NS. The prison system is very dark and secretive. They do not want people knowing what is going on. Until the 80s, there was no written complaint process in prison. You had to make a petition to the Home Office. These were always turned down: nobody could get access to the outside world. The only way prisoners had to alert the outside world was to get on roofs and write on banners, just like in the Strangeways riot. People were dying in that prison. At one point, the murder rate inside the prison system was seven times higher than the outside world. The prison administrations never want to show their reports. They just tolerate you having letters and visits from your family - even while all letters are read and censored, every phone call you make is listened to and recorded. They have a police liaison officer in the prison whose sole job is to listen to taped phone calls from prisoners. For you to be heard on the outside, you have to take extreme action, otherwise nobody is going to know the truth.
One of the ideas that emerged during Strangeways riot was for prisoners to have their own national newspaper. They would write in and ask the rules. Basically, they would have an information platform where their voices could be heard. They would write letters and let people know what’s happening to them, the good and the bad. That way, people would not think the only way of getting heard was to go on a roof or to take a prison officer as a hostage. We wanted to set up something to replace that kind of action.
I was actually in prison when Inside Time started. I wrote one of the first letters, never thinking it would get published. But then, it did: we now had a voice in the outside world.
Inside Time has grown over the years, it used to be coming out quarterly with six to eight pages. Now, it is monthly and every issue roughly counts 60 pages. It goes all over the world without any campaign for dissemination. Home Office could cancel it at any time, but luckily over the years they have not. Anyone inside can write a piece and if it is relevant, it gets to the outside world. People can read it, the paper goes to other countries, to prisoners abroad, to judges, a lot of solicitors, barristers, prisoners’ families, and even to visiting rooms so prisoners’ families can pick it up and get a taste of what it’s like in prison.
This has brought a massive change. Thirty years ago, we did not have anything like that. You know, it is still very difficult today for prisoners to talk to the press, get a phone call or a visit from a journalist. When I was in prison, they refused me this many times. But now at least there is somewhere you can write to, where the people are going to publish your argument, and not judge you for it. We get a lot of contributions by sex offenders, but we do not care who writes in. If they are prisoners, they are equal as far as we are concerned. They all have the right to air their grievances or get their stories out. Some even praise the prison, they praise the courses that they like. Other than Inside Time, there are not a lot of ways that prisoners can get to the outside.