Second instalment starts here….. Date of writing : Sunday 15/12/13
Well, I’m not sure what appals me more – what a turd of a two-star film ‘Bride Wars’ is, or that (a) I watched it, and (b) I actually cried a little bit at the end. That took me a little by surprise. I guess I haven’t had the chance to let my emotions out much recently, so they find excuses. I went to the C of E service this morning, largely as another reason to get out of my cell. Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad I went – however, to walk in to the sound of a CD of very happy-clappy gospel-style singing (you know, the kind with an uplifting key change every dozen or so bars – it even had applause after each track) suggested to me it probably wasn’t going to be in the High Anglican tradition. It continued much as expected (I wasn’t fond of the new translations of ‘Come All You [sic] Faithful’ and others), but I still managed to find it vaguely emotive. I think I’ll give the Catholic one a go next week.
Technically, as I’m on remand at the moment, I can wear my own clothes. However, I’m choosing not to, for a few reasons; as I mentioned before, I’m doing what I can not to stand out, so wearing ill-fitting but nonetheless moderately comfortable grey prison-issue tracksuit helps me to blend in a little more. It also means I don’t have to think about what to wear, nor be concerned about washing my clothes. I can simply hand in dirty kit and be given clean kit at the end of each week. No wear and tear on my stuff, nor the expense of replacing things. I do wonder just what I look like though……
I haven’t shaved for a week now – I normally use an electric razor and just kind of trim back to stubble, but here it seems it’s fairly easy to get hold of basic disposable razors, and not much else in the way of shaving gear. Wet shaving never agreed with me – maybe I’ll grow a beard? My hair is already getting untidy. I don’t have much hair these days, so I try to keep it short, but that of course means I have to cut it more often. Maybe I should see that guy on my landing with the clippers. Or maybe I should go full cue-ball with one of those disposables. I’m still waiting for my arrival ‘canteen’ to turn up (‘canteen’ is the name for the stuff we can buy once a week by filling out a sheet) so I’ve used no deodorant for the last week. I did get a toothbrush yesterday, although for some reason I did already have toothpaste. In summary, I don’t imagine I’m looking or smelling my best right now. I can’t see myself too well in the indestructible mirror, and nobody else seems to mind, so it’s not really a problem….until I have a visit I guess.
I continue to meet interesting characters. In the cyclonic swirl of the exercise yard yesterday, I got chatting with an Irishman (who swears he never done it, à la Ivan Dobsky) about the future of electricity generation and the viability of wind turbines. During ‘association’ I ended up talking with one of the single-bunk guys (considered too volatile to lock in a cell with anyone except themselves – I think this one’s in for attempted murder) about his plans for his future on the outside. At first he was apparently trying to find a place for me in his evil masterplan, perhaps as some kind of geeky henchman. Thankfully though he concluded he couldn’t really trust anyone except himself. It really isn’t a threatening environment – there’s quite a bit of shouting and swearing, but most of it’s in good humour. Honestly though, sometimes I feel like I’m surrounded by criminals………
Date of writing : Monday 16/12/13
I had the luxury this morning of having the cell to myself, as my pad mate went off for education induction. Odd timing, as I think he’s being released tomorrow. Another example of the lumbering inefficiency of the systems in here. Another plus: after much chasing, and help from my landing officer (or ‘miss’ as female officers get called – including by each other when in the third person it seems) I’ve finally got the things I ordered from my arrival canteen. I have a branded toothbrush and toothpaste, some biscuits chocolate, mints, and most importantly some decent shower gel and some deodorant! I now smell something more like a normal member of acceptable society, which is nice. Feeling more human.
I’ve just been filling out a form to apply for a position in the education department. Now, I thought about learning something useful, and I may yet apply for ‘Radio Production’ or ‘Business Studies’. However I decided I’d see if they wanted to make use of what I already know in order to help other inmates. The post of ‘Learning Support Assistant’ requires at least ‘Level 2’ in both numeracy and literacy. Having experienced the rest of the bureaucracy in here, I wonder if this may be a strict requirement. I’ve mentioned my GCSEs, A-levels, and the undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in a numerical subject, but I’m fully expecting them to come back and tell me I need to do their literacy and numeracy courses first. I await the response to my form with patience and a sense of humour, both of which I sense may be required. < brief pause in writing >
Lovely! I got back from my exercise-yard-circling to find two letters on my bunk. Nice to know that people on the outside are thinking of me. I’ve got some stamps on order that I hope will arrive on Friday, and until then I’m trying to get back the few stamps I had in my wallet when I came in. As I still haven’t got my shoelaces back, I’m not going to hold my breath. In the meantime I can only send two free letters a week, and they’re being mostly used up with this journal. Maybe I could try to barter some teabags for a stamp. I quit caffeine some years ago, so I’m starting to build a bit of a stock from the breakfast pack we get given each evening. I’ve already bought favour by giving a couple of people some sugar. (That’s literal, by the way, in case you were wondering).
