Compassion Behind Bars
Squall 12, Spring 1996, p. 30.
Serving a longer sentence than most armed robbers or rapists, animal rights activist, Keith Mann, has never physically harmed anybody. In his own words, Keith, initially sentenced to 14 years as a category 'A' prisoner, explains his motives and documents his treatment.
It all came to me after I left school. I don't know about 'the best years of my life', mine started the day I left. I couldn't wait to get away. I could never fathom out what good logarithms were going to be to me and now believe that certain things are meant to happen in our lives; that it's ordained; fate, call it what you like.
I wasn't consciously aware that I had something important to do when I was sent into the big wide world with my modest set of qualifications. My subconscious told me there was no point getting too wrapped up in schooling, I really couldn't be bothered. Funny thing is, I've since been labelled as "well-educated" by various witnesses to my character, usually by the patronising political police. I put that down to education the animal liberation movement gave me.
I stopped eating meat after being made aware - taught by someone unqualified as a teacher - of something desperately important, something about life and the cheap price of it, contrary to all my schooling. Religious Education never impressed me, now I knew why - there's something hypocritical and distasteful about religious teachings that call for, and encourage, the sort of carnage people wreak on God's weaker children. There's all this fine talk about love and respect and God's creation, while at the same time conveniently ignoring the immense suffering wrought upon the animal kingdom.
I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do with my life once the truth about animal abuse hit home. It bothered me that it had all been hidden from me for all those years. How could something so important be lied about by so many people. Apparently a lot of those people weren't themselves aware of the scale of this abuse, and still aren't, but there's a lot more awareness now.
Politicians, I remember, used to go on about how civilized we were compared to other countries - still do. Some people, including my dad, assured me it was a phase I was going through and that I'd grow out of it; like we all did when we grew up and accepted that's the way of the world. On the contrary, as I 'grew up' and learnt more (like that even the daily pinta was wrecking the lives of cows) I became all the more determined to change the world.
I wrote more letters than I care to remember to companies and individuals who could do something about the way animals were being treated, but they didn't do anything to stop it. I gave up eating all animal products and bought only non animal tested toiletries. This was as much for the benefit of those who doubted my conviction; who reckoned it wasn't possible to survive without terrorising lesser mortals.
My friends just changed. Those who weren't going to help the fight for animal liberation went their way and I joined the ranks of those who were on the demos, street stalls and hunt sabs. That's what I should have been taught at school: how to sabotage hunts. Now I was learning about people, the Establishment, the police, the law, the countryside, veganism, and how to call a pack of hounds off it's quarry. Nothing was more right than to stop a pack of hounds from killing a wild animal and to then see that animal go on its way to live another day. Nothing was more wrong than an officer of the law doing his utmost to ensure a kill.
On two separate occasions in my early days of sabbing, I was alone with the pack and one or two mounted police. There were no hunt members in the vicinity to see the kills, and it wouldn't have mattered one iota to anyone else if the pack had been stopped and the hares (the quarry of this hunt) allowed to carry on living. But these two individuals wanted to see blood and used all their might to ensure there was some, under the pretext of protecting the rights of people to engage in a lawful activity. It was one t hing to be attacked and abused by the blood junkies on horseback - something to be expected - but something else when an officer of the law took the side of the hunt.
The ALF was formed in the early seventies by saboteurs who encountered exactly the same in the field, so resorted to attacks on hunt property. These tactics were clearly effective and were extended to other forms of animal abuse. The important commodity here was cash; while it was being spent on repairs and security it wasn't being spent on killing animals. And so be it. The logic of breaking animals out of labs rather than asking for their release was impossible to ignore. It's okay people arguing you can't break the law under any circumstances, but were talking about the lives of others.
Animal torment affects the sensibilities of many people and there's an awareness that the only hope those animals have is you; the law doesn't come into it.
I was sentenced to 14 years for a series of relatively minor offences, the only thing I actually did was cause £6,000 worth of damage to 3 lorries at a slaughterhouse. I attempted to burn 10 others at an intensive poultry unit (though caused no damage thanks to a police ambush), attempted to incite others to act likewise; possession of explosive substances (weedkiller being the closest to explosive) and escaping from custody. The explosives charge was considered the serious one, it got me my category A status and the "Animal Lib Bomber" label, and just three years. I'm doing four for damaging the lorries! And I pleaded guilty.
However you look at it, except from the police's point of view - they want me to stay in for as long as possible, 14 years is a tad excessive. In actual fact I'm only doing 11 now after three were taken off at appeal. It's no more or less than I expected and I'm coping fine. I once enjoyed playing football, but missed out when I went sabbing hunts on a Saturday instead. In here I play for the prison and wing teams, so I'm making the mostly of that because I won't get the chance again; I won't be coming back in here.
