicity on the part of the prison system.

Prison bureaucracy is

casually inhumane, imposing pettifogging rules while ignoring gross abuses. The most ruthless and psychopathic rule the roost.

This is also, it occurs to Dalrymple,

how our unimprisoned underclass lives, where the Housing Department and the Department of Social Security are the prison warders. For our underclass, England is a vast HMP Coldingley.

Islam’s appeal to convicts

The many Muslims in the prison in which Dalrymple works are, he writes,

largely indifferent to their religion, except in one respect. The prison imam, a mild-mannered man of peaceful disposition, has little influence over them; and they are the reverse of pious.

However, they are

keen on the system of forced marriage which, rightly or wrongly, they associate with their religion, and are angry if their sisters are reported to be enamoured of someone not chosen for them. The system is convenient to them; it provides them with a sexual partner and domestic, while leaving them free to participate in debauchery.

A Muslim prisoner who testified for the prosecution in a case of honour killing

had to be removed because of the threats he received: he had let the side down.

Crime, Dalrymple points out, is overwhelmingly a young man’s game, but some prisoners

need a pretext to give up their life of crime. They don’t like to feel that they have been defeated by the ‘system’. This explains the attraction of Islam, particularly to black prisoners. Like other ageing men, they want to give up crime. At the same time, they remain hostile to the society in which they grew up.

It is not, therefore,

to their parents’ (particularly their mothers’) Pentecostal Christianity to which they are drawn, but to a religion that they know frightens the population round them. It allows them to give up crime while feeling that they have not surrendered to the criminal justice system: they can have their cake and eat it.

Another advantage is that

their womenfolk may follow them. It stabilises their relationships, which until then have usually been conspicuously unstable.

It is only to be expected that

those who undergo religious conversion also give up the life of crime (except for the kind of belief than enjoins violence to others as a religious duty).

How young French Muslims are abandoned by society

Dalrymple writes, by way of understatement, that France has not been especially successful in integrating its immigrant population into the mainstream of national life. This, he points out,

need not be because of any higher levels of xenophobia or racial prejudice: a more rigid labour market will prevent integration quite successfully. Laws to protect the employed have the effect of enclosing unskilled immigrants not merely in ghettoes, but in workless ghettoes. Anyone who has visited the ring of Le Corbusier-style ghettoes around Paris (or other French cities) will soon realise that by comparison with their inhabitants the average Brixton drug-dealer is a model of integrated respectability.

Dalrymple explains that Islamic fundamentalism is not much in evidence among the disaffected young prisoners of France,

and is therefore of not much importance, at least numerically.

The problem is that Islamic fundamentalism

has its attractions for the more intelligent, or at least the more intellectual, among them, who seek a total explanation for, and solution to, their predicament. And as we have seen, it doesn’t take many people to disturb the peace of the world.

Muslim prisoners in France are

not deeply religious, or indeed deeply anything.

France has successfully secularised the Muslim younger generation,

but without having replaced the religious ethic by any other. They are left in a vacuum, suspended mentally and culturally somewhere between the Maghreb and France, but belonging fully to neither, and therefore at home nowhere.

The rigidity of the labour market

makes it more difficult for them to redeem themselves by work,

and modern culture,

which holds out easy enrichment as a solution to existential dislocation, makes crime a permanent temptation.

French prisoners of North African origin feel that French society is fundamentally unjust.

They do not so much deny that they have done what they are accused of having done, as justify it as a revenge upon, or at least the natural consequence of, that primordial injustice.

This resentment, Dalrymple notes,

is simultaneously a powerful provoker of crime and an obstacle to rehabilitation. What these prisoners need, apart from the passage of time that in itself cools the ardour of criminality, is not what they get in prison — antidepressants and tranquillisers by the bucketful — but a Socratic dialogue that will help them to overcome their resentment. If the principal cause of crime is the decision to commit it, then the removal of a justifying sense of grievance is of great importance. In addition, prisoners, and those who will soon become prisoners, need real opportunity, not chimerical equal opportunity, which is to say government of bureaucrats, by bureaucrats, for bureaucrats.

Muslim zealotry and embittered materialism

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 14.39.01Dalrymple writes of Islamic proselytising in prisons:

An outside observer might conclude from the religious literature that he sees there that Britain is more an Islamic than a Christian country.

