Why March? Seriously, what is the point? Do the public listen to what people are shouting/banner waving about? Does the Press care? It seems not last Saturday when up to 50,000 people marched through London protesting about the austerity cuts. JENGbA families wanted to march that day so I called and was told we could, of course, join in.
We were at the back of the march, as a campaign against austerity I suppose we did not naturally seem to fit in with our anger at people being wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they did not commit and serving mandatory Life sentences. That was ok - JENGbA families are used to our concerns being ignored (though not for much longer!).
So back to my question: Why March? The JENGbA families seem to have got the bug! We did one last month which was filmed for a BBC documentary that will be shown the night after Jimmy McGovern's film 'Common' and also by a group of students using the subject of Joint Enterprise for their final film for their MA in TV from City University. To be fair having media attention did give our march an added buzz but that is not the reason I believe JENGbA families want to walk in the streets shouting "Joint Enterprise is a court full of lies!" and "No Justice, No Peace". The JENGbA families in the North of England also held a rally in Manchester Piccadilly Gardens and via twitter and calls we realised they too felt empowered by educating people on the streets who had not heard of JE before and how it is being abused.
Families want to march because they feel helpless, angry, frustrated and depressed about what can be done when you have an innocent loved one in prison and are being totally ignored by the British justice system. They proudly hold aloft their banners displaying pictures of their family members before they became prisoners of the State. Kelly and Maureen's Smith dad Kevin and grandson travelled down from Liverpool for it and a mum had travelled back from Saudi Arabia to be there. Solidarity is a very powerful emotion and since most of our families have a loved one in prison who is deemed a 'murderer' just to meet other families in a similar situation is an invaluable support network.
On the morning of the People's Assembly March, Jan Cunliffe called me to say that our friend and supporter Gerry Conlon had died and that she had spoken to Paddy Hill. Another reason to march and empower families as that is exactly what Gerry and Paddy have been doing since they were released from prison. Gerry showed through his own activism, even through the most difficult of personal times, that we must never forget how devastating an injustice is a wrongful conviction and never stop fighting for the oppressed and vulnerable people in prison.
|JENGbA at People's Assembly March|
We have always described JENGbA as a family and as we grow bigger and stronger so does our family. We are seeing friendships being made of people who would have never met except for this campaign. More families and supporters came to the People's Assembly march and they want to do another JENGbA march after Jimmy McGovern's film is screened on July 6th. They have certainly got the marching bug! We know that to be able to DO something is one of the ways families do not sink into depression and despair. And to be able to feel like you are DOING something for a whole lot of people and not just your own, is a whole different feeling of empowerment. That will only grow as our numbers do and then we will no longer be ignored.
Finally the reason we marched with / bandwagoned the People's Assembly against Austerity is because it costs on average £50,000 a year to keep each innocent man, woman and child locked up. JENGbA is currently supporting 450 serving prisoners convicted using joint enterprise who have contacted us. That is at least £22.5 million annually spent on denying justice to the Joint Enterprise prisoners we know about and there could be many more whose lives are blighted by unfair convictions.
An increasingly sinister aspect to this growing burden on the taxpayers is how much of this money goes to fatten the directors’ salaries and profits of the UK’s private prison industry. There is something seriously wrong when the UK has more Lifers than the rest of Europe combined and has the highest percentage of prisoners in private jails in the world (yes, even higher than the USA!).
If Slavery is about the commercial exploitation of men, women and children by unjustly denying them freedom and human rights, what does that make G4S, Serco and Sodexo? And what does that make the directors and shareholders of these companies…or the Ministry of Justice for buying their services?
Campaign Co-ordinator JENGbA