Monthly Archives: January 2014

Bad Girls: Borrower nor Lender Be

There’s likely to be quite a chain of posts on Bad Girls and I’ll also be posting some fiction and views on fan sites, which I will give links to – I am  currently writing fan fiction for the first 3 series, focussing on Nikki and Helen (and their essential companions and nemeses).

For now, I have some more prison critique and reform to share:

Sharing itself is banned in prison. That means an act of trust and kindness is forbidden where those sorts of qualities matter most.

With the gagging bill going though this week, it means more unviolent people could end up in prison – but the only threat they are is to the establishment, not to the society that they want to improve.

The location that Bad Girls used – Oxford Prison – is now a hotel and heritage attraction. That’s what I’d like to see the majority of prisons become.

Check my tag cloud for other Bad Girls related posts. There’s two already.

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Bad Girls The Cathy Come Home of Women’s prisons

I like this phrase, I’ve used it of Moll Flanders and Black Beauty. Cathy Come Home was a shocking 1960s television piece directed by Ken Loach which stirred up Britain’s social conscience, using fiction to demonstrate real life abuses and problems. The ITV drama Bad Girls, aired in its natal Britain from 1999-2009, still has fans globally and has become a cult show. Through the camp entertainment, it held up some important mirrors. I’ll write several posts about characters and writing later, but I want to focus on those mirrors here.

PLOT SPOILER ALERT

Monica’s final speech is the belief of the show’s creators, Shed productions: that prison only makes a bad situation worse. I think that could be put more eloquently; erudite, articulate Monica was a character who could have done so.

It’s unfortunate the original name for the show was taken, so Jailbirds became Bad Girls. As well as sounding cheap and crude and making it harder to do a search for, Bad Girls suggests that these convicts are bad, as well as using the juvenile term for female humans. Surely a better title could’ve been conjured which does not connote against the show’s ethos, for Bad Girls implies that those serving in South London’s fictional Larkhall prison are debauched. Prisoner Cell Block H (refilmed as Wentworth) and Within These Walls and Orange is the New Black all managed to find show names that did not denigrate the inmates they wish to sympathetically portray, so surely the minds that came up with some incredulous plots could have generated better for the inmates of G Wing.

Bad Girls’ consultant was an ex professional thief who set up a women’s prison charity. I was upset to think that around the world (especially in Canada) there is the Elizabeth Gurney Fry movement, and yet in the country that the reformer lived in, we have no such society. As someone who’s lived in Elizabeth’s natal city and sat on the benches she did at Goat’s Lane Quakers’, I was very disappointed in the apparent lack of local campaigning that most convicted women shouldn’t be in prison. Britain does have such an organisation, Women in Prison, whom Bad Girls supports. (I’m now thinking that much of prisons’ problems stem back to Elizabeth Fry and I’m no longer sure that I admire her… another article).

That the founder, who shares a name with a great composer, stole for the hell of it rather undermines her message. Bad Girls attempts to show that many of the inmates are there due to defence or provision for themselves or loved ones – in fact, any character I can think of in the first three series (which I will focus on) can, even obliquely, come into that category. The Julies ‘knobbed and robbed’ as a team to support themselves and their children when their marriages broke down; Nikki Wade stopped her girlfriend being raped by a policeman; even gangsters Yvonne and Renee were taking care of their own; Denny is an abused young woman who was in some sense defending herself and the injustice of being moved on from the one children’s home she was happy in; Shaz was bullied at work and feared the abuse of her stepdad if she was sacked; Denny’s mum was on the bottle because she too had been abused; Crystal stole out of desperation after burying her mum in the West Indies and returning to find her home and job gone; Barbara committed euthanasia to release her husband from the suffering of his illness; Monica was one of those carrying the can for the crimes of love of her life, as were Rachel Hicks and Zandra. Michelle Dockley would argue that the unspeakable act she did to another woman she was defending her love: I think it is untrue, but she too has been horrifically abused.

The show shows how prison splits up families and friends on the inside and the out (eg the Julies and Monica from their children, Nikki from Trish, Zandra from fiancé and baby). Sometimes those relationships are destroyed altogether; sometimes it leads to loss of life (Monica’s Spencer and Rachel Hicks; one could argue, Zandra too.)

Warm friendships are formed between unlikely people in prison but the splitting up punishment is used as a way of control (Shaz and Denny). Lesbianism is against the rules, so that connections, happiness and physical fulfilment are to be denied in a place that leads so many to despair. Barbara Hunt said she and Nikki would be sharing not so much cells, but private hells; and prison brought Rachel, Monica, Rachel, Charlotte Middleton, Julie J and Michelle to attempt suicide.

