… for a postponed prison abolition event hosted by Bristol Anti-Repression Campaign
This statement from Toby Shone on prison abolition was recorded and transcribed from HM Prison Parc in Bridgend, Wales, UK. It was his contribution to a prison abolition event due to be hosted by Bristol Anti-Repression Campaign on 8 May 2022 but which was postponed until a later date yet to be decided.
This is Toby Shone. I’m an imprisoned anarchist held in G4S Parc. It’s a slave labour camp holding 1,800 men in South Wales run by the security multinational on a government contract providing dirt cheap labour for private companies.
I was captured by the anti-terrorist unit during Operation Adream in November 2020. First I want to thank you for listening and also the opportunity provided by Bristol Anti-Repression Coalition. Moments like this break the isolation we feel as prisoners and they also give us a chance to participate and to speak out. There are many reasons to oppose prisons and the current judicial system and as an anarchist I can’t separate the anti-prison struggle from the struggle against the State and civilisation and I’m going to return to this later. But now I’ll briefly give an account of some of the joint struggles inside prison.
I’ve never sought to hide my perspectives while I’ve been here and I’ve been subject to a lot of State intimidation and scrutiny because of that and I’ve never backed down. The prisons in the UK are mostly filthy and overcrowded, lacking basic resources, degrading and decaying.
In London I was held in the prison within the prison alongside Jihadis, Russian-Italian-Ukrainian mafia, postcode war gang members, high level money launderers and so on. Overall we all got on well with each other, even with high levels of violence and on average one death or suicide each month. There we had a laundry room where we could meet, play cards, and talk. We’d exchange books and ideas as well as our hopes and fears. And because of this social area, the administration moved to shut down our laundry and move it off wing. So we had a small struggle to keep it open, spreading a unity between all the groups, collecting 200 signatures for our petition and also it was almost every man that signed it there on H block. It might seem a minor struggle but in prison everything small becomes of a huge significance because you have almost nothing but your dignity and only you can give that away. And it’s important for our decency to have clean clothes and bedsheets, pillowcases and so on. And if the laundry was moved off wing this couldn’t be guaranteed and nobody wanted to have their clothes stolen or damaged and it’s almost impossible to get any more. And it would also mean that we would have to suffer the inability to wash our clothes more than once a week and that’s even if the scheme ran correctly. In practice, in prison, nothing works as it should and it’s intended to be that way, to make life as difficult as possible. Suffice to say, our petition was completely ignored by the authorities and the imprisoned fellow in charge of running the laundry lost his job and was moved prison as a kind of punishment because he was blamed for stirring up trouble. In prisons, the administrations are very scared of anything even slightly challenging to their power. We have to consider these intermediate struggles very well, but we must never give up our stances.
When I was moved to Bristol, we were able to set up an informal prisoners committee on G Wing outside of any official mediation structure, as in prison there are designated roles for representatives which feed into the regime. In our informal group we would talk and play cards. We managed to get a table to sit around – even small things like this are seen as subversive. We helped to improve the situation on the most violent wing of the prison by trying to prevent bullying and discouraging the flow of Spice. One of the things you notice first about prison is the high level of drugs and medication and it suits the regime in keeping prisoners compliant. During the pandemic, it was clear that the only way these drugs are making their way onto the landings is through the staff themselves. So we changed the atmosphere on G Wing by promoting unity through the different groups of prisoners and we just did this through our friendships.
But the primary way is to promote class consciousness, mutual aid and solidarity and this has got to be done without any kind of arrogance nor sign of weakness. Anarchists imprisoned have a responsibility to act with coherence or no one will take them seriously and they will harm our tendency in the long run. In our informal committee we spoke out against racism, both on the wing and also in the structures of the staff. We demanded hot water and heating as we had neither of these between the coldest months January to March and we shared books in our group. I was able to talk about Rojava, the Spanish Civil War, and the contemporary anarchist movement, drawing comparisons, critiques and discussions about anarchist insurrection and social struggles generally. In the end, we drew up a text which denounced the staff racism in Bristol as exemplified by the Senior Officer on our wing and his treatment of the Asian guys on the second landing. And by this time I was already getting death threats from another Senior Officer and that was due to my revolutionary and unrepentant views. Our situation attracted the gaze of local media and as revenge I was ghosted to G4S Parc.
Dispersal is a tool that’s used to isolate prison radicals. Our last text showed the development and the thinking of our committee in a very short time. It’s a call for a national meeting about prisons and the need to oppose the new prison building plan. Each week in prison there are individual and small group protests all the time about conditions and issues affecting inmates and here you have to be tough to survive or you just won’t make it. You’ll suffer, and that’s why our communities of resistance must prepare for prison so as not to be daunted or overwhelmed or, in the worst case, turn on each other. Yet we must choose our comrades and affinities well in accordance with our own choices and paths. Rebellion must become our daily reality inside and out to the extent of our own abilities. But we cannot make the mistake of searching for a new revolutionary subject inside the prison walls. Just like the outside many prisoners happily co-operate with the enemy, denigrate themselves and form part of insidious hierarchies through pressure, snitching, intimidation and violence.
Our role here is to maintain our critique without making the same kind of mistakes as liberals or socialists. Inside is a microcosm of the community outside. Intermediate struggles are needed to obtain gains, but we cannot remain there, we have to keep fighting. We have to go beyond the reformist traps and single issue struggles that lead nowhere and that are all too easily recuperated by the State which seeks always to resolve the contradictions it itself generates. It is not enough to aim to abolish the prison. More and more our whole world resembles a huge prison where we’re all confined. Imprisoned and alienated in our homes, in our jobs, in our relationships and families. We’re enslaved by electronic devices, by our habits of consumption, by manufactured desires and false choices dictated by lifestyle apps and cashless living. We live in a prison society. Therefore I think we’ve got to go further and destroy society which is the root cause of the sickness. This civilisation is a tension between over-socialisation and lonely atomisation. We need to create a social insurrection towards permanent revolution – for people, animals and the earth.
In conclusion, I acknowledge this is nothing new you’re hearing but it remains essential to impart and I thank you for your time and your attention.
Lastly I want to express my thanks to all those who attended the concentration outside Bristol Crown Court for my hearing of the Serious Organised Crime Prevention Order on 6th May and all those that came to the courtroom. It was really good to see you all. And I want to thank also all the people who joined in the firework demonstrations outside Bristol prison. I want to thank you – all of you – and just know that the best solidarity is the continuation of the struggle. Seeing the burning police van and destroyed police station during the Bristol riots last year gave me and other prisoners in the dungeons of Wandsworth inexpressible joy!