I’ve also now been to a Carol Service in the Chaplaincy … which was quite good. A real person playing the piano, carols with the proper words, and I even got a mince pie. This was middle-England middle-Anglican, which was more comfortable than the CD thing yesterday. Having said that, having ‘Come And Join The Celebration’ as the first song did take me right back to primary school. There’s quite a lot of that going on, what with people ordering us about, and having to call them ‘Miss’ and ‘Sir’ (although I don’t recall ever having called any of my teachers ‘Boss’). They’re generally fairly helpful though.
I’ve signed up for a visit to the library in the morning. I’m hoping I’ll get something decent to read – with time on my hands it’s not hard to get through a book in a day. I got through a book I’d borrowed from a friend on the first day in the police cell. (If you’re reading this, and you recently lent me a book, I’m, sorry! I’m trying to work out a way to get it back to you. Thanks for your company vicariously through the book, I appreciate it.)
It’s okay, I realise they can’t actually talk (at least for now). I’ve given them names – I wasn’t sure whether one was a cat or a dog so I called it ‘Puppycat’ (look it up), and the other is obviously a dinosaur, so I called him ‘Dino’. I like to imagine they’re chatting to each other….
I wonder what they’re saying?
Date of writing : Tuesday 17/12/13
My middle-European friend has gone. They took him away for release not long after dawn. He didn’t take much with him save for a few pieces of paper, and as he left, he didn’t even glance back, let alone say goodbye. Mind you, he had just been woken up, and probably only had freedom on his mind. I’ve taken down all the plastic women from the walls, and I’ve inherited the few things he left behind – a bottle of orange squash (of which I’m not a huge fan – and I now have two), a bottle of lemonade, most of a bottle of shower gel, lots of tea bags and sugar packets, and some little portions of margarine. I also got his pillow, which is good as I’d been using a pillow case stuffed with a tracksuit. I hadn’t got around to asking for one yet, as it wasn’t too uncomfortable. I’ve rigged up his spare clean bedsheet as a modesty curtain for the toilet too.
Now I have the choice of top or bottom bunk. It seems that most people prefer the bottom one, as it’s easier to get in/out of, and effectively gives you control of the significant floor area and default control of the TV. However, having sat on it for a while, I think I’ve decided it feels too closed-in for me. There’s not enough headroom for me to sit up straight, and I don’t really want anything like that making me feel more confined than I already do. I’d probably keep hitting my head. I think I somehow feel safe in command on the top bunk, so I’ll stay here for now. The desk is not much use as a desk, especially with the TV using a lot of it (it’s an old CRT), so I spend a lot of time writing on my bunk.
I’ve been expecting to go to the library this morning, but nobody has come to take me. I suspect when staff are in short supply (as they mostly seem to be), things deemed non-essential like that get pushed down the priority list, and sometimes fall off the bottom. It would be good to have something to read, but if it doesn’t happen today, I’ll try signing up again for a visit on Thursday.
What I’d really like is a radio. The adverts on the TV are beginning to annoy me – particularly all the Christmas ones showing happy families having a great time, and all the food and drink ads. Yes, I’d love some delicious potatoes roasted in goose fat, and all that champagne looks great. But I’d probably just rather not think about those things right now – it doesn’t help. So it’d be great to be able to listen to Radio 4, and plod along with that as a background of normality. I might even be able to deal with listening to The Archers, just as a change. The radio is a longer-term ambition, as I think I can only get one by ordering from a cut-down Argos catalogue, and these things take time (just like everything else in here). < break – it’s now around sunset >
I jumped at the chance for yard exercise this afternoon, as it’s not just the library visit that didn’t go ahead today. The staff seem as frustrated and under-informed as the rest of us, but the general impression is they’re short of officers today. Hence, we’ve so far had no time for ‘association’ or ‘domestics’ (as an aside, as far as I can tell, the only difference between the two is that in the former they get out the snooker/pool balls and people can play table tennis). So, we’ve been on ‘bang-up’ for most of the day. This also means I haven’t been able to make phone calls.