Not only are these people excluded from society, they are told when to rise, eat, wash, go to bed. Their property is taken away and the little they are allowed with them can be rifled through at any time. You can be divested of clothes – by force if necessary – not just in your induction (what a welcome) but if the drugs team wishes or anytime you are sent to the segregation block. Staff don’t even have to shut the door or look away.

Prisoner’s health is not of concern. Zandra is simply a junkie and so any symptoms are deserved. I was angry that the results of her tests were hidden from her – as an adult, it’s her right to know she has a tumour, not something for her wing governor to hide from her. Her treatment doesn’t seem negotiable and she (like many outside) are wheeled off to hospital and to operations or stuffed with drugs without gaining permission or explanation. When Shell breaks down in series 2, she’s dosed up in the hospital block – is that really what she needed? Doesn’t seem to help: she’s soon back on G wing bullying, but has she really had closure on her abusive past? Pam and Tess are also confined to the “Muppet” psychiatric wing and the ministrations patronising, drug dealing Dr Thomas, supposedly a goodie.

I’m continually struck by how regressive prisons are. Grown women, often called girls, are treated like they are at school: being put on report, sent to the head, living by bells, calling officers ‘sir’ and ‘miss’ (how uneven those terms are between the genders – Sir being what you call the king or a knight, Miss sounding pejorative). You have to ask for permission to do anything and can’t leave the gates without special application whilst in the institutions’ care.

I also note how people behave unpleasantly whilst in prison and are not really themselves. The actress who plays Nikki – Mandana Jones – says she puts on a London tone to sound tough when dealing with bullies, and makes physical and verbal threats. Many women find themselves fighting or using violence as a means of protection who would never do so on the outside (even Monica and Barbara). Worse than in school, there’s the unwritten rule that one never complains or tells, so that you cannot get justice the right way. Ands then you are punished if you take justice into your own hands by fighting bullies back. Bullies steal goodies – sweeties of a different kind – and despite their outside market value, class A drugs are swapped for phone cards; but then the price of communicating with the outside world probably is priceless.

Like being on benefits, the government decides what money you get each week and can take it away if they deem that you don’t deserve it. There’s a tuck shop hatch, like a jobcentre screen, through which you receive what you’re allowed via the rules and whims of the government employee on the other side.

The staff too behave regressively. Senior staff treat their minions like naughty school children – both Helen and Karen slipped into this mode when they governed. And Helen especially used it as defence when a nerve was touched, pulling rank against Nikki whenever an argument goes the wrong way. It cannot be healthy for the development of either senior or officer grade staff. It’s another reason that I don’t support the army for having this hierarchical, unquestionable system of obedience through fear and punishment.

Punishment is something I am questioning too, not just in prison. I presented a piece I’d written in an alternative church service about why the Christian faith as well as society is based on a If… then threat system to keep others doing what you want. Why do we need punishment? Although legally considered offences, are most of what these women have done actually, really crimes in the wider moral sense? When you can get sent to prison for not paying council tax, for having your event’s noise levels too high, or for letting your punters drink outside on the street, it’s clear that prison isn’t about keeping us safe from dangerous people. And when those convicted of fraud (perhaps wrongly) or who even are recovering from alcoholism squat over the same bug ridden open loo as a torturer and assassin….! And so people inside are more at risk from people they either avoid on the outside,  or because they are reunited with problems (such as Renee and Yvonne, rival gangsters;  Zandra is decrutched by Denny, and Karen is threatened with a syringe of HIV infected blood,  both for grudges from a previous incarceration).

Prison augments and creates issues, it does not remedy; it’s just an expensive way to pretend that they are dealt with and decapacitated. It’s not about justice, but a place of forgetting (an oubliette) by everyone but their jailors.

Bad Girls rightly wanted these women visualised and vocalised.

More on characters, storylines, links to my fan fiction and thoughts on drugs all coming soon

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Alternative medicine, Wikipedia, and Change.org

I’ve been sent a link to a petition to ask Wikipedia to fairly write up non Western mainstream medicine, instead of ridiculing or removing posts about it. It comes from the lovely husband and wife team Donna Eden, who wrote Energy Medicine, and Dr David Feinstein. Donna’s genuineness and ebullience quickly made her stand out from the many spiritual speakers I heard on a talkshow series and I’ve enjoyed being on her mailing list since, learning about the research and healing stories from them both.

