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Review: Prison Writing of Latin America by Joey Whitfield

joey whitfield

Joey is a teacher of mine at MLANG in Cardiff University. This is his first book. It explores prison writing in Latin America and looks at abolitionism of the penal system and draws on some really rather delicate themes that expose the dark brutality of prisons in a developing continent where sometimes human rights can be totally thrown out of the window. There is a schism in the penal code between political prisoners and criminals and Joey looks at how these two groups affect each other’s progress through the system. Often it is the poorest and racially discriminated against that suffer the worst fates in the prison system. Poor, indigenous women victims of Reagan’s War on Drugs when Latin American governments need to satisfy captivity quotas in order to get their dollar funding are the ones which are locked away as they are easy targets for a corrupt police force. The first chapter looks at political writing within the prison system. I was totally blown away by the imprisoned Costa Rican author José León Sánchez. This man was a true victim of the system and was wrongly given a life imprisonment term on the barren prison island colony of San Lucas, condemned to carrying a ball and chain around with him whilst manacled all day. In the face of adversity, Sánchez became literate and his work ‘La isla de los hombres solos’ catapulted him into national and international fame, his original work confounding all the critics. Chapter 2 of Whitfield is very dark and difficult to read. It explores homosexual love in the prison system, from rape through to desperate displays of machisimo. The men turn to each other in a way of confronting the system. This chapter looks mainly at imprisoned Cubans. Chapter 3 is brutal in the way it describes the prison massacres of Senderoso Luminosa captives who fight wars with the Peruvian authorities from behind the door, all in defence of their leftist communist ideologies. Some of the worst prison massacres in history occurred in Peru during the 1980s at the peak of the Senedero resistance guerrilla war with the state. Chapter 4 is about the War on Drugs where the Reagan administration turns its Southern hemisphere politics away from leftist insurgents and criminalises the narcotics industry, creating a new criminal class. Comando Vermelho (Red Command) is Brasil are a drug-trafficking criminal gang that originate in prisons…

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Landlocked – Mental Health in the UK and the Prevention of International Travel, Translation and Foreign Language Education

air new zealand

On the Second of April 1997, at the point of my first contact with the Mental Health Act, I had my life’s dreams shattered. On that day, my parents had been persuaded to take me to see a psychiatrist at the local mental hospital, St Cadoc’s in Caerleon. I hadn’t wanted to attend the meeting at all as I didn’t have any health issues. However, I was forced by my family to go. I spoke with a psychiatrist, a social worker and a GP and they told me that I couldn’t leave the hospital and that I had been placed under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act 1983, a piece of UK government legislation that I had never heard of at all and that I knew nothing about. I was given a bit of paper which told me ‘my rights’ all of which are lies. I had to stay in the hospital for 28 days. I said I can’t do that as I am a university student at University College London (UCL) and also have several business commitments in the Music Industry for my DJing where I have a night at the Ministry of Sound arranged. They said that it was necessary for me to be treated (against my consent) and that afterwards I would be free to get on with my life.   (above is the MOS Flyers for the event which went ahead anyway, just without me there. It was apparently a delusion of grandeur and therefore a symptom of the diagnosed schizophrenia. The shrinks like using this terminology of grandiose delusions for beating you in court appeals etc. Difficult to prove to a shrink anything that you say as they always seem to know better…. [Interestingly my Ltd company was regarded as a Delusion of Grandeur much later in 2002 but I’ll save that story for a future End of Terror article.  ])   I won’t go into the details of what happened to me medically during this time as that is not the subject of this article but eventually I spent between 2 and 3 months locked in Isca Ward, St Cadoc’s, before I was released into the community. The misdiagnosed condition (schizophrenia) which I knew from the start that I didn’t have at all has led to a pursuance by this mental health system of me as an individual for over 22 years. I…

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Review: Winter Is Coming – Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped – by Garry Kasparov

winter is coming

Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion, is clearly an intelligent man. Having retired from the game he has entered the world of politics and is a key human rights activist. The book explores his frustrations with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. It is a study of Putin and the way in which he has eroded the democratic institutions bought about by Perestroika and the fall of communism in the Soviet Union. Kasparov tried to align a coalition of democratic oppositionists within Russia yet the force of the state and its poor human rights record left Kasparov no alternative but to fight as an exile from New York City. It is clear from the book that his chess success has made him different to the average Russian. His priveleged life as a global Soviet citizen has perhaps led him further to embrace Yeltsin’s opening up of Russia. I think he hearkens for a Western style democracy within Russia but perhaps Russia itself is not suited to such political freedoms and requires a degree of autocracy for it to effectively function on the international stage. Although I can identify many of the problems posed by Putin, I feel that he has successfully restored a great deal of lost power to Russia and will perhaps be remembered in posterity as a key figure in Russian history. Although he may be a dictator, he is no Stalin and his absolute rule has still brought about many benefits to the Russian State. Can the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine be equated to Hitler’s pre WW2 actions in Czechoslovakia and Poland? Kasparov sets out a case of why the appeasing Western democratic leaders have failed the Russian people in standing up to Putin and he spells out the dangers of the régime, crying out for help. I enjoyed the tactical surprises and clear prose of hearing one of the world’s great mind’s thinking process at work as I traversed the book although I feel that perhaps it is a little unfair on its target and fails to recognise some of the intricacies of superpower politics. It will be interesting to see where Kasparov takes his future life as indeed will it be interesting to see where exactly Putin steers Russia.

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