Update to the case study on social media and justice

As I said in my first post about this: the title is a bit wrong, but I am still unsure what to call it.

However, I thought that I would just write an update on how the community has built around the website www.justicefortom.com.

As you may have read in the news, Tom Cholmondeley – my mate – has now been charged with manslaughter and sentenced to the three years he has already served plus eight months in prison. Regardless of your own opinion on the case, or Tom, you might be interested in how the simplest of WordPress sites has developed and been a focus point for an incredibly diverse, worldwide community. (Please read the first post to see how it started.)

The people who comment on the site are:

  • Tom’s mother: Lady Delamere
  • Tom’s relatives
  • Tom’s friends and family
  • Old school mates
  • Friends from years ago
  • People who may have met Tom once but have vivid memories of doing so
  • Other prisoners in Kamiti
  • Prisoners who were in Kamiti with Tom, but have left
  • Prison officers from Kamiti
  • Lawyers from around the world who have read/watched the case
  • Press
  • Kikuyu and Maasai tribesmen (one of whom sends messages from his mobile whilst tending his cattle and working)

Many messages come in from around the world after people read an article, or see something on TV and are compelled to reach out to Tom.

Of course there are the death threats, and thundering fury from those who feel strongly against Tom. About 1% of the comments we receive are like this – they are not published or responded to – but referred on to Tom’s lawyer. They are not published – not because there is any trickery, or want to hide the other side of things; but the site is very clear about what and who it is for, and to publish such comments would incite argument and inappropriate content that would/could get out of control.

We do not respond (generally) to comments posted, rather leaving them for other commentors to respond to if they like – for example, lawyers debate issues with each other on there: and provide advice to Fred (not sure how grateful he is but… !!!)

The reason we don’t respond is that the site is a conduit mainly to Tom, and most messages are written as messages directly to him – and are sometimes personal: family news, good memories, bad, pleas to stay sane and so on. If the website suddenly had its own voice, it would lose the feeling of being a direct line to Tom.

The stories and observations around the case and Kenya detailed in the comments have begin to weave a story about a conflicted country – told by those in it, outside it – based around a high profile case that has *possibly* exposed a stumbling justice system.

Tom

Very occasionally they can get online access in Kamiti, it is random! Hence the occasional emails from other prisoners. And sometimes Tom can actually get to see the site and the messages in context – as opposed to printed and given to him. It gives him great focus, and of course news from his friends and family touch him hugely. Stories from other people inspire him and he gets huge strength from the connection made.

Again, regardless of your thoughts on him as a man, his guilt or otherwise – life in Kamiti is grim; I have been there several times and won’t go into details – not actually sure whether I am allowed to – taking photos – even of the outside of Kamiti is an arrestable offence. But there is some stuff on YouTube that is already out there so, here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamiti_Maximum_Security_Prison;

http://kenya740.tripod.com/kamiti.html;

http://www.africanews.com/site/Kenya_Kamiti_Prison_water_issue_half_solved/list_messages/21396;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-kQ27JPZjU

Back to the website

I watch it create its own magic space – simply moderating comments and updating posts as news comes in. It fascinates me, and I am sure that if I were not quite so close to it, it would be a very good study in something.

Anyhow! Thought I would share that.

Oh, and Tom’s case is aired on More4 tonight 19th May 2009 at 10pm if your curiosity is piqued about the people involved.

President Obama: Oh hai… but then there’s Tom

So there I was all fired up, inspired, surrounded by people I love celebrating the inauguration and relishing in speeches, music and general wonderfulness. Coming home I was planning on writing up about the new website and waffle further. Then I get an update from Team Tom. For any of you not familiar with my friend, my cause and human rights/prison issues look here: www.justicefortom.com

Please read the latest update: http://justicefortom.com/2009/01/20/on-a-day-of-worldwide-celebration-lets-not-forget-tom/

Please watch the videos, please understand what is happening there. Yes, my friend is there so I am emotionally tied to this and will do anything I can to highlight what is taking place.

Whenever I can I go to Kenya to see Tom, Sally and his family (not too often at the moment because of work – how rubbish is that) and whenever I go I meet everyone involved in this, I go to Kamiti, and I want to do something, anything, to help; but there is nothing I can do whilst there for fear of recrimination – not against me, although that is a risk, but against those who live and stay in Kenya, supporting Tom.

Tom is determined to use any publicity surrounding him to highlight how appalling prison conditions are for his fellow cell-mates and to try to help make things better for those there on remand and even the convicts.

Whatever you think of Tom’s case, please take the time to understand what is happening in Kenya’s prisons.

What can you do? Re-blog, re-twitter, share the link, raise awareness.