As I went out into the yard (or ‘playground’ as I’ve started to think of it) there was the faint smell of a distant bonfire hanging on the cold air. I wondered where it was, and whether the person who lit it might have thought it could evoke such old and vivid memories in someone pacing in circles on tarmac under 20ft fences. It was bitter-sweet, but it allowed me to imagine walking through long-fallen leaves on damp earth under bare branches.
In the corner of the yard, there was a group loitering, and as I got closer I realised they were engaging in some kind of freestyle rap face-off. Each time I passed them, I caught snippets – some of it was really quite good; some actual articulate expression of emotion in an otherwise poker-faced environment of self-suppression. I would have stopped to listen, but I didn’t have a connection with any of the group, and I feared being dragged into the competition. You can probably imagine how excruciatingly that would have gone. As far as I could tell, the ‘winner’ got a packet of Custard Creams. Gangsta.
Got back to find two more letters from ‘email a prisoner’. Thanks guys, it brightens up my dull days. I only feel sad that I can’t reply as often or as quickly as I’d like. I was told today that all my mail and phone calls are currently being monitored, so I wonder if my mail might be slowed down by having to be read. If I could get out to make a phone call I could find out if anything has got through yet.
Update: Just got a new pad-mate – don’t think he’ll be here long, but he’s already helped me out in a few ways, not least in getting me out to make a call. The answer is no – no post has got through yet. I think I’ll hold on to these latest updates until I know things are getting through. Anyway, this new chap has been in the system for a couple of years. He turned up with three big sacks of stuff, including some quite finely-crafted containers for coffee, sugar, etc. which he made from matchsticks. Smoothly sanded, stained and varnished as well. It’s like he’s treating the whole thing as an RPG (role play game) – and he’s winning too – he understands all the systems of trade, has a full inventory, and numerous skills to get by. He’s even making use of differential availability of commodities in various jails in order to make a profit. Reminds me of Ultima IV on the Sega Master System; he’s got all the eighths of the Ankh, and even the evil skull that kills everyone except Lord British. Just like when I used to load my brother’s saved games and look in awe at his inventory. In any case, it’s heartening to see someone can carve out a life and find a niche inside.
Date of writing : 19/12/13
Yesterday we were on lockdown all day. Apparently this happens once a month for staff training – a bit like an inset day, only crapper. Spent the day mostly watching TV, attempting impossible Sudoku, and chatting about diverse topics with my new pad mate. He’s been explaining ways to exploit the addiction of smokers (neither of us smokes) and to build up a stock of ‘burn’ by acting like an unscrupulous loan shark. It seems that if you’re going to prison, it’s a very good idea to quit smoking – it’ll give you a significant advantage (not to mention the health benefits). I’ve been giving him my sugar, and he’s been giving me his cereal ration (he has his own muesli). Also got some favour giving him my unwanted orange squash – that probably helped me in getting some of his sweet chilli sauce on my cous-cous yesterday. And so it goes – it can be quite fun if you look at it the right way.
Today was another day I didn’t get to the library. However, I did have the exciting new experience of a video link to the Court. It was just a process formality, but it was nice to get a change of scene. This did however mean I missed association, and only just got back in time for lunch. Thankfully, the ‘enhanced’ status of my new companion seems to be giving me unforeseen benefits by proxy – he’s entitled to more ‘unlock time’ than me, but his door is my door. This meant I could finally get my first shower in four days. Feels good to be clean – although I’m still distinctly shaggy. Think I’ll see where my beard takes me. Might try for a haircut soon though.
Apparently I have my first visitor coming tomorrow – I’ve established that on remand my visits aren’t really limited, so I’ve added anyone to the approved list who’s asked. It’s only a shame that it’s difficult to let them know this as post is so slow right now. Also I’ve not got everyone’s numbers, and mobiles are expensive to call. Anyone, while I’m on remand – please come visit! It means I get out for a couple of hours, and you can even buy me real food. So, looking forward to seeing an old friend tomorrow afternoon – he’s been good to me through all this, and it’ll be great to see a friendly face. Let’s hope he’s not unduly shocked by my shaggy chops.
Just been thrown a 15p mini bag of Skittles – can’t complain!
