From Prison to Postgraduate – One of these things I knew was going to happen and lets just say I didn’t even know what a university was, really, until I was in my mid twenties. This might seem like an exaggeration or even a mis-remembering but I genuinely have no recollection of thinking about university whilst I was in school. I didn’t even really think about school whilst I was in school. I did think about prison. In fact I went many times. Just visits of course at this age but I distinctly remember visiting various prisons at different ages to see different people who were locked up for a number of different things. Uncles, Brothers, Cousins, friends, I often went with my mum and my little sisters, you could say it was kind of a family day out, except with pat-downs, body searches and drug smuggling. I remember distinctly being told to put my little sisters nappy in a certain bin just inside the prison gate one time, suffice as to say it was not full of baby shit. Other times, it would be the slip of some tightly wrapped resin into the coffee cup or a quick kiss before a guard spotted.
Now I don’t recall these events here for any kind of sensationalism but merely as an example of the comfortableness I had gained with prisons and the attitudes and relationships I had developed towards that system and indeed the people who enforced it. (The use of A.C.A.B in this blog is slightly tongue in cheek – fitting with ACAdemic behind Bars, but it does also hold some significance). The police were a routine presence in my young life, stopping us in the street, following us into and around the town centre, kicking in the front door, dragging off and beating my brother – an event I watched from my bedroom window, and generally harassing and eventually arresting me, my friends and my family on many occasions. Now again, I do not claim any special treatment here, this is all too common in many areas and to many people around the UK, I merely want to lay down some of the experiences of my school-age years and maybe paint a picture of why the road to prison was better laid, and I would suggest easier to travel, than the later road I would take to university. That is to say prison wasn’t a surprise to me, the fact that I ended up there wouldn’t have surprised my classmates, my teachers, my social workers, the local police – who indeed revelled in my incarceration, and of course any of my close family and friends. Moreover, I’m sure it wouldn’t have surprised your average social scientist, criminologist, politician or statistician either. I was incredibly obvious. which is where I have a point. My somewhat varied history and experience has meant that I have been told, on a number of occasions by various academics and professionals, but also by my own ego, that I should go back into prison to give talks, inspire the local disenfranchised youth, show them what I have, and therefore they can, achieve. We see these kind of narratives on TV and in film, we can even read it on Blogs, it’s the “Boy done good”, the #workhardplayhard #lookwhatyoucouldhavewon. But of course it is a comfortable lie. What my own experiences have taught me is not that “hard work pays off” but that occasionally a few people slip through the cracks of a highly unjust system. To then try and use those people as examples of what can be achieved given the right “attitude” is not only a flawed argument but it is an offence to all those truly hard working people – and I mean mentally as well as physically and not just in the literal sense, that have not won the game of life.
I might go back into prison to give a talk, but I wouldn’t promote my own life as an example of what can be achieved with hard work and plucky determination, I would use it as an example to ask why more people don’t get the same opportunities as I did. I would ask why, with an alarming degree of certainty, we can tell almost at birth who will end up in prison. I would ask why we continue with this failing system. I would encourage people to question the system not themselves, and I would tell them to throw their burning mattresses out of the window and to climb up on to the roof, not just at the prison but at the university too – metaphorically speaking of course. In all seriousness, I am sick of the myth of meritocracy, it pervades all areas of our modern life, from prison to university, and more dangerously it masks the very real structures of the state and the inequalities which they impress upon us.
Don’t piss on me and tell me its raining.
A note on this blog. This is all new to me, my aim, if you haven’t already noticed, is slightly cathartic, I want to get shit off my chest. But more importantly I want to bridge gaps that I see occurring between what my friends in the pub – often who I have been locked up with, and my friends in the uni office – often who I feel locked up with, read. I have spent a large part of my life constantly crossing this bridge, it is apparent in my change of clothes and even accent, although I try not to do this, when I do cross. Although there are of course many differences I do believe, or in fact I fucking know, that people on both sides are generally sound people. I also know that they both suffer from inequalities that are built into the neoliberal capitalist system. I refuse the echo-chambers and the divide and conquer narratives from both sides of the bridge and I encourage open discussion and debate, whatever the consequences.