John Bowden: Now a Hostage in a Conflict Between Two Agencies of the State

Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee.

In January 2019, IWOC member John Bowden was denied parole after nearly forty years in prison. The reasons given for this denial were not related to public safety or rehabilitation but to his political activity. John writes about the decision made and the role the parole board.

On the 22nd January 2019 after almost forty years in prison, the Parole Board considered the case for either my release or continued imprisonment. In the case of a life sentence or indeterminately sentenced prisoners once such prisoners have been detained for the length of time initially recommended by the judiciary or Secretary of State, in my case 25 years. Then the Parole Board has statutory and legal obligation and responsibility to review the case for either the release or the continued detention of such prisoners. At three previous parole hearings, my release had been denied by the Parole Board claiming I was a “difficult and anti-authoritarian” prisoner, and insufficiently obedient to prison authority. My actual risk or danger to the public, the prime official criteria for denying the release of life sentence prisoners, was never cited as a reason for my continued imprisonment.

At my parole hearing on the 22nd January, this year, all the professionals employed to assess the potential risk of prisoners to the community, prison psychologists, probation officers, etc., all provided evidence stating that my actual risk to the community was either minimal or non-existent and that I could be ‘safely managed’ outside of prison. My lawyer informed the parole panel that the three main criteria were determining the ‘suitability of release’ of life sentence prisoners were all confirmed in my case. These are:

  1. Has the prisoner served a sufficient length of time to satisfy the interest of retribution?
  2. Does the prisoner represent a minimal risk to the community?
  3. Can the prisoner be safely managed in the community?

Therefore there was no real lawful justification for my continued imprisonment. Especially as I remained in prison for almost fifteen years, beyond the length of time initially recommended by the judiciary. The issues raised by the parole panel were not, in fact, my potential risk to the community or potential for violent behaviour. All of which had been assessed by the system professionals who gave evidence at the hearing and who unanimously attested that my risk of either violent behaviour or risk to the community was minimal. The main concern of the parole panel was my propensity to challenge prison authority and my association with radical political groups on the outside, specifically Anarchist Black Cross.

Representatives from the London Probation Service informed the panel that all the groups that I was associated with were lawful and none were associated were illegal activity. Moreover, in terms of my relationship with the prison system, while I continued to question and challenge what I perceived as abuses of power, I had not been involved in violent protest actions against the system for over twenty years.

After the parole hearing, the panel announced that it would deliver its decision regarding my release within fourteen days. By law, parole panels must deliver decisions within fourteen days of hearings. On the fourteenth day following my hearing the Parole Board claimed that it had not concluded the hearing on the 22nd January but had “adjourned” it and would conclude with a “paper hearing”, when my lawyer and I would not be present, on the 20th February. They also requested additional information from the probation officers responsible for my post-release supervision concerning the conditions and rules of that supervision. The probation officers subsequently provided the Board with the information and reiterated that in their professional opinion I could be safely managed and supervised in the community.

On the 20th February, the Parole Board then claimed that they had “deferred” the “paper hearing” because one of the Board members considering my release had decided to go on leave. In early March in response to inquiries from the Probation Service regarding a parole decision, the Parole Board said that they were in the process of “finalising” their decision.

What was becoming increasingly apparent was that the Parole Board did not want to make a decision, or at least a decision authorising my release, which placed them in something of a quandary.

Confronted by the evidence and recommendations of system professionals such as probation officers and prison-hired psychologists who had all stated that there was no public protection justification for my continued imprisonment. The Parole authorities were denied a legitimate legal cover for my continued detention, and obviously were extremely reluctant to openly declare the real reason for their desire to deny my release – a determination to continue my punishment for ever having dared to fight and challenge the prison system, and my refusal to compromise or surrender my political integrity and spirit.

In reality, when considering the release of life sentence prisoners one criteria is given absolute priority over all others, and it indeed is not “public protection” or the propensity, or not, of the prisoner to criminally re-offend. The most fundamental criteria governing the release decision of life sentence prisoners is the absolute obedience of the prisoner to the authority of those enforcing that imprisonment? Essentially, prisons exist as instruments of social control to tame the rebellious poor and condition them into total obedience to the system; “rehabilitation” is merely a veneer used to legitimise an institution that is intrinsically brutal and inhuman.

