*** Follow-up article on Robert Danilczuk’s protest ***
‘I am not here to beg. I stand here to die in protest. Let the world know. Grant me my rights or give me back my health!!’
This article offers an updated account of Robert Danilczuk’s protest against the treatment he advises that he endured whilst in H.P. Edinburgh (Saughton Prison). Produced as a follow-up to Alasdair Clark’s Edinburgh Live article, ‘Wheelchair bound ex-prisoner stages one man protest outside Saughton Prison’, my previous article ‘Prison, Protest, & Mutual Aid: The Robert Danilczuk Story’ – published by Ungagged (23.08.2020) and through Lumpen (27.08.2020) – offered an overview of Robert’s life, chronicling his struggle as he conveyed it to me directly, and detailed how several folk were already coming together to support him.
This second article, again co-produced through direct dialogue with Robert, provides the latest information on his fight for justice. As before, I encourage anyone with a platform or connections to regional or national press outlets to engage with him and ensure his struggle gets the attention it deserves.
By way of a quick recap, during our previous chat, Robert had informed me that ‘[a] minor familial issue in Poland led to a criminal record’ and that, though he’d already lived and worked in Scotland for many years, it was ‘accusations from his time back in Cyprus that led to the police coming to his door in Glasgow’. Despite being held in Saughton for as few as ten days, prior to his extradition to Poland where he served seven years, Robert says that ‘he was mistreated by men in black uniforms and that he became concussed after being forced onto the floor. [Later, w]hen he awoke in the hospital, his speech was slurred and he couldn’t move his legs’.
As I stressed in that article, Robert’s not looking for massive prison reformation, nor is he radical in his approach by demanding we abolish the institution; rather, he’s seeking accountability and justice for what he describes as aggressive behaviours against inmates generally. There’s certainly room to talk about prison reform, prisoner rights, and even to connect Robert’s struggle to demands to defund the police via reallocation to funding to community services – which would include supporting former inmates – but this is not the place for centring those arguments.
‘When we talk through what justice would look like and what would constitute success for his protest, he tells me that he wants acknowledgement that there is a problem with how staff treat prisoners in Saughton. He tells me this protest is not merely for him but for others he may never meet but with whom he shares experiences of institutional abuses or failures.’
As chronicled in the previous article, several Edinburgh residents were already offering their assistance – be that financially, through food donations, or offers to share his story. When I first encountered Robert, he had just commenced his hunger strike and on Thursday 17th September 2020, is the fiftieth day of his protest. My understanding is that yesterday, Wednesday 16th September 2020, marked five weeks of his hunger strike.
By late August, he’d received donations of bottled water, pillows, and wet wipes, whilst others were helping to ensure the batteries for his wheelchair were charged. Others were bringing him his favoured hot lemon tea, dropping by for a chat, or doing whatever they could to support his protest – including rejecting narratives shared online which suggested that those sharing Robert’s story on social media were merely virtue signalling.
It therefore bears reminding once again that Robert is a conscientious protester, undertaking this action by choice, and that he has asked for help in drawing attention to his fight. In the embodiment of mutual aid, we are therefore tasked with providing assistance to the causes we believe in with whatever means and resources we have available to us.
In the days following the article’s publication, folk got in touch to donate money towards waterproof boots, an umbrella to cover his wheelchair, and a tin of waterproofing tent spray. Robert also bought himself an inflatable mattress to make his protest more comfortable, and someone was kind enough to buy him a new tent when his own began to show signs of exposure damage.
The team over at Skotia (a grassroots media collective) – who became aware of the protest thanks to Left Ungagged – also filmed a statement from Robert (published on the 27th August 2020) on his protest during which he stated that:
‘My social worker tried fix it for me [sic] Universal Credit [but] they say me ‘no’, because I am not look[ing[ for job. For me this is not a joke, this is my life. For [the] first three weeks, I have [a] normal protest because I think […] people maybe [will] help me because it is my strike, my protest… These people kill[ed] my life’.
After seeing little to no reaction from workers in the prison during his first three weeks outside Saughton, Robert upped the ante and commenced his hunger strike – an action he has continued to this day and which he suggested means he has lost as many as 20kg. He was around one week into it when Skotia recorded the video. Perhaps the most vital moment in that interview, however, is when Robert readily stressed, once again, that he isn’t looking for financial compensation but rather justice for everyone who has faced brutality in the Scottish prison system. When we sat outside his tent having a coffee on Sunday 13th September 2020, in preparation for this article, for the first time, he said ‘maybe if [the prison workers] come to me to make a deal, something normal to address the issue then, yes, maybe we [can] reach an agreement’. Unfortunately, to date, no such attempt to resolve the issue has occurred.
The Skotia video ends with a dark screen conveying a quote from ‘[a] spokesperson from the Scottish Prison Service’ who suggested that ‘[o]f course we’re concerned about his welfare. If he has any complaints to make he should make those complaints, and they should be investigated’. Despite this statement, Robert told me during our second interview that he has had only one face-to-face encounter with anyone from the prison during which a member of staff wanted to know why he was there, yet no one has come to follow-up on this. After I showed him the video report as published on Skotia’s Twitter, Robert decided to join the social media platform so that going forward he is able to continue to share the narrative of his struggle by communicating directly with the wider world, whilst also allowing him to share the content of others working to support him. Those interested in following his account can find Robert on @Robert68645862.
