I wrote to my MP about prison smoking bans a couple of weeks back. Yesterday I received a reply:
Thank you for getting in touch with me regarding smoking in prisons. I have taken up your concerns with the government, and will let you know as soon as I receive a response.
I am standing by if I can be of any further assistance in the meantime.
I suppose that the government will now feel the tiny force of my concern as a pinprick of some sort. It will change nothing. Prison smoking bans will continue to be imposed on the unfortunate inmates, and they will continue to riot.
I suppose that if a lot of people wrote to their MPs, it would make for a lot more tiny pinpricks. Someone remarked recently that some MP had said that one letter on some matter was no cause for concern, but ten letters would be. And indeed there probably is a threshold beyond which protests become audible.
But why did I write about prison smoking bans? In conversation in the Smoky Drinky Bar last night, someone said that they only felt concern in matters which were likely to affect them personally, and being sent to prison or psychiatric hospital was rather unlikely. It was a perfectly valid – and realistic – point to make. But nevertheless I suppose that my attitude is much more one of: there but for the grace of God go I. After all, pub landlord Nick Hogan probably never thought that he’d end up in prison, but when he allowed his customers to carry on smoking, that’s exactly where he did end up. And if anyone would have suggested to me 10 years or more ago that I might one day be “exiled to the outdoors”, I would have regarded it as highly improbable – yet that is exactly what happened to me, so that there by the grace of God go I.
I suppose also that I’ve come to think of the world’s 1.5 billion smokers as one of the world’s largest persecuted minorities. And I’m one of them. And I should feel as concerned for any of them as I am for myself, whoever they are, in whatever country they live, whatever sex or colour or creed they may be. And this includes smokers in prisons and hospitals. As soon as anyone lights up a cigarette or a cigar or a pipe, he becomes a brother of mine. He becomes one of us.
I also take note of tiny gestures of support from non-smokers. I don’t think Dr Steve Pieczenik of infowars.com is a smoker, but in describing how his local Florida community got together and helped each other out in the aftermath of hurricane Irma, he said (2:33 mins into the video below):
‘I was able to go to a liquor saloon where a young man without any teeth and many tattoos just gave me ice for free, and in turn I gave him a 20 dollar bill and he said, “No sir, I’m not selling the ice,” and I said, “Young man, I’m not buying the ice. I’m giving you money for your cigarette.” And he smiled and he laughed.’
However interpreted, that’s a gesture of support for a smoker, and one that was appreciated by the smoker – and also appreciated by me, on the other side of the Atlantic ocean. Pieczenik was talking about communities where people helped each other out, and smokers were part of his community. Once you start exiling smokers to the outdoors, you are destroying community.
In addition, I wrote to my MP because when I saw him speak last year, shortly before the Brexit vote, the one thing that he said that most impressed me was that he said he wanted to represent his constituents. My letter was a little test of that. Other MPs I have written to would have simply replied saying they didn’t agree with me about prison smoking bans, and would have done nothing more about it. But this one is doing what he said he wanted to do: he has taken my complaint to the government.