originally written for Unlocking Detention by Pilo of the Freed Voices group
Before I went to detention, I had posters of musicians on my wall. No revolutionaries, or civil rights leaders or anything like that. I think I maybe had a ‘Banksy in Palestine’ or something, but that was it, nothing personal to my politics. It was a fair representation of where I was at. I was interested in politics but it was an informational relationship. I would have a conversation about political things with people but never really a debate. I didn’t want the confrontation. I also never really believed I could be part of anything that would bring a change. Or that change itself was really possible. Or necessary, to be honest. Detention changed everything. It politicised me.
This is what my current wall looks like and why:
1) Campsfield Music Group
This is a picture of me with me with my music group in Campsfield. Music saved me in detention. Playing the guitar there was the only place I felt creative and detention looks to suppress anything like that, any kind of expression – musical, emotional or political. A few people heard me play and said they wanted to learn. I said, ‘well we have plenty of time here – our detention is indefinite’. So we set up a class and I facilitated this small group of guys. Just the fact that someone is acknowledging you and your skill – or even your potential to learn that skill – is very rare in detention. It reflects a humanity at odds with the process. I got a lot from teaching and from the fact people kept coming back. Recently, months after leaving detention, I found out another guy had set up a similar group. That genuinely moved my heart. It made me very proud. I want to hug that guy. Because I know how important it will be for him and for others to survive mentally.
2) Karl Marx
When a government challenges you in the way detention challenges does, you start to re-evaluate the systems that framed that experience. It is not necessarily that I see myself as a Marxist. It’s more a reminder that it is important to hold on to an idea about how society could, and should, be better. And to bring that about sometimes that demands real, radical action. I also respect Marx because he wasn’t just a political thinker, he was also a sociologist, an economist and a philosopher. I wasn’t defined by one thing. He was also different from the political leaders of today who just try to appeal to whoever will get them re-elected. He was fighting for something much bigger than himself. He is a reminder that we need to keep going even if we aren’t going to be the ones to benefit directly by the change. I am inspired by his legacy.
This picture was a gift from a friend of mine who gave it to me after a conversation we had after my release from detention. I like Gandhi because he reminds me of the importance of finding a balance. You experience so much violence in detention…so much ugliness…that you can get stuck in a kind of aggressive state. I think it’s important not to lose this but I want to change the system, not simply destroy it. So I need to find the strength and resilence to think tactically and channel my anger in the right ways. Gandhi encourages me to use my brain. I want to get violent with my words, with my struggle, but not necessarily with my body. I want to find some inner peace in the revolution.
4) Jimmy Hendrix
A revolutionary in so many ways, Hendrix has to be on the wall. His whole being was a fight against boundaries and imagined borders about what is ’right’ and ‘wrong’. I thought about him when I was in detention. I tried to create a kind of musical environment around me in Campsfield. It genuinely helped me so I didn’t get too depressed. It saved me from self-harm and suicide, which I saw many people try. It made me feel like I was reaching out beyond the fences. Sometimes I think it is ok to escape reality in that kind of a place. Because the reality there can feel like you are living in a nightmare.
5) The Demonstration
I don’t actually know where this scene of a demonstration is from. I don’t even know what it is about. But whenever I look at it I think ‘the fight is in the street’. Detention, for example, will only change if people in the street are engaged with it. Rightly or wrongly, this government was chosen by the people. The responsibility for the human disgrace of detention must be shared. It is not just the government to blame. The people themselves need to remember their own role in a parliamentary democracy. They have to remind the MPs that they are representing them and their values. Knowing that this picture is also of an old demonstration also makes me think about my own responsibility to carry on the baton for justice…The fight never ends. We go on.
6) Maria Callas
This picture is a reminder for me that there is power in creativity. I don’t know so much about her struggles or her causes. It’s more that she reminds me how beautiful and special human beings can be. And I guess I find something innately political in that in a way I did not before.
7) Nelson Mandela
I knew about Mandela before. But is only after experiencing something like detention – no right to a fair trial, indefinite incarceration, racism – that I really connected with his words in a very personal way. He actually really help me understand that detention made me an expert-by-experience. He’s a kind of expert-by-experience champion in that sense. I remember reading his quote when I was in detention: “To deny any person their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” It still amazes me, having come from a ‘third world country’ to a ‘first world country’, that I only fully understood this to be true here in the UK. I knew so many good facts about the UK but I knew heard about detention. Mandela’s words, his fight, mean a lot to me. He is a reminder of how change happens.