7. Continuing the resistance

In this section...

"I am here to invite and submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is a deliberate crime and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen. The only course open to you, the Judge, is either to resign your post and thus disassociate yourself from evil, if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is an evil and that in reality I am innocent; or to inflict on me the severest penalty, if you believe that the system and the law you are assisting to administer are good for the people of this country and that my activity is therefore injurious to the public weal
"

Mahatma Gandhi


".... At the conclusion of his trial, he is described as leaving the courtroom with a radiant smile. The judge had struck, and truth exploded within."

James Douglass in a commentary on Gandhi.



A willingness to accept consequences of punishment doesn't mean that we think we have done anything wrong. We can accept the punishment and persist with our resistance if we believe we are right. If we are getting lots of public support and the snowball is rolling on then there is every reason for keeping up the pressure.


7.1 Non payment of fines

Many people decide to continue their resistance by not paying their fines. If you don't keep up with payments, you will eventually be summonsed back to court. If you say that you can't pay as the fine and payment rate are too high, then they may give you another chance, and set the fine again at a lower rate of payment.

Bailiffs: The court can hand the debt over to a firm of bailiffs, whose responsibility it is to collect the debt. You will be notified that this has happened. The court order is called a "distress warrant". You will receive threatening letters from the bailiffs, saying that they will call around at your property within the next few days, unless you contact them to arrange payment. This may be all that happens, as they hope to intimidate you into paying. If bailiffs do call at your home, they cannot force entry. They can enter through open doors or windows, including upstairs ones via a ladder. They can push past you if you open the door, and they are good at talking their way in - they may ask to just use the phone. Once they're in, you are very compromised. They can take anything and force entry on subsequent visits. If they take property which does not belong to you, then you have to go to court and prove that it belongs to someone else.

A possible strategy for dealing with bailiffs is to hold a public auction and sell all your worldly goods to your friends for a low price, such as one penny each. You should advertise the auction in the local paper and you can invite all your friends for an auction party. Make sure you put a sticker on each item sold with the name and address of the buyer. When the bailiffs arrive show them the advert for the auction and explain that all your personal effects have been sold; they are unlikely to take anything with a sticker on, if they do, you have a very good legal case for getting everything back to its rightful owner!

If you continue to refuse to pay and they can't get any money or goods out of you, you may eventually be sent to prison for "wilful" non-payment. They may instead hand out a Community Service order or insist on deducting the fine from your income. If you are on welfare benefits the court can dock your benefit at source, deducting on a weekly basis. Currently, if your fine, plus court costs, total less than 100 you will be sentenced to 5 days in prison, if less than 200 you will be sentenced to seven days. If your fine and costs total above 200 but less than 500 then you will get fourteen days.

If you do not answer the summons to court, you will have a warrant issued for your arrest. When arrested, you may be sent to prison unless you pay the whole amount. If you take money into court with you, they can take it off you to pay the fine.


7.2 Prison and moving through fear

"No prison can contain the freedom that we gain when we move through fear"

Shannon Smy

Prison is the state's toughest sanction. The main function of any kind of punishment, is to make citizens internalise control - so that they become their own jailers. A prison is designed above all for the people that are not inside it, using the people who are physically locked away as a threat to the rest of us.

Many people have resisted injustice by taking nonviolent action mindful of the consequences, even in the face of dismissal, slander, restitution, or imprisonment. In this sense, the punishment is the most important part of civil responsibility. The fear of personal consequences often prevents us from stopping violence and creating a more just society. Paradoxically, the way to break this paralysis is to take the consequences of the action even if this means punishment. When people challenge this they remove the prison from inside their own heads and expose it as a constant inhibiting threat in our society.

We may never be able to overcome fear, but we can learn to move through it. Jo Wilson, who hammered a Hawk warplane in 1996 and was remanded in prison, said that she never did learn to overcome her fear, but it was possible to learn to "feel the fear and do it anyway". She said that the courage to carry out her action came from careful preparation and knowing that she was supported by her affinity group. She insists that she is not an unusually courageous person. Where there is fear there is power (and where there is power there is responsibility).

