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What Do Serving Prisoners Think About the 'Brexit'?

They can't vote in the referendum, but that doesn't mean they don't have an opinion.
March 7, 2016, 11:17am

Berlin Hohenschönhausen, a former Stasi Prison (Photo via Oh-berlin.com)

Names and identifying details have been changed to protect privacy.

Prisoners are not allowed to vote in local or general elections, so it follows that they're also unable to vote in the upcoming EU referendum. Whether this is a breach of their human rights or not is a point of ongoing discussion, but their inability to cast a vote while incarcerated doesn't impact their right to hold an opinion.

I'm a teacher in a prison. Covering a multimedia class recently for an absent colleague who hadn't provided any lesson plans, or even the password for their computer, I reverted to the failsafe and usually pretty entertaining option of a group discussion. Keeping it topical, this is what some of the prisoners in the group had to say about the EU and our future relationship with it.

STEPHEN

Stephen, 22, is currently serving his twentieth custodial sentence. His only qualifications are ones that he has been awarded while in prison and, frankly, they're all pretty useless in real-world terms. Stephen has never been in any kind of formal employment and I ask him what kind of work he'd like to do. He tells me it's pointless him thinking about it because all the jobs get given to immigrants and foreigners as a matter government policy. Some members of the class roll their eyes at this statement, in part at its patent absurdity, but also at Stephen's almost comic lack of conviction. Riled, he begins a rambling monologue seemingly comprised of jumbled Britain First status updates and Daily Express headlines.

I'm aware that Stephen has anger issues and terribly low self-esteem. It's difficult to discuss anything with him because he is so defensive, and while I disagree with his stance regarding freedom of movement within the EU, I still think it's important to help him articulate himself better. I ask him to outline the benefits of voting to leave the EU. The first reason he comes up with is that the EU is responsible for making jails too soft and sentences too short. Before I can attempt to deconstruct this, he is back at it again, earnestly riffing on his theory that the EU is a covert subdivision of the Illuminati.

KYLE

Kyle, 26, has worked as a scaffolder since he was 15. He's serving the final few weeks of an 18-month sentence for his part in a late night street brawl that involved ten of his friends, three bouncers and six police officers. He is now looking forward to going home, getting back to work and having access to Hollister, 14-minute sun-bed sessions and a proper barber. He's from a semi-rural working-class town that has seen a significant influx of workers from the EU in recent years filling positions on building sites, at the nearest hospital and at the industrial cleaning company his mother works for.

He says he'd vote to stay in the EU largely on the basis that he spent six months working in Germany as an 18-year-old, an experience he says he enjoyed and one that more people from the UK should consider. He also says that he doesn't begrudge foreigners working over here, stating that a lot of his mates who complain about having been fired and replaced with Eastern Europeans always seem to forget why they were fired in the first place: usually for routine piss taking with sick days, constant lateness and going on weeklong benders halfway through a job.

ALAN

Alan, 55, has been sentenced to two years for fraud and is waiting to be transferred to open prison ahead of potentially being released on tag in a couple of months. He trained as an accountant after leaving the military and worked for a small accountancy firm until he took early retirement five years ago. He agrees in principle that the UK should be part of the EU, citing trade and peacekeeping as primary factors, but has reservations about losing control of law-making powers, convoluted bureaucracy and bailing out other countries during periods of economic difficulty.

It is his perception of UK deference to European courts that seems to annoy him the most, and he says that if he's out in time to vote in the referendum, he may well vote to leave based on this alone. He does, however, qualify this by saying that his mind isn't made up yet, and he would prefer to see clearer arguments and pros and cons being presented by both sides rather than "project fear" style campaigning.

ADOK

Adok, 30, is from a small industrial town in Poland. A qualified electrician, he came to the UK to help his cousin set up a home removals business and "show you bitches how we do it". He is awaiting sentencing on a minor drugs charge. Adamant that his small crop was intended for personal use, he assures me that next time he will be more careful with his "mathematics".

I ask Adok about the rise of hard right political movements across Europe, and whether or not a strong EU can do anything about this. He argues that while the EU can't stop people voting for these parties – freedom of choice is what democracy is built on, after all – it is the best and possibly only way of keeping them in check on a deeper level.

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Adok thinks it would be crazy for the UK to vote to leave the EU; he articulates what he views as the benefits that come from freedom of movement, trade and the ability to "stand up to" countries like China and the US. While many in the class are pretty vocal in their skepticism regarding all this, there is raucous laughter as he describes prime Brexit figurehead Boris Johnson as "like a retard from [a] Soviet asylum".

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At the end of the discussion, and with pressure mounting to get onto our next topic (UFC vs boxing), I run a quick vote among the class as to how they would vote, if able to, in the referendum. From a group of 12 the outcome was pretty interesting: a 50-50 split down the middle, with at least half of the group changing their vote several times before committing to an answer.

The group insist that I cast the deciding vote. I'm greeted with an equal amount of cheers and howls of derision as I write my selection on the class Smartboard before moving everyone on to the equally controversial but no less divisive question of a hypothetical Mayweather vs Mcgregor matchup.

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