Monday, October 08, 2012

No Smirk Without Fire

I have recently read yet another report of a man, sentenced for a serious crime, who is said to have 'smirked' as he left the dock. The popular press often seize on this as implying that the man feels no remorse, but of course it isn't as simple as that. The rictus reflex is common to great apes and to man, and is more likely to indicate fear than anything else.
Of course the young men who make up the greatest part of our customers sometimes try to show a bit of swagger, especially if their mates are in the gallery, but it doesn't often last beyond  the bottom of the steel staircase.

On a prison visit a long time ago I had a cup of tea with a very experienced officer who was approaching retirement. I asked him about the attitude of his charges as they arrived and departed the system. "Oh yes" he said. "They often try to be cocky as they come in, as young men do, but they nearly always have a good cry on their first night, as they find that they miss their Mum". I went on to ask about discharge day; do they offer thanks for the care they have received? "No", he said, "we sometimes get a mouthful once they feel safely outside the gates, but we always respond by promising to keep their cell ready for when they come back, and to discuss matters further then".


  1. This case brought back to me a case many years ago from which I learned not to jump to conclusions. It was in the fines court and a woman was appearing for non-payment of the fine imposed for no TV licence. It was a repeat appearance for non-payment. She stood there in the witness box grinning from ear to ear as we went through a means enquiry and probed for an explanation of the continuing failure to make the payments ordered. There would be little problem establishing 'culpable neglect or wilful refusal'. In the end I pointed out to her the seriousness of her situation, which she did not appear to be taking seriously. "We could easily send you to prison today." I said finally.
    "I know", she said, still grinning broadly, "I'm scared shitless."

  2. Wow, excellent cut & paste (with slight rewording) from this 2005 article:

  3. Your observations do not hold true for political prisoners, merely criminal ones.


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