Date of writing : 12/12/13
So it begins. I’ve been on bail for 7 months – in this journal I won’t be talking about why, partly for legal reasons, and partly because it doesn’t matter – this isn’t about what I’ve done, it’s just my view from the other side of the fence. I was expecting not to be jailed until late January, but it seems fate/events/my own stupidity had other plans. I made some bad choices in the past, and it seems that, much as I wanted to clean the slate and start doing the right things, I wasn’t quite done with making mistakes yet. So, a few days ago I was woken early in the morning by the police, and taken along to the station in the back of their big friendly van. I’d been naïve and done something foolish that was apparently a breach of my bail conditions. I’d also caused a lot of upset without even knowing it. So here I am, on remand in a local Cat. B prison.
From the van I was taken to a police cell, although of course that was only after I’d been searched, and they’d taken my belt and shoe laces. They were fairly friendly as these things go. I guess they’re used to screaming, swearing drunks (judging by the others I heard coming and going). Police cells aren’t comfortable though. Light through a high, frosted window, no view, a thin plastic mattress, and a fairly hard plastic pillow. Lots of hanging around. At least I had a book to read though. The food is … … unique; a selection of microwave meals with use-by dates two years in the future. Somehow the ‘All Day Breakfast’ tastes an awful lot like the ‘Lasagne’, which – at least in flavour – is hard to distinguish from the ’Shepherd’s Pie’. In summary, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Then, the inevitable interview. It was fairly gruelling as usual, but I have a feeling I found out a whole lot more than they did. It wasn’t anything I was pleased to hear either; I don’t imagine anybody enjoys being confronted with the unimagined consequences of their unconscious arrogance. With the interview over, I was taken back to the cell to wait for whatever happened next. Turns out I was due for Court in the morning, although I’ve established that it’s best not to rely on the timing of anything. So, after a call to my parents to update them on the situation (police were quite generous with that one, technically I wasn’t entitled), I tried to get some sleep.
Another delicious ‘All day Breakfast’ later and I heard the keys rattle that tell-tale bit closer to my door. After only 24 hours I’d already started to develop some kind of Pavlovian response to the sound, out of sheer boredom. I was moved (in handcuffs – but they were quite sensitively applied) to a holding cell below the Court. This one had no bed, and just a urinal (although I could call with a button to be allowed to a proper toilet and washbasin). The best thing about this cell, although it might seem a strange thing to like, was the wall made of glass. It just made things more interesting. I got to see the comings and goings of other prisoners, the staff, and see glimpses of people though little windows in the other cells. It’s not much, but it makes a difference.
The staff in this bit were very nice – in fact on the way up to Court, I was briefly questioned by a man from the Ministry of Justice about whether I was happy with everything. I raised an eyebrow to this (actually, that’s a lie, I’ve never been able to raise one eyebrow – what I probably did was to twist my forehead unconvincingly) and also raised my hands (which were at this point cuffed together) – to point out the general non-ideal nature of the situation. If anything, he seemed slightly flustered and embarrassed by this, which was nice. Anyway, I said I’d been treated well and that they’re all lovely. Yes, I was playing up for them a bit here, as I had an audience of four I thought it might raise a smile. Anyway, they had been good to me, and they carried on being good to me after that too.
So, into Court. My solicitor put up a good defence, but alas, bail wasn’t granted. I’m appealing on that, but it’s a long shot and I’m not expecting to succeed. My legal team are united in their frustration at this situation, but it seems there’s not much anyone can do. So it was back down to the glass-walled cell to await my carriage.
Date of writing : 13/12/13
Prison transport vans aren’t comfortable. They look quite spacious from the outside – I don’t know what you imagined them to be like on the inside, but they’re divided up into little boxes either side of a central corridor. Each has a hard plastic seat, just enough room to sit down, and no seat belt. At least there’s a tiny square tinted window to peer through – you know, the sort that the paparazzi get bad photos through, but sitting up to look out of the window does expose you to the risk of continually head-butting it. The driver of my van did seem quite keen on sudden application of the brakes. I don’t know if that was vindictive, or simply a sign of ineptitude, though I suppose driving in the rush-hour didn’t help.
There was a lot of bravado going on in the boxes behind me. This seemed to be largely led by what I later established was one heavily-built (if relatively short) guy with an obviously chequered history. He was trying to get people on the van to join in, banging on the window and shouting at passing pedestrians. I later saw him crying silently to himself during the induction the following morning. If I hadn’t worked it out before I think it’s around then that I cemented it in my mind that these were all just people; fundamentally I’m no different – no better or worse – than any of them The egoism of ‘Us and Them’ is the root of pretty much all conflict. Interestingly, the Pink Floyd song of the same name came on National Prison Radio yesterday, as though just to remind me (I’m sure NPR is a subject I’ll get onto another time).
