Fist hand accounts of a massive work strike that involved 250 prisoners over several days. Originally sent to the Anarchist Black Cross
On the 13th of November this year (1995), prisoners at the high security dispersal prison Full Sutton, near York, went on a work strike. It is difficult to get accurate information about numbers, but one estimate reckons on 250 cons refusing to work. In a prison, tough places to organise and communicate and especially, Full Sutton, top security, and traditionally quick to crush resistance, this is a massive show of collective strength. Four of Full Sutton's six wings, ie all those not set aside for sex offenders, participated in the strike. The protest started on 'E' Wing. The strike lasted for at least three days, and was ended by the authorities sending in the MUFTI squad, screws tooled up in riot gear, to break it up. This resulted in some clashes with cons: labelled as a 'riot' by the press if it was mentioned at all. Some (anywhere between 20 and 60) inmates were moved to other jails .The protest was mainly against the new 'Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme', introduced into Full Sutton and the rest of the system at the start of November, as well as anger over a series of restrictions imposed on cons there over the previous months, including restrictions on use of phones, on the amount of property inmates were allowed to keep, and a ban on them having property handed in by relatives and friends.
THE INCENTIVES SCHEME
The Circular instruction to governors setting out the terms of the Incentives Scheme is full of jargon and buzzwords, like 'incentive-based accomodation units', and suchlike. But it is clear from reading it that the scheme is aimed at increasing the pressure on prisoners to conform. It adds another level of control in prisons, to the Prison Rules and governor's Discretionary powers . These already allow for prisoners to be 'punished' for virtually anything, at the whim of a screw and the inevitable agreement oftheir superiors, or to0 have privilleges removed for 'security or discipline reasons' when there's no rules they can get you under. The Incentive Scheme is to add more weight to the powers used against prisoners. Ludicrously, the instruction tries to divorce loss of privillegs from punishment:
' The loss of an earned privillege...should be seen as a normal conequence of a general deterioration in behaviour and/or performance. It should not be associated with guilt or punishment.' It is hard to see how prisoners can fail to see it as punishment.
The Scheme makes things previously regarded as rights - specifically visits, access to private cash, association time, wearing your own clothes instead of prison uniform, community visits (eg home leave) - into privilleges to be earned. A three tier system based on behaviour means that prisoners could lose access to these things for not fitting in with what the jail authorities see as acting unco-operatively, or gain more if they play the game the prison's way. Prisoners are to be graded as to behaviour, put in separate areas with different access to 'facilities'. The scheme's aim was to encourage them to knuckle down and play by prison rules to earn better treatment. Work for it by obeying and not kicking up a fuss about the boredom, the frustration, violence, isolation, petty rules, harassment, Carrot and stick, the old chestnut, with an unhealthy dose of divide and rule to make people resent each other. Obviously to restrict prisoners' contacts with families and friends is a blow, and to put prisoners on different levels of pay is intended to create divisions and tension.
WE'RE NOT PLAYING
But the prisoners in Full Sutton are clearly not daft. They could see that to take away what little they had, and tell them they have to grovel to get a bit of it back, is to take the piss. In the face of the prison authorities telling them the only way to get ahead is to work hard and not cause trouble, they refused to be taken for a ride and stuck together. More power to them. One of the lessons of the 1990 Strangeways revolt is that if prisoners stick together, fight back, they can win some concessions out of the system at the very least.
Currently prisoners are faced with a growing trend in the reversal of some positive changes introduced as a result of the 1990 uprisings. The aim is to reduce prisoners' rights, isolate them more from people on the outside, reduce the chance of collective action between prisoners, scapegoat them. Well as the Full Sutton strike has shown, if you push people enough they'll do exactly what you are trying to prevent: fight back. In this bulletin we've printed some accounts of the strike, the reasons for it and the authorities' response. Anyone who reads this, and has more information, we urge them to write to us.
PLEASE NOTE: The accounts are anonymous because we have not confirmed with the prisoners concerned whether we can use their names, although we have been asked to send this information out as wideky as possible.
ACCOUNT 1: 'a peaceful demonstration against whatever grievances people had...'
