Skip to content or view screen version

Off to Wanno for a very short spell! (Simon Moore) | 22.10.2010 13:21 | London

An account of a very short spell at Her Majesty's Pleasure in HMP Wandsworth following a hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court on the charge of trespass on a designated site (the Old War Office Building) report here:


When I was sentenced the judge told me I would serve 1/2 (which is what happened last time & as I understand it, that is quite common).  I was given 5 days which works out to 2 1/2 days in custody.  As they count the day you go to court as a day in custody, I had my first day as Monday, second day yesterday and my half day today. The other prisoners were having a bit of a laugh about it as you don't usually meet people on a 5 day sentence in prison!  5 mths or 5 years maybe! 

Gareth had a different judge when he went to court a couple of weeks back.  He got 18mth conditional discharge (and no fine).  My judge (a DJ) asked me whether I would continue to carry out such illegal activities.  I answered that I follow my conscience as the supreme guide and that when the law and my conscience differs, I would always follow my conscience and as such the likelihood of my committing future crimes remained.  On this basis, the judge said that she saw little point in a conditional discharge and said she would fine me which came to £190 in total.  I replied that I would not pay the fine on moral grounds at which point she said she had no option but to take some time from me.  I had no issue with this as I see this a necessary and powerful action.  At this point she gave me the 5 days and said I'd serve half. 

And so off to Wanno with four others.  This time I spent the whole time in the induction wing on the 3's (there are four landings in Wandsworth) as the officers apparently saw no point in moving me to another wing given the short sentence.  I was on the floor where all the people are detoxing off drugs/alcohol.  I met a guy in there who was on Democracy Village called Chris which was good- he is quite enjoying the experience as he appreciates a warm cell and square meals after more than 20 years on the streets.  I also had some good conversations with the guys in the canteen regarding the prison industrial complex and how the corporations are making billions out of the system of imprisonment.  One remarked that if everyone was to stay out of prison, the rich would lose alot of dough! 

On the journey into the prison I had been struck by a loss of faith and wondered what this whole process was about, but when I got inside the prison yard and saw the barbed wire and heard the voices of the other prisoners, I knew that this is the place I should be.  Thoreau wrote:   "Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison"  I do not claim to be an entirely just man, but I agree with this sentiment.   While I was in prison I wrote some words on active non-violence:

What is active non-violence?  

The basic principle of active non-violence (as I see it) is a conscious decision to refrain from any violence towards any living being.  This includes refraining from thinking harmful thoughts about any living being, hateful speech or action which is not grounded in unconditional compassion for everything in existence.  

What does active non-violence mean in political terms?  

In political struggles, active non-violence means refusing to harm or hate an oppressor.  It is a tactit rejection of violence as a means of bringing change and an embracing of love as a means of communicating with those acting unjustly and immorally.   

 Why follow active non-violence?  

Active non-violence is the only way to change the heart of the oppressor.  Violence has the ability to change the mind of the oppressor, for example to make them consider a change in tactics which may bring temporary security or to suspend an aggressive action in the short term, however as violence does not bring about a change in the heart of the oppressor (through engaging with the conscience) it will not lead to a permanent change in their actions and thus the oppression will continue.  By effecting the conscience of the oppressor, there is a chance of effecting a lasting change in their behaviour. Violence leaves seeds of bitterness and hatred which sprout long after it has been perpetrated and produce fruits of contention for a long time after.  If you kill someone (who has been oppressing) there is a chance of leaving anger and malice in family members and friends and a sense of resentment.  In this way, violence fuels further problems. Compassion and love can only produce compassion and love.  By having compassion for the oppressor (but not yielding to their behaviour or injustice), there is an opportunity to catalyse a process of inner searching which can lead to their changing action and behaviour.   

Does active non-violence mean doing nothing in times of oppression or violence?
The practitioner of active non-violence must be as active as possible in times of oppression or violence.  They must be prepared to sacrifice their freedom, personal security and safety in challenging immoral, oppressive, violent behaviour.  They must be prepared to endure physical violence and put their mental, physical and spiritual energy into a determined effort to refrain from responding with violence but instead to remain steadfastly non-violent in the face of oppression.  Active non-violence requires courage, determination, patience and discipline.  It should not be confused with pacifism or passive non-violence where a practitioner may do nothing in the midst of injustice all around them.  Non-violence requires more courage than violence.  Violence too requires courage and thus it is superior to cowardice as those who are cowardly and do nothing whilst oppression occurs carry out a worse crime than those who violent resist. However active non-violence is superior to both violence and cowardice as only non-violence can bring lasting peace whereas violence can only bring temporary security (at best) and cowardice simply bends to the will of oppressor.   

How can you be sure active non-violence works?  

 If you believe in the innate conscience that is within all humans, that every individual possesses a conscience, then it is possible that every individual (to varying degrees 8) is capable of listening to their conscience and acting upon this knowledge. Active non-violence works by stimulating the consciences of those who oppress us.  It's aim is to make the oppressor feel a sense of injustice through experiencing or witnessing the suffering of the practitioners of non-violence which when successful will provoke a searching of the conscience which are the first steps to a change in behaviour.  

Can you practice active non-violence?  

 If you are prepared to try and master your mind, body and spirit and try to keep your head in times of chaos.  If you are prepared to make a commitment to try to not act with violence or aggression when faced with violence and aggression.  If you can try to maintain compassion towards those who offer you none and smite you, if you can forgive them unconditionally then you are ready to attempt active non-violence.  It should be noted that active non-violence is not a tactic, nor is it something to be tried at one time and let go of at another, it is a spiritual process to be engaged in, which reflects a realisation that we are all one in spirit with no separation (despite the appearances 8).  That said, we all make mistakes ( I know I do) and participating in active non-violence does not mean that we will not make mistakes from time to time, but it does mean that when these mistakes happen to resolve not to repeat them and put effort into making sure they do not reoccur.  (Simon Moore)
- Original article on IMC London: