You might be wondering why the title of this particular blog reads like the start of an AA meeting, however after recent events on Twitter relating to Alex Cavendish, I feel a need to ally myself with a community I was part of and attempt explain, from my own point of view, some of the reactions on social media that are poorly understood by other commentators. I went to prison, that makes me different to 95% of the country. It doesn’t define me, but I have enduring personality changes because of it. I am amongst an elite marginalised group of people with whom I have strong ties and allegiances.
In the last 48 hours, a man who represented so many views on prison reform, a trusted voice, feted in certain quarters was ‘outed’ on social media as being a convicted child sex offender. Along with many others I was susprised at this revelation, not that he was a convicted sex offender, but that he had not told anyone what he had been convicted of. It should not matter, however it does, it does for many reasons, some of which are tied up in the complexities of prison politics.
Some reformers knew, they had recently found out and had tried to work with ‘Alex’. They, quite rightly, wanted him to tell everyone what he had been convicted of, he is said to have refused to engage, despite being offered open support by these other, ex con, reformers. In normal circumstances his crime would be irrelevant. He was a force for good and change. However these are not normal circumstances, ex con, serving con reformers and their families are already a marginalised group who struggle to get their voices heard. Any ‘scandal’ undermines any headway that has been made. It dilutes their voices and undermines the arguments they make for reform. Alex’s failure to disclose his crime to anyone is a huge betrayal of trust. I will attempt to explain why, from my perspective as an ex inmate.
Child sex offenders and killers are the ‘pariahs’ of society, more so inside prison. A very small community in which there is a concentrated pecking order. People are evaluated by other inmates using the crime they are convicted for, that is the starting point for anyone entering the prison system. First question you are asked is ‘what you in for’ (if your face has not been plastered across the media). In no other part of society would you be asked if you had ever committed a crime and what that crime was at first introduction. This one question and your answer will dictate how you spend time inside, how you are treated and more importantly, how safe you are going to be. The crime defines.
If you happen to have been convicted of a child sex offence or child murder, you can pretty much guarantee that you are not going to be safe in prison unless you spend all your time in segregation. Even the convicted sex offenders have their pecking order, a rapist being higher up the food chain than the paedophile. The SO who downloads child pornographers being ‘better’ than the child molester etc.
Should you find out that somebody is a convicted child sex offender and you choose to engage with them, you do so at your own peril. Guilty by association. You are literally putting your life at risk. It is considered to be a betrayal of unwritten prison rules if you do befriend a ‘nonce’. However, if you know then at least you can make an informed choice. A choice that was removed on social media because Alex did not tell anyone.
OK, he did not have to tell, he had served his time and given what happens to convicted child sex offenders inside HMP, you could, based on what I have already written, excuse Alex’s failure to disclose his conviction. But and this is the crux of the matter, Alex claims to have been receiving information from the ‘inside’. This could mean prison officers, governors or inmates with illegal phones. You may all be thinking ‘so what’ – Alex is a convicted sex offender, we have no way of finding out if he also has a SOPO (Sexual Offences Prevention Order) which precludes him from having any contact with minors it may also include other orders relating to whom he is allowed contact with, such as vulnerable people. Alex was in contact with many people, some of whom may well be young people incarcerated in young offenders units, some of whom have anon accounts on Twitter and may well be under 18, some of whom may be on license with a SOPO for sex offence themselves. All of this puts any whistleblowers he was in contact with at risk. Any breach of an order which may or may not be in place allows those in authority to examine his electronics if they believe he is in breach of any conditions that have been placed on him.
Any inmate who has been conversing with a ‘nonce’ privately or publicly via social media ran the risk of coming to harm themselves because of those comms. The fact they did not know he was a convicted sex offender is irrelevant in HMP. This is where the betrayal ex con reformists talk about becomes polarised.
Alex in failing to disclose his crime has put other inmates at risk by failing to disclose his offence. He has put them at risk of being scrutinised and potentially charged with possession of electronic communications, he has put those he communicated with privately on SM or email who are on licence at risk of recall and believe me the system will use any excuse to get you back inside if they want to. It is the ultimate betrayal, he absolutely knew as an ex con that he was crossing a line.
He had no right to put himself out there as a reformist without disclosing his offences and his release conditions outside of being on the SO register if he was going to engage with people. He is guilty of the worst kind of deception, it is a violation of trust that is not given easily, he took away their freedom to choose with whom they engage. Their right. The only thing many of them have left, that right to choose with whom they engage. That is the issue. That is why so many feel so strongly about this matter. It is an HMP thing. Betrayal by one of your ‘own’.
Do I condone The Lifer outing him publicly. Absolutely not, it is incredibly dangerous. Do I understand why that happened, yes. Somebody had to stop him from potentially being in contact with other inmates who could well find themselves in serious trouble should Alex’s computers or phones be seized. Sophie’s choice. I would not have done it, however I can see that The Lifer felt he was left with no choice, the ‘betrayal’ was just too big to ignore and being locked in a cell gives you plenty of time to think or even over think.
This narrative is based on my experiences of HMP and how I feel about what has happened. It does not reflect the views of anyone else.