'First of all let me take you back to 1990, just before the riot at Strangeways. The government was then preparing plans to introduce new security measures, incentive schemes etc; however because of the Strangeways riot these plans were put off, Nice one lads, and ever since the government have been looking for ways to re-introduce their ideas for a better prison security procedure, in order to pointscore for the Conservative Party to use as propaganda in the general elections. Well Parkhurst and Whitemoor escapes happened and have a guess what happens, all kinds of unnecessary things start to happen......So they decided to use Full Sutton, as we said after careful preparation, as a testing ground for the new measures and schemes. Proof of the confidence of the screws' ability to conquer any retaliation was shown in the sudden change in attitude of the screws towards the cons, sarcastic, petty, even arrogant attitudes became the norm, myself being subject to blatant theft of £10 by one of the screws. Anyway the establishment has their excuse, and it started by introducing new procedures for strip-searching cons before a spin (cell search), then strip search and told to wait outside the cell, with the door closed, while the screws searched the cell. Then it moved onto being stripped and put into another cell (locked in) while the burglars (screws searching cell, Ed's note) spun ya cell, so in the event of a screw planting this and that, too bad, guilty on adjudication. Anyway that then moved onto screws being able to search ya pad while ya were at work or whatever...
Confident because this didn't stir up trouble, they, or the establishment , moved onto the next phase, that being the censorship of all prisoners mail, which is contrary to the European Court of Human rights, Article 6-8 I believe, still no trouble from the cons. Then they decided to stop us having things sent or handed in to us from friends or relatives, and that meant everything to be stopped, not only everyday nick-nacks, but Xmas and birthday pressies, everything we needed or wanted we had to get the cash sent in to private cash and then we had to buy it through the canteen. Which is a scandal in itself, seems as if prison canteens are not supposed to make a profit according to some law or other. No pressies from people, BOOOH. Anyway, still no trouble, so onto next stage of Operation Indignity, under the guise of 'Volumetric Control', whereby all your personal belongings had to fit in to two boxes. This is a dispersal prison, where prisoners are doing, and have done, a long time, so no possessions have accumulated over the years and cons have got used to having them, so to take them away now because they won't fit into two boxes (which is what happened) is a total wind-up especially for lifers who have no relatives to give the excess possessions to because storage space in the prison was limited. Still it makes less for the burglars to look through when a spin came about, therefore leaving more time for detailed searching. I believe Full Sutton now has what it calls a Dedicated Search-Team, 'You WHAT?' Comprising a group of mugs specifically trained in searching a room 12' x 8' one of which is a meathead with more brawn than brain (who I'd love to meet on the out). Volumetric Control came, happened and went, and still no trouble. Then they decided to take away chip pans because a screw got burnt with hot oil, (after being warned), hot water will be next, but that was as far as we could make out, not on the agenda of Operation Inhumane, oops, Operation Indignity, still it all feels the same. Next to come which was on the agenda was the INCENTIVES SCHEME, this is a laugh...a three tier scheme that has categorised the prisoner into BASIC performance, STANDARD performance, and ENHANCED performance, where basic can spend £2.50 private cash, standard can spend £10, and enhanced can spend £15, depending on you're willing to work, no work no pay, simple as that. Call it paranoia but we still think this scheme was used to manipulate a situation to divide and conquer as well as cause tension directed at the screws. Well now they are getting what they wanted the cons are starting to react to all the shit they've been getting and the governors are rubbing their hands loving it all. At this stage I have to input something else, bearing in mind all the pressure and attitudes towards the cons was happening on E Wing, E Wing being on observation wing were they could still saw their way through the gates in the event of barricading, and being an observation wing there is no blind spots in which to attack screws, undetected, they knew before 'the incident', the incident was not going to last long, but the propaganda would be priceless to the government and POA morale. Anyway as I said the governors were rubbing their hands in anticipation, but the incentive scheme tension was to no avail, because the cons were not as daft as the establishment would believe, and knew they were after a riot. A few weeks went by then the prison governor decides to 'stop the drug- dealers using phone cards as currency', bullshit, the government are out to profile all our friends and family and in order to find out who we contact by phone. They bring in a PIN number system which is designed for everybody to hand over all our phone numbers and personal details of everybody we phone, names and addresses etc, to the prison so they can put them on computer, so when we want to phone mummy, the wife etc, we punch in our designated PIN number and the computer tells us if we can use that number or not, whether or not that particular number has been passed by security, then placed on computer. If not as I said before tough shit, you then have to wait three more months before you can have a new number added to your list of phone numbers on computer.
