Long term anarchist prisoner John Bowden was recently denied parole and is being held hostage by the system because of his beliefs. He has asked that this letter be circulated.

On the 22nd January 2019 after almost forty years in prison the Parole
Board considered the case for either my release or continued
imprisonment. In the case of life sentence or indeterminately sentenced
prisoners once such prisoners have been detained for the length of time
originally recommended by the judiciary or Secretary of State, in my
case 25 years, then the Parole Board has a statuary and legal obligation
and responsibility to review the case for either the release or the
continued detention of such prisoners. At three previous parole hearings
my release had been denied by the Parole Board on the grounds that I was
a “difficult and anti-authoritarian” prisoner, and insufficiently
obedient to prison authority; my actual risk or danger to the public,
the prime official criteria for denying the release of life sentence
prisoners, was never cited as a reason for my continued imprisonment.
At my parole hearing on the 22nd January all of the professionals
employed to assess the potential risk of prisoners the community, prison
psychologists, probation officers, etc., all provided evidence stating
that my actual risk to the community was either minimal or non-existent
and that I could be ‘safely managed’ outside of prison. My lawyer
informed the parole panel that the three chief criteria determining the
‘suitability of release’ of life sentence prisoners [has the prisoner
served a sufficient length of time to satisfy the interest of
retribution?; does the prisoner represent a minimal risk to the
community?; can the prisoner be safely managed in the community?] were
all confirmed in my case and therefore there was no real lawful
justification for my continued imprisonment, especially as I remained
still in prison almost fifteen years beyond the length of time
originally recommended by the judiciary. The issues raised by the parole
panel were not in fact my potential risk to the community or potential
for violent behaviour, all of which had been assessed by the system
professionals who gave evidence at the hearing and who unanimously
attested that my risk of either violent behaviour or risk to the
community was minimal; the main concern of the parole panel was my
propensity to challenge prison authority and my association with radical
political groups on the outside, specifically Anarchist Black Cross.
Representatives from the London Probation Service informed the panel
that all of the groups that I was associated with were lawful and none
were associated with illegal activity, and in terms of my relationship
with the prison system whilst I continued to question and challenge what
I perceived as abuses of power, I had not been involved in violent
protest actions against the system for over twenty years.
At the conclusion of the parole hearing the panel announced that it
would deliver its decision regarding my release within fourteen days. By
law parole panels must deliver decisions within fourteen days of
On the fourteenth day following my hearing the Parole Board claimed that
it had not in fact concluded the hearing on the 22nd January but had
“adjourned” it and would conclude with a “paper hearing”, when I and my
lawyer would not be present, on the 20th February. They also requested
additional information from the probation officers responsible for my
post-release supervision concerning the conditions and rules of that
supervision. The probation officers subsequently provided the Board with
the information, and reiterated that in their professional opinion I
could be safely managed and supervised in the community.
On the 20th February the Parole Board then claimed that they had
“deferred” the “paper hearing” because one of the Board members
considering my release had decided to go on leave. In early March in
response to inquiries from the Probation Service regarding a parole
decision, the Parole Board said that they were in the process of
“finalising” their decision.
What was becoming increasingly apparent was that the Parole Board simply
did not want to make a decision, or at least a decision authorising my
release, which placed them in something of a quandary.
Confronted by the evidence and recommendations of system professionals
such as probation officers and prison-hired psychologists who had all
stated that there was no public protection justification for my
continued imprisonment, the Parole authorities were denied a legitimate
legal cover for my continued detention, and obviously were extremely
reluctant to openly declare the true reason for their desire to deny my
release – a determination to continue my punishment for ever having
dared to fight and challenge the prison system, and my refusal to
compromise or surrender my political integrity and spirit. In reality,
when considering the release of life sentence prisoners one criteria is
given absolute priority over all others, and it certainly isn’t “public
protection” or the propensity, or not, of the prisoner to criminally
re-offend. The most fundamental criteria governing the release decision
of life sentence prisoners is the absolute obedience of the prisoner to
the authority of those enforcing that imprisonment? Essentially, prisons
exist as instrument of social control to tame the rebellious poor and
condition them into total obedience to the system; “rehabilitation” is
simply a veneer used to legitimise an institution that is intrinsically
brutal and inhuman.