Henry David Thoreau expressed this principle for effective civil disobedience in 1849:

"Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also in prison. The proper place today, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less desponding spirits, is in her prisons....[It is] the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honour. If any think that their influence would be lost there, and their voices no longer afflict the ear of the state, that they would not be as an enemy within its walls, they do not know by how much truth is stronger than error, nor how much more eloquently and effectively he can combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own person"

It is possible that some snowballers who refuse to pay their fines will be given prison sentences. Whether or not you intend to take this stand, it is important to be aware of the possibility of going to prison before you do the action, just in case. You will need well organised support from people on the outside. We suggest you talk about prison together with the other members of your affinity group.

Some people cope very well in prison and learn a lot from it. Others hate the experience and take a long time to recover. This depends on individual experiences inside. Take time to prepare yourself, think about what prison will mean, and how you will cope emotionally.

There are some excellent organisations set up to help people inside (see Contacts & Resources appendix). We include just basic information which should be relevant to most prisons.


7.2.1 Preparation for prison

If you think there is a possibility of being sent to prison, don't hope for the best and go unprepared, pack before you go to court just in case. Warn friends and family that you might be imprisoned, so they aren't shocked and can help you prepare. Make sure at least one person comes to court with you.

Arrange to have one person (a close friend or relative or someone in your affinity group) who can act as your central point of contact whilst you are inside. They will need to be reliable and easy to contact. Messages and information can be passed via them, so information doesn't go astray. One person arranging visits will avoid double-booking.


7.2.2 On the inside

7.2.2.1 Arriving

You will probably be taken from the court and held in the court cells. Everyone destined for prison will be loaded up, usually at the end of the day, in a minibus or van. When you arrive, you may be put into a room and booked in one at a time. You will be strip searched. When you are booked in they may take valuables like credit cards, railcards and jewellery. If you are a convicted male prisoner, your clothes will be taken, and you'll be given a uniform. Anything taken from you should be kept safe until your release.


7.2.2.2 In prison

Make sure they know your dietary, health and religious requirements as soon as you get in. Vegetarian food is usually available, but tell them if you are vegan (to be sure you get a vegan diet you should join the Vegan Society before you do the action) or require a GM free diet, as they will have to prepare special food. The issue of GM free diets is still being fought, one woman got it, but only after five days on hunger strike, the more people who ask for this the sooner it will happen.

They should give you "The Prisoners Information Book" when you get in. It contains most things you need to know about your rights and entitlements as a prisoner. You could send off for it in advance (see appendix 7.3) to help you prepare. If your rights are being ignored or conditions are awful get your supporters to contact your MP and the Prison Reform Trust or other prisoners support group (see appendix 7.3 for further details).

You will be examined by a doctor on arrival, who will ask you (amongst other things) whether you are depressed or suicidal. They do it to everyone. Many women in prison are on medication to "cope", but consequently get screwed-up and become dependent.


7.2.2.3 The cell

You will probably be sharing a cell with other people. This is the interesting part! You can learn a lot, and many prisoners will be keen to talk, although others may want to keep themselves to themselves. Inmates may be quite interested in you, as "political prisoners" are quite novel. You are unlikely to find trouble unless you go looking for it: buggery in the showers for "new boys", or constant brutal bullying, are thankfully rare. However, be prepared to see things like mental instability, depression, pornography, drug abuse and aggression. If you have any problems, then try and get moved. Ask for a single cell if you want your own space and get your name on a waiting list. If you are a nonsmoker you shouldn't be put in with smokers but be prepared for a battle over it. You may be moved around from cell to cell for no apparent reason. Most cells have a flush toilet and washbasin. In older men's prisons the toilet may be replaced by a bucket!

Once a week you will get "canteen". This is when you can go to the prison shop and buy all the things that you need - phonecards, stamps, paper, pens, tobacco, matches, shampoo, snacks, etc. You will be given a few pounds "wages" a week, and this will be the only opportunity that you get to spend it. If you get a job (e.g. cleaning, cooking, serving food) you will get more to spend. There may be a limit on how much you can spend each week.