One of the things that shocked and angered me was that Donna had difficulty practicing due to legal constraints but she rightly says – isn’t letting healers heal the most important thing? She’s not a quack, she’s not under trained, and her reasons to help are to do just that. There is no good reason to stop her or those like her, and it should be the choice of the patient to whom they turn, not the government. The laws curtailing alternative medicine are not just in America and themselves need stopping.

I disagree with the petition that Wikipedia is a trusted source – I’ve written an article on my thoughts on it. http://voices.yahoo.com/wikipedia-2132405.html I would worry if people allow themselves to be influenced by it, but coming up high in the search engines, it’s a tempting place to start and perhaps to not read further.  Unlike the petition, I am not just committing not to give to Wikipedia, I am pledging not to use it – for I am already unwilling to donate to a site I don’t rate which uses unnamed volunteers.

But my greatest concern is the site which hosts the petition: change org. I’ve found that petitions want your full name and address (this even asks for your phone) and that they may make these publically available, far more widely on the net than signing a piece of paper would. And that you are harassed with emails forever more without opt out, and that they prod you for money as much as Wikipedia does. Another case of Penelope Pitstop and her bodyguard/tormentor – the same person (or org) doing good and not good simultaneously. Choice and privacy are vital, and you shouldn’t have those liberties eroded because you have a conscience. You also don’t know who else truly has access to the petitions and what details they might collect. I suggest checking their privacy policy carefully, and beware that they’re another company that you can’t contact.

If you’re interested, the petition is here http://www.change.org/petitions/jimmy-wales-founder-of-wikipedia-create-and-enforce-new-policies-that-allow-for-true-scientific-discourse-about-holistic-approaches-to-healing?utm_campaign=petition_created&utm_medium=email&utm_source=guides&utm_source=December+2013+e-Letter&utm_campaign=DEC+2013+e-Letter&utm_medium=email

Bad Girls is coming soon – I am working on some writing about it… watch this space

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A political triptych

I’ve promised to post on various things but think I can squeeze many of my recent political thoughts into one piece.

Re the justice secretary wanting to give the Court of Human Rights less power – I found that a frightening manipulative speech designed to get the people to give away their right to a court higher than our own country’s. The Rule of Law is supposed to be an equaliser, but it is not in practice because

-law is not made or influenced by most ordinary people

-ordinary people need professional assistance to use the law

-the cost of this is beyond most peoples means, because we pay our lawyers and judges comparatively too much and cut out legal aid. I am so glad to hear of an unprecedented walk out by lawyers today about that – some of them are on the people’s side! or are they… is it more about wanting their proper (ie extortionately high) pay for legal aid work than truly wanting a justice system that’s fair and open to all?

We need a system where we are involved in decision making and where law is affordable and not influenced by politicians and businesses serving their own agenda. And we most certainly need a court beyond our supreme court!

The other big thing wrong with our society is capitalism. I read a book about philanthrocapitalism – an oxymoron! because these big businesses and bosses who claim to care and want to sort out the world’s problems have only one way of solving them: imposing their system on the poor and others who don’t fit, and getting community groups like churches and charities to become like them. Their whole language is about venture, human capital!! and growth… and growth is the key to doing just the opposite. Unlike nature, greed knows no sensible cut off. The only thing we should grow without limit is spiritual and personal development, and that in short would be growing in wisdom and love. If you stopped the need to grow business and constantly improve on last year’s profits, you would find the pivot of the world’s problems was destroyed and you’d be in a place to truly stop them.

The biggest problem, at its fulcrum, is imbalance of power and resources, and the need for growth and the insecurity of the powerful which causes it to look after its own needs and placate or control everyone who is other. It’s not just the environment which suffers from the need for more, it’s people too. If we ceased growth for growth’s sake and the need to always get something back (the basis of debt, which is worth a post in itself) then we would be moving away from this harmful model.

The final piece of today’s trilogy is the news from the lovely Mr Osborne about Britain having further cuts to its welfare budget. Even his critics are trying to run the same ship on the same wind, and what’s really needed is to rebuild the boat. I am angry that no politician from one of the main parties is questioning why the people are paying for the government’s borrowing. why is the deficit really our problem? and it’s especially not the poorest’s. The whole nature of what is work and that our worth comes from the being part of that narrow definition needs to be questioned too. And of course, the cuts are coming out of the same greed powered, oligarchical, plutocratical growth based opaque system.

Yes, the world can be changed and no it’s not too complex or naïve to do. People saying otherwise are helping the system continue, whether they mean to or not. What does evil need… good people to do nothing (Edmund Burke). And for the belief that change is too great and is not my problem. Well it isn’t and it is.

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