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David Saunders-Wilson

David Saunders-Wilson who gained a PhD at Cambridge in 1983 for a study of the origins of the American Civil War, is now Assistant Governor at Huntercombe Youth Custody Centre. The views he expresses here do not represent those of the Prison Department.

Prisoners

David Saunders-Wilson, 23 November 1989

Rosie Johnston, white and privileged; Edward Johnson, black and poor, For several months between 1986-1987 they shared the experience of imprisonment. Rosie Johnston was to emerge from HMP East Sutton Park in June 1987, having been sentenced to nine months for the possession of heroin and for supplying it to her friends at Oxford University (including a Cabinet Minister’s daughter). Two weeks prior to her release, Edward Johnson was taken to the gas chamber at Parchman Penitentiary, where he died, despite a final desperate attempt to gain a stay of execution. Apart from prison, Rosie and Edward had very little in common. For one thing, Edward was innocent.

Gaol Fever

David Saunders-Wilson, 24 July 1986

Crime is entertainment, and criminals are as much entertainers as villains. The star of London Weekend Television’s new Once a thief? is 22-year-old Michael Baillie, who began his criminal career as a burglar at the age of eight, and served his first borstal sentence at the age of 15. According to the Sunday Times, he originally wanted to play football for Aston Villa, but now he’s thinking of taking acting lessons. Perhaps he had been inspired by the careers of Jimmy Boyle, John McVicar, ‘Dirty Den’ of EastEnders, and Paul Barber, one of the ‘Brothers McGregor’ who also spent some time inside, and who recently claimed in the Sun: ‘Jailed turned me into a star.’ Burglary, theft, blackmail, arson, extortion, violence – including rape – have become socially acceptable, at least within the confines of our television sets, and as a result perhaps beyond. Arthur Daley and his ‘Minder’, for example, are commonly regarded as harmless, comic, lovable folk heroes, who can be forgiven even if they do sometimes wander onto the wrong side of the law, and get in trouble with ‘the Bill’. Indeed, both George Cole and Dennis Waterman in their Minder roles are now thought suitable characters to help encourage young people to stay off drugs in a series of commercials sponsored by the DHSS. The thought of dear old Arthur ending up inside for some of his misdeeds would be almost unthinkable, had it not been for Ronnie Barker and his alter ego Norman Stanley Fletcher. Porridge made even prison appear as warm and cosy as the front sitting-room.’

Diary: The Prison Officers’ Strike

David Saunders-Wilson, 22 May 1986

The sound of our new teletext system has dominated my last ten days. Ring-ring, buzz-buzz-buzz, and then one carefully marshalled fact after another is spewed onto the page from South-East Regional Office. Ring-ring, buzz-buzz-buzz: ‘crisis’, ‘POA’, ‘management’, ‘overtime’, ‘warnings’, ‘intransigence’, ‘position’, ‘violence’, ‘danger’, ‘contingency planning’, ‘riot’, ‘fire’, ‘stand by’, ‘stand down’, ‘prisoners’, ‘escape’, ‘abscond’ and ‘Home Secretary’. To many of these words it is necessary to respond. With deliberate gravity, so as to impress John, with whom I share an office, and who almost wrecked the whole teletext system by using his shaver from the adjoining socket, I move the teletext out of ‘answerback’ and into ‘send’.

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