Every day you should get a chance to "exercise", in fact you have a right to half an hour a day, but it often doesn't happen. This may be the only chance you get to go outside, as you can sometimes be locked in your cell for up to 23 hours a day. The exercise yard is also a good place to meet other prisoners. "Association" is when you can mix with other prisoners on your wing for a few hours and play pool, watch TV, have a shower, etc.

Visiting rules vary for remand and convicted prisoners and between prisons. You are usually allowed three to four visitors at a time. Remand prisoners are generally entitled to one visit every day. Convicted prisoners must get one visit each month (but sometimes get two). All visitors are searched as they go in.

You probably won't be told what the rules are, but you will be told off for breaking them. You might also find that the rules change according to who is in charge, the mood of the staff, the weather, or almost any reason. Its best if you do not try to make sense of this; you are in a topsy turvy world that has no logic. The best thing is to try to pick up the routine and take your cues from other prisoners who know the ropes. 20

Prison staff ("screws") may be quite approachable, but can be megalomaniacs, and often like shouting. You will mostly be treated like a troublesome adolescent, regardless of your behaviour.

To do lots of things, you'll have to put in an "App" (an Application Form to the Governor). People cannot send you in a radio or batteries for example, if you haven't put in an App.


7.2.2.4 Survival strategies

Here are some strategies that we have heard used to good effect by various prisoners. Pick and mix to suit your temperament.

The good sheep approach: Being polite and obedient and generally keeping your head down. Escapism: Don't dwell on the fact that you're locked up. Read trashy novels. Watch trash TV. Listen to the radio. Sleep.

Get busy: Do some campaigning and outreach for genetiX snowball. Read those books that you've been dying to read for ages, write letters, write a diary, get in touch with old friends, devise a cell exercise work-out, get to know your cell mates better.

Prison resistance: Some people find organising and participating in prison resistance very effective. Make complaints, support prisoners who are being picked on, go on hunger strike. Be careful with this - the repercussions can be harsh!

Take every opportunity to get out of your cell (e.g. gym, library, chapel, classes). Prison can be quite interesting. Getting angry and bitter will just set you on an awful slope of depression and bottomless anger. Just forget about the doors and adapt. Save yourself, your anger and your energy for when you get back outside.


7.2.3 Release

Nearly all criminal sentences are automatically halved if you have "been good". Also, they don't release people at the weekend, so you will be out on Friday morning if your release date falls on a Saturday or Sunday. Getting out of prison can be disorienting, especially after a long sentence; this can be more difficult than being in prison because support tends to drop away and everyone thinks you are okay because you are out. Try to prepare yourself for release; make sure you will have a secure, friendly place to recover on your release, perhaps a holiday or some quiet time to get used to being out. You may want your loved ones near you, or you may want lots of solitude.


7.3 Prisoner support

Prison is designed to isolate, and can be brutal, traumatic and damaging. Even if someone is having an okay time inside, it is important that they are not forgotten, and that their resistance is recognised.

Prepare a list of who you want informed. Some people may prefer to be less conspicuous in prison. If you get loads of mail, and others in your cell don't get any, it may cause resentment. If you want lots of letters, your supporters will need to network your address and prisoner number as soon as possible by every means available.

When inside, it is easy to feel isolated so supporters should try and counter that by maximising contact with the prisoner. Find out what helps people inside keep their morale up. Enclosing a book of stamps is really helpful. Ask the prison if you can send money to the prisoner. If you send something, mention it in your letter, so that the prisoner will know if it gets "confiscated".

Some people like letters to be cheerful and chatty; let them know what's going on outside and what actions have been happening. Be aware, however, that the prison authorities read everything, so avoid anything compromising. Fan mail which states "I think you are so brave - I could never do what you did" are generally not appreciated. Letters offering loads of useful advice are also quite annoying! Photos of beautiful places may be welcomed since one of the hardest things is staring at blank walls.