Extremely high levels of “re-offending” and re-imprisonment illustrate just how ineffective prisons are as instruments of genuine “public protection”. What influences and determines Parole Board decisions is more the “model prisoner” inclination of the prisoner being considered for release then whether they represent a genuine “risk to the public” or are likely to “re-offend.” In my case, therefore, while the Parole Board was probably satisfied that my actual risk to the ordinary public was either minimal or non-existent, and after being imprisoned for almost forty years the “interests of retribution” had been adequately satisfied in my case. Nevertheless, my continuing propensity to challenge the authority and power of those imprisoning me, in the eyes of a white middle-class Parole Board, rendered me “unsuitable for release.”

In 1980 I, along with two other men, was imprisoned for the killing of a fourth man during a drunken gathering of petty criminals in a South London council estate. Imprisoned for a minimum of 25 years I was cast into a jail system characterised by naked brutality and violent repression that dealt with “difficult” prisoners in an often-destructive way. An already emotionally and psychologically much damaged young state-raised prisoner and now with absolutely nothing to lose, I responded to the violence of the system with extreme resistance.

In 1983 I was convicted of taking a prison governor hostage and had an additional ten years added to my sentence. I was also consigned to solitary confinement for four years in conditions of total de-humanisation. I continued to resist and fight back, and was frequently brutalised, but also experienced profound political radicalisation and came to see my struggle against the prison system as part of a much broader struggle against state oppression everywhere.

For the next three decades of my imprisonment I committed myself totally to the struggle for prisoner’s rights, and as a result, was labelled by the prison authorities as a “subversive and difficult prisoner.” In 1992 I managed to escape and with the assistance of political supporters outside I lived and travelled widely around Europe before being re-captured two years later.

In 2007 I was finally transferred to an open prison, supposedly as preparation for release, and worked each day in the outside community as a literacy tutor for adults with learning difficulties. Then 12 months later I was “Down Graded” back to a high-security prison following a report by a prison probation officer that I was linked to what he described as a “terrorist organisation”. A subsequent official investigation established that the organisation concerned was, in fact, a completely lawful prisoner support group, and I was eventually returned to an open prison. Twelve months later I failed to return to the prison following an outside shopping trip and following my apprehension was again “Down-Graded” to a high-security jail. Eleven years later I remain in “closed conditions”. Devoid of a genuine “public protection” justification for my continued imprisonment that imprisonment is continued purely because I am perceived by the establishment as unbroken and defiant, and motivated by a political belief system that condemns me irredeemably as the other.

The reality is that although the Parole Board has little choice but to appear to review my continued imprisonment, it has no intention of agreeing to my release, at least not while I retain even a semblance of defiance and political integrity.  My actual perceived risk or danger to the community, which has been assessed by system professionals as basically non-existent, is no longer even evoked by the Board as justification for what has now become my unlawful detention.

On the 18th of March, the Parole Board finally delivered its decision that it prefaced with the admission: “All the professionals support your release on licence and do not consider your risk to the public to be imminent”. Martin Jones, CEO of the Parole Board, recently stated to the media: “We have a statutory release test that we have to apply in every case. Moreover, that releasing test is whether the parole applicant’s continued detention is necessary for the protection of the public”.

In my case, however, the Parole Board decided that I would remain imprisoned not in the interest of public protection. However, because a parole hostel intended to house and “supervise” released long-term prisoners had not given a definite confirmation that it would provide accommodation and “supervision” in my case for a more extended period than usually required for released prisoners. The hostel concerned, the London Probation Service and the Multi-Agency Public Protection Agency had all assured the Parole Board that following a specific length of time in the hostel my continued accommodation there would be assessed and an extended period provided if considered necessary.