Now the cons decided to take action, but knowing a riot would be playing into their hands and would be squashed before it started on an observation wing, a strike is decided upon as a peaceful demonstration against whatever grievances people had. There are 6 wings in Full Sutton, excluding the block. Two are nonce wings so they don't count, altogether four wings were on strike; obviously costing the prison a lot of money as the production workshops were closed and the kitchens had to employ staff to replace workers on strike, which will also explain why they were upset enough to cause a situation and send the riot squad in after two and a half days' strike. Monday the 13th came and the strike solidarity was good, Tuesday same again good going, Wednesday morning same again, except Wednesday is pay day for E wing. The governors in a desperate bid to break the strike decided to tell everyone no work, no canteen,which means no tobacco,phone cards etc. (the PIN number system not starting on E wing till December). Which means the establishment had finally found something to take the demonstration out of a peaceful mode and into a violent mode, but it didn't happen like that; the cons on E wing decided not to bang up until pay was resumed as normal. Come Wednesday tea time the governor had had enough of this so the riot squad were called in. They were on standby anyway, which was costing money in overtime, and one was overheard saying his adrenalin was going. So they sent them onto the wing knowing this trouble would escalate to other wings later and would therefore get the strike over with sooner and get the prison back to saving money and not costing it. Proof of them being financially hurt and wanting the strike over has got to come from the fact that the trouble was on E wing but they still moved supposedly major ring-leaders from other wings at the same time as those on E wing, so economical sabotage wins again. However upon press involvement the situation was said to be over a problem with overcrowding in prisons, such a statement has got all the hallmarks of a government riddled with lies and corruption. On summary a lot of the schemes introduced also bore the signs of the Prison Service's involvement as well. Look for instance at the Woodcock Report and the way it was manipulated to save the screws a lot of work, i.e.. reception procedures when having items handing in, if you're not allowed to have stuff handed in there is no reception procedure, the subject of volumetric control was manipulated by screws to save them work searching. The whole subject is deeper than seen on the surface, the establishment now want cons to submit to COMPULSORY RANDOM DRUG TESTING, which involves pissing in a bottle, isn't piss a good substance for a DNA profiling?'
ACCOUNT 2: 'we must take the action ourselves, no matter what the cost...'
'On Monday 13-11-95, prisoners at Full Sutton went on strike in protest against the new 'incentive scheme' introduced at Full Sutton. On the first day of the strike everything was calm, we got our meals and banged up; the same on Tuesday.
On Wednesday 15th we were told that we wouldn't be receiving the pay that was owed to us for the work we had done the previous week unless we went to work.We knew this was a ploy by the prison authorities to try and break the strike, but it didn't work. none of us went to work.
It was brought to our attention that some inmates had been paid the previous evening despite them being involved in the strike. Because of this information we requested and saw one of the prison governors. It was put to him that paying some inmates who were involved in the strike and not paying the rest was discrimination. The four of us who attended the meeting were told that it would be looked into.
Because it had been decided not to pay us the money we had worked for we decided to have a meeting. It was decided at the meeting that we would refuse to bang up until we received our wages. Nobody banged up after breakfast nor after dinner.
Some time during the afternoon all the screws were removed from the landings, The reason for this was they felt threatened. We assured the Governor that no harm would come to the screws. We asked if it was true about riot squads being on stand-by ready to storm the wing, he told us that this wasn't true.
The screws returned to the landings, and everything was calm. After tea was served at 5pm, the screws again left the landings. This time the double doors and gates were locked upstairs and downstairs.
At this stage we knew that something was about to happen and sure enough it did. We noticed at least a hundred riot squad appear behind the locked doors and gates and the same number on the bottom landing. We couldn't understand the need for this after all this was a peaceful protest. The riot squads came onto the upper and lower landings and took out anybody who was on the landings. We didn't have a chance. 17 of us managed to get into a cell and wedge the door before they reached us. They were creaming and shouting at us about what would happen to us in the next ten seconds if we didn't let them open the cell door. We refused because we were all aware what WOULD happen to us if we DID let them in. They did try to take the door off but for some reason they couldn't do it.
