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New Letter from Anarchist Prisoner Emma Sheppard

Bristol ABC | 04.04.2015 19:29 | Policing | Repression | Social Struggles

Prisons do not work for anyone – except those who profit from them.

Last 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, may 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:

Bristol ABC
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Hide the following 4 comments


07.04.2015 11:39

Crime 'isolates, separates and destroys lives.'


Prison and crime

07.04.2015 16:53

Isn't prison is our response to what we define as crime?
Interesting the wiki on prisoner abuse too, and what about Citizen abuse, the fabrication of multi-nation narratives in response to what they define as thought crime?
Brigade 77 etc


a trite simplistic response

16.04.2015 17:48

from you to a considered letter.

to Debs

there are other reasons for prisons

28.04.2015 16:49

Its strange - as I always thought of prison's main goal was to protect innocent members of the public from criminals, rather than rehabilitation.

For example, suppose we have a serial rapist. If you are locked up in prison, that means that women will be safer walking the streets at night. Presumably, there is a good chance that "one less rape" will happen because that criminal is locked up. By all means, rehabilitate. By the priority should be to protect the public (after all, that is what i pay my taxes for).

Secondly, the other main aspect of prison is a deterrent. For instance, I would quite like to rob a bank because I would have lots of money. However, I don't because I really really dont want to risk going to prison. It sounds a miserable place. Therefore, I ensure my behaviour will not make me commit the crime. The fact that some people don't work out this lesson BEFOREHAND is inevitable. However, the majority of us do.

I would put rehabilitation last. Protecting the innocent public and making a deterrent should always be the priority. To achieve the latter, prison has to be a miserable place. In fact, I would say it needs to be a lot more miserable. The more miserable it is - the higher the probablity people dont commit crime (as it becomes "not worth the risk", so the less crime. The less crime, means less prisons.

Im sure all prisoners will safe that it is "unfair" (i know i would). But, you can allow prisoners to run the shop! It just doesnt make sense