For reasons I still haven’t figured out, arrival at the prison and being processed seemed to take a very long time and entail a lot of hanging around. One by one we were taken out of the van, photographed (twice, on different cameras, for some reason), signed various things, and put into the first of several glass-walled boxes. It was in the first of these I got my initial taste of prison food. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised – it was some kind of vegetable chilli with rice. Plausible flavour, sensible level of chilli, good quantity and probably quite well-balanced (I have to say that sadly this seems to have set my expectations too high and given me a false sense of security – but perhaps anything tasted good after the ‘taste-the-same’ microwave abominations).
It was in the second of the glass boxes that I was only mildly startled to have my first encounter with prison drugs, less than an hour after I’d arrived. There was a lot of bravado flying around in the glass boxes too – how long people had got, where they’d been, who they know – that sort of thing. There was one guy stopping off just for the night on his way to answer more charges elsewhere; from the way he described it, sounds like he was busted with the entire national drug supply for several months, plus being tangled up with firearms. There were people in for violence, robbery, and on recall from parole for minor breaches. I think I must have stood out a bit, because the time came when I was asked “Are you a criminal?!” It seems this is a question of overall lifestyle choice, rather than the obvious answer “Well, duh!”. They seemed to conclude from what I told them that, no, I’m not “a criminal”.
Date of writing : 14/12/13
So anyway, sat in the glass box trying to keep my head down, I noticed shifty behaviour in the slightly-less-visible corner. Somehow, one of my fellow incomers had managed to secrete about his person not only smoking materials, but also a quantity of ‘mamba’. Apparently – as I’m learning – this is a drug not unlike weed, but without the obvious pungent smell. Smoking anything in the box was just asking for trouble, and when one of the guards (prison officers? …screws? I don’t know what I’m supposed to call them … so uncool) came round to count us – yet again (I think he had trouble keeping the number in his head for more than a few minutes at a time, for which he was duly mocked) the guy was extracted and carted off to ‘the block’. I haven’t figured out the official name for the block yet. I’m imagining a place something like ‘the cooler’, only probably without the tennis ball.
Since then, I’ve seen things around in shifty exchanges and heard a lot of talk. Actually, I say that, but I am the embodiment of the three wise monkeys right now. I’ve been offered things by people ( which I’ve declined – I’m planning to stay as far out of trouble as possible), and people keep asking if I’ve got any ‘burn’ (tobacco). Just today a guy was asking if I had any Diazepam or knew where to get any. I’ve made it my business to forget who’s offering or asking, as I’m beginning to realise it’s probably a Very Bad Thing to be seen as a grass. I’ve a poor memory for faces anyhow – not helped by generally avoiding unnecessary eye contact in here!
I digress – where was I? Ah yes, in a glass box. From there, I was taken various places and questioned by various professionals – most of whom seemed to want to know if I had any intention of hurting myself. Put into a third box, more waiting around, until eventually I was issued with some prison clothes and taken onto the wing mostly reserved for new arrivals. As a non-smoker, my ‘choice’ of places is fairly limited. Most cells are doubles with bunk beds, and it seems almost everyone smokes. This place is crowded, and I’m thankful at least it’s been ruled I can’t be made to share with a smoker.
On the topic of space, I’m sure this place must originally have been designed with single cells, and they just had to stick another bunk in each due to demand. The cells are small – my estimate (using a piece of A4 paper as a one-foot rule) is a width a little shy of 7 feet by 10½
feet at its longest point. Roughly half of the room’s width has a protrusion of about 2 feet near the door, presumably to house plumbing and ventilation. There’s a toilet, a basin, and a small indestructible mirror. A ceiling rail suggests there used at some point to be a modesty curtain around the toilet bowl – I caught a glimpse of one in another cell, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule. There’s also a small desk, a shelving unit a couple of odd-looking chairs, and usually a TV and kettle it seems.
So it was into such a space I was introduced relatively late on my first night. My new ‘pad mate’ wasn’t too keen on having someone to share with, but had little choice. Thankfully he directed his complaints at the officer rather than me. Nice enough kid, more than a decade my junior, in for armed robbery. I did my best to keep out of his way (as much as possible in the space available – this mostly involved keeping to my personal space on the top bunk), and after 48 hours together we’d developed something approaching mutual respect. I got used to his slightly unsettling habit of sleeping entirely wrapped from head-to-toe in a bedsheet like a corpse ready for burial, and he occasionally called me ‘posh boy’.
