Directional Arrows

Three months after the Human Rights Commissioner, Monica McWilliams, criticised conditions at Antrim PSNI detention centre the Criminal Justice Inspection has issued its report. Apart from the fact that it exists what exactly is wrong with the Antrim station is far from clear. When I hear the term ‘custody suite’ I immediately grow suspicious and raise a quizzical eyebrow. ‘Custody suite’ has an innocuous ring to it; you would be forgiven for thinking it was situated at the top of the Europa Hotel. We know it to be anything but.

People are clearly held in these suites for lengthy periods which are abusive of human rights. The Inspection report thinks the answer to this is to provide a treadmill so that people in custody can exercise. It seems not to have dawned on those who put the report together that the detainees might just be forced to run on it until they drop or sign statements. Or is that something from the bad old days which they told us were not bad old days at all? Prisoners only beat themselves up to make the police look bad.

It is a long time since I have been detained within a Northern police station. I was in them frequently enough in the days when the PSNI went under the name RUC. Dull, grey, uncomfortable and oppressive they were never a joy to inhabit. What they are like these days I have no idea. I don’t imagine they have improved all that much. I am far from convinced however that a treadmill would add to their overall quality.

What surprised me even more than the recommendation for a treadmill was the suggestion that Korans should be supplied along with directional arrows pointing to Mecca. This is a ridiculous bias toward religious opinion and discriminatory against other opinions. While I hope never to find myself in custody again, if I were to be so unfortunate I might not want a directional arrow pointing to Anfield but I would appreciate the monotony being broken up by having the ability to listen to a match on radio or even watch it on TV. And for reading material No Half Measures by Graeme Souness would be welcome. Should I be denied it because I don’t do obeisance to supernatural beings and invisible men? The Inspection report, however, made no mention of that type of thing. Equality for it means giving Muslims the same as Christians. Humanists can stew in the corner of their cells.

I am not opposed to the Koran being provided to those who want to read it. Same for the Christian Bible, the Jewish Tanakh, or the Satanic Bible. It also holds true for Dawkin’s God Delusion. A humanist might wish to while away an hour or two browsing through scientific literature. He or she has every right to – as much as those with religious opinions have to read their stuff.

In prison the one book in every cell was the Bible. It was not that you could have it, more that you were forced to have it. As far as I am aware a prisoner had no right to throw it out. There was none in my cell after the blanket protest. The one that was there during it went unread. During that protest no one wanted to throw it out as its thin pages made great cigarette paper for hand-rolled tobacco. A holy smoke was as good as any other.

Reading material should not be denied to any prisoner. But there should be no discrimination in favour of those interested in religion. The freedom of prisoners to read what they want in custody is not something that should be subject to approval by the police or clerics. As for reading the Bible, no thanks. I’ll take my chances on the treadmill.


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  2. The only arrow needed in a detention center is the one that points to the front door and freedom.
    What next “playful persuasion” instead of the word interrogation or more ominous torture?
    The notion that one group should get certain privileges is hypocrisy, whilst others would have to wonder where their religious signs are?
    Perhaps the PSNI would do better spending money on tracking down the extremists forcing another minority from their homes, or at least could provide an arrow pointing in a safe direction.
    Political correctness is a danger to society as it feeds extremists, working towards integrating society rather than creating inequality through political correctness is a doomed venture.
    Our society is well carved up I think we have priorities to remedy the divisions on our streets before we concern ourselves with “directional arrows.”
    Obviously if you are unfortunate to have a stay in an interrogation suite (laughs) then perhaps you might not be as holy as you state, maybe breaking some of the religious laws perhaps one should question ones necessity to read a holy book in an unforgiving place. What next arrows in the streets pointing towards Mecca or is it only those dumb enough to land in a barracks need to know where to point?
    How about a two quid compass and a cop can point the direction out certainly would be less discriminatory towards others.
    Personally I would like a copy of “Thus Spakes Zarathrustra” highly unlikely.
    A strange phenomenon how quickly people find god “inside.”
    Spend the money in areas that need it that way many may never find themselves within a barracks being grilled.