I do not have a morbid interest in prison or prisoners, but I do find myself gravitating towards them. Prisons, with their troubled human content, are places where an emergency in society is sorted out, patched up or put on ice for a while. But mostly the problem remains.
Hence the appalling reoffending rate among prisoners. Recidivism rates are up there in the 90 per cents with some prisons. And the recent stats on suicides and deaths within prison show us a state emergency response going off the rails.
Last week I went to a prison that is probably the oldest in the British Isles, and certainly the most distinguished in terms of its inmates. The Tower of London was the scene to launch a book called The Veterans’ Survival Guide. Written by Jimmy Johnson, it is published by Veterans in Prison. Jimmy Johnson is in prison for life. He was a serving soldier whose life and mind was wrecked by PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder – and who remained untreated.
The death of two innocent men was the result. Once having left the army Jimmy murdered one man and was sentenced. After serving his time he was freed, and went out and murdered another man. He has been in prison now for almost 40 years.
There has been a shamefulness to how society and its governments have used ex-soldiers
The bringing of Jimmy’s book to light – his story, but also his thoughts and advice about combat-related PTSD – fell to General the Lord Dannatt, former Chief of the General Staff. He orchestrated the launch in a room in the Tower of London where, in 1605, the Privy Council ‘interviewed’ Guy Fawkes after his discovery of the gunpowder under Parliament.
Jimmy’s story is of the untreated. Of the slow development of understanding, and the realisation that if PTSD is left, it can be a powder keg in one’s life. Hence the deaths. Hence the taking of Jimmy Johnson and burying him in a prison away from the public and from everyday life.