A statement from Bristol Anarchist Black Cross on the death of trans prisoner and IWW member Taylor. Content warning – suicide (graphic), prison, violence, self harm, abuse, homophobia, transphobia.
Taylor is dead. He was pronounced dead in prison at 10.37pm on Saturday 9th July after cutting his neck. He was meant to be on suicide watch but the prison failed him. We were informed by the prison governor at 3.30am on Sunday. His cell has been sealed by police and we await news of the autopsy. We will announce news of his funeral in the coming days and weeks.
His story is one of abuse, injustice, transphobia and tragedy. It didn’t have to be this way. He was murdered by the state. His death should trigger resistance and rebellion inside and outside of prisons everywhere. We have no investment in his inquest, or that the state can deliver any kind of justice. This is a call to arms to abolitionists and anarchists all over the world.
With rage in our veins and love in our hearts, until every prison turns to ash. Taylor: you were our best guy. Our queer family will forever miss you. You will never be forgotten and the state will never be forgiven.
Who is Taylor?
Taylor was a trans prisoner trapped in the UK prison system for over 14 years. He was an IPP prisoner, who had served 10 years longer in prison than his original sentence. He was a beloved friend to anarchist comrades who met him in prison. He had ACAB on his knuckles and an anti-authoritarian spirit and a deep love for animals. He was a working class ‘old school’ prisoner who knew which side he was on. He hated the system with every ounce of his being.
Taylor was one of the first prisoner members of the IWW via the Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee (IWOC) that was founded in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland in 2015. He was also active with Smash IPP, contributing to the newsletter and encouraging other IPP prisoners to join the group.
IPP death sentence
IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection) is a type of sentencing that was introduced in 2005 and meant that people would be sentenced to an initial ‘tariff’ (minimum time that must be served) and, after that point, their release would be decided by the parole board. This means that IPP prisoners have NO definite release date.
It is effectively a life sentence for minor crimes. After huge public pressure, IPP sentences were abolished in 2012, but not retrospectively, which means there are still more than 3500 people in prison with no release date. The uncertainty is a living hell. This sentence led to the UK having one of the highest rates of prisoner suicide in the world.
At least 243 of the UK’s IPP prisoners have died in prison, 72 of them took their own lives.
For Taylor, the IPP was a death sentence. He was given 4 years for burglary but served 14 years before he died. The long-term imprisonment with no end-date totally destroyed Taylor’s mental health. He attempted suicide multiple times, including slitting his own throat and taking an overdose that led him to being in a coma twice. It eventually killed him.
No end date
The IPP works by a prisoner first serving an initial tariff, after which they have a Parole Board hearing. The Parole Board decides whether to free that prisoner, or to recommend them for ‘open’ (category D) conditions, psychiatric imprisonment or a rehab, for example. They can also decide if a prisoner must stay in prison for longer and recommend certain things, like courses for the prisoner to complete. The outside Probation Service and Offender Managers within the prison create reports that make recommendations and prisoners are also often subject to various risk assessments or psychological reports.
At each board hearing, new ‘hoops’ can be created that the prisoner will need to then jump through. For example, a prisoner might do everything the Parole Board directs and then two years later at the next hearing, the Parole Board might say “you still need to address X behaviour and therefore do X course.” This leads to a continual process of imprisonment where goal posts are repeatedly moved. The uncertainty, frustration and lack of power leads to prisoner behaviour deteriorating, whether that is increased drug use, self-harm or kicking off in protest.
This behaviour then becomes the justification for their continuing imprisonment, because that person is not ‘safe’ for the community or has not ‘addressed their offending behaviour’. The cycle continues.
We have 14 years of catalogued evidence of impossible parole hearings and prison failings. Taylors suicidality was the reason he was kept in prison, yet his suicidality was caused by prison. There is only so much one human can take. Death became the only option for Taylor as all legal doors to freedom closed again and again.
Transphobia – pathologised, hospitalised and imprisoned
Taylor gave his consent in 2018 to share more about his life story to help raise awareness of trans prisoners and what happens when the medical system pathologises trans people.
Growing up, Taylor was subject to years of physical, sexual and psychological abuse from his mother and step-father. He managed to escape and be adopted by his grandparents as an early teenager, however, he would often return to visit his family desperate for love and validation, but was met with neither. This intense pattern of trauma has followed him forever. Unfortunately, during his sentence, both his adopted parents died and as a result he lost his main support network. The grief was insurmountable and was unable to heal due to being locked in a cell and unable to visit their graves or process his grief fully. We know he is with them now.
Taylor always knew he was a man. He went to a local doctor as a young teenager and expressed his feelings and issues with his assigned gender. The doctor pathologised Taylor as ‘unstable’ and denied any access to hormones or any surgery. This was over 30 years ago and access to hormones online or other support groups was nigh on impossible. Before prison, Taylor had never met another trans person.
The combination of childhood abuse and gender dysphoria led to drug and alcohol abuse, as well as a long-term pattern of self-harm. Taylor became an addict, and as a working class person with no financial means, “crime” was the only option to sustain his habit. This led Taylor to a very self-destructive life, including many abusive relationships and actions that he deeply regretted. Taylor accessed many mental health services, however, none of them affirmed Taylor’s gender identity or needs and he was repeatedly pathologised, hospitalised and imprisoned.