After we had been in the cell about half an hour we had a vote and it was decided that we would come out if a governor and a doctor was present; this was arranged.
When we opened the door they covered the entrance with shields and ordered us to come out one at a time. As each of us left we were made to face the wall with our hands above our heads; we were then searched and handcuffed behind our backs. As each of us left the wing on our way to the Seg. Unit, a Security screw was filming us, this happened again at the entrance leading into the Seg. unit. We were placed in cells still cuffed and ordered to kneel down and face the wall.
Throughout the night they started shipping us out. When each one of us reached reception we were filmed yet again.
6 of us ended up at the Wolds, which is run by Group 4. The reason given for our move was that we had been identified as major ringleaders of a demonstration designed to disrupt the new incentive scheme at HMP Full Sutton.
The day after arriving we received charges that some of us refused an order to return to our cells; some received attempted assault charges. I don't know where the rest of the lads went but I've heard alot got moved out.
When we appeared before the governor our cases were adjourned for police enquiries.
The Board of Visitors placed us all on GOAD till the first of December, I expect that will be renewed for another couple of weeks.
The inmates didn't start the riot. The person or persons who ordered the riot squads in started it. They must have wanted the riot and it now seems we are gonna have to pay for it.
We all feel that when and if we return to Full Sutton we will be subjected to violence because 5 screws had to have hospital treatment. I've seen alot of violence dished out at Full Sutton, there has been investigations into violence carried out by the police but nothing, as ever, came of it. Well it's about time something was done. If the authorities refuse to look after the interest of prisoners then we must take the action ourselves no matter what it costs us at the end of the day.'
ACCOUNT 3: 'a burning sense of injustice...'
'On Wednesday 15th November, a serious altercation took place on this wing, in which at least four people were injured after a peaceful demonstration became confrontational an MUFTI and some inmates were involved in violent clashes.
In recent months there have been a number of oppressive measures vigorously and swiftly enforced, which have left many inmates with a burning sense of injustice due to the sheer one-sided nature in which they have been implemented. This has culminated in the prisoners here taking strike action, which led directly to yesterday's incident here on E-Wing.
At present the whole prison remains in a state of tension and fear that further troubles may ensue. i have to live here ands I can assure you that being in a calm environment with some privileges and rights is still a severe hardship. to have to live in an atmosphere that has in recent months bred hatred and animosity among so many people just seems barbaric and has a detrimental affect on both inmates and staff.
I am writing in the hope that something can be done to change this present climate. Not only are these changes too much too soon, but there is not a prisoner left in this jail who is under any other illusion than that they are here FOR punishment and not AS a punishment.
I enclose correspondence relating to two separate issues which have caused much ill-feeling among the prison population because it has taken away basic human rights relating to an appellants needs to communicate with their defence, and further proposals recently introduced which make contacts with one's family in the category of privileges to be earned, with some prisoners being allowed more visits than others.
The Request and Complaint form concerns the almost complete removal of phonecall facilities for appellants to communicate adequately with their solicitors. This has been replaced by an ambiguous ruling which states that only such calls can be made in matters of urgency. This leaves it to the sole discretion of a prison officer to define what is urgent. The likelihood of obtaining such a call often depends on the personality of the officer who is on duty, and not on the merits of the inmate's appeal. A blanket refusal is often the response, 'Your situation does not match the criteria for a call - write a letter instead.' This response has been given to prisoners who do have appeals pending and need very much to communicate with their solicitors.
Recently an appellant serving 24 years was told to write a letter instead. he did so, but the response from his solicitor was in the prison for over two weeks before he received it. this resulted in a breakdown of communication due to this delay, and vital issues which he wished to resolve through liaison with his Defence were not addressed. he felt very aggrieved over this and blamed the prison for creating the problem. I believe he has been shipped out over the disturbance. His appeal is imminent.
Since the prison response to my request/Complaint form, I have had to use the pay-phone here to communicate properly with my solicitor at the expense of contact with my family. This is despite having read that the prison Service is implementing the Woolf and Woodcock Recommendations simultaneously, so that an austere but fair and humane system is in operation. This is not happening, and basic human rights for ALL appellants to have adequate communication with their legal advisors are being abused.
