Bang-up and Smash (BUS) is an overview of women’s prisons in the UK, and a political analysis of their physical and ideological construction. The project began in jail. I was trying to think of ways to kill a bit of ‘bang-up’ and someone suggested making a zine, so I started collecting articles, random quotes and interviewing my mates.
I never meant to write a book, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the input from many others (thank you comrades). Any money raised from the project is for those still behind bars. My experiences are only important as illustrations of the realities of prison life and as examples of the ways that the prison industrial complex exerts itself on those inside and out. Personal anecdotes and random observations are only included in BUS in an attempt to demystify life in an institution.
I was talking to someone today who has a family member in jail on an ‘indeterminate life sentence’. They said that whatever your views on prison, the reality is, when you imprison someone, you are impacting their whole family and support network. One of the aims of BUS is to show what to expect from this process, from the moment of arrest to coming home, and to provide practical tools for everyone impacted by incarceration, not just those inside.
Very little has been written about women’s prisons, especially in the UK, and most discourse is either patronising and gendered or detached and academic. The book aims to break with this, and put an anarchist critique at the heart of the discussion around prison. Jail and the prison society is pervasive in our culture, yet these institutions (and those that feed them) remain shrouded in mystery for many people.
BUS aims to help people be prepared for prison. Don’t get caught! But if you think you might, why not read up first? BUS includes practical information connected to everyday life in jail, legal analysis and different ways to access support, with a critical analysis of concepts that the prison industrial complex is dependent on, such as prison labour, racism, rehabilitation and reform. It also outlines the different forms of discrimination inherent within the prison system, and the technologies used to control its inhabitants.
Part Two is a detailed overview of the procedures and powers that are used in an attempt to control those released on licence (or parole), and provides an insight into the practical issues individuals should expect when they are released. These processes are concrete examples of how pervasive the prison society is, even outside of prison. The book also shows the relentless expansion of the prison-industrial-complex.
BUS aims to critique a lot of discourse around prisons, including many concepts that anarchists have traditionally rallied around – for example, abolition, the category of ‘political prisoners’, and so-called community responses. It is an uncompromising (and, probably, sometimes clumsy) attempt to provoke discussion and problematise various concepts relating to prison. One of the aims was to make it accessible, whilst containing a lot of practical information, and readers are free to reproduce and share any sections they like.
The wheels of justice and bureaucracy move slowly, but also replicate and reinvent themselves at a fast pace. Legislation and governing bodies are constantly changing. There have been numerous deaths in custody since I finished writing, as well as plans for expansions, and the smoking ban is now being enforced in several women’s prisons. The written form is fixed, so some stuff in BUS will get out-dated pretty quickly. But the everyday realities of prison-life are ongoing, and the daily grind often remains unchanged for long periods of time. I can only speak from my own experiences, which will always be subjective and limited, but hopefully they are at least a sketch or snapshot of the prison system, a window into life behind the bars.
Good time for doing time?
“I would not give up all the bitterness that you bring me for all the mediocre sweetness in the world.” Renzo Novatore, The Howl of Dynamite, 1919
“Life’s like a bed of roses, you take the thorns and you make do. Sometimes you have to hurt for the cause to be reached, but one day you’ll be stronger, than all that you beat.” Angel Haze, Battle Cry
In the last two years the country has become full of Corbyn-acolytes. It is both sad, and enraging, how many people have been brought-in by the lies of Labour. This is a dangerous game, and even though I mourn my anonymity and am constantly frustrated by the increased attention I get from the state, I am glad that my sentence has fuelled the fire in my belly, and the contempt I feel for anyone in power.
“It is disgraceful that when the police are more vital than ever to keeping people safe, their numbers are being reduced.” Jeremy Corbyn, 2016
Corbyn has repeatedly criticised the Tory government for its lack of support for the filth and it’s cuts to the police force. In May 2017 as part of the campaign trail, he vowed to put 10,000 more coppers on the streets if elected. As recently as mid-September 2017 he asked Theresa May to promise that no more cuts would be made to the police force. It is also worth noting that while Labour has historically been against the increased privatisation of the prison estate, the current wave of prison expansion was drawn up under so-called New Labour. All governments are dependent on prison.
Prison is a war on the working class. BUS highlights the way that the prison industrial complex extends beyond cells and razor wire, and how the tools of these institutions and their apparatus are used to control working class people. Bail hostels and probation are examples of these processes, the end of the road in a protracted car crash of institutional control. As the divide between rich and poor increases, and the dependency on cheap labour grows, the prison estate continues in its relentless expansion. The news is full of stories of overcrowding, and this will continue whichever politician is in power.
“Terrorism: The use or threat of action where the use or threat is designed to influence the government…or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and…the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious [racial] or ideological cause.” Terrorism Act 2000
We live in strange times. Surveillance is increasing every day, and legislation around extremism is used as a rationale for increasingly invasive judicial procedures. The lengthy, farcical definition of terrorism used by the government attempts to shut down all forms of dissent. Let them flex their muscles and try to scaremonger – solidarity means aggression. Solidarity means attack.
To all those rejecting authority, inside and out: solidarity.
ASBO is a former prisoner and the author of Bang Up and Smash (Active Distribution). They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustration: Cat Simms
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