In the judges’ summing up of his case whereby he was given an IPP sentence, he recognised it was Taylor’s ‘gender issues’ that led to his imprisonment.
Taylor experienced transphobic abuse in prison from officers and other prisoners. Once he was attacked by a girl on his wing in a courtyard. Thankfully, our Taylor was a fighter and defended himself. He spat back on her and said “here’s some of my gender fluid”.
Officers throughout his sentence would target him with insults, deadnaming and repeated misgendering. In HMP Eastwood Park Officer Lorde deadnamed him repeatedly in order to ‘wind him up’ and try to provoke him into acting out and therefore sabotage his parole.
When admitted to a psychiatric hospital after a spate of suicide attempts, Taylor was assigned a psychiatrist. During sessions, Taylor was repeatedly dehumanised and encouraged to see himself as a woman. They said that relationships were a core part of his ‘offending behaviour’ and discouraged him from being with women or in relationships at all. During this intense time of vulnerability, Taylor believed the only way to ever be released from prison was to pretend to be a woman and to not have romantic relationships with women.
Fortunately, once he had left the hospital and stopped having sessions he realised what a horrific transphobic act of institutional violence this was. One that trans people worldwide have experienced, pathologised by psychiatric authorities.
Taylor was blown away by letters and cards he received from the trans community. Despite the prison’s best efforts to stop him obtaining a binder, including claiming they didn’t recognise if the binders sent in were “for the top or for the bottom” and refusing to issue them, he eventually experienced the euphoria of making his chest align more closely with his gender. He would speak with excitement about getting top surgery when he was out and running around half-naked on the beach and swimming in the sea. Now he will never have the chance.
Homophobia in prison
Relationships were constantly considered a ‘risk factor’ for Taylor and his attraction to women was ongoingly pathologised and criminalised in prison. Over the 14 years he was behind bars, he had been separated from many people he had loved. Including one long term relationship that lasted over 6 years whereby he was violently separated from them and the prison service intentionally kept them apart, never allowing them to meet until recent years.
In prison, physical relationships are met with punishment – you can be given an IEP (enough of which lead you to basic or full segregation). This happened many times throughout Taylor’s sentence. The constant policing by officers and separation between him and people he cared about also contributed to destroying Taylor’s will to live.
Should Taylor have obtained parole at his next hearing, one condition was that he refrained from all romantic and intimate relationships. His own lawyer said he would need to comply, although we all known that closeness to other humans is a deeply necessary part of survival. We often spoke with Taylor about how the state was acting like an abusive controlling partner. He felt powerless to challenge it.
In the last week of his life, Taylor was nicked for kissing another prisoner. This was one of the trigger events that led to his death.
HMP Eastwood Park hell hole
HMP Eastwood Park is a ‘women’s prison’ in Gloucestershire, not far from Bristol. Horror emerges from its wall regularly – 3 prisoners have died there within the last month. One woman, Kayleigh, died two days before Taylor on the same wing.
People get violently attacked by officers regularly and sexual abuse is prevelant. On a recent visit with Taylor he shared how women had been forced to give oral sex to officers in exchange for drugs being brought from outside.
Taylor was so close to freedom and HMP Eastwood Park took it all away. What triggered Taylor’s latest spiral of suicide attempts was completely preventable. He had finally been getting his ROTLs (release on temporary license) whereby he could leave the prison for a day with an officer as a way of ‘working towards release’ and demonstrating to the parole board that he was ‘safe’.
On the 20th May, Taylor was in Cabot Circus in Bristol, when the Officer responsible for supervising him abandoned him. Taylor tried to find her, but he was unable to. He had no phone or way of finding her despite looking continuously around the city. Taylor managed to report it to the prison. Instead of taking responsibility for losing Taylor, the officer who escorted Taylor into Bristol lied and claimed he went missing for a number of hours on purpose.
Taylor became angry and pushed over a plant in reception. Prison Officers then attacked him. They kicked the shit into him and dragged him to a new cell with none of his belongings. We saw Taylor days after and could see bruises all over him. Taylor was awaiting surgery for a hernia and being ‘bent up’ by officers was a life-threatening act of violence.
An action alert was launched that 544 people sent to the prison warning them that Taylor’s loved ones are seriously worried about his wellbeing and that this abusive treatment is only going to exacerbate his serious mental and physical health conditions after years of incarceration. This incident triggered the three suicide attempts and the final one that killed him. What if thousands had taken part in the action alert? How could we have MADE Eastwood Park take notice? These are the questions that will always haunt us.
Everything about Taylor’s life was shaped by class. We do not want this to be erased. It is not rich people who use drugs who end up in prison. It is poor people oppressed by our economic system who end up in prison, and they stay there to keep a class-stratified society in existence.
Lessons for our movements
“The state is permanent violence” – Errico Malatesta
We write ‘our movements’ but we don’t always know who ‘our’ are. We want to acknowledge there were a small number of amazing close friends and comrades in our networks who supported us over the years. You know who you are <3 Who were on the end of the phone after harrowing visits, or who completed action alerts that we posted online. Who sent cards to Taylor and who came to noise demos.
