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Solidarity With John Bowden

Solidarity | 27.04.2007 09:31 | Repression | World

Take a few minutes to help support a prisoner.

Long-term prisoner resister John Bowden is currently being targeted by the Scottish Prison Service because of his contact with the Anarchist Black Cross.

Please take a few moments out of your daily scheduale to drop John a card, and send one reading 'Hands Off John Bowden' to the SPS.

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:

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The following is the introduction to John excellent pamphlet 'Tear Down The Walls!', published by Leeds ABC -

Introduction to 'Tear Down The Walls!' (written by Mark Barnsley)

Over the past 10 years or so, the British prison system has been able to claw back almost all of the concessions to humanity an earlier generation of prisoners fought tooth and nail to achieve. The State did not achieve this without resistance, and sometimes robust and significant resistance, such as the full-scale uprising at Full Sutton prison in 1997, but nonetheless it was accomplished. Resistance against tyranny is inevitable and will always endure, but certainly for the most part, throughout the British penal estate, a culture of selfish conformity has currently replaced one of solidarity and struggle.

When the wheels of repression were first set in motion, and the iron heel of the State began to be placed upon the throat of the British prison struggle, few prison ‘rebels’ had the insight and political consciousness to see what was ahead and realise just how far the system intended to go in their aim of crushing the prison struggle once and for all. It was easy to be a rebel when everyone was a rebel, but harder as the ‘divide and rule’ tactics of the State began to take their toll on solidarity by means of the ‘incentives and earned privileges scheme’. It was harder as the number of militants was reduced by naked brutality and the reintroduction of control units; when the landings of the prisons became flooded with smack; and when many one-time ‘rebels’ bailed out for an easy life on the ‘Enhanced’ wings while former comrades suffered in the blocks and units. Sometimes it is easy to be a rebel, but it is harder to be a revolutionary, and for the most part, only those with a genuine revolutionary political consciousness were able to remain true in the face of the dark winds of repression, and find the strength and courage to keep on fighting back. John Bowden is one of these.

I first met John on the exercise yard of Full Sutton maximum security prison in 1998 or 1999, and we quickly became close friends and comrades. John has a personal strength and integrity which shines like a beacon, and a deep level of intelligence and insight, qualities which have made him an accomplished prison organiser and militant, always at the forefront of resistance and struggle wherever the Prison Service ‘ghost-train’ has taken him. You always knew that John would back you up to the hilt, and that once you engaged with the enemy retreat was not an option!

Our first joint initiative was to try to get a proper campaign going to shut down the Woodhill torture unit, with a call for regular protests outside the jail and solidarity actions by prisoners. The ink was barely dry on our call to arms though when John was ghosted to Parkhurst, Britain’s ‘Alcatraz’ on the Isle of Wight. At least one protest outside Woodhill did materialise however, along with a solid prisoners work-strike at Full Sutton.

While John was in the block we corresponded regularly, and continued to swap ideas as well as the prison censor allowed. I was able to organise a number of other work-strikes, sit-outs, and protests at Full Sutton, a militant atmosphere reigned, and a full-scale uprising was only narrowly nipped in the bud. Then the TVs were brought in, and I was ghosted myself!

A few days after arriving on the wing at Long Lartin, I was astonished to see John, we couldn’t believe they’d been stupid enough to put us on the same wing! The plotting began anew! It didn’t last long though, within a few weeks we were caught up in a quite extraordinary situation, which was to see both of us ghosted, and me in the block for the rest of the year. Clearly wanting rid of us, a situation was engendered where we were locked in a cell, together with 4 others, and then accused of barricading it! Despite the fact that we could go nowhere, the whole wing was locked up and moved to another location, all staff leave was cancelled, and extra screws were brought in from other jails along with the police. Nine hours after the six of us had been locked in the 2 metre x 2 metre cell, screws in full riot gear came in with a water-cannon, and they and their dozens of colleagues beat us all the way to the block. As I was collapsing into unconsciousness on the floor of the anti-protest cell into which I’d been thrown, I could hear John being brought down shouting, “Is that the best you can do you cowards, can’t you hit me any harder than that?!”

Nearly a year later, when I was briefly out of segregation, John was put on my wing at Frankland prison near Durham. However, we barely had chance to shake hands when the screws rushed on to say that there’d been a mistake and that he was on the wrong wing. They were so desperate to accommodate him elsewhere, they put John on the ‘Enhanced’ wing! A few days later I was back down the block accused of “fermenting unrest” (sic.) and off to Wakefield!

Even when we were in different nicks though, John proved a valuable comrade and ally, and we were able to jointly organise other initiatives such as solidarity actions in support of the Turkish hunger-strikers and prisoners in the Spanish FIES isolation units. Wherever John was I always knew that he would be constantly working against the system in whatever way he could!

There is no doubt that John is a man of action, a soldier, someone who will physically stand his ground and walk the walk as well as talk the talk. But, he is also a hugely articulate writer who expresses his political ideas clearly and cogently, and is never afraid to speak his mind irrespective of the personal consequences. And John certainly has been punished for speaking out, in ways that many who have never known the tyranny of prison life may find hard to believe possible. Believe it, for there are no depths to the barbarity and inhumanity of the system and its turn-key lackeys. And believe this too: John Bowden has never been intimidated by the grinding brutality he has suffered, the long years of isolation have never caused him to surrender. He remains defiant, unvanquished, unbowed, every inch the human-being that the cowards who have beaten him and kept him chained can never aspire to be.

Leeds ABC are honoured to be able to publish this pamphlet. In Unbroken! John shares his story with us; a tale of inhumanity and resistance to that inhumanity, of a political awakening in the dark dungeons which the State prefers left unlit, and above all of solidarity and the struggle to maintain personal integrity in the face of the most terrible adversity. In Prison – A Crime Against Humanity John shows, clearly and concisely, why prisons can never be ‘reformed’ and must be destroyed absolutely.

Insights into the closed prison world of blocks and control units are rare, and in writing about this world for us, John Bowden is once again risking more than many would care to sacrifice themselves. All we can do is offer him our solidarity. Tear down the walls!



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