Letter from prisoner Emma Sheppard – March 2015

Emma-PosterLast night I saw the moon and a star. It was the first time in a long-time. It made me think of all my friends, old and new,and wonder what they were doing under its glow. I feel so lucky to be part of a wide network of people. Anything seems possible when you know you have support. But whilst these thoughts make prison bearable, I will never forget the violence of the system.

The prisons are nearly full. So they are building more. From Topshop to Tesco, DHL to Lend Lease, and Virgin to Geoamey, there is a lot of money in the prison regime. Now private ‘Community Rehabilitation Companies’ are running the probation service. Christopher Grayling has announced another ‘rehabilitative initiative’ for the Ministry of Justice. Prisoners will create sandbags, fence posts and kit for the Armed Forces, in order to ‘learn important new skills’ and the ‘value of a hard days work’.

The word rehabilitation is never far away inside these walls. But prison has a long shadow – it isolates, separates and destroys lives. Much has been written recently about women in prison. Even Vicky Pryce – ex-wife of a Tory MP has called for change. But whilst women in prison certainly have, to use the language of the screws, ‘complex needs’, calls for reform on gendered lines oversimplify the problem. Prisons do not work for anyone – except those who profit from them.

And what does ‘rehabilitation’ even mean? Repenting for your crime? Bowing down to supposedly benevolent systems which are offered to us as ‘choices’? Rehabilitation is used like a carrot we are meant to chase. But I will not participate in a race to make sandbags. There is no rehabilitation in an IPP, CSC or seg. When people are shipped out without warning. This is not rehabilitation.

Assata Shakur described one of the many show trials she was subjected to. Whilst I am not in any way comparing myself to her, the sentiment really resonated with me:

“Participating in the New Jersey Trial was unprincipled and incorrect. By participating, I participated in my own oppression. I should have known better and not lent credence to that sham. In the long run, the people are our only appeal. The only ones who can free us are ourselves.”

Some people successfully detox in prison, many relapse. Some leave their abusive relationships, many return. Just like the myth of ‘protection’ the police perpetuate, ‘rehabilitation’ is a convenient facade which hides systemic violence. The decisions people make in prison may benefit or harm them. But any positive changes the individual makes happen in spite of, not due to, the ‘opportunities’ we receive. I will never forget the razor wire and the sound of the key in the door. but even though you lock me in, I am not alone.

Much love,

Em x

For more information about Emma’s case & her contact details visit: https://bristolabc.wordpress.com/support-emma/

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