This was ignored by the Parole Board who were determined to find any semblance of a reason or justification to deny my release. It was subsequently revealed that there was a double-edged reason for the denial of my release. Essentially my refusal to submit mind, body and soul to the authority of the prison system was the prime reason I was considered “unsuitable for release”.  However, for some time there had been tension between the Parole Board and Justice Ministry because the former had wanted the period of time that released life sentence prisoners were held in parole hostels significantly extended. While the Justice Ministry claimed that a huge demand on places within a restricted number of such hostels and a general lack of resources at their disposal made longer-stay hostels uncreatable.

The refusal of my release was clearly intended by the Parole Board to send a message to the Justice Ministry. That unless post-release life sentence prisoners are “supervised” for a significantly more extended period within parole hostels, and the resources provided for that, then more of them would merely remain incarcerated, regardless of whether they remained a risk to the community or not.

So officially my release was denied after 40 years not because I am considered a risk or danger to anyone, but only because I am now held as a virtual hostage in a conflict between two state agencies.This amounts to unlawful imprisonment and will now be judicially challenged.Britain currently has the highest population of life sentenced prisoners in the whole of Europe, and as the social and political climate here becomes increasingly more repressive and retributive that population of the civil dead will continue growing.

John welcomes letters from the outside. Write to him at:

John Bowden A5026DM
HMP Warren Hill
Grove Road
Hollesley
Woodbridge
IP12 3BF

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Message from F.W. Kevan Thakrar

Wednesday 24th April 2019 Kev Thakrar – A4907AE HMP Whitemoor – Seg

On Tuesday 23 April 2019, I was transferred from the Close Supervision Centre (CSC) to the main segregation unit (seg) at HMP Whitemoor. Although I was already being subjected to a solitary confinement regime on the CSC sinc 13/02/19, I could at least access some basic gymnasium equipment which I require to complete remedial work set out by the physiotherapist for injuries sustained in previous assaults by prison officers. I was also able to attend weekly religious corporate worship with two other prisoners, but this legal entitlement will no longer be facilitated. Only days before the move, I had finally reached the top of the waiting list to see the NHS Clinical Psychologist, to begin therapy for my Post-Traumatic Stress acquired the same way as my physical injuries, and had the initial session. Not now being able to enter a room which could in any way be described as a therapeutic environment that too looks unlikely to continue.

Contrary to what Acting CSC Governor of HMP Whitemoor, Martin Butler, had informed me through the local CSC Monthly Review process, when he attended the CSC Management Committee (CSCMC) meeting on 16/04/19, he did not tell them he believed I was ‘suitably placed’. Instead, Butler had concocted a way to manipulate the rest of the CSCMC to agree to move me, which he had been corrupted working on for months through the sustained false reporting regarding myself.

After the last CSCMC and my Letter Before Action was lodged regarding my treatment, regime, CSC status, and lack of identified CSC risks or exit strategy, Butler asked his pal Governor Andy Juden to complete a so-called report which would undermine all of my complaints and paint me out to be the cause of all of the failings on the CSC. He duly obliged; his finished work being some of the most corrupt nonsense I have ever read, where he totally fails to acknowledge the legitimacy of a single complaint, and characterises all of them as somehow being the problem rather than responses to problems.

Butler gleefully delivered quotes from Juden’s work to the CSCMC, enabling the decision to be made. That said, I suspect he will not be entirely satisfied with the result as he is also the Seg Governor here so will now have to deal with the fallout of this. After lockdown on bank holiday Monday 22/4/19 a letter from Butler dated 17/4/19 was slid under my cell door, entitled ‘FEEDBACK FROM CSCMC’. This reads ‘the CSCMC have decided that you will be moved into a designated cell in Whitemoor segregation unit. The reasons for this are that following the report of Gov Juden, We believe that the dynamics of the unit are not conducive to a progressive unit. Namely that staff are compassion fatigued and the findings r.e your complaints “Mr Thakrar submits a significant number of complaints, I can’t establish any external driver and the other residents within this unit do not come close to meeting his levels of complaint. I as a result feel the issues that drive the number of complaints reside with Mr Thakrar, not staff or procedures used to manage him”.

