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Monday 27 February 2012

Ten Good Things

The extradition of pensioner Christopher Tappin to the United States caught my eye over the weekend. Today he is asking for bail from his El Paso prison, where he has hopefully survived his first few nights inside the brutal gang system that dominates there. Whatever the factuals in the case – and since the American judicial system doesn’t need to provide evidence to extradite someone, we know precious little – my sympathies lie with the man. After all, given that the American Government wins 95% of its prosecution cases, the only thing anyone can do is plead guilty and try to get out of a system whose interpretation of justice is best summed up by Guantanamo Bay.

But this entry isn’t really about the shameful way our country gives up its citizens in the name of  half-baked interpretations of law more akin to Kafka. Rather, the story about Tappin set my mind back a few years to the so-called Natwest Three, the first high profile case following the extradition agreement signed by Tony Blair.  One of those three, Gary Mulgrew, wrote an excellent book about his experiences of living through the nightmare of imprisonment in one of America’s toughest jails. Mulgrew might not be the Brendan Behan or Jean Genet of prison literature, but his writing has a humanity that is all too absent from the politics and justice that convicted him, or, dare one say, the banking world where he came from. 

As Mulgrew recounts the shock of joining a dormitory cell simmering with the threat of violence, he describes some of the mental approaches which, one hopes, Tappin might be using now. They include this:  whatever the difficulties one may be facing, remember the positives of the day and say ‘thank you’ for ten things before falling asleep. One can only imagine how poignant and difficult that might be for someone far from home in such a scary place.  It’s a technique worth its weight in gold though, a simple but powerful form of advantaged thinking.  So often, we get lost in thinking about the stresses and tensions we face, the fears and negatives in our lives, the things that are not working, the faults in ourselves or others, the deficits surrounding us. How much more useful it is, more mentally challenging, to find ten things that one can thank the universe for.  To recognise and celebrate what is good.
If we can do that for ourselves, perhaps we can remember to do so for others, particularly those caught up in the institutions of ‘disadvantage’ where deficits and risks are credited before all else.  Those Foyers trying to make sure that even their handover sheets capture, however small, what positives each individual has shown, are leading the way in shifting the balance of our consciousness. 
If we all did 10 good things each day, if we all thought to identify and say thank you for them, no one would be waking up in the El Paso Prison Facility with fear in their heart.

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