You can contact Team Tom through the site if you want to get a message to him, please do.

Tom Cholmondeley

Pretty much all of you know that I am part of the Team Tom lot who run www.justicefortom.com.

Today is the penultimate day for Tom in court in Nairobi. Throughout today and tomorrow, the Defence and Prosecution will sum up the case and then the Assessors will deliberate before making their recommendation to the judge. Thereafter the judge will deliberate and – hopefully fairly swiftly – pronounce his judgment.

Lord knows why I feel such a train wreck, it is hardly my life on the line, nor me who has been suffering – but I guess when you are so close to a situation, the constant adrenaline spikes and troughs just get to you. Today I feel absolutely drained, no idea how Tom or his family and friends in Kenya are feeling but thank goodness we are at the end of what has been pretty much proven to be a travesty.

Should you be interested in the actual case itself, then the court transcripts are published on the site here: http://justicefortom.com/defence/

Fingers crossed this will all be over shortly. I have been to Kamiti Prison to see Tom a few times and every time I am rocked to the core by what the remandees and prisoners have to survive. I am still reeling from my most recent visit – I shall spare you the details; but if one does indeed judge a society by the way it treats its prisoners (let’s ignore the remandees for now) then this Nation needs to have a good hard look at itself.

For the next two days Tom will be in my thoughts, and I hope in the thoughts of those of you who have been affected by this case – although I suspect the time when he most needs our thoughts and prayers will be during the interminable wait for the final judgment.

My thoughts and all love also to Sally Dudmesh (Tom’s love), Lord and Lady Delamere (his ‘rents) and everyone at Jersey Hall who desperately want Tom back.

Am back from Kenya

The last two weeks in brief:

I took these photos:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mulquem/sets/72157607109542754/

I stayed at the following places:

http://www.soysambuconservancy.org/

http://www.eihr.com/baringo/index_en.htm

http://www.blixencoffeegarden.co.ke/

Visited here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Naivasha

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Baringo

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Elmenteita

http://www.kws.org/nakuru.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamiti_Maximum_Security_Prison

Talked a lot about this:

www.justicefortom.com

Helped set this blog up (Please do take the time to have a look at what is happening here):

http://soysambuconservancy.wordpress.com/

All in all it was a magical time. Thanks to my many hosts.

And now, I am back.

Forget the posturing

After having rather huffily put down my pen after the UK Government web guidelines debacle, I checked my email.

Now it is no secret that I write the JusticeForTom site (it is not brilliant, but it will do). When I went to do the final email check before bed – I was a bit peeved about the guidance thing, and a bit scared that I may have upset some pretty important people (maybe) – I saw that I had a comment to approve in Tom’s blog.

Here is the comment (duly approved):

Hello Tom I’m Tony, I live in a remote rice farming community in Northeastern Thailand. My heart goes out to you and your family, I pray for you and send all the luck in the world. i too am a prisoner, I too am being made into a politically motivated example. I too have fed the poor and given my time by teaching in the local school, giving medicine and help to many poor and old people here in Thailand, but it mean nothing to a politically corrupt system as is Thailand’s. I am lucky not to be in prison, I’m a house prisoner, without my UK passport, but I face 15 years in the Bangkok Hilton. My crime was not paying the police for protection. They made up charges anyway, one was for not having a licence for a bird, a bird I saved from death. I hate to see free spirits like you being made into a political scape goat. I lived in Mombasa for a while, i’ve lived all over the world. They cannot take those memories from people like us. Close your eyes and fly out of there Tom.

Do you know my first thought? Is Thailand prisoner, can I trust them? What kind of bird? Human?

What a bad reflection on society and bias is that?

But how ace (H/T Ben Hammersley who think most things are ‘ace’) is that? Through this blog, one prisoner has reached out to another, neither of whom are convicted, both of whom could be you or I, talking to each other, through this WordPress blog.

I can say no more. Communication between experts, the experienced and the novices is already happening; if it can make this a better world to live in – hurrah.

Am back – and been observing!

Africa, well Kenya, was a cathartic exerience in every way.

I was:

  • offline
  • seeing Tom and doing something for someone else
  • getting my Vit B from the sun
  • given an opportunity to spend five peaceful days in great company – should I need it

Primarily the trip was about Tom. I saw him on three separate occasions and am so glad that I made the ‘effort’. It is possibly too soon for me to describe in any detail how the whole thing went – I know, it is frustrating – but it is very emotive to see a friend in prison, especially a high security Kenyan prison. However, I feel better for having seen and hugged him… although it is not so good now being back in a place where I cannot do anything practical to help.