But mostly, we felt alone. Taylor was alone. Comrades went through years of hell and more often than not had to beg for support. One person supported Taylor for 13 years, 9 of which were almost completely alone despite her best efforts to bring up his case in groups and write about him online. Some anarchist websites would not share our action alerts or calls for support because Taylor was not a ‘political prisoner’. Even though an understanding of class and gender oppression is a core of anarchism.
Taylor’s death could have been prevented. If there was more support, more resistance. If our movements were a fucking threat. If prison authorities feared us and our calls to action. We need to fight like hell for the living. We need to fight like hell for those still inside.
Abolition means prisoner support
Abolition became flavour of the week for a short time. Yet the unsexy and unglamorous work of prisoner phone calls, visits, action alerts, relentless fundraising etc does not attract many people. We were told we did this work ‘unsustainably’ yet no practical support to take the load from our shoulders was given. We refuse to abandon our friends in prison.
Yes, a diversity of tactics is needed. But this can’t be used as an excuse not to engage with the unglamorous work where getting a transfer to a prison with marginally less white supremacist screws – that reduce your loved ones chances of racist attacks – takes a year and is as good as it gets.
What would have helped prevent Taylor’s death? People writing to Taylor and building trust with him so that he had a more expanded circle of friends. Help travelling for visits. Legal advice and support for his parole paperwork. People helping with and sharing our action alerts. People offering counselling or support for the ongoing traumatic stress (or even fucking acknowledging how much this was for us). People coming on demos where we called for support (and us not being humiliated begging people to show up). People with privilege accessing their networks to help get Taylor out (media work, legal work etc). Giving money to his top surgery crowdfunder and for visits costs. Trans prisoner letter writing events. Helping host info nights for Smash IPP or IWOC. Doing banner drops. Re-posting our statements and graphics.
We needed everyone’s rage. We needed to not feel alone. We wanted to feel solidarity in practice. We wanted people to understand that abolition means prisoner support. That this should be a huge part of the movement and that keeping our friends alive in prison is part of resistance.
We need people to recognise that prisoners are not projects. They are not ‘casework’. They are not a fascinating object of study to write your Masters dissertation about. They are not the same as organising a bookfair or running a campaign. They are human beings and the stakes are fucking life or death. People need consistency. They need care and friendship. They need to be treated like fucking human beings. Taylor loved us not because we are anarchists but because we are his fucking friends. We are his family. Because we love him with passion and kindness for who he is and not because he is a prisoner.
Abolition means revolution. No more fucking reading groups. Where is your rage?
Nothing can describe the feeling when you receive another phone call saying your friend has been airlifted out of prison in a helicopter because he has sliced open his own neck because he cannot take the abuse in prison anymore. The rage against the prison systems moves through your veins. You want to destroy the whole world. But you turn to your comrades and where are they?
Somehow, it feels like even amongst prison abolitionists, the violence taking place within prisons themselves is so often ignored and prisoners are forgotten, erased, patronised and tokenised. Yes, abolition requires us to burn down the whole state, the borders, the education system. As well as not instead of prisons. The state disappears people so we have to work twice as hard to ensure people are not erased.
Our loved ones are tortured and the response is starting reading groups about abolition. Writing statements for the transphobic Guardian. We would get told time after time people don’t have ‘the capacity’ to do a demo right now. We cope with the silence of signal group chats when we ask for support. Where is your fucking rage?????? Why are we not burning these places to the fucking ground? The ‘abolitionist movement’ in the UK is passive and docile. It is not angry enough. You cannot learn about abolition just from a book. Learn from prisoners, learn from loved ones of people in prison. There are fucking thousands of us, ask anyone their experiences and you will hear stories of neglect, abuse and violence. That is enough motivation to fight.
Revolutionary abolitionists in the so-called United States would risk death to liberate people from slave plantations. They started the Underground Railroad to free their families and comrades. Where is the direct action to free our friends from cages? Where is the rage when they die inside? How do we push our movements beyond canvassing for fucking jeremy corbyn????
Abolition means revolution. It means destroying the state. It means direct action. It means putting the war into class war.
We know Taylor was one of millions of people around the world kept in a cage. We know thousands of people are murdered by the state in wars – like in the invasion of Ukraine. We know the state kills people on it’s borders, in detention centres, in prisons, in psychiatric hospitals. We know it’s those harmed by white supremacy, ableism, poverty and transphobia who face the sharpest end of this violence. Every single incarcerated person is a political prisoner.
The inquest and the Prison and Probation Ombudsman’s report will not achieve ‘justice’. Prisons are working exactly as they are designed to. This horror is no accident. It is intentional.
Pools of Taylor’s blood covered his cell where he died alone. His blood covered the hands of HMP and they will face no repercussions. Unless we make them.
We call for rage everywhere. Remember Taylor. Fight with everything you have for those still in prison. No more empty slogans, this is a life and death struggle.
We call on comrades to honour Taylor in every way they know how.
Against prisons, against the state. For friendship, for freedom, for revolution.