Friday, 2 November 2012

How the ordinary can be extraordinary

What a fantastic day I have had.

The last blog post I made mentioned Ben Gunn's blog, which I try to read regularly. You can find this at http://prisonerben.blogspot.co.uk/ and I would encourage everyone to go and take a look.

Today, I was in Winchester on business, when I got a message - from Ben himself. It appears he occasionally reads this blog (a surprise in itself) and wondered if I cared to meet in a neutral location for coffee.

As Lisa was with me (that's why I was in Winchester, she was appearing this morning) I wrote back asking for a location, and threw the address into the crap-nav.

After a couple of hours drive, I met Ben in a coffee shop not too far from Shepton Mallet prison, and we had a really good discussion. And oh boy, was it good.

Ben Gunn is, in some prisons, a legend. Some think him a fool, some think him a hero, but there are very few prisoners who do not know his name. As a result  I will admit to being a little awestruck that Ben wanted to meet me, and wasn't sure what to do or say. Lisa broke the ice, and then conversation just flowed. There were several frank exchanges of views about our respective offending; Ben is very open about his own past.

In respect for Ben's privacy and anything he might want to say on his own blog or elsewhere I won't discuss our conversations, but a few things became very clear.

1) Ben is not even close to the monster that many have tried (and failed) to paint him.

2) For a man that spend over 30 years in prison on a 10 year tariff, he is an educated, intelligent man who should be listened to by those who claim to be "in power" over prisoners and the Criminal Justice System.

3) There is no way that he should have spent over 30 years in prison for an unplanned killing , where Robert Thompson spent 8 for a carefully planned and executed joint enterprise.

It is also clear that while his experiences of custody have shaped him, they have not tainted the man, unlike mine.

Lisa and I both left with a changed view of the man - changed for the better. Having had the genuine privilege of meeting Ben Gunn, I hope that in the future I can consider him to be among the very few real friends I have.