So that was the official line, but having already heard rumors that one of the founding members of the racist extremist prison gang calling themselves Death Before Dishonour (DBD) was due to arrive on the unit and had refused to locate if I was there, I was not surprised when first thing in the morning of the 23rd April, Douglas ‘Gary’ Vinter was moved into a vacant cell. Almost immediately he began shouting abuse out of his cell window, going on to boast that Butler had told him three weeks prior that he would be swapping places with me, him having been in the segregation unit for a cowardly failed racist attack from behind on another prisoner at HMP Full Sutton CSC last year. It seems that Vinter conspired with Butler to enable the move, with the CSCMC being put under pressure to let him out of the segregation unit due to his legal action against the regime and both of them sharing fascist views.

I always knew Butler did not want me to be on the CSC unit here, when attempts to organise the move whilst I was at HMP Long Lartin segregation unit last year were being made, the governor informed me that Butler had vetoed it. I was only able to actually make it onto the CSC unit by being transferred when Butler was on leave and not aware of it. Throughout my time, oppression, provocation, and discrimination I sustained increased and although I was aware of some of the false reporting taking place, when I obtained disclosure of my prison files it was irritating that it had begun from almost the moment I arrived so I never had the chance in getting a positive outcome. The corruption is endemic, the prison system is institutionally racist wholly lacking in integrity and the CSC system being the pinnacle of the sadistic concept.

After all of this, as I sit in this segregation cell touching distance from an on-screen toilet without even a lid, the ridiculous psychologist who has been refusing to meet with me or facilitate any sessions since November, Ieva Cechaviciute, slides a letter under my door. It seems all of her excuses blocking her from working with me have now vanished, and she is ‘renewing 1-to-1 weekly psychology sessions’. The only problem is, due to my Post-Traumatic Stress, I am unable to enter close conditions as she is aware which was part of the reason for my move out of Long Lartin segregation unit. So, she has booked a session for tomorrow, and will repeat this weekly in an act of blatant disability discrimination, in the close visit from renamed ‘the bubble’ to confuse its actual function being known. This coming from someone who was reported to the psychologist regularity body, the Health+Care Professions Council (HCPC) last year, and remains under investigation for her conduct towards me.

This looks likely to be a long-term situation unless the CSCMC can be brought to see the error of their ways. My barrister is currently drafting advice to enable the progress of a judicial review against all of this, but whilst we wait for the audience legal process to re-reward it would be greatly appreciated if those who are able to do what they can to support me. This includes writing to Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons at 10 South Colonnade, Canary Wharf, London, E14 4PU, demanding they conduct an urgent full unannounced inspection of the entire CSC system looking intently at my situation and the lack of any risk assessment to base my CSC status upon. Maybe organising another demonstration of publicising this as far as possible to help. The last time I was in this segregation unit 2013-14, it lasted for nine months, and I would much prefer a shorter stint in isolation this time!

Kev Thakrar

Justice for Kevan Thakrar

Justice for Kev facebook page

IWW-UK Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee.

Call to action: protect Kevan from racist violence

Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee UK

IWOC member Kevan Thakrar is urgently in need of support from people outside of prison. Having been held in what amounts to solitary confinement in Close Supervision Centres (‘prisons within prisons’) for the past nine years, Kevan has recently been subject to severe racial abuse from other prisoners at HMP Whitemoor.

These prisoners are members of the ‘Death Before Dishonour’ group, a network dedicated to abuse and violence towards Muslim prisoners, whose members have carried out acts of extreme violence. Kevan has previously written about the ways in which racist abuse is condoned and encouraged in prisons. Journalist and ex-prisoner Eric Allison has also written about the racial abuse Kevan has experienced in the past and the systemic Islamophobia at HMP Frankland.

Please write to prison and Ministry of Justice officials to demand that Kevan is protected from prisoners and officers perpetrating racist abuse and violence, and that he is afforded his basic human rights such as time out of his cell, meaningful human contact in the prison and contact with family and friends.

