Released after 32 years in prison, Ben Gunn is a commentator, miscarriage of justice researcher, blogger, and consultant on criminal justice issues. He is allergic to stupidity and blogs at: prisonerben.blogspot.com Details of his new company are at: mokuraiconsulting.com
Embracing the digital
Twitter. 140 meaningful characters. Daft idea…. Having fought a brutal battle to be allowed to blog from prison and watching the media develop, one of the few conscious decisions I made on release was to embrace the possibilities of digital communication with all the vigour of a randy Alsatian.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, the blog, all sprang to life fairly quickly and with astonishingly little thought.
But the idea of compressing anything meaningful into 140 characters seemed utterly absurd.
All the more so given that my writing style can veer unexpectedly into the flowery and verbose. And yet it seemed a challenge worthy of rising to.
My first tweets were probably as timorous as I’ll ever get!
Although my tweeting presence has actually been two or three years, an account being fed links to my blog whilst I was inside. However, that had to end when the Ministry of Justice made it a disciplinary offence for prisoners to access social media, even second hand.
Twitter fosters debate
As with all of my public writing, my intrusion into tweeting is driven by my perpetual need to foster the debate around imprisonment and the sheer thoughtless stupidity in much around criminal justice.
Twitter is the local pub, the street corner, the groves of academe all wrapped up in a simple format.
It was an easy decision to plunge in and start splashing about.
Obviously, given my history this was a risky move.
My existence in any public medium can be a lightening rod for those with the strongest views around criminal justice.
And I have wandered into two ferocious twitter-wars, lasting days and becoming hideously personal. I don’t say this lightly – the humanity and support of my followers and onlookers during these exchanges cannot but foster hope that decency is in the ascendant on twitter.
Twitter encourages intrusion and exploration of others’ conversations
Which is not to say this kindness is wholly repaid by my abrasive style.
It has to be said that if you say something silly about prison, I will try to lead you firmly by the nose to see that.
And I am blessed that so many are willing to engage on that basis.
A lump of ocasional idiocy and self mockery helps, I suspect.
Significant discussions take place with those who share some of my views and – more importantly – those who do not.
One of the central advantages of Twitter is that it encourages one to intrude and explore the conversations of others’, and it is a personal maxim that my effectiveness to prompt thought is directly related to the degree of opposition in viewpoint.
Ideally, I would only engage with Daily Mail readers!
I tweet regularly, at times obsessively.
You can always tell when I am at a loose end or struggling with the machinations of rail travel because my tweet rate rockets.
In the many long and lonely hours spent at Paddington Station, Twitter has kept me sane. And pointed me to a free toilet.
In these times, not only does my tweet frequency rise, so does the forensic ruthlessness of my responses to those commenting on my areas of interest. Which raises the only weakness, for me, of this incredible medium of communication. 140 characters is so little, we each have to adapt our style of writing. Alas, mine comes across as fairly terse, even belligerent.
Twitter is an opportunity to challenge and change views
The benefits of Twitter far outweigh any personal slurs or plain silliness that can abound in any social herd.
The ability to leap across social and political boundaries, to leap professional hurdles, to reach audiences that had previously remained unperturbed…the only way to alter anyone’s view is to engage with them, on any level that works, and Twitter offers such amazing opportunities to do that.
There are, let’s not understate the matter, personal and professional opportunities.
In no other way can I interact with others in the criminal justice community to enrich both my personal existence and my professional opportunities.
To the novice, a baffling stream on short intertwined ideas.
But with only a little time and a few stumbles, it reveals itself to be one of the most fascinating and enriching ways to communicate throughout the human community.
This is the 39th post in the criminal justice/legal Why I tweet series. Read the others here.
If you’d like to develop your tweeting skills, check out my online Twitter coaching service which includes an individualised profile of your Twitter style.