Northern Ireland: Writings and reflections by anarchist prisoner John Paul Wootton

Two writings by anarchist prisoner John Paul Wootton. The first writing is his thoughts on the injustice system and the use of prisons by the state which realistically culminates in a complete waste of time to what the claim of why prisons are used, i.e. to “rehabilitate” people that commit “crimes” to make them “better and functional members of society”.

John Paul’s second writing is a reflection on why he became vegan and why he will remain vegan. John Paul is still struggling in the prison system to gain full rights to living a more vegan life in prison.

John Paul has been imprisoned with his co-accused Brendan McConville for the last 10 years. Both men have been falsely convicted of the shooting dead of a cop in Craigavon, Ireland in 2009. Ever since the two have been fighting the injustice imposed on them by the British colonial system.

For more information on John Paul Wootton and the case of the Craigavon 2 see this previous article.

To send letters and support to John Paul Wootton or Brendan McConville the prison address is:

HM Prison Maghaberry
17 Old Road,
Lisburn BT28 2PT, UK

Questioning imprisonment:

My impression is that when a lot of people think of justice, they think that if people do something wrong, they should be punished and imprisonment is a natural outthinking of this.

But is it that simple?

A serious lack of understanding on the part of the general public about how justice is dispensed and the realities of prison. If people were actually involved in administering justice themselves, within their own communities, I believe a very different and much more humane system would emerge.

The chances are, many people will know someone who has been to prison. If this applies to you, then you’ll know how difficult it was for that person and the damage it can do, and probably has done already to someone you care about.

Had you been given the opportunity to free your loved one immediately, I’m sure very few would choose to keep them locked away. The question is this – if you could free your brother your partner or your daughter, why would you not free someone else’s?

You might say “Oh, but we have to prevent crime” or “society wouldn’t be safe if we just let everyone go…” and whilst I understand that thinking, we need to ask ourselves, honestly, if imprisonment is actually preventing crime or making society safer because the evidence would suggest that it isn’t.

Criminological study has garnered much evidence on the different factors contributing to the presence of crime in our society. These tend to be socio-economic and include poverty levels, low educational attainment and poor career prospects to name but a few.

Issues with mental health and drug addiction are also hugely important.

The key point to be made is that, not only can all these factors be addressed outside of prison, in the community, but many solutions are actually impeded by imprisonment and some issues are even intensified by its harmful effects.

The approach to formal education offers an example. If the education system outside the prison has failed people already a much more inadequate system within the prison doesn’t stand much of a chance. In prison, people are offered a narrow choice of courses (with large waiting lists) that are uninteresting to most and are available only at levels too low to, on their own, improve people’s opportunities. Also studying in a prison environment is, in itself, a challenge many are unable to overcome.

Instead of wasting so much of our society’s resources on propping up a system of ‘justice’ and imprisonment that has clearly not been successful in improving the situation, we should focus our efforts on addressing those factors that contribute to crime by, for example, improving our education system. Doing this successfully would soon allow us to reduce the harm done in society both to the victims of crime and to those who find themselves imprisoned due to factors outside their immediate control.

John Paul Wootton
Maghaberry Prison
Co. Antrim

Going Vegan:

I have to start with some honesty: I did not become a Vegan for compassionate reason. That said, it is exactly why I remain one.

I was always vaguely aware of Veganism and slightly more conscious of the idea of animal rights. I’ve always had an underlying sympathy for non-human animals, especially concerning our treatment of them. This mostly manifested itself as support in ‘spirit’ without any real or concrete action. So when I seen or heard about chickens held in battery conditions, or circus animals being mistreated and ‘broken’, I would tut and shake my head. This was the extent of my indignation and if ever this inaction troubled me, I’d reassure myself “sure, I’m in jail, what can I do?”

Then along came the health documentaries and the possibility that those who eat a plant based diet generally live longer and are freer from age-related illnesses. Along with this too was the potential to loose some weight.

I am like a lot of my generation. Body image is something that we are forced to be concerned with. Whatever the reasons this is the reality. Losing weight, then, was regularly on my mind. I tried all sorts of diets and each of them ultimately failed. So I decided that a Vegan diet would be my next attempt.

Once I’d begun the diet I immediately began to reflect on my decision – was it a good decision? How long would I stick it out? Have I done this for the right reasons?

This last question stuck with me and suddenly all the issues around animal welfare came to the fore in my mind. After a while attempting to grapple with this I made a decision: whatever my reason for initially going Vegan, I was making it a permanent part of my life and there was no turning back. It mattered too much to me now.

As part of my reflection a key question was: now that I was out, how could I go back to feeding into a system that causes so much unnecessary suffering and harm when another option exists?

So, although I started off as a ‘health-conscious’ Vegan, I would now say that I’ve begun an ethical evolution. I say evolution because it will be a process, the speed of which will, to a certain degree, be determined by my circumstances.

Nevertheless my journey has started and I hope many more will set off on the same journey.

John Paul Wootton