In this section...
".... 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.