Is politics meant to be a holier than thou search for pure working class positions, which the working class are never part of, or is our politics meant to be for liberation of the working classes?
Ben Gunn's excellent article in your July issue: 'Reform Groups - speak to us, not for us', raised some important questions concerning the role and nature of the established prison reform organisations and who it is they truly represent and serve.
Ben suggests that, on the whole, the professional prison reformists tend to be little more than self-serving careerists motivated more by an intention to ingratiate themselves with penal policy makers and enforcers in a collaborative attempt to legitimise the image and function of prisons. Ben has expressed an irrefutable truth here, and one supported by historical evidence and experience.
Groups like the Howard League, for example, are in fact the latest manifestation of a Victorian, liberal, middle-class project to make prisons more socially acceptable and more effective in regulating and disciplining the lives of what were viewed as the rebellious poor.
The reality is that 'respectable' prison reform organisations are as terrified as those who administer the prison system by the concept and possibility of an organised movement of prisoners empowered by unity and solidarity - such a dynamic threatens the existence of both groups.
When prisoners collectively organise they shift the balance of power within jails and create their own agenda for change, which is an absolute anathema to liberals and hard liners alike, because it challenges both the system and assumptions on which the powerlessness of prisoners is based.
When prisoners defy these imposed assumptions by organising on their own behalf, and articulating their rage and vision for radical, fundamental change, both those employed to keep them in their place and those who claim to represent their best interests feel deeply threatened.
John Bowden - HMP Glenochil