The Revolutionary Conundrum: Looking for safety, ending up in prison

There’s nothing like a prison film to draw out the ethical conundrums. I was chatting to a “Middle Eastern” revolutionary friend when many of these came to mind. Why would anyone wish to announce their painful past and publicise the shame of conviction? As we researched the film, the stories rolled in, each touching us in a different way, with us always hopeful of an on-camera chat.

It’s the nature of our form of “responsive” film-making that characters present themselves for response. We don’t have a list of go-to celebrity speakers and experts. We just interact and speakers come forward. Of course “film them” is the instinctive response.

My revolutionary friend had served time for fleeing home for his life, the compulsion to film became irresistible. His story provides an important disruption to the prison narrative. He hurt nobody, did nothing wrong by normal standards, he just fled the most awful persecution to seek safety, only to end up straight to prison without passing go.

Looking for safety…

It took about 15 minutes of contemplation before his offer of an interview was rescinded. He has hopes of a career. His conviction is spent, nobody need know. So why would he risk his future? I persuaded him to do the interview anyway, and suggested we make a decision after.

It wasn’t necessarily the best thing to do… Holding on to an interview that we might not use is like holding on to trinkets of love lost. They serve to remind one of what one’s lost as much as what one might have had, as painful memories of what could have been.

And so as one reviews the interview, one is left somewhat melancholic – the gems we can’t use, those perfect anecdotes that make the life of the film complete. The stories of repression back home, and the dramatic escape; the arrival at Heathrow to find that “Middle Eastern” handcuffs are more comfortable than the British ones, both being “made in England”. The wry humour of the first views of England through a tinted prison van window. “I wondered why in spring everyone was wearing purple and the grass looked dead”, and first learning prison-English. And of course they key question, what hope of “reform” – should he next time stay in his home country and die instead of breaking the law to flee?

… Ending up in prison

Our revolutionary friend provides an important reminder of those forgotten prisoners. Those who are in prison to escape torture and death, those who forego Spice to conduct revolutions from their jail cells.

The revolutionary is a good person, a kind person, only the welfare of others interests him. He was sentenced to 8 months, and served 2 of them in Wormwood Scrubs. His positivity is striking, yet his smile speaks of betrayal. That special kind of hurt when people let you down, or cause you injust damage. I’m bemused to the point of tears at how he is not full of hate having faced such horrors. His final reflection illustrates those underlying sentiments. “Now I feel the same about the UK as I do about the country I fled, it’s just as bad.”

We hope we can convince him to let us use the interview.

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