My mate and me were walking across the yard at HMP Everthorpe a couple of years ago. We are Samaritans and had been in for a meeting of the Listeners group. These are offenders who are trained in Samaritans skills to provide peer emotional support. It’s a cracking idea and one that current Justice Secretary Ken Clarke deserves a lot of credit for starting in 1991, before he was moved from the Home Office to make way for Tory right wing hard man Michael Howard. John Major was attempting to appease the hang and flog tendency in the Tory Party and Clarke’s progressive ways did not fit.
At the time of our conversation the issue of votes for prisoners had reared it’s head. “What do you think?” Faye asked me.
“100% against. You get banged up you should lose that right”.
“OK. So then lets take the roof off and leave them open to the elements, and while we’re at it cut off supplies of food and water”.
“That’s a spurious argument”.
“Why? We live in a democracy. Our basic human rights are food, shelter, being safe and because we are a democracy then the right to vote should be part of that”.
But Faye’s final comment was the clincher. “Look, why are we here today? Because we believe that everyone has the right to access Samaritans, because we believe in truly being non judgemental and we respect everyone first unless proved otherwise. The true test of whether or not you truly believe in human rights is when you are asked to apply them to people that you don’t like, and can’t empathise with”.
The scales fell from my eyes. Votes for prisoners is a no brainer for me and it’s something we should be actively campaigning for.