'Specialist Intervention' At Strangeways Prison Manchester
Unable to break my resolve and provoke me into any violent reaction after three and a half years at HMP Woodhill’s notorious Close Supervision Centre (CSC), I was transferred to the Specialist Intervention Unit (SIU) at HMP Manchester on 13 June 2013.
Initially, people would be forgiven for thinking that finally getting off the CSC was a good thing, but when it is discovered that the move was due to Woodhill staff ‘needing respite’, having burned themselves out with their daily actions of brutality, the move is immediately seen in a different light.
Since my arrival here, things have gone from bad to worse. The unit itself is simply six cells which used to form part of the segregation unit, walled off with a temporary partition. It holds a maximum of four prisoners in conditions which could accurately be described as a tomb, with no natural light or ventilation reaching its depths. The temporary partition is being rebuilt further back to expand capacity to eight cells for six prisoners, and the old wall is being knocked down, meaning that the sound of drills and sledgehammers is a regular occurrence.
The structural environment is one thing, but the atmosphere of oppression takes things to a darker level. The unit is operated by segregation staff who carry that same mentality through both sides of the divide – ‘prisoners should get nothing and shut up’. No senior manager or governor ever wanders this far to oversee the treatment of the unit’s victims, too afraid of what they might find. The Independent Monitoring Board appears to either not know of the existence of the SIU, or not want to know. Aware of all this, segregation officers are free to dish out their version of what prison should be like.
I have lost over a stone and a half since this place became my home. The food portions are tiny and the food hardly eatable. As for purchasing my own food to supplement my diet, with the £4 that I am allowed to spend per week of my own money, and needing to make phone calls, that is not feasible. Anyone who knows about the cost of prisoners’ phone calls will be aware of how little talk time £4 buys you, but when landline numbers are barred from my PIN, so only more expensive mobiles can be dialled, it works out to 20 minutes for £4.
But that’s ok. I can survive with my regular visits, right? If you class two 30 minute visits per month in closed conditions behind a glass screen as enough, then you must be working for Her Majesty’s Prison Service!
So, letter writing it is then. If only my mail actually reached me in a reasonable time or even at all, one letter having taken over 40 days and others are being stolen by the prison. Even my legal mail isn’t safe – as well as also being stolen, they have begun to demand that all legal mail is read prior to being issued by them, or I cannot receive it.
So what else can I do to avoid all this abuse? In my cell I have nothing but a few legal papers and mail; the rest of my property has not been allowed. No TV, radio, kettle, hair clippers, nail clippers, religious items or books. That means no hot water or means to keep my hair or nails trimmed. The only ‘facilities’ I do have are a bed, table to eat from, sink and toilet, which are all within touching distance of each other.
I do get to leave my cell, when they feel like letting me out, but not before being made to stand at the back wall and following a ridiculous set of ‘protocols’. I am then searched and ‘escorted’ to wherever I may be going, which is a very limited number of places. I have a maximum of one hour in the exercise yard when they let me, which is taken in isolation from other prisoners. I then get a maximum of 30 minutes to use the phone and shower under cold water, again when they let me. I have been refused food, as further unofficial punishment but the guy next door to me has been living off bread and water for months so I guess that’s accepted practice here.
My solicitor has written to the prison, as have some of my friends and family, but either no response or a pathetic one has been returned. I have submitted complaints but the Acting Governor Hannah Lane has refused to acknowledge or intervene, showing that she is either colluding and actively involved in my treatment, or that she is a useless failure pretending to be in charge. Either way, she is responsible. She cannot continue to ignore the calls from outside the prison walls to get me out of this hell-hole, and copies of all letters to her are being sent to MPs to pressure her further. The more letters received the more pressure she will face, which is why I call on the support of all decent human beings to help me. Please write to your MP to complain about my treatment and demand I be returned to a normal unit where I can be treated with at least some level of humanity and compassion.
As most people who know me are aware, I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and going through such traumatic experience on a daily basis only exacerbates my condition, so at the least, putting me here in the first place was an act of deliberate disability discrimination by those in charge.
Please help. Otherwise, I will be left with nothing but the company of my fellow victims of the Specialist Intervention Unit, if only we weren’t banned from speaking to one another, under threat of punishment…
Kevan Thakrar A4907AE
SIU – HMP Manchester, Southall Street, Strangeways, Manchester, M60 9AH