The two older men convicted along with John of the murder were released long ago. Possibly, had John been less of a man than he is, if he had grovelled his way through the prison system, turned a blind eye to the injustice all around him, ignored the suffering of others, and tugged his forelock to every worthless turn-key in the system, he might too have been released early. But that did not happen.
Soon after his imprisonment, in his own words, John “began to become politicized, to emerge from the hopelessness, violence, and rage that had characterised my life thus far.” As John’s self-awareness and politicization grew, he began to emerge as an effective prison organiser and an articulate spokesperson for prisoners’ rights.
But prisons are not run like liberal democracies, they are run like absolute police states, where dissent is outlawed, and those who speak out against injustice are targeted and punished. What John Bowden has suffered over the past 25 years; the savage beatings at the hands of prison guards; the solitary confinement; the continual attempts to break him psychologically, amount to torture. John has never been broken by these outrages however, he has never been unafraid to write in support of other prisoners being brutalised in segregation units, for example; to show solidarity with those facing injustice in jail systems all over the world; to stand up and be counted when it was needed. And for that he has been punished; punished for being an articulate prison writer; punished for having a deep political insight and intelligence which outstrips his captors; punished for having the respect of other prisoners and that of many political activists beyond the prison walls. John Bowden has paid a heavy price, not just for a few moments of drunken recklessness, but for his integrity, his empathy, his solidarity, and for his radicalism.
Time and time again, John’s politics, and his contact with political activists, has been highlighted by the prison system as a “risk factor” and a reason for keeping him in jail. Nonetheless, after more than a quarter of a Century behind bars, John Bowden, now aged 50, had progressed through the system to an open prison, Castle Huntly in Scotland. He has worked outside the prison walls, been regularly released on weekend ‘home leaves’, and was being prepared for possible release in June of this year. All that has recently changed though, with John being moved back to ‘closed conditions’ at HMP Glenochil.
In the closed world of the prison system, where justice is a stranger, and where abuse routinely goes unchecked, a man or woman’s life may be held in the hands of the corrupt or incompetent. At times, even the most lowly turn-key may assume god-like authority, and the word of every single prison employee, no matter how ridiculous, counts infinitely more than that of any prisoner.
Recently at Castle Huntly, a newly-arrived right-wing social worker submitted a report on John Bowden, for consideration when his application for release on ‘life licence’ is heard by the parole board. In this report Matthew Stillman claims: “Bowden has written for a self-proclaimed anarchist website called ABC Brighton, and says he supports many of their ideals and actions. A review of this website brings into question the nature of this group. The members of this group appear to be primarily eco-terrorists or para-military members involved in what they see as battles against political systems and principles.”
In any other walk of life, were someone to make such an unfounded and blatantly defamatory statement against a legitimate prisoner support organisation, the best they could expect is that they would be laughed at. Unfortunately, in the Kafkaesque world of prison, the words of this individual carry real weight, and real danger. Therefore it is important that they are challenged.
While Indymedia chose to report this as an attack on both John Bowden and the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC), and prisoner support groups and political activists around the world rallied in support of John, The Dundee Courier chose a different approach. In a piece headlined, “Castle Huntly Killer’s Terror Links”, the Courier chose to basically invent a story out of Stillman’s own fantastic perception, doubly libelling the ABC, and no doubt choosing John Bowden as an ‘easy target’.
Seizing on this publicity as an excuse, the Scottish Prison Service immediately transferred John Bowden back to ‘closed conditions’ at HMP Glenochil, where he has been told he will remain for 3 months. While, bizarrely, they claim this is not a ‘punishment move’, it is blatantly clear that John is being punished because the spotlight has fallen on the defamatory and malicious nonsense authored by a Castle Huntly social worker.
As someone who has stood up for countless others during his time in prison, often at great cost to himself, and who is now being punished for his politics and for refusing to renounce the ABC, John Bowden deserves our fullest possible support.
At the very least please send a card or letter to John at his new address (below) and a card reading ‘Hands Off John Bowden!’ to the Scottish Prison Service. All constructive support actions are encouraged. Please show solidarity with John Bowden at a time when he needs our support most.
“For having stood up to and resisted unlawful and inhuman treatment in prison, and retained some basic human integrity and humanity in the process, I probably shall now remain imprisoned far beyond what even a reactionary judge deemed an appropriate period of time all those years ago. Hell will freeze over, however, before I surrender that part of myself that had the courage and integrity to fight back and resist when resistance often seemed futile.”
John Bowden (from Tear Down The Walls!)
Related story at: https://publish.indymedia.org.uk/en/2007/04/368208.html
John Bowden, 6729, HMP Glenochil, King O' Muir Road, Tullibody, Clackmannanshire, FK10 3AD. Scotland.
Scottish Prison Service Headquarters, Communications Branch, Room 338, Calton House, 5 Redheughs Rigg, Edinburgh, EH12 9HW. Scotland E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you wish to make a fuller complaint you can also e-mail the Scottish Prisons Complaints Commission at email@example.com as well as contacting the Parole Board and HMP Glenochil (contact details given in Indymedia link above.)
Tear Down The Walls! is available from Leeds ABC, price £1.50 plus 50p UK postage (blank postal orders only please.) It is free to prisoners. Please contact us for bulk orders.
Leeds ABC, PO Box 53, Leeds, LS8 4WP. England.