Extremely high levels of “re-offending” and re-imprisonment illustrate
just how ineffective prisons are as instruments of genuine “public
protection”. What actually influences and determines Parole Board
decisions is more the “model prisoner” inclination of the prisoner being
considered for release than whether they represent a genuine “risk to
the public” or are likely to “re-offend”. In my own case, therefore,
whilst the Parole Board was probably satisfied that my actual risk to
the ordinary public was either minimal or non-existent, and after being
imprisoned for almost forty year the “interests of retribution” had been
adequately satisfied in my case, nevertheless my continuing propensity
to challenge the authority and power of those imprisoning me, in the
eyes of a white middle class Parole Board, rendered me “unsuitable for
In 1980 I, along with two other men, was imprisoned for the killing of a
fourth man during a drunken gathering of petty criminals in a South
London council estate. Imprisonment for a minimum of 25 years I was cast
into a jail system characterised by naked brutality and violent
repression that dealt with “difficult” prisoners in an often murderous
way. An already emotionally and psychologically much damaged young
state-raised prisoner and now with absolutely nothing to lose, I
responded to the violence of the system with extreme resistance. In 1983
I was convicted of taking a prison governor hostage and had an
additional ten years added to my sentence; I was also consigned to
solitary confinement for four years in conditions of total
de-humanisation. I continued to resist and fight back, and was
frequently brutalised, but also experienced deep political
radicalisation and came to see my struggle against the prison system as
part of a much wider struggle against state oppression everywhere. For
the next three decades of my imprisonment i committed myself totally to
the struggle for prisoners’ rights, and as a result was labelled by the
prison authorities as a “subversive and difficult prisoner”. In 1992 I
managed to escape and with the assistance of political supporters
outside I lived and travelled widely around Europe before being
re-captured two years later. In 2007 I was finally transferred to an
open prison, supposedly as preparation for release, and worked each day
in the outside community as a literacy tutor for adults with learning
difficulties. Then 12 months later I was “Down Graded” back to a
high-security prison following a report by a prison probation officer
that I was linked to what he described as a “terrorist organisation”. A
subsequence official investigation established that the organisation
concerned was in fact a completely lawful prisoner support group, and I
was eventually returned to an open prison. 12 months later I failed to
return to the prison following an outside shopping trip and following my
apprehension was again “Down-Graded” to a high-security jail. Eleven
years later I remain in “closed conditions”. Devoid of a genuine “public
protection” justification for my continued imprisonment that
imprisonment is continued purely because I am perceived by the
establishment as unbroken and defiant, and motivated by a political
belief system that condemns me irredeemably as the other.
The reality is that although the Parole Board has little choice but to
appear to review my continued imprisonment, it actually has no intention
of agreeing to my release, at least not while I retain even a semblance
of defiance and political integrity; my actual perceived risk or danger
to the community, which has been assessed by system professionals as
basically non-existent, is no longer even evoked by the Board as
justification for has now become my unlawful detention.
On the 18th of March the Parole Board finally delivered its decision
that it prefaced with the admission: “All the professionals support your
release on licence and not consider your risk to the public to be
imminent”. Martin Jones, CEO of the Parole Board, recently stated to the
media: “We have a statutory release test that we have to apply in every
case. And that release test is whether the parole applicant’s continued
detention is necessary for the protection of the public”. In my case,
however, the Parole Board decided that I would remain imprisoned not in
the interest of public protection, but apparently because a parole
hostel intended to house and “supervise” released long-term prisoners
had not given a definite confirmation that It would provide and
accommodation and “supervision” in my case for a longer period of time
than usually required for released prisoners. In fact, the hostel
concern, the London Probation Service and the Multi Agency Public
Protection Agency had all assured the Parole Board that following a
specific length of time in the hostel my continued accommodation there
would be assessed and an extended period of time provided if considered
necessary. This was ignored by the Parole Board who obviously were
determined to find ANY semblance of a reason or justification to deny my
release. It was subsequently revealed that there was a double-edged
reason for the denial of my release; essentially my refusal to submit
mind, body and soul to the authority of the prison system was the prime
reason I was considered “unsuitable for release”, but for some time
there had been tension between the Parole Board and Justice Ministry
because the formed had wanted the period of time that released life
sentence prisoners were held in parole hostels significantly extended,
whilst the Justice Ministry claimed that a huge demand on places within
a restricted number of such hostels and a general lack of resources at
their disposal made longer-stay hostels uncreatable. The refusal of my
release was clearly intended by the Parole Board to send a message to
the Justice Ministry that unless post-release life sentence prisoners
are “supervised” for a significantly longer period within parole
hostels, and the resources provided for that, then more of them would
simply remain incarcerated, regardless of whether they remained a risk
to the community or not. So officially my release was denied after 40
years not because I’m considered a risk or danger to anyone, but simply
because I’m now held as a virtual hostage in a conflict between two
state agencies. This amounts to unlawful imprisonment and will now be
judicially challenged.

Britain now currently has the highest population of life sentence
prisoners in the whole of Europe and as the social and political climate
here becomes increasingly more repressive and retributive that
population of the civil dead will continue growing.