We live in a society where a tiny minority own the wealth, the land, run the big companies and live in luxury on the backs of the working people who produce everything. They try to control our lives and keep us in line by every means possible – schools, the media, the DWP, drugs, Disneyland. If we obey orders, work hard, don’t answer back, we can live a reasonable life – until the next recession. We can help our bosses keep others down, like the police or bailiffs do, and get our rewards: power, wealth, security.
But for those of us not willing to work to keep our rulers in luxury, or those who try to take back any of the wealth that we have made, there is the justice system. Strike for a decent wage, steal to stay alive, resist the control and abuse in our lives, or break the bosses’ laws in any way and we face police, courts, prison. Prison is the bottom line in control – their ultimate weapon. Prison means isolation, bloody punishments, divided families. It drives people to despair and suicide. The whole system is to split us up and isolate people who could set an example to the rest of our class. Likewise, if we step outside so-called normal behaviour, such as women who refuse to accept the role of wife and mother, anyone whose sexuality is so-called deviant, we may be stigmatised, tranquillised and ultimately imprisoned.
On the outside, fear of prison is built up to stop us from fighting back against the injustice in our lives and myths are created about prisoners to divide us from them. Most people are inside for trying to survive. In Ireland the majority of recorded crimes are against property. About one third are inside for non-payment of fines or taxes. Thousands are on remand. Many others are guilty of nothing more than being working class, black, framed by the police. Full prisons give us the impression that the police are ‘cracking crime’ and reminds us who is in control.Most prisoners are working class people, just like the rest of us. They are not all the mad beasts the papers would have us believe.
The press hype up stories of ‘violent crime’ to give the existence of prison some justification and to divide us from prisoners. But the fact is that only a tiny percentage of crimes are violent or anti-social. It is also true that such crime is not prevented by prisons. The system we live in encourages competition, power relationships and self-interest. This system is also anti-social; while it remains intact there will always be violence. Calling the shoplifter, the person on the picket line and the rapist all criminals as if there were no difference between them, uses most people’s horror of anti-social violence against the vast majority whose offences are to do with property and resistance.
It should be up to us, in our communities, to deal with anti-social elements in our own ways; we don’t need their so-called justice system to control us in the name of fighting crime.
You’ll rarely see the bosses in court – no matter how many laws they might break or deaths they might cause. The rules are there for their own protection. Even if they do end up in court they can swindle millions and get suspended sentences or let out of prison after a few months. We get years.
At any time, any working class person can end up inside. We must support prisoners in their day to day fight for better conditions just as we support strikes and all forms of ongoing struggle. But we know you can’t reform capitalism out of existence: we need a social revolution that will tear down the prisons along with the rest of the framework of repression.