Men in Prison
Sheppard gives an update after a year in Hull Prison
This is written from a “Vulnerable Prisoner Wing”, aka “VP Wing” aka “Nonce Wing” of Hull prison, and comprises an update on my situation. I am told that around 1990 the VP Population filled only one landing, approximately 50 prisoners, whereas now, with the introduction of new laws, the shedding of constitutional limits and removal of numerous safeguards, the VP population now fills several wings, around 400 men. My estimate is that at least 20% of the men on these wings are innocent. Over 95% of the prison population in Britain is male, so this is an issue for men generally, and the demoralisation and criminalisation of men in particular.
I have been torn between writing at length and the inevitable laziness that sets in in this place, while trying to get through each day with the minimum of stress and unpleasantness. It is actually not all that bad, certainly by historical standards, though obviously very far from ideal and my current cell mate is practically a moron. I am doing a lot of reading and watching crap TV (mainly films) in between. It is as if I am making up for all the years I have spent without one. Many of the people in here would be doing exactly the same outside – sitting on their backsides watching TV all day. To my eyes it is relentless propaganda.
I considered writing about my “triple whammy,” the three notable circumstances which have occurred during my life and have profoundly affected me. They have been detrimental for me personally, but have had benefits generally (e.g. my psychological and medical work). However, what I am thinking about most at the moment is FAILURE.
I keep remembering what happened to the first-born Kennedy son. Around 1940 (I think) the USAF wanted to test some explosive device in an aeroplane detonation, so a pilot was needed to take-off, press a button and parachute out. The detonation was to take place a short while later. The eldest Kennedy volunteered, but unfortunately for him something went wrong and he was blown to pieces together with the plane. No one knew what had gone wrong.
Perhaps operating the timer with a long piece of string (as with a parachute) would have saved Kennedy’s life, but that is with the benefit of hindsight.
I think that Hollywood’s influence extends much deeper than people realise. A standard narrative is of someone or some group going off on an arduous venture or quest, facing formidable odds and, after numerous struggles against adversity, they prevail. Real life of course is not like that, but reality does not make the best story-line. Long odds mean exactly that, and unexpected factors can appear out of the blue to cause a project to fail. Sometimes also the cost of a mistake can be unexpectedly high. People who spend all their time passively spectating forget that the only way not to make mistakes is not to do anything.
My scheme may have been mad, but the gains, had it worked out would have been tremendous. The benefits would have been on multiple levels: personally (in resolving, i.e. curing, some long-standing neuroses), in drawing attention to my earlier work, and potentially obtaining some novel results.
I have also been thinking about the behaviour of juries – a topic I was discussing with a couple of staff, quoting the anthropologist Marvin Harris. It is a bit involved to go into here, but after a couple of days’ thought I believe I have worked out most of it. The impression I got during my trial that the jury actually enjoyed delivering guilty verdicts was confirmed.
I had been perplexed by this and the readiness of juries to convict for supposed crimes that happened 20, 30 or even 40 years previously, often based on spurious and unsubstantiated memories. I can understand “perfidious Albion” being thoroughly nasty, but what of juries’ apparent willingness to go along with it? Many of the prisoners here are elderly; I recently spoke to two who were 80 odd in one day. Many wheelchairs are in evidence, especially in the wing next door, plus there are others that are obviously incapable.
My barrister (rather ineffective, and really just a milder version of the prosecution) has told me that when I am eventually sentenced I can expect 4 years. This is based on the legal fiction that I intended full penetrative sex with underage girls, which of course is nonsense. He also told me that there are no grounds for appeal. I am caught in an impossible situation over which I have no control.
Anyway, I finally read ‘The Golden Bough’ from cover to cover, also Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’. In Philip K. Dick’s ‘The Man Who Japed’ I found this: “To a diseased mind any relationship is foul.” Judging by the freaks routinely featured on TV, there are a lot of diseased minds around.
Simon Sheppard, September 22
E. Yorkshire HU9 5LS>