Category Archives: prisons

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.