I have an incredible amount of support and I'm always being told of how people have become aware and given up eating meat or drinking milk because of my imprisonment and or the publicity surrounding it. That's just what I've fought for - the animals to be left alone - and it pleases me. I'm lucky, I could just as easily been Mike Hill, Tom Worby or Jill Phipps, all killed by animal abusers in recent years while fighting for animal liberation. I'm also in a far better position than many people and most animals - not that I'm necessarily impressed by that observation. And I've got a platform to air my views; people come to me for my opinion. I'd have had to become a politician to find myself in such a position otherwise. Instead I just got caught breaking the law and was sent to jail for 14 years. The daft thing is, for all my attempts to encourage economic sabotage and animal rescue, it's the political police that have done the most to give me credibility.
I don't make any bones about the offences I was convicted of, but I do have a problem with the appointment of a huntsman as my judge.
Prison is an experience that, given the choice, I'd rather miss but there's no point pretending I'm not here. I didn't have to come to prison in order to know it doesn't work in reducing crime, but now I can speak from experience and it occurs to me prison best serves to encourage offending behaviour. There are, as it's often pointed out, lessons in crime to be learnt in prison. Locking lots of criminals away together makes that inevitable. What needs addressing is rehabilitation and the general un-caring attitude of prison officers. They breed disrespect, property gets stolen, lost, mislaid and broken. Applications have a habit of meeting a similar fate and little problems become big ones. I've had more of my property stolen by screws than by inmates in the three years I've so far done.
The preparation of my defence was made as difficult as possible with the regular moves I was subjected to, the different rules at each establishment and the different interpretations of those rules. Another little trick is to refuse access to things like a clothes iron prior to a court hearing. Instead, without batting an eyelid, they'll happily pull your crumpled clothes out of a carrier bag and hand them to you. All this behaviour is only personal, in my experience, in so far as I'm a prisoner and some screws are programmed to treat prisoners with contempt, which breeds contempt, hatred and offending behaviour. Job creation? Who knows? I don't make any bones about the offences I was convicted of, but I do have a problem with the appointment of a huntsman as my judge. He's not just a hunter, he breeds sheep too, and quite clearly hates the likes of me. Attaching this kind of person to such trials happens too often and would be strangely akin to putting an ancient male judge, with a fetish for children, in front of a paedophile or rapist. He'd likely demonstrate his sympathy by giving a reduced sentence. What a terrible thought eh? And the reality is even worse.
Another sinister aspect is the information judges are fed from behind the scenes from the police and prosecution. During the progress of my case through court the judge was shown material that apparently "shocked" him. What did?
There is apparently no way of losing a judge who doesn't fit the bill. I was left with no option but to refuse to appear in court while he was presiding. He was provided with all our objections and asked to stand down because of his vested interest in animal abuse and bloodsports and because of comments he'd passed in other courts about me. He refused. As part of the 'deal' done with the prosecution he was replaced for sentencing. Unfortunately it was a friend of his who replaced him: Same lodge? Same ring? They certainly piss in the same pot. The first judge even sent along one of his clerks to sentencing to relay the news first hand. I was called all sorts by the new one: "fanatic..... dangerous..... ruthless..... full-time," in one order or another. Yet I was being done for committing one act of damage to property, attempting two others, thinking about a fourth and escaping from the nonsense of prison to work in an animal sanctuary.
Eleven Months later, three Appeal Court judges concluded that I was not all those things any longer and therefore safe for release, though not just yet. So, after talking about how "manifestly excessive" my sentencing was, they took just three years off..... Er....!
Some of the papers reporting on my appeal said my sentence was reduced because I denounced unlawful activity. I never did. I can't afford and don't intend to incite unlawful activity, I already went to jail for doing just that. However, I fail to see what's changed. What actions are people left to take against animal abuse? Do politicians do what the people want them to do all of a sudden? I think not. And until they do it'll be a fact of life that for some people the higher moral law, which protects the weak and the innocent, will take precedent over the 'law of the land' which protects the powerful, cruel and corrupt. No long prison sentences will change that.
After returning from my self-appointed parole - 20 months on remand and 19 moves then 10 months on the run - I was made category A; a special prisoner deserving of extra attention, like all good armed robbers, 'terrorists' and killers.
The most information the Home Office would give about this bizarre decision was that I was either a threat to the police, the public or the state. Answers on a postcard. They have, as you'll probably be aware, very few answers to questions. Nineteen months later - Cat B me - not dangerous any more. Marvellous. Some transformation that: call me names, lock me away, deny me visits with my friends and girlfriend, confiscate my property, lie to me, refuse me cruelty-free toiletries, treat me like a dangerous criminal, grieve my mum, and then say they're rehabilitating me! It loses me.
I've got some catching up to do when I eventually get out: sex, drinking, walking the dogs, meeting people and continuing with the application I've made to live in a civilized, vegan society alongside the many people who have supported me during my time in here. Can't wait.
ALF POW No. EE3588,
HMP Experimental Unit Full Sutton,