You can write to:

CM R. Grice
Head of Security
HMP Whitemoor
Longhill Road
March
Cambridgeshire
PE15 0PR

Or phone the prison on: 01354 602 350

David Gauke
Secretary of State for Justice
102 Petty France
Westminster
London
SW1H 9AJ

Or contact him at the Ministry of Justice: https://contact-moj.dsd.io/correspondence/topic

Steve Barclay
MP for North East Cambridgeshire
stevebarclay.net/contact

You can also write to Kevan. He may not always be able to reply but really appreciates support and solidarity:

Kevan Thakrar A4907AE
HMP Whitemoor
Longhill Road
March
Cambridgeshire
PE15 0PR

Four Imprisoned Rhode Islanders Punished With Solitary Confinement at the ACI for Possession of Legally-Protected Union Literature

iwoc-logo_0Providence, RI March 5th, 2019 – The RI DOC (Department of Corrections) has held four men for over ten days in solitary confinement at the ACI (Adult Correctional Institution) for allegedly possessing union literature, according to a statement provided to the press. The four men — Joseph Shepard, Ryan Callahan, Anthony Meo, and a fourth whose name is unknown — were transferred from the general population of the ACI’s John J. Moran Medium 1 Facility into solitary confinement between February 21-22, in an apparent attempt by the DOC to prevent legitimate and legal efforts towards addressing the inhumane conditions at the ACI.  As of Friday March 1st, at least two of the four men have yet to even be booked for the alleged violations on which they are being held.

While under solitary confinement — or “disciplinary confinement”, as it’s referred to by the DOC —  all four are being denied access to legal documents, rehabilitative and therapeutic programs, adequate medical care, and contact with their families and supporters is limited to a single ten-minute phone call each day. A lawyer with knowledge of the case said,

“A filing deadline in one of the men’s cases against the Department of Corrections has already been missed for lack of access to legal documents, and the restrictions will almost certainly interfere with the individual’s ability to show up in court. “

In a preliminary statement about the situation, Callahan comments:

“I was [brought] down here without any answers, without any [of my] property. I’ve been down here for over a week now and have not been booked. […] I have not been able to speak with the psychiatrist whom I have an appointment with and missed. That appointment has not been rescheduled. The orthotic insole to my shoe has not been provided to me. As far as medicine, I have been receiving just the medicine that I’m prescribed. I have basically been kicked out of all the programs I was attending (Providence Center, 9 Yards, CCRI, College Unbound, and parenting).”

Prior to this current solitary confinement, two of the people being held – Joseph Shepard and Ryan Callahan – had filed separate federal lawsuits against the RIDOC. In one of those lawsuits, among other grievances, Shepard cites prison conditions and disciplinary practices that he argues amount to “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of rights that are supposed to be protected by the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Shepard also recently sent an extensive 150 page letter to various RIDOC officials with detailed grievances about conditions at the ACI as well as problems with DOC policies such as the official grievance process itself and arbitrary requirements which severely restrict access to core rehabilitative programs that many inmates need for parole – programs which Shepard and the other three people are at risk of losing access to due to their placement in solitary confinement. That 150 page letter also included clear requests and proposals for how to address the problems outlined in the grievances.

When Joseph Shepard asked the  the Warden about the letter of grievances, “he said that I wouldn’t be getting a response then he smiled and continued to walk off when I further asked him about the progress of the investigation.“ This has led Sheard to view his being placed in solitary as retaliatory in nature “because I continue, in a positive way, to directly address the harsh confinement of prison conditions not only on behalf of myself, but on behalf of the prison population.”

In 2011, The United Nations UN Special Rapporteur on Torture “called on all countries to ban the solitary confinement of prisoners except in very exceptional circumstances and for as short a time as possible … saying the practice could amount to torture.” The Rhode Island DOC plans to hold the men for up to 90 days while investigating them, where the same UN report recommended an “absolute prohibition” of “solitary confinement in excess of 15 days”, citing scientific evidence for lasting mental damage beyond a few days of social isolation. The 90-day detention policy also flies in the face of RI’s own 2017 legislative commission report recommending that “only those who commit the most serious predatory offenses will be subject to segregation for more than 31 days [..] Non-predatory Class 1 offenses would be limited to 30 days and Class 2 offenses would be capped at 20.”

