Jail Rioters Seen as Heroes by Watching Crowd
MANCHESTER, England (AP) _ The inmates raising their fists in defiance on the roof of Strangeways Prison may look like dangerous criminals on the evening TV news. But for many in this northern industrial city, they’re working-class heroes.
Crowds of supporters have lined police barricades several hundred yards from the roof of the prison, which has been under siege since a riot by hundreds of inmates Sunday morning.
Inmates have continued to surrender and the number still on the loose inside early today was 20 to 25, authorities said. But the crowds outside keep growing, and hundreds of people fill the streets beside the prison.
Anxious mothers, sisters and wives and other supporters have followed the actions of rebel inmates on the roof through binoculars and telephoto camera lenses, waving and shouting names or words of encouragement.
The crowd is very much Manchester’s under class.
They are the handicapped and the unemployed, and many are poorly dressed and dirty. Some also are drunk, and there are many children, some as young as 9, sharing packs of cigarettes and lollipops.
Some of those who have stood for hours in the bitter cold are former inmates. Others have never before been near the jail, but nearly all stood vigil because they supported the prisoners’ demands for better jail conditions.
″It’s a local jail. A lot of people in Manchester have had people in there and they know what goes on,″ said John Martin Riley, a construction worker whose brother is serving a 10-year sentence for armed robbery.
Strangeways, massive and grim, was built in 1868 to hold 970 men. On Sunday, when the riot began, it held 1,648.
Even prison officials have used the siege, in which at least one inmate has been killed and more than 45 people injured, to condemn gruesome prison conditions.
At Strangeways, as many as three men are locked in a 5-by-7-foot cell with a bucket instead of a toilet. They get showers and a change of clothes once a week. The prisoners claim the food is poor, frequently cold liver stew and stale bread.
″It’s a horrible place, ancient and nasty and I hope they burn it down,″ said Tracy Wilding, 28, a part-time secretary whose ex-husband once served time in the red-brick jail.
She said the rebel prisoners were ″very brave actually. They will all be in big trouble in the end.″
On Tuesday, Manchester Evening News editor Michael Unger went inside Strangeways at the request of inmates who wanted to meet a member of the press. In a story in the Wednesday edition of the newspaper, Unger described his feelings after meeting two inmates in their small, bleak cell who wished to surrender.
″I knew they were villains but they were tragic villains,″ Unger wrote.
″John turned to me. He begged me to write and visit him whichever prison he ended up in ... then John wept.″
″Eric had decided to give himself up. He was very sad, very low, very frightened. ... Revenge from officers (prison guards) seemed inevitable, he said. Eric, like John, thanked me before he was led away ... you couldn’t help but feel sympathy,″ Unger wrote.
Prisoners who surrender are given a medical checkup and interviewed by a prison inspection panel. Then they receive a shower and a hot meal and are transferred to other jails.
Despite their fears and worries, family members continued to support the dangerous action by the holdouts.
Patricia Lydon, a part-time hotel receptionist, kept a three-day vigil outside the jail and intently watched her 24-year-old brother, Kiern, one of the last prisoners on the roof Wednesday evening.
Like many of those in Strangeways, Kiern Lydon was jailed while awaiting trial and has not been convicted of any charge. Ms. Lydon was joined Wednesday by her mother and the two women held hands as they stood in the biting cold wind.
″I came to keep him company but I wish I was up there with him,″ Ms. Lydon said. ″They’re fighting for a cause.″
″They shouldn’t have to come to this to get attention,″ her mother added, ″just to get normal human conditions.″