Monday, May 07, 2007

John Bowden Writes From Glenochil Prison

On the 18th April 2007, nine months after my transfer to Castle Huntly Open Prison, and less than a month before a critically important parole hearing to decide my suitability for release after 25 years in prison, I was placed into solitary confinement and the following day transferred back to a maximum security jail. Incredibly, I was accused of involvement with a 'terrorist organisation' on the outside, a claim emblazoned across the front page of the local Dundee Courier ('Castle Huntly killer has terror links') on the day I was locked into solitary. In the current political climate such a claim was obviously made with the deliberate intention of keeping me imprisoned indefinitely.

In fact, the claim was a lie and reveals the extent of the prison system's determination to deny me freedom even after a quarter of a century behind bars. That such a ludicrous and easily refuted lie should have resulted in my return to conditions of maximum security and the almost certain denial of parole also reveals the Kafkaesque nature of power within the police state world of the prison system. There is, however, a certain vicious rationale motivating the absurd claim made against me.

The persecution and victimisation of prisoner activists by the prison authorities is as intrinsic to the role and function of the prison system as the injustice and abuse of power that characterises its treatment of all prisoners. In the eyes of the prison system and those who enforce it, however, the most feared and hated prisoners of all are those identified as 'ringleaders' and 'subversives', prisoners who attempt to collectively organise and mobilise their fellow prisoners into resistance and protest. For these 'troublemakers' the system reserves its most vicious and vindictive treatment, and an appetite for revenge that blights the lives of such prisoners throughout their entire sentences. If the targeted 'subversive' happens to be serving a life sentence then every means will be employed, including the collusion of prison employed social workers and probation officers, to try and keep the prisoner inside until they die. There are no civilised limits to the vindictiveness of the prison system when it comes to punishing those who have challenged and threatened its power.

For more than two decades in prison I had pursued and fought for the cause of prisoners' rights and tried with every means at my disposal to highlight and expose the frequent and often horrendous abuses of power that I had witnessed and experienced. As a consequence, my name had become synonymous in the minds of prison officials with sedition and defiance, and the spectre of something that has always frightened, enraged and driven them to use every method and means to eradicate and destroy it: prisoner power.

In January this year as I approached the end of a 25 year recommendation life sentence, the administration at Castle Huntly Open Prison were obliged to prepare reports on me for what should have been a final parole tribunal to decide my release. As part of my preparation for release, I had spent two years working unsupervised in the outside community as a volunteer on projects for the mentally ill and socially vulnerable, and had qualified as a literacy tutor for people with learning difficulties. For almost a year I had been allowed frequent home leaves. The two fundamental criteria determining a life sentence prisoner's suitability for release, the expiry of the recommended period of time served in the interests of retribution, and the absence of any risk to the public, were both sufficiently established in my case.

Of all the reports compiled on life sentence prisoners approaching final parole hearings and potential release, few are more important and influential than those written by social workers. It is the opinions and views of these supposedly impartial professionals that exert a critical influence on the deliberations of the parole board. In my case, the prison authorities chose to dispense with the services of ordinary prison social workers at Castle Huntly following an allegation that I had formed an 'inappropriately close friendship' with a member of the social work team there, and instead commissioned an outside social worker to prepare my parole report. They chose Matt Stillman, a right-wing American entrenched in punitive ideas about the role of the parole and probation system.

During two brief interviews he attempted to interrogate me about my political views and philosophy, and focused his questions almost entirely on my contact and relationship with prisoner support groups on the outside. He seemed particularly interested in my contact with the Anarchist Black Cross movement and claimed to have researched their website and read articles of mine featured on it. In Stillman's limited right-wing imagination he associated anarchism with violence and terrorism, and despite what he had actually seen and read to the contrary on the ABC website, he decided to write the following critically damning remarks in his report on me to the parole board: '.Bowden has written for a self-proclaimed anarchist website called Brighton ABC and he says he supports many of their ideas and actions. A review of this website brings into question the nature of the group. The members of this group appear to be primarily eco-terrorists or paramilitary members involved in what they see as battles against political systems and principles.'. He then adds: 'Whilst at Edinburgh prison it was reported that Bowden had received a visit from terrorists.' This refers to two members of Brighton ABC who had visited me at Edinburgh jail, neither of whom had a criminal conviction between them.

As Stillman was well aware, particularly as an American with firm right-wing opinions, levelling the accusation of 'terrorist' sympathies and associations against me in the current political climate would effectively terminate any possibility of the parole board agreeing to my release. And of course those who invited Stillman to write his report on me knew only too well that the opinions of an apparently unbiased and neutral professional would be given infinitely more weight by the parole board than those offered by conceivably prejudiced prison staff. The social work unit manager at Castle Huntly, Christina Brown, despite having also reviewed the ABC website, submitted a report endorsing Stillman's views and attesting to his impartiality and professionalism.

The entire administration at Castle Huntly deliberately colluded in supporting Stillman's ludicrous report, and reacted viciously when I contacted the ABC and suggested they pursue legal action over Stillman's definition and accusation of them as 'terrorist'. On the 18th April, during the afternoon, all prisoners at Castle Huntly were locked down in their cells as I was escorted to the office of the prison's deputy governor, James McKay. He informed me that I had 'compromised the corporate reputation of the prison' by highlighting Stillman's remarks (my intention exactly!), and that my 'continuing contact with a paramilitary organisation on the outside rendered my continuing presence in an open jail unacceptable'. I was then placed into solitary confinement and the following day moved to a maximum
security prison.

I had committed no offence against prison discipline at Castle Huntly, breached no prison rules and had fulfilled every bona fide criterion determining life sentence prisoners suitability for release, and yet on the basis of an obviously ludicrous allegation made by an idiotic, redneck social worker, I was swiftly entombed back in high security conditions and denied any possibility of release for the foreseeable future.

The truth is that my treatment is politically motivated and inspired by a determination to continuously punish me for having fought the system in the past and encouraging others to do so, and also by a determination to render me intellectually and politically compliant and submissive. As far as the prison system is concerned, the imperative now is not about negating any genuine risk that I might pose to the community, that stopped being an issue many years ago, but primarily about eradicating my political identity and spirit. From this point on, therefore, my continuing imprisonment is nakedly political and centres wholly on what I continue to represent to a prison system ever fearful of a politically awakened and militant prisoner movement.

John Bowden
HMP Glenochil
May 2007
Please keep up the pressure on the Scottish Prison Service (SPS). Send cards reading 'Hands Off John Bowden!' to Scottish Prison Service Headquarters, Communications Branch, Room 338, Calton House, 5 Redheughs Rigg, Edinburgh, EH12 9HW. Scotland
Letters in support of John's parole application and complaints about his treatment can be sent to John's solicitor: Simon Creighton, Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, 27 Hoxton Square, London N1 6NN. England.
Cards and letters of support can be sent to John at: John Bowden, 6729, HMP Glenochil, King O' Muir Road, Tullibody, Clackmannanshire, FK10 3AD. Scotland. John may receive stamps and postal orders (left blank or made payable to 'The Governor'.)
Please distribute as widely as possible.

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