Date of writing : 20/12/2013
So, I’ve seen my first visitor today. I was even told a little early and allowed out for a shower first – it almost seemed like there was some sense of planning and co-ordination for once. However, I suspect it was more likely a random helpful confluence of events. So after a bit of hanging around we were marched down to the visitor area. After a cursory search, deposition of anything we were carrying, and the application of a stylish luminous orange bib, we were herded into another holding box. Then there was more waiting as we were taken out in twos and threes to see our visitors.
It’s like we’re criminals and they don’t trust us or something: No physical contact with visitors except an initial greeting and a final farewell; prisoners must remain seated in their vibrant bibs; Perspex tables with a barrier underneath to prevent surreptitious passing. Still, it did seem as though they’re not rigid about the rules – some couples could really have done with a room to be in. The visiting area is fairly pleasant in décor, and the (very numerous) CCTV cameras are fairly subtly domed in the suspended ceiling. There’s a hatch serving real food and real drink, which is a pleasant change. I had the luxury of a piece of cake and some Red Bush tea.
It was nice to catch up with the details of a number of things on the outside. There’s something you can’t quite get from a phone call – particularly when limited to ten minutes. We had the best part of two hours to talk over the things that got me here, and to get a better understanding of the opinions of some mutual friends. Something I miss is just the day-to-day keeping up with people. Even if you don’t exchange much actual information, just feeling ‘in touch’ through small communications is an important thing I took for granted. A little bit of update in that direction was good. We also sorted out some practical things to do with my flat (like the all-important question of who’s getting the booze I left behind).
Anyway, a little after 4pm it was time to go. My guest headed off while I sat and waited to be called up to return my bib, be searched again, and get the few things I was carrying when I came down. One of the couples took three calls of ‘time!’ before they eventually disentangled themselves. The last of the visitors filed out and I eventually got back up to the wing. There was the pleasant surprise that our canteen orders had turned up while I was out. I now have lots of paper, envelopes and importantly some stamps. Now I can stop struggling with writing on the little scarps I find lying around.
Now I’m back in the cell, putting up with the evening run of soaps on the TV. At home I haven’t even got a TV or a licence. Here it seems everyone has one, and it’s on most of the day. So it’s Emmerdale, Coronation Street and Eastenders in one big bland, shouty lump. It makes it difficult to write anything of interest, as I’m involuntarily distracted and looking up at the screen every 30 seconds or so. It’s very hard to ignore a TV when it’s on. And right now, the constant stream of Christmas ads for food and booze (the likes of which neither of us will have for some time) make it that much worse. On the other hand, it does pass the slow hours away. I have to say though, I had no idea just how many near-identical junk-auctioning shows there are, nor that there would be the audience for them all.
My current pad mate – who for simplicity we’ll call ‘Bob’ – is apparently going to be moving back to his usual Cat. C jail before Christmas. He was hoping this’d happen, as conditions are better there. He’s only in this place to deal with some outstanding legal issues, which he’s now done. However, this means a lottery for me again. Bob’s a good guy – it was Skittles last night, and he made me some beef-flavour Noodles earlier. Chances are the next guy will be some youth in for petty theft or beating someone up on a night out. Still, you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. Just a shame I won’t get to share the mince pies and cream Bob says he has stashed away for Christmas Day.
Date of writing : Sunday 21/12/13 – 10.40am
Bob’s gone off for his weekly visit from his ladyfriend, so I’ve had the place to myself since half eight. Even better, I’ve been unlocked since then too. So, I’ve been able to potter about filling in forms, exchanging kit, talking to people and I even got to make a phone call. Found out my post has got through! This means I feel fairly safe in posting this next batch of journal. So, I’m finishing off this sheet with the door open, a pleasant breeze blowing through, and drinking my ‘Red Berries’ tea to the noisy babble of association and the sound of ping-pong balls.
People in here (some of them at least) do look after each other. I was just reading over what I had written, but from the door it must’ve looked like I was holding my head in despair. A guy was passing who I’d talked to briefly a couple of times, and he came in to see if I was okay, because he knew I was fairly new and might be struggling. That’s reassuring.
We got our meal sheets for the Christmas period today – I selected ‘Roast Turkey’ with the accompaniment option ‘And All The Trimmings’. I’m hoping this will at least be moderately good (*but I’m not expecting too much). and I await the contents of the ‘Christmas Goody Bag’ with interest. I haven’t talked a great deal about the food in here yet. I think that’s probably because it could be a lot worse, much as people complain constantly about it. Sure, a lot of it is cheap, and there’s a great deal of carbohydrates, but at least we get fish, chips and mushy peas on a Friday…………………[to be continued]