Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the far-right agitator who goes by the name of Tommy Robinson, was last week given a nine-month prison sentence, of which he’ll serve approximately ten weeks, after being found guilty to contempt of court.
It’s not the first time the former leader of the EDL has served time. During his last spell inside, his hangers on claimed that he was in danger from “jihadi gangs”, having been moved to a prison where 71 percent of the inmates were Muslims. It was completely untrue. That hasn’t stopped Tommy claiming once again to be in mortal danger of being targeted by banged up Islamofascists. "It is inevitable; I will be murdered, I will be killed," he told American conspiracy-theory website Infowars in a whiny plea for asylum in the States.
I teach in a prison and asked my group of students if Robinson really is in danger, or whether this was just more hot air from Our Tommy. All names and identifying details have been changed to protect privacy.
"HE'S MORE LIKELY TO GET A BUSTED MOUTH... FOR ACTING LIKE HE OWNS THE PLACE"
Mega, 30, is awaiting trial for his role in a drugs conspiracy. If convicted it will be his third strike, and he can expect a hefty sentence. He was raised a Muslim and says that despite coming in and out of the prison community over the years, he has been receiving support from other Muslims on his wing and also via visits from his parents’ Imam.
“There is no way anyone [Muslim] will plan anything,” Mega says. “He’s more likely to get a busted mouth from some big fella for acting like he owns the place, or a little rat kid trying to make a name for himself.”
I ask Mega how he would feel if he came face to face with Robinson inside.
“Well, he’s a racist prick, haha,” Mega says. “But so what? There’s loads of them in here. The screws [prison officers] are some of the worst. Being a racist is nothing, man. If you’re Muslim you’ve had it most of your life. He is just some fake who’ll be in his pad all hours, too scared to come out.”
Would Mega contemplate sharing a cell with him?
“No! Too far, man,” he laughs. “But I’d have a chat with him over a game of pool, try and convert him to Islam, get him fasting and shit.”
"I'D BACK HIM UP IF HE NEEDED IT"
Andy, 45, is being released in two weeks having been returned to prison three months ago for breaking the terms of his licence – failing to comply with the restraining order on his ex-partner.
Andy tells my group of students that despite not being a practicing Christian, he believes Christianity should “not take a backwards step against Islam in this country.”
This comment prompts some debate and a degree of unease in the group. I ask Andy whether he thinks Robinson would be in danger on a general population wing, and if he would actively defend Robinson.
“You only have to look at the terrorist stuff that’s happened over here these last few years,” Andy says, before reiterating some Islamophobic tropes of the kind that Robinson’s fans sometimes believe. “They want their way of thinking to be the dominant force, and they see Tommy as a threat to that.”
I know that radicalisation is a hot topic in prison, but what Andy’s saying doesn’t ring true. I ask him why he has reached this conclusion. “All I know is what’s happened in this country, all the paedo rings, the attacks,” he says, referring to sexual abuse scandals that have been framed by the media as a question of race, and seized upon by the far-right. “I’d back him up if he needed it, you could be sure of that.”
"HE'S A TURNIP"
Terry, 52, has recently pleaded guilty to punching an off duty police officer in the face during an argument outside a pub. He has served several sentences since his teenage years, but says outside these periods he has never missed a single day of work since he began working for his older brother’s scaffolding company as a 16 year old.
“We’ve got some Islam boys [sic] who work with us on the outside,” Terry says. “Nice enough lads. Hard workers. One or two take the mick with their prayer breaks I reckon though. Same with the ones in here. You get nice ones, dodgy ones, same as anyone else. They just want to get on with their business, they ain’t going to risk anything for the sake of that Robinson.”
But what about the extremists, plotting in their cells? asks Andy, still quite het up from earlier.
“Listen, that’s bollocks, and you know it,” Terry says. “The amount of shit they get from other prisoners, screws, dark screws [intelligence officers]… if there was anything really going on something would have happened by now. Total bollocks mate, all he [Robinson] wants is the attention on him for five more minutes. If he thought he would be in any danger going to nick, he would never in a million years have done anything as daft as what he did. He’s a turnip.”