Prisoners are susceptible to religious conversion, by which, Dalrymple says,

they do not feel that they have simply surrendered unconditionally to society, meekly accepting its law-abiding, middle-class norms after years of flouting them. They do not simply slink away from crime, defeated by the system; they have actively chosen a new life.

A life without boundaries

is a life of torment. It is without form, a void. Islam, with its daily rituals and its list of prohibitions, is ideally suited to those who are seeking to contain their lives.

Mahometanism, Dalrymple points out, has this great advantage:

It is feared by society at large. By adopting Islam, prisoners are killing two birds with one stone: they are giving themselves boundaries so that they can commit no more crimes — of the ordinary kind — and yet do not feel that they have capitulated to the demands of society.

The extent of the secularisation of young Muslim men in prison

can hardly be exaggerated. They do not pray or keep Ramadan, or perform any other religious duties. Like their white and black counterparts, they are interested in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

Their difference is that, thanks to their cultural inheritance, their abuse of women

is systematic rather than unsystematic as it is with the whites and blacks. That is the way they intend to keep it, for it is a very gratifying system.

Dalrymple explains that

the match that puts the flame to the combustible mixture is a general sense of grievance and of grave injustice.

By injustice,

they do not mean that they did not do what they were accused of having done. On the contrary, they know perfectly well that, like most other prisoners, they have committed between five and 15 times more crimes than they have been accused of, and celebrate the fact. No, by injustice they mean social injustice.

Their justice, says Dalrymple, is

an ideal state of affairs which includes an effortlessly acquired, endless supply of women and BMWs. Much religious zealotry is disappointed and embittered materialism.

The politico-religious fanaticism

of which we are rightly afraid is not the product of Islam alone, but of an amalgam of Islam with sociological ideas according to which people are victims of structural injustice, of the modern equivalent of djinn, such as institutionalised racism.

Muslim micro-totalitarianism

Paris attacks organiser: Abdelhamid Abaaoud

Paris attacks organiser: Abdelhamid Abaaoud

Why the vicious are drawn to Islam

An interviewer asks why barbarous and cruel people look to Mohammedanism. Dalrymple explains that one of the factors is that conversion to Islam allows the depraved man

to think that he has not surrendered to the predominant society around him, against which he believes himself to have been in opposition for most of his life.

Dalrymple explains also that, apart from a love of violence and killing, a big part of the appeal of Islam for young men in Western countries is

the dominance that it gives them over women.

Micro-totalitarianism

The behaviour of the large numbers of Muslims in British prisons, Dalrymple points out,

is not that of religious persons. They are not interested in halal meat, they are not interested in praying five times a day, they are not interested in keeping Ramadan (except as a reason not to go to court), but they are very interested in preventing their sisters from going out with a boy of their own choosing.

If you go into the centres of towns with large Muslim populations,

you will see young Muslim men partaking in what I would say are generally pretty disgusting activities of popular culture, but you won’t see any women.

Islamists intimidate women into wearing the veil, for in Western societies

there is a micro-totalitarian climate. To ask people what they mean by it is very difficult; it is a bit like asking people in North Korea whether they like the government.

Villainous company hath been the spoil of me

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 08.10.43In Henry IV, Part 1 (act 1, scene 2), Falstaff accuses Prince Henry thus:

O, thou hast damnable iteration and art indeed able to corrupt a saint. Thou hast done much harm upon me, Hal; God forgive thee for it! Before I knew thee, Hal, I knew nothing; and now am I, if a man should speak truly, little better than one of the wicked. I must give over this life, and I will give it over: by the Lord, and I do not, I am a villain: I’ll be damned for never a king’s son in Christendom.

Such rationalisations, writes Dalrymple,

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 08.15.52have particular resonance for me because I have heard them a thousand times from my patients (I would not stoop to such rationalisations, of course).

In the prison where Dalrymple works,

practically every heroin-addicted prisoner whom I ask for the reason that he started to take the drug replies: ‘I fell in with the wrong crowd.’ They say this with every appearance of sincerity, but at the same time they know it to be nonsense.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 08.17.52They laugh when Dalrymple says to them

how strange it is that, though I have met many who have fallen in with the wrong crowd, I have never met any member of the wrong crowd itself.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 08.18.51