Reading Craig Murray’s blog about his prison experience is fairly gruesome. Much of it considers the filth of the Scottish prison he was incarcerated in. The place sounds like a disgusting pit. Murray suggests that this condition is a form of corporal punishment. I think it probably is, and a form of punishment designed to dehumanise the individual, rather than ennoble them (after all, why should prisoners—criminals—ever aspire to be nobler?) Murray’s first report from his imprisonment begs a question: what would you do if you were a prison governor? Would you want your charges to reside in filth? Would you see your staff as mere lock-keepers?
My response is not necessarily going to be welcome amongst liberal minded individuals, but if such individuals ever end up in prison they may welcome the small relief it affords. I am also sure that I could be accused of being simplistic, but there you go. I base my remedy for what ailed Murray on personal experience. I joined the RAF at age 18 and spent six weeks undergoing basic training. The first thing I learnt was that the cleanliness of the accommodation was a religion, and was achieved without punishment. In fact it was an all encompassing discipline, rigorously monitored. It was in effect a way of ensuring that men from disparate backgrounds had something in common. Cleanliness couldn’t be avoided. Personally, I would say thank god. Who wants to sit on a toilet Murray described in his blog (I almost wrote bog)? Of course, Murray’s disgust at what he found in his cell tells us that his standard of cleanliness was far superior to what the prison authorities were prepared to tolerate. That tells us that said authorities are content to see inmates as akin to filth, regardless of their crimes (and Murray committed no crime). So the disciplinarian in me would ensure that all inmates had cleaning duties. They should be afforded the luxury of living in a spotless prison, cleaner than any five star London hotel. Part of their daily exercise routine would inevitably be spent polishing any brasswork that may still exist, whatever. Is this suggestion illiberal? I suggest not. It could actually be liberating, in the sense that some release from 23 hours of self-isolation in a cell might at least afford a way of escaping what I imagine might be mind-numbing boredom or worse, suicidal claustrophobia.
Not every prisoner is like Craig Murray of course. Many prisoners have personal issues which are to say the least, severe. Still, my view is that an ordered day wouldn’t do any of them any harm, but only good. Far better to approach the matter with an enabling attitude than simply locking them up to serve their time. Anyway I’m not a prison governor so there won’t be a sudden rush on yellow dusters and Brasso (or the prison-safe equivalent). I can only conclude that in prison I think such a discipline would be more of a blessing than a punishment. It would be for me if my cell was spick and span and I could sit on a toilet which wasn’t ringed by years of s**t and a had a seat.