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The Anarchist Black Cross was originated in Tsarist Russia to organise aid for political prisoners. In the late 1960s the organisation resurfaced in Britain, where it first worked to aid prisoners of the Spanish resistance fighting the dictator Franco's police. Now it has expanded and groups are found in many countries around the world. We support anarchist and other class struggle prisoners, fund-raise on behalf of prisoners in need of funds for legal cases or otherwise, and organise demonstrations of solidarity with imprisoned anarchists and other prisoners.

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My Experience Of Close Supervision Centres

My name is Kevan Thakrar and I write to relate my personal experience of Close Supervision Centres (CSCs) and the torture I have been subjected to in prisons. (More details about my case are available here.)

After officers sustained injuries at HMP Frankland in March 2010, only a sick individual could imagine the level of violence I sustained. This carried on at HMP Wakefield where I spent 13 days of extreme racial, physical and sexual abuse. After I reported this, I was quickly moved to Woodhill CSC. Psychological torture is extremely painful and, some may say, worse than the physical kind. Orders are barked and failure to jump high enough leads to further abuse and, often, assault. I have on several occasions not jumped at all, like the time I was ordered to move my toothbrush from one clearly visible point in the cell to another, this resulted in no exercise, shower, phone call, food, library, nothing – behavioural modification skills these ex-army prison officers learned out in Afghanistan, Iraq and other wars.

From all the abuse I have suffered from prison staff, I now have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), resulting in severe anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares and constant fear. I have gone through such bad spells that I have been unable to leave my bed for days, as well as having attempted to take my own life on five occasions in the last ten months.

I am told I require a clinical psychologist to treat my PTSD but ‘none are available’. I therefore have to live an unbearable life, just waiting for the day I am forced to end it, or the staff do it for me and cover it up to make it appear to be a suicide. Either way, I am struggling and need some serious support.

The worst thing is that I am innocent of the crime which I have been imprisoned for in the first place. This resulted in a life sentence of 35 years and I am almost four years into it.

I have been the victim of an unprovoked attack by officers while at HMP Woodhill, resulting in a fractured wrist and six hours in Special Accommodation. I then received a nicking for ‘attempting to commit an assault’ as well as having my unlock level increased and ALL privileges removed. It’s not the first time this has happened.

Kevan, after beating by prison officers at HMP FranklandKevan, after beating by prison officers at HMP Frankland

Close Supervision Centre-Dehumanising, Degrading and Demonising

Prison officials like to claim that the Close Supervision Centre (CSC) exists to remove the most significantly disruptive, challenging and dangerous prisoners from ordinary location and to enable these prisoners an opportunity to develop a more settled and acceptable pattern of behaviour.

The ‘worst of the worst’ designation defines the inhabitants of the CSC as fundamentally ‘other’ and dehumanises, degrades and demonises us as essentially different from other prisoners. It provides an immediate, intuitive and unassailable rationale for the added punishment, extraordinary control and severe deprivation which prevail in the CSC.

All the discomforts of life in a CSC unit have been brought upon prisoners by ‘our own behaviour’. The Prison Service’s frequent recourse to horror stories about prisoners’ dangerousness also helps to ‘shift’ the blame over anything that happens to us in the CSC onto ourselves. This technique of ‘condemning the condemners’ allows prison workers to further neutralise any criticisms of their policies and practices and to justify, to themselves and others, the harsh treatment of CSC prisoners.

The fact that the design of the CSC is more likely to induce violence than to reduce it is not comprehensible by the corrupt Prison Service management or staff, with whom the temptation is strong to treat us as less than another human being. It is the same process that is brought to bear in wartime – the enemy, soldier and civilian alike, are demonised, and whatever happens to them is of little concern.

Prisoners are more isolated, observed and controlled, afforded less human contact and suffer more sensory deprivation than anywhere in Britain. According to criminologist Anthony Bottoms: ‘to impose additional physical restrictions, especially of a severe character, will almost certainly lead to a legitimacy deficit, and that deficit may well in the end play itself out in enhanced violence’.

So the Prison Service’s claims about the positive impact of the CSC on dangerous and disruptive prisoners are evidently false. It is impossible for any prison trainee psychologist to help CSC prisoners achieve a level to progress to normal location, whilst we are suffering under the conditions of the CSC itself. So why are we here?

Interference with mail

The security department at Woodhill CSC has made itself obstructive in my attempts to contact anyone over the last two and a half years. Mail repeatedly goes missing or is stopped for unlawful excuses; phone numbers are deleted from my PIN and applications to add numbers to call are ignored or rejected; visitors’ approval applications sit for months without any action or are rejected for no reason.

Daniel Guedalla of Birnberg Peirce solicitors issued a letter before action some time ago about this abuse, but the prison didn’t even bother to respond so it seems judicial review is inevitable.

While all CSC prisoners suffer intensely, this particular harassment by security is specific to me. To demonstrate this, I recently received a notice of a stopped incoming letter. The thing about this letter is that it was actually posted by another prisoner in HMP Woodhill. What this means is that the letter is suitable for security checks on one prisoner but not for me. If there was a legitimate issue with the letter, the prison wouldn’t have allowed it out in the first place (all mail must be posted out to Royal Mail and back in, even if it is addressed to the prisoner next door to you!) so I wouldn’t have had cause to complain.

To the many people who have written to me without response, I can only apologise for HMP Woodhill’s corruption. I do respond to all mail which I receive with a return address. If anyone has written without reply, please notify Daniel at Birnbergs so it can be included in my judicial review.

Kevan Thakrar A4907AE
HMP Woodhill, Tattenhoe Street, Milton Keynes, MK4 4DA
November 2012