On that theme, I was queuing for lunch today, and a guy at the servery said “what you in for – fraud or summin’?”. Now, I thought I’d been doing my best to slip into a generic southern accent, but it seems I’m still obviously unusual. I don’t think there’s much I’ll be able to do about that really. There’s only so far can go down the road of exaggerating my accent before it’s too easy for the mask to slip and people might think I’m taking the piss. I am learning to swear a little more though – a habit I hope to drop again one day!
I did meet a few interesting characters on that first wing – some more positive than others. The guy who talked at length about his mental health issues, then explained that he was sure he’d just kill somebody at random some day, was actually quite friendly. I did however ask if he could try to avoid killing me if at all possible. One guy helped me out to get more ‘kit’ (clothes), and another explained which showers worked better than others. Some people only seemed interested in scrounging tobacco – another good reason not to smoke.
So now I’ve been moved onto a different wing. It’s bigger – I’m estimating it can hold up to about 300 – so we’re let out in phases for ‘domestics’, ‘social’, and ‘exercise’. It’s a bit noisier here – there was quite a racket at one point last night with shouting and door kicking, I still haven’t worked out why. I’m in with another unusual inmate here – a central European whose English is good enough, with a little patience. We had a fairly long conversation about European history yesterday. He’s a lot older than me, and lived through a quite lengthy period of Communism. His taste in TV better matches mine than the last guy – and he doesn’t incessantly change channels either.
The state of the décor in this cell is not as good as the last. There are a few patches of bare plaster that need painting, and quite a lot of toothpaste blobs from old pictures (toothpaste is apparently what everyone uses instead of Blu-Tac). It is however cooler than the last cell, which is a good thing. There’s an unnecessary number of FHM/Daily Sport/Sun cut-outs on the walls – placed by a previous inmate – incongruously juxtaposed with some apparently Catholic iconography. My current ‘pad mate’ will be leaving next week and I plan to take down the former before anyone else arrives. Again, it’s not cool, but the pictures just seem completely tasteless to me. Anything that wasn’t plastic to start with has been airbrushed to the extent that it’s probably more a painting than a photo. With headlines like “NICE BAPS!” and classic quotes such as “People always compliment my eyes!” (when clearly that’s not what the picture is focusing on), I think I’ll tire of them very quickly. What I’d really like is a big print of “The Metamorphosis of Narcissus” – I’ve always loved that painting. There’s often something new to see in it, if you can just find different eyes to look with. However, apart from the difficulty of locating such a print (I haven’t yet met a dignified old black man named ‘Red’ to help me with that sort of thing), I don’t think it would be an asset in terms of me fitting in.
So here I am on my bunk (top again) half-watching ‘Cleopatra’ (seriously, how long is that film? It’s been going on for most of the afternoon) while my new companion does his Darth Vader snore on the bunk below. I think the film has bored him to sleep. There are far worse noises he could be making in any case, so I can’t complain. I’m slightly apprehensive about who I’ll get next, as he seems a pretty good option so far. Still, if there’s at least one who’s okay, there’ll be others. If the next one is less than ideal, this too shall pass.
I got let out into the exercise yard for the first time today. I’d not been under the open sky other than to get into or out of a van for nearly five days until that. I should get the chance on most days from now on. I can’t say it’s picturesque, other than in a clichéd black-and-white gritty independent British film kind of way, but it was good to walk in circles for a while. I noticed that both the yard I was in, and also the adjacent one, had self-organised into anti-clockwise rotation. It briefly occurred to me that I might point this out to someone and suggest it may be something to do with the Coriolis effect, then I realised that (a) probably no-one would have the faintest idea what I was talking about, and (b) the Coriolis effect acting on such large masses on such a small scale is almost certainly negligible. I’ll leave it to you to decide which of these facts is more important.
It’s tiring to keep these things in; to maintain a constructed front to my personality requires a lot of energy sometimes. Those of you who know me (and, as an aside, I’d be grateful if you could do your best to keep my anonymity) will probably know that, particularly when I’m tired, I have a tendency to say what I’m thinking – even sometimes when it’d be best if I didn’t. When I’m badly sleep-deprived there’s a danger that my internal monologue can pretty much cease to be internal; the filters can shut down. I hadn’t realised quite how blessed I’d been to be surrounded by people who would just accept me for whatever I was. I hope, in time, to find some individuals who might be more kindred spirits. I’m here, so others like me must be around somewhere. Of course, if they’re hiding themselves too, finding them may take a while. But I’ve got time – in fact time is most of what I’ve got right now.