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The Prison Print-Finisher

Andrew Flack had been sentenced to 15 years for an alleged marital sexual assault. One of the consequences of this was parental alienation from his two children and a seemingly endless process of only occasionally granted appeals, as he maintained his innocence.

From his cell on the top floor of HMP Brougham, Drew had discovered that legal dominance activists were fixated on removing every obstacle between complainant and conviction for people in his position, ensuring that less and less evidence was needed to convict. Then appeals would not be granted on not having 'new evidence'.

Keeping up with the mainstream TV channels (the only ones allowed) and ordering in The Times every day, Drew had worked out that the reason behind the 65,000 dropped rape allegations per year was the redefining of the term from an act of violence to 'lack of consent'. On one hand, probation had a battalion of activists essentially implying pcosos (people convicted of sexual offences) should be unpersonned forever; on the other, was the rehabilitation industry, calling on the public to 'be kind'.

In prison, social class was as divisive as anywhere else in Britain, but even more so as the traditional working class/precariat elements of society had found their territory being invaded by more middle class-seeming pcosos. While he constantly expected some kind of magical release, he had also learned that the Convictions Ceiling was ever-present, that it would be hard for him to go back to his graphic design/painting and decorating business, due to a probable tapestry of licence conditions.

He would occasionally get into heated discussions at his work in the prison print shop over class, moral equivalence and maintaining innocence, as the received wisdom was that only pcosos 'denied their offending'. Flack would point out that he saw little moral difference between someone keeping prohibited images either due to a porn addiction or to an extension of existing gangsterism/black market trade, selling heroin to teenagers or a fiercely contested allegation of spousal sexual assault. Pointing this out was a threat to the status quo however; the authorities knew this, and everything thus continued in somewhat antipathetic – if temporary - silence.

In the dining hall he would point out the necessity for 'a working class white boys' revolt' to his fellow diners, they more interested in fishing plasters out of their faggot gravy and complaining how the food wasn't as good as their wives made it back home. The hierarchy of sexual offence allegations was a new taboo inside and out, with the still-untried-but-dead DJ Jimmy Savile at the top, the case of ex-stripper and cab driver John Worboys somewhere in the middle and Rolf Harris at the bottom. These talismen of relabelled depravity were the famous beacons of scores of thousands of similarly convicted men across Britain, some maintaining innocence, some not.

Drew had been released half way through his sentence, as was standard, which Judges knew and so would sentence accordingly. His attempts to return to his pre-trial graphic design work had been met with orders to disclose his conviction, whether the employer had asked at interview or otherwise. Applications to painting and decorating and kitchen porter jobs – his student days income – met with the same fate.

He became demoralised, and started to spend his prison savings on alcohol, having hit the brick wall of optimism so familiar to Catch-22'd prison leavers. One night while having a cigarette in his local pub's garden he was accused of flirting with another customer's partner. Both parties having been drunk it was contested as to who had threw the first punch – but his being on licence meant it was Drew that was immediately recalled to prison once the police had been called.

Probation Giveth, and probation Taketh Away, whether the individual was identifying as innocent or not: Drew read about it on a monthly basis in the free prison newspaper Inside Time. He didn't even think the term 'conviction' applied any more, since the word meant to be absolutely sure of something. How could you be absolutely sure of anything with no evidence, if you weren't there? So a conviction beyond reasonable doubt, but essentially based on the balance of probabilities through trawling through alleged 'bad character' was not a conviction at all - it was an opinion.

“Sit down, Keir Starmer” he would growl at the television whenever the ex lawyer appeared, nasally repeating trite Labour party promises. Seaside town stitch-ups like his were increasingly common it seemed, whether it was Eleanor Williams in Barrow-in-Furness exploiting the 'believe victim' policy and the grooming gangs concern in one fell swoop, or his own ex-wife starting to see a local PC soon after their divorce, the dawn knock on the door coming soon afterwards. This sort of local politics snitch-culture was making enemies of the sane across the West, a concocted historical patriarchy being invoked as reason for a chronic level of suspicion against a certain sort of male. Sex allegations seemed to have been made low-hanging-fruit convictions by an increasingly emasculated criminal justice culture.

In his immediate environment the majority of pcosos seemed to have been once displaying some form of sex addiction, whether it be arrested development as a boy extending unseen into adulthood, or going down a rabbit-hole of illicit images, the lines between which were becoming increasingly blurred in ever enveloping internet culture. In his more self-involved moments he wondered whether spurious third party sexual assault allegations that received no further action should be treated as joint enterprise offences, as heinous and overused as that for knife crimes or county lines drug dealing.

The 'Safeguarding Wraparound' had started with his ex's complaint to her new PC boyfriend. The ten women in the jury of twelve had found him guilty, despite the valiant attempts of his female barrister to make excuses for the relationship. This wasn't enough, as the younger prosecuting barrister had wheeled out every 'rape myth' in Betsy Stanko's (academic sexual assault consultant and police advisor) research. Now the safeguarding continued inside, as he knew would outside too.

Still, sexual reproduction needs alcohol figured Drew, and the new justice system would be busy constructing economically necessary monsters for some time to come. The democratisation of rape and co-morbid criminalisation of casual sex was Good News for the religious right and radical activist feminists, as shaming pcosos was a Trojan Horse for a wider assault on heteronormativity – and a steady trickle of news reports meant that the public were starting to wake up to this.

Daily ,Drew would look at those around him and wonder if someone could maintain a lie as to the real reason they were in prison for years, should that count as a risk factor against them? The moralising against pcosos was rife, inside and outside: was chemical castration the solution? Many Drew knew would opt for it. Many more would also have opted for the death penalty rather than the IPP (imprisonment for public protection) sentence they had been given, years ago – also under New Labour - with vanishingly small chance of ever being released, such had their mental health deteriorated while being inside.

Those that had been innocent of the allegations against them before they came inside had been driven crazy by the process and a sentence without end, and had become - in the eyes of the state that had wrongly convicted them - unreleasable. Their loved ones on the other side of the wall were powerless to do anything about it except howl on social media and cling onto Ministry of Justice announcements (which would then be repealed by the next risk-averse government).

The festival of neurodiversity in prisons and the idea of prison abolition conflated in Drew's mind to lead him to believe that many inside actually had no idea why they were there, and had been institutionalised to believe they were indeed in the best place for them. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, finished proofreading the final copy of this quarter's Prison Service Journal, closed the last box and sellotaped up the top, ready for dispatch.

Based on a forthcoming fictional novel by Sean Bw Parker.

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