From my own position, there are a handful of us that have been coordinating between ourselves to help Robert with the tasks he asked for assistance with, whilst also stopping by regularly for chats. During one of my first discussions with him, Robert and I talked through this public case of Allan Marshall’s death in 2015. As this happened two years into Robert’s sentence in Poland, he was unaware of the case, but has since ensured to educate himself on Allan’s death and connected his own fight against H.P. Edinburgh to the events that occurred after the event that changed his life forever. He made this connection public during that video for Skotia.
Through word-of-mouth, the social media posts, and others sharing his story, a handful of services have been in touch with Robert. Two folk from Streetwork have stopped by twice, briefly taking him back to one of their hubs so he could shower and shave. Despite the fatigue he endures now due to his hunger strike (a tiredness he carries in the bags under his eyes), moments like this, he says, help him feel refreshed – at least for a few days. He also jokes that when he’s playing with my dog bell, it gives him a reason to justify his racing heartbeat – something he was previously taking medication for but is unable to do so on an empty stomach. Robert is also now receiving legal assistance with his application for settled status in the U.K..
Though he already applied once before, Robert tells me there were problems with his application centring on an erroneous belief that his court case was still ongoing, so he is hopeful that with the help of a lawyer, this will be resolved soon.
In the periods when he’s awake and without visitors, Robert’s striving to keep his mind active by playing puzzle-based games on his phone – a device he’s able to charge thanks to the topped up batteries on his wheelchair. As stated in the previous article, he’s conscious of the importance of this given he lost much of his capacity to articulate himself in three of his six languages following his stroke. Another supporter recently ensured Robert has internet access by giving him an unlimited credit top up for one-month to help him broadcast his struggle and remain in touch with his family. It’s also afforded him some downtime whilst he watches series during the night if he can’t sleep. He says Streetwork also provided top-up vouchers prior to this.
Amidst his struggle, Robert’s retained his sense of humour, laughing as he tells me of his ‘normal family life’ continuing during the protest, particularly that his youngest son still says he’s too busy playing XBox to stay on their video chats for long. One of his daughters checks in on him daily, whilst his ex-wife has also committed to supporting him financially as best she can.
Robert’s protest has been a slow process and arduous process, and not every encounter has been positive. There have been several attempted robberies on his tent; he says that the prison asked police to move him on; and last night (Wednesday 17th September 2020), someone attacked him with a hard blunt object. Two police officers were present when I arrived to meet with him yesterday evening. Both seemed familiar with his situation and were asking about his blood sugar levels and his general welfare, as well as requesting details about the incident which has left him with a small cut to the back of his head.
Since his initial visit from the police (the one where the officer had been asked by staff in the prison to move him on), Robert says the officers have treated him well, stating that he is within his rights to be there. He advises that others visiting his tent have included the relatives of prisoners house in Saughton who’ve stopped by to hear why he’s there, to listen to this situation, and often to share details of the hardships faced by those they know on the inside (with suggestions of coercion and overly aggressive behaviour). Though several visitors have offered him money, Robert says that he ‘won’t take it [as t]hese people need the money more than me’.
The visiting families, he says, often relay their interactions with him to their relatives during visitation and, as such, Robert’s protest may in fact have garnered more attention inside the prison that it appears to have amongst the public.
‘Sometimes when they go to visit [sic] somebody want[s] to give me money, but it’s not fair for them. I will not take money from people who [are struggling[. It’s not fair; they are better to use the money for themsel[ves] or to buy something for the partner or family inside. They say me [sic] ‘God bless you’ and they hope that something good can come of this’.
Though much of his physical strength has waned during the hunger strike and he’s rapidly lost a lot of weight, Robert remains determined to see this protest through. His situation has struck a chord with those who’ve heard his story or understand his protest (including a local resident who rushed to his aid during one of the attempted robberies), yet it remains the case that Robert has received no mainstream coverage, perhaps barring the brief post by EdinburghLive.
My personal thanks therefore go out to Ungagged, Lumpen, and Bella Caledonia for their support with publishing the article that led to Skotia’s involvement. Robert advises,however, that the handful of professional journalists who visited him during those first few weeks of the strike have never returned. He tells me that a YouTuber committed to creating a video about his fight, yet they no-showed that following week.
This was documented in the previous article almost a month ago when I stated that ‘I understand from Robert that two others may be producing reports on his experience soon, so I want to stress that this article is intended to (at Robert’s request) draw attention to his protest rather than to step on anyone else’s toes and whatever plans they may have’. It’s incredibly disappointing to hear that these promises of coverage never materialised.
Given the current state of his health, Robert’s desperate to access a more public platform – BBC News, Channel 4 News, STV News, and the like have all been named during our chats – anywhere that can push his story, support and advance his struggle for justice, or draw politicians in who may be willing to take on the casework.
Myself and the others in our wee group working to support him will of course continue to do so for as long as he can sustain his protest (as, I’m sure, will the others who stop by or toot their car horns in support when passing) but the urgency of the situation – which he places at ‘one more week, maybe two’ – means that this second article is a call out for anyone who may be able to help. If that’s you, or you know someone else who can, get in touch.