In what can only be good news for the country sports lobby, a new, and perhaps not wholly surprising wellspring of support has emerged for the practice of large animals riding bigger animals encouraging small animals to tear other small animals to shreds: violent criminals.
Courtesy of a letter in must-read magazine Horn & Hound (the Animal’s regular copy seems to have gone astray, so this is courtesy of the Evening Standard) from convicted criminal, drunk driver and old Etonian Otis Ferry, currently remanded in custody at HMP Gloucester awaiting trial for attempting to pervert the course of justice, we have learnt that the ban on fox hunting hasn’t gone done too well with the criminal fraternity. The Standard reports that:
the master of the South Shropshire Hunt, complains that he finds it difficult to converse with his fellow inmates because of their lack of knowledge of country pursuits and their being hardened murderers and drug dealers.
Otis Ferry writes:
“Most of my inmates are under 30 and we don’t have much in common. There are not many countrymen so conversation is limited, but I have done my best to educate as many as possible. I have yet to meet someone here opposed to foxhunting.”
Proof, if ever it was needed, that prisons really are universities for re-offending: the ‘education’ that young Master Ferry is providing presumably includes the best methods to breach or circumvent the Hunting Act 2004 or the Public Order Act 1986 (under which he was previously convicted). Given his discovery of the views of Britain’s prison population in relation to the key issue of fox hunting, we must assume that Mr Ferry will now be offering his full support to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ demand that the government legislate to provide voting rights for inmates.
But the key issue arising from Mr Ferry’s letter, so the right-wing press tells us, is his ‘scathing’ attack on the penal and criminal justice systems. The only problem is that the letter seems more than a little confused as to what its complaint is: half the time prison is too soft and not punishing enough, the next it is boring and unpleasant-sounding.
“Contrary to popular belief, prison life is not tough”
he writes. Now, I’ve always found that the popular belief is that prison wasn’t tough, largely because large parts of the media make it sound like a trip to a holiday camp.
“In this namby-pamby society, we even get our own televisions, although I have quickly realised that watching it is quite a punishment in itself.”
Prisoners being allowed to do something other than stare at their four walls throughout the day? How unutterably disgraceful… Not, of course, that Mr Ferry’s outrage prevents him from getting a sly dig in at this awful televisual apparatus so beloved of the lower classes. Of course, what he fails to mention is that having a TV in the cell is a privilege that can be withdrawn in the event of poor behaviour. In April a Ministry of Justice spokesperson told the Daily Mail that
“Access to TVs is a condition of acceptable behaviour. “Television sets purchased for in-cell prisoner use are paid for by the weekly rental fee of £1 paid by prisoners. The average wage for a prisoner is under £10 a week. TVs can and will be removed from prisoners whose behaviour is deemed unacceptable.”
So, how about some more details from Mr Ferry of his namby-pamby existence at Her Majesty’s pleasure?
“We go outside for half an hour every day in a tennis court sized yard, like battery hens, walk around in circles for a while then return to our cells for the rest of the day.”
Sounds awfully cushy, doesn’t it? Especially for a self-described ‘countryman’ who presumably revels in wide, open spaces.
[Ferry] tells readers of the “eventless” routine and the how he endures the grim food, with lunch served at the “most unusual” time of 11.30am while supper is at 4.30pm. Ferry says: “The most frequently asked question is how the food is. My answer is that I simply swallow and reject any messages my tongue sends to the brain. My early life has prepared me for most things..my time scrubbing the Middleton hound yards gave me ample preparation for when people crap in the shower.”
It just gets better and better, doesn’t it? Cordon bleu cuisine and charming company to boot. No wonder the prison population is growing – people must be practically fighting to get inside with those sort of inducements.
From the Standard’s write-up of Mr Ferry’s missive, it is highly confusing as to what he actually wants. He starts off complaining that his prison existence is too soft, largely on the basis that he is provided with a form of entertainment – what would he prefer to pass the time, occasional and random beatings from the warders? Then he seems to start complaining that life is too harsh – limited opportunities for exercise, a dull routine and poor food. So which is it? Are we supposed to feel sorrow for poor Mr Ferry, rotting away in his cell, with nothing but the draft of his autobiography to console him, or are we supposed to rage against the injustice of a system that gives its prisoners – wait for it – a television? Or perhaps Mr Ferry might like to consider that he is not in a typical situation and that if convicted of perverting the course of justice or the counts of robbery that he will also soon be up in front of a court for, he will find his time well employed through training or education, or earning a small wage through prison work. For example, HMP Gloucester’s website tells us that:
The Enterprise Centre accommodates a cycle repair facility repairing bicycles for use in third world countries.
Whichever line you take, I don’t think I’ll be turning to Horn & Hound for further informed news and views on penal reform.