Update from Margaret Reid, 51, from Cumbria

Thoughts from HMP Foston Hall – Monday 09.05.2022

So, why am I here in HMP Foston Hall? Because there’s a climate emergency. Because our government is breaking promises and instead sending us on course for destruction. And this is the government that told us we had to “stop pumping carbon into the air faster and faster… And quilting the earth in an invisible and suffocating blanket of CO2” but is now talking about “extracting every last cubic inch of gas from the North Sea”. It’s the ultimate betrayal. I’m sitting on this bunk because my conscience tells me that I, a very ordinary person, have to make a stand to stop new oil and gas before it’s too late. Because my head tells me that, in a climate emergency that the government itself has declared, I must not be intimidated by an immoral injunction granted to protect the financial interests of the fossil fuel industry that will kill us. Because my heart tells me that we human beings need to stand up together to protect each other and those that follow from this terrifying fate that is hanging over our world. Because there is no compelling reason why I can leave this job to someone else.

The whole prison thing can sound a bit extreme but, if anyone out there is wondering about it, maybe take heart from the fact that I, previously the most timid, law-biding and quiet citizen, have found I can do this. A year ago, I had absolutely no intention then, of being arrested. I thought that doing my recycling during the day than lying awake at night worrying about the climate crisis was enough-with a bit of banner-waving, petition signing etc. thrown in. But we all know we’re past that stage and my turning point came when I found myself at a talk called ‘our responsibilities in this time! The title says it all, doesn’t it? And here I am.

Yes, it can all be de-humanising, sometimes degrading, but those aren’t the moments I think of. There’s the moment you realize your arresting officer agrees with you, or when you see the Just Stop Oil placard proudly on display behind the custody desk, or when the prison officer filling out a form listens when u explain why you’re here. But above all that is the relief of being with people who think the same as you and the sense of relief when you know you are doing all you can, rather than sitting at home worrying.

You’re very conscious of the power in prison-and mostly u don’t have most of it. But being here with a group of eight of us, all united and acting in solidarity, is powerful. Today we sat down together and asked the governor to declare a climate emergency – of course, we were quickly removed by a force much stronger than us, but there was still power in that moment. Imagine if there’d been 800 of us, speaking with one voice. And ultimately, what is a prison? It’s a building full of fellow human beings who are all going to be affected by the climate crisis and the government’s failure to act in time. We are all locked up in here, just as the world is still locked into the cycle of consumption that will eat up prior natural resources. We can all hear the roar of the motorway from our cells, fed by the fossil fuel madness that we have to break, right now, before it’s too late.

I’m pondering all this as I sit on my bunk, eating my vegan dinner option – and I’m thinking the prison is going to have to keep getting those vegan options onto the menu because, until the government and the legal system wake up to this climate emergency, there are going to be a lot more of us inside.

So sorry, Priti and friends, my spell inside has not shown me the error of my ways. Instead, it’s strengthened my resolve, re-informed my faith in the power of collective action and given me hope that if enough timid and ordinary people like me take action, then we can still make a difference and keep fossil fuels in the ground.