The four individuals stand accused of attempting to ‘organize a demonstration’ because of their alleged possession of literature produced by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), an NLRB-certified labor union with a significant membership in prisons across the country. Additionally, they are also being accused of ‘signing into an illegal contract’ for filling out union membership forms. Others at the facility report having been threatened with the same “disciplinary confinement” if they are found in possession of IWW or IWOC literature, or caught talking about the union, indicating that the union’s literature is being treated as contraband by the RIDOC.

Shepard expressed further thoughts in his statement to the press:

“I use my words on paper to articulate these harsh conditions of confinement and here I sit in segregation, wasting away. My programs have been taken away from me, my CCRI classes, my phone calls, my rec, my visits. I’m on 23 hour lockdown. I deal with PTSD and anxiety and I feel as the days go by that it’s just getting worse. I’m trying to change things for the better but they are specifically trying to deter me and other inmates from filing grievances and from being outspoken about the conditions of confinement.”

About Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee:  The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) is a prisoner-led section of the Industrial Workers of the World working to end prison abuse and exploitation.

Contact:

Servio (401) 401-484-7288 or Liam (401) 649-0579

PO Box 27913 Providence, RI 02907
providence@incarceratedworkers.org

Notes to editors

[1] Ryan Callahan – Statement for the press (3-1-2019): https://drive.google.com/open?id=1cdakPOcLRwBDM73mSg4apOIi897Zvam1

[2] Joseph Shepard – Statement for the press (3-1-2019): https://drive.google.com/open?id=1lzzwRvNTbp0eajeAFMObs-GgoDhB7QyF

[3] UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, 2011 report  https://news.un.org/en/story/2011/10/392012-solitary-confinement-should-be-banned-most-cases-un-expert-says#.UdsQoT5gaBg

[4] Packet of Grievances About RIDOC and ACI Medium 1 by Joseph W Shepard: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Ey4qDfsiQizQxCI3aTD6uNOEyQyshN7W

[5] Rhode Island legislative committee report on solitary confinement: http://www.rilegislature.gov/pressrelease/_layouts/RIL.PressRelease.ListStructure/Form/DisplayForm.aspx?List=c8baae31%2D3c10%2D431c%2D8dcd%2D9dbbe21ce3e9&ID=13084&Web=2bab1515%2D0dcc%2D4176%2Da2f8%2D8d4beebdf488

[6] The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) is part of the Industrial Workers of the World, a grassroots union for all workers. More information about IWOC is available on the website, https://incarceratedworkers.org

[7] On Monday February 24th, the Deputy Warden of ACI Medium confirmed that at least one of the men was in “disciplinary confinement as part of an ongoing investigation” during a phone call with a union volunteer.

Justice for Kevan Thakrar demo at M.O.J. 13th March 2019

On 13th March, the Justice for Kevan Thakrar campaign will demonstrate at the Ministry of Justice to mark the ninth year of Kevan’s solitary confinement in Close Supervision Centres. 

Kevan was first placed in the CSC after suffering an assault by four prison guards in his cell at HMP Frankland in 2010. He defended himself, for which he was charged with attempted murder and GBH. Despite being acquitted of these charges in court, he was sent to a CSC as a punishment and remains in the CSC system to this day, with no indication of when he may leave.

Kevan is regularly held in his cell for 23 hours per day and is prevented from speaking with other prisoners. Numerous studies and papers have pointed out the severe damage solitary confinement can cause for those placed in it. As a 2006 paper in Washington University Journal of Law & Policy put it, it has ‘long been known that severe restriction of environmental and social stimulation has a profoundly deleterious effect on mental functioning’. To quote from a paper in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, ‘psychological stressors such as isolation can be as clinically distressing as physical torture’.

Kevan’s indefinite isolation clearly contravenes the position of the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and on these grounds we request his immediate release from the CSC system.

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