Why I’m Sitting in Prison

Stuart Basden
4 min readNov 10, 2017

That’s right, I’m sitting in prison.

I didn’t write this from prison though. I wrote this a few days before I went, and gave instructions for a friend to publish it once I was incarcerated. I wrote it because I wanted to clear my head and figure out why I was going through with this seemingly crazy idea.

Here’s the situation. The neoliberal governments that have been in power in Britain for 30+ years have increasingly cut services and regulations. The idea behind many regulations is that if you stop harmful things from happening through regulating what is legal, then the cost to society is reduced — in other words, regulations save us all money and allow for a safer, healthier society.

However, the neoliberal devotees see regulations as things that get in the way of the short-term maximisation of profit. By getting rid of regulations, the globalised corporate class have been getting away with polluting our societies, dumping the subsequent health costs on the rest of us. Air pollution is just one of the ways we’ve been sickened, though it’s a big one, and it’s the issue that the Stop Killing Londoners campaign has been working on.

This has resulted in both physical sickness (children growing up with stunted lungs, lifelong respiratory suffering, etc.), and the social and economic costs of stretching the NHS as it is forced to cope with more and more of us who flock to the NHS for help. At the same time, neoliberalism has cut the NHS, with it’s fanatical attacks on public services, bringing the best health service in the world to its knees.

It’s been said many times before, and it’s worth saying again: this is an intentional attack, and a political choice. The neoliberal adherents are a bunch of dangerous fundamentalist extremists, and their policies create more terror(ism) than anything else on this planet.

So why did I choose to go to prison?

The crumbling NHS is just part of the picture. We’re in a time of converging crises, fueled by neoliberal extremism, which is causing a mass extinction event like none before it. Human extinction in the next 50 to 100 years is looking either likely or inevitable. Stop for a moment and let that sink in.

— pause —

I know it’s not easy. I feel the sorrow of it nearly every day. So much is being lost.

Here’s some of the converging crisis: we’re facing the breakdown of the climate’s stability, increasingly precarious agricultural systems (multi-year droughts and mega-storms), unprecedented pollution of our air, land and water, the brutal shutting of borders when mass migrations are needed most, a globally connected spy/military system that’s tinkering with weaponized AI, cartoonish fools in many seats of power (Trump, Putin, Erdogan, May, etc.), and the rearing of the ugly threat of nuclear war. Our democracies are corrupted and out-maneuvered, our press has largely become propaganda for billionaires, our academic institutions are desperately seeking corporate-backed grants, and our financial system has been engineered to become a parasitical vampire that sucks the wealth and health from our lives in too many ways to name.

And yet for several decades now people in the West have avoided going to prison to confront this. We’ve been told it’ll ruin our chances of getting a job. We’ve been told we won’t be able to travel. We’ve been told… fear fear fear. And we’ve believed it. We’ve internalised it. We’ve written it off as a possibility.

Yet if we look back a little into our history, we see that prison is part of the mechanism of collective liberation. Whether we’re inspired by Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, or the suffragette prison hunger strikes, or the 27 years Nelson Mandela spent in prison, or the 13 times Gandhi was sent to prison, it’s clear that going to prison is part of the deal.

If we’re going to challenge this insane ecocidal neoliberal cul-de-sac that we’ve managed to get into (and we are, or we go extinct), then some of us are going to have to go to prison.* And judging by histories’ standards, it’ll need a lot more than 8 of us.

So ask yourself: when will it be you?**


* People have been going to prison for the last 30 years, just not en-masse in the West. To put things into perspective, I recently heard about a group of people in Egypt who care about their society (aka activists), and each of them had multiple scars from the torture they’d received as political prisons.

** I’m aware that not everyone is in as good a position as I to be arrested or go to prison. Some people may face deportation and being ripped apart from their family. Others have health conditions that make it much harder, and there’s other reasons too. However, if you have a passport for the country you live in, and you’re generally fairly healthy, and especially if you’ve gained a few years of work experience, then you are in a massively privileged position. Given the global situation we’re in and the diminishment of your life that is being caused by it, the question to ask yourself isn’t “how can I go to prison”, rather it’s “how can I love myself and not go to prison?”

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Stuart Basden

Extinction Rebellion co-founder. I facilitate the emergence of diversity, openness & complexity in our beautiful universe, and resist oppression & exploitation.