Category Archives: prisons (UK)

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.

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).

Islam in British prisons

Dalrymple writes of a man he met whose ambition was to be a suicide bomber. The man

was an inmate at the prison where I worked. He was a career criminal of very nasty propensities whose father was Arab and mother English. He had reached his 30s, the age at which criminals usually turn away from crime in favour of something better—in his case the killing of as many infidels as possible, along with himself.

Coming to religion is one reason, or pretext, for abandoning crime, says Dalrymple. In the prison

there was much more Islamic evangelism than Christian. I would find Korans and Islamic pamphlets in drawers, insinuated there by I knew not whom, but never Bibles or Christian pamphlets.

Dalrymple interpreted religion

as the means prisoners used to rationalise giving up common crime while at the same time not feeling defeated by, or having surrendered to, the society around them—for they knew conversion to Islam gave that society the shudders.