For all the rhetoric of privilege, social exclusion and marginalisation, there are few who are less privileged, more excluded or further marginalised that convicts.
I’d never wish conviction on anyone, but it has to be experienced to be believed. To have life stripped away while one’s heart is still beating is traumatic. The feeling of hopelessness is bad enough, to have no visible path to a visible future is painful, but it is that abandonment of the past that is most difficult. Its connection with the future is ruptured irreparably.
It is no wonder there’s a suicide every few days in English prisons, and an attempt every 4 hours. For my part suicide was avoided by the decision to make a film about it, Injustice.
It’s painful not to be, not to enjoy the taken-for-granteds of life such as saying, “Hi, I’m me”. Me is replaced by an act, that act is what you become. You can fight or die. I died and became a ghost.
Injustice tells the story of us ghosts, it tells the story of the irreparably damaged criminal justice system in which it is the standards of justice that are criminal.
It shines a light on the absurdity of a system in which harm is supposedly dealt with by further harm. It lifts the curtain on a system in which deprived children are punished for being poor, while the wealthy and powerful ensured that criminalisation was conceived as a weapon to batter the poor.
I was penniless, of no fixed abode and trying to work my way through a suspended prison sentence while conceiving of making a film, but how. I was alone. I’d cast off my corpse to embrace a ghostly existence. As any convict knows the only people who really get it, who accept and understand, are fellow convicts.
It was for this reason that my initial idea was to make a film by convicts, with convicts, and for convicts. And so the filming started with Gethin Jones, a wonderful man who’d spent many years in prison, and then a mate, Tommy, whose existence was a mirror image of Gethin’s.
I can’t express the hatred I had for non-convicts, the state, its functionaries, academics, talkers. Precious hypocrites. No matter the talk, there’s always something that betrays the infectious nature of bourgeois society.
Or maybe it’s just human being – in fundamental level humans conducts themselves to eject infections. It’s easy to point to us as that infection.
It wasn’t until a chance meeting with a former prison governor that the film took a turn. To saw I was shocked is an under-estimation – his take on prison was pretty much that of an abolitionist. He became the first speaker in the film, saying that after decades as a governor you learn two things – that most shouldn’t be in prison and that had it not been for circumstance, it could be you.
Then a prison inspector, then a prison guard, then campaigners, academics, all saying the same, and so the film took on a different form, with a different rhetorical value.
It was no longer the story of the suffering of prisoners, but now a fully fledged weapon against the criminal justice system that simply cannot be refuted.
So far it has screened the length and breadth of the UK, with audiences unable to object. In fact, the only thing that could pass as a criticism is “why not more.”
Well I’m not one to shy away from critique, which is why work is now under way on the follow up, on women and the prison system. And the films won’t stop coming until the whole rotten system is pulled down.