In memory of Eric Allison, former prisoner and campaigning journalist.

We first met Eric Allison in 2008 at the funeral of Pauline Campbell, who died of a broken heart after her daughter’s death from deliberate neglect in prison. By then we had been following Eric’s articles in the Guardian for a few years, impressed by his determination to tell the truth about what prisoners are facing inside.

We were regularly in touch over the decades and Eric was always available to help us with whatever prisoners’ struggle we were involved in. In 2011, he reviewed Jailhouse Lawyers, a book we published by US prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, edited and introduced by Selma James from the Global Women’s Strike. In his review, he modesty described himself as a jailhouse lawyer who “enjoyed some minor victories and liked being a thorn in the side of my keepers and fighting them on behalf of prisoners with a grievance”.

He would help us with information and contacts. He got publicity for the ground-breaking 2013 California Prisoners Hunger Strike of 30,000 prisoners which lasted 60 days and won the release from solitary confinement of over 100 men and the release from prison of many others. He also enlisted the help of lawyers and other prominent people for our campaign against the Royal College of Psychiatrists which claimed that Close Supervision Centres (CSC) – solitary confinement by another name – were “enabling environments”. That campaign was initiated at the request of prisoner Kevan Thakrar, himself held for over 10 years in a CSC. We soon found out that they knew each other as Eric had given evidence in court on Kevan’s behalf in a case that exposed an institutionalised racist brutal regime in Frankland prison. Kevan won.

In 2013, we invited Eric to speak at SlutWalk, an event of the anti-violence women’s movement held in Trafalgar Square. His first words were: “I want to speak about the abuse of children at the hands of the state.” As mothers and grannies, we were grateful to find a man, and a jail bird at that, who thought that working-class children’s lives matter. It remained a focus of his life and work to expose not only those who abused children but those who stood by in full knowledge of this horror and let it happen. In a letter to us he said: “It seems to me that, sadly, we will always have abusers, but they can only flourish in institutions by the cowardice or apathy of others — and then of course, the state steps in to protect its own, rather than those in their care.” Eric went on to speak fervently about the injustice of imprisoning traumatised and vulnerable women, many of whom had been victims of rape and/or domestic violence and then suffered further sexual violence from guards. Always a man of action, he said about a judge who imprisoned a woman for eight years for aborting her baby: “People ought to kick in the court where he’s sitting, and let them know what they think about this shameful sentence of this woman who needed help, not punishment.”

His Guardian articles were always the go-to-place for coverage about the brutal restraint of children, deaths of prisoners from neglect or despair, private racketeering in the prison industry, the scandal of imprisonment for public protection sentences and various miscarriages of justice. When one of the women at our centre was campaigning to save from the cruellest neglect, the life of her severely disabled son, Daniel Roque Hall, who was serving a three-year prison sentence, it was Eric who publicized it, helping to win Daniel’s release.  

We miss Eric every day since his death. We are less protected, less encouraged, less supported. The only appropriate tribute to a man of such principled determination is for us to continue gathering our forces and digging in our heels in our common struggle for justice. We mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living.

We send our condolences to Eric’s daughters, grandchildren, family and other friends.

Legal Action for Women, December 2022

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