I was not able to see him over the weekend, so was spoiled rotten by his parents and friends… photos on Flickr www.flickr.com/photos/mulquem/

That aside, I did get some peace to consider communication and its variants across the globe. Believe me, being in a country where Internet access is a suspicious luxury is extremely debilitating… yet freeing (discuss!)

On the plane home I believe I had a minor epiphany.

I was standing at the back of the plane and just stretching, avoiding the catatonia of screens and food, when I noticed the diversity of people on the flight. I tell you, the flight back from Nairobi is a wet dream for anthropologists.

Yet every screen was on. Row upon row of people from every background, plugged in to some form of digital entertainment. It was a scary view!

In the seats directly surrounding me, I had two lads, both African – neither had flown before. One sat next to me, the other in front – the one in front was very young, with a nun who was clearly his guardian. Both lads were unsettled throughout the whole flight. Not because of the flight itself, I saw no nerves around take-off or landing – but they were plugged in to a wealth of vision/audio options that they had no real choice but to fiddle about. Neither of them stayed with one channel, audio or visual, for longer than a minute or so… but when they were asked to engage and interact with the screen – then they seemed keen to involve themselves.

I was feeling strangely displaced as – normally – I am the one glued to the computer screen, but I think we need to do more to ensure a balance and ensure that the attraction of digital/social media is managed carefully enough not to make zombies out of all of us.

More when I have had more sleep! And Amy has officially turned six!

Case study: social media and justice

The title might be a bit of a red herring actually, but I am a bit stuck as to what to call this post.

The challenge

A great friend of mine, Tom Cholmondeley, is imprisoned in Kamiti jail in Nairobi. His friends around the world were frustrated by an inability to get news of his welfare, other than through getting in touch with his – already frustrated – mother, Lady Delamere and girlfriend, Sally Dudmesh. Out of consideration most people left them alone, which caused a sense of isolation and more importantly, robbed Tom of the messages of support and good wishes that might help cheer him through his darkest days.

The solution

I spoke to Sally about how I might be able to help, and we decided that a website which gave Tom a voice and people an opportunity to get messages to him through the site would be a good idea. We came up with a plan using the following as our guideline:

  • To give a voice to Tom and those who know and love him
  • To publicise what is happening in the trial and Kamiti jail
  • To give hope and information to those concerned about Tom and his welfare

Using WordPress, I created a very basic site www.justicefortom.com that enabled Lady Delamere and Sally to post up their latest news of Tom, including details of visits, Tom occasionally sends messages through his mother when she visits him, friends and family could leave messages for Tom and/or his family and Sally or Lady D print and take the comments from the site to Tom.

Understandably there were nerves around publicising what was happening in the trial, so we asked Tom’s lawyer to draft a precis of the trial for the site, and we limit comments on trial days to ‘a mother’s view’, where Lady D just explains how Tom is, looks and feels. We do not post any personal opinions on what is being debated in court.

Team Tom is made up of Lady Delamere, Sally, some close friends of Tom who visit him and myself.

The result

We started receiving comments to the site straight away.

  • Friends old and new used it as a personal channel to Tom which made a huge difference to how everyone felt, not least of whom being Tom.
  • Lady Delamere and Sally had an avenue to update everyone on what was happening and so felt more supported.
  • People who read pieces in the press were being directed to it and were able to post their own opinions – some not in line with the feelings of the family – but enabled the family to respond to criticism or mis-conception.

Very quickly it got Press attention and was linked to by the Sunday Times and Channel 4. Most recently we received the following message from the BBC:

I realise this is not the best moment to send you a message, given that you will all no doubt be completely focused on the upcoming court date. But I wonder whether it might be a request you could think over at a more convenient time.

I develop documentaries for the BBC, and would be very interested in trying to make a film with Tom, and the Justice for Tom group.

This would not be a news report, but a long form 60-minute film in which we could communicate more fully what this experience has been like for all of you.

As I said, I realise this will not be something you’ll want to think about right now. But I would really appreciate it if you could give it some thought at an appropriate time for you. For the moment, really, I would value the opportunity just of establishing contact with a view perhaps of discussing the idea at a later date.

I believe that it has achieved everything that we wanted it to.

Note: I was especially touched when a great and talented friend of mine: Dave Briggs – who does not know Tom – offered to weave his magic on the site and give us a new look that helped people use it more easily. I think it looks amazing and you can now see it – the site you are looking at is a professional version of my amateur effort, as from 17th March 2008.

Ponderings

I believe that in this day and age of information availability, (both online and off: through social media and the Freedom of Information Act), everyone can benefit from using the right tools in the right way. This is just one example of how it has worked very well. I would love to hear of others, and I also wonder how sites like these will start to play a part in ensuring justice is done – with a jury of peers that are unselected.