Also enclosed is a circular outlining proposals regarding a new pay system that is in operation. it has caused enormous feelings of resentment among some inmates, particularly many of those who have been placed on standard and basic levels and cannot understand why. The blur between standard and enhanced levels is causing particular problems, with many who have always been well-behaved and worked receiving less contact with their families through less visits and less phone contacts than other inmates who have been placed on enhanced. this is a divisive means of trying to ensure that the prison runs smoothly, which was a major factor in both the protest and the disturbance. With the onus now so much on punishment and taking almost all pay and no contact with children if you are basic and standard levels, it seems a major step backwards in terms of trying to make this prison a positive and calm environment. '
FULL SUTTON: full of shit
Full Sutton Prison, near York, is a maximum security dispersal jail - in other words it holds prisoners serving long sentences, many of whom are Category 'A', considered to be dangerous, violent or likely to try to escape. The 'dispersal system' consists of several such prisons; some of the more recent ones, like Full Sutton, have been purpose-built in the last couple of decades to attempt to design more effective and efficient ways of controlling and isolating prisoners. Long-term prisoners, facing long years inside, many already used to using violence, many from brutalised or institutionalised backgrounds, often have very little to lose by resisting the conscious inhumanity and brutality with which they are treated in most prisons. On top of this a prisoner can be sent to a dispersal jail hundreds of miles away from their family, friends, and community, which breaks much of the human contact and support that keeps a prisoner going. For complaining, or speaking out, or for breaking one of the numberless prison rules, or for nothing at all, a prisoner can be dragged down the segregation unit ('the block'), and beaten up, stripped, left to survive any number of days or weeks in isolation....Or they can be moved, at a moment's notice, to another dispersal prison, miles away again, often losing much of any property they have gathered, smashed or stolen by screws. Any prisoner who consciously resists the brutality of prison life, or fights back against the screw's violence, or tries to publicise prison conditions, or tries to help other prisoners do any of the above, can expect to get this treatment constantly; the active grapevine among screws means they will be marked from the time of arrival at a prison: most such prisoners get a good hiding in reception cells and so it goes on.
Full Sutton was the scene of a sitdown protest in the recreation yard, over conditions at the jail, in Summer 1992. The protestors were locked OUT by the screws, in the hot sun, despite asking to be let back into their cells! Other prisoners passed out water and food. The sitdown was broken up by the MUFTI Squad, with the usual round of violence, and alleged ringleaders charged with Prison Mutiny: the first ever to be charged with this charge since it was brought in after the Strangeways revolt. The end result was that four were acquitted, four pleaded guilty in return for a three-month sentence, the ninth got community service! In 1994 Humberside Police started an investigation into the Segregation Unit there, after prisoner Andrzy Jakubczyk wrote a report into the brutality, suicides and unhealthy conditions there. The report detailed a number of assaults by screws on inmates, neglect that led to various suicide attempts and at least one successful suicide, as well as resistance in the form of dirty protests. The police investigation was a masterful smokescreen: many prisoners who had things to say were never interviewed, not asked the right questions, and the inquiry never led to any screws being charged over the violence there. But it put Full Sutton in the news in a small way; exposure built on by a demo outside the jail in September 1993, by relatives, friends and supporters of prisoners. A leaflet was handed out listing some of the events in the Seg. Unit and naming some of the guilty screws, to a good reaction from people going in to visit prisoners.
PIN IT ON THE PRISONERS
One recent development in the control of prisoners contact with the outside is being pioneered from December at Full Sutton. As two of the above accounts mention, prisoners there, instead of phone cards, are being given their own PIN number, which they punch into the phone, which is linked to their phone account. They can then phone, but only if the number is one of twenty numbers checked and OK-ed by the authorities; if not the phone won't work. Obviously this allows the prison to not only monitor who prisoners are talking to, but also to prevent them from talking to anyone considered unaceptable: for whatever reason. It apparently takes a great deal of time to change these numbers, so prisoners links to the outside are at the mercy of the system. This process is it seems going to spread to other jails, maybe to the whole prison system. This follows on from the recent banning of the use of phones for contacting the press or media. It's clear that what is desired is isolation of prisoners from telling the truth about what's happening inside, using outside contact to fight their case; linked in to the restrictions on legal phonecalls mentioned elsewhere, it's obvious that prisoners are to be allowed no contact with the outside world not sanctioned by their jailers.