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.

Prison reform in Kenya

Quite a la-di-da post title for me 🙂

My pal Tom’s girlfriend asked me to re-post her appeal letter on the www.justicefortom.com website (appeal that is for cash to make prisoners’ and remandees’ lives better in Kenya). I have done so, but whilst tweaking the spelling (sorry Sally) I re-read the post and what she was asking for.

Now, read the following, and tell me that this is not reasonable to expect in a civilised society, or any society FFS:

The first thing is to buy pipes for the existing borehole at Kamiti prison so we can get running water to 4000 inmates (at the moment they only get an occasional bucket if the mains are working). We have a quote of 75,000 shillings – £650 to sort this problem out.

There needs to be reform of the work available to prisoners beyond heavy industry at 10cents a day. We have a plan for inmates to make handmade greeting cards to earn money to buy extra food, soap and send something home to their families who they can no longer support. We will supply paints and card. I will help organize the sales.

In the longer term if the authorities can respond and cooperate, we would like to help:
– to improve the visiting area where you get 15 minutes behind thick dark wire and have to yell at the top of your voice. This area is so dirty and where most diseases spread ie typhoid.
– to improve the library and learning facilities, ie computers
– to improve the diet of inmates
– to get pay phones in all the blocks
– to get a limit on time people can be held in remand

Now, I get quite a lot of stick for being a part of Team Tom, and often have to fight a corner I know nothing about. I really am an amateur, he is just my mate, but the above just seems… well crazy quite frankly.

Regardless of how you fall in the ‘Tom is guilty/not guilty’ debate, (please don’t have this with me), the fact that the prison system just needs a small injection of cash and Reason should not come into it – so give me a break!

That was it really, just a bit of a moan, as ever!!!!

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.