NO. 9 – “The Haircut”

Date of writing : 08/01/2014

Now, I mentioned I’d found someone to cut my hair.  ‘Geoff’ is probably in his 50s, and I think he’s been here for quite a while.  He’s set up on the top (second) floor, known as ‘the 3’s’, in a single cell with a bit of a view across the houses to the North.  After a few false starts (because the staff shortages had us locked in again), I eventually got up to the 3’s on Monday afternoon.  I was supposed to be going to the library, but I decided I didn’t know when I’d have a chance for a haircut again – and I was expecting a visit the following day and thought it would be good to be presentable.  So when Geoff came down to get me, I went straight up.

I arrived at the cell to find someone else there making several cups of coffee – ‘Kyle’, who I’ve seen around but not spoken to before.  He seemed quite at home in Geoff’s cell, and I didn’t find it particularly odd that he was there.  People often hang out in friends’ cells when there’s not much else going on.  So Kyle was in a chair, Geoff sat near him on the bed, and I set myself down in the remaining space at the foot of the bed.  We all sat for a time, with me attempting polite conversation, and them smoking roll-ups.

After a while, Geoff started to look quite distracted and a little vacant.  He turned round as though he’d only just noticed me, and asked me ‘What you here for?’, sounding genuinely baffled.  I reminded him I was there for a haircut.  After a while, he started to look more agitated and muttered some things to himself that I couldn’t make out, then suddenly turned to me – frowning in confusion – ‘so, how do I know you?’.  I reminded him, but my answer seemed just to bewilder him more – almost as though he didn’t really understand the words I was using.

At this point, I looked at Kyle to see what he was making of all this.  He was keeping cool, like this was a thing that happened sometimes, and I took my cue from him, in not making a big thing of it.  I was in fact finding it mildly entertaining.  I tried to pursue calm conversation about innocuous topics, but made the mistake of mentioning Geoff’s cereal shelves, which were quite innovatively made from cardboard and matchsticks.  At this point something seemed to snap inside him and suddenly he was up, kicking boxes on the floor and punching and lashing at the shelves, which duly collapsed.  Packets of cereal flew everywhere and one of them burst, showering cornflakes around the cell.  This did not seem to help mellow him at all …

‘Now!  Look at this!  Why did you have to mention the shelves – look at this!’. 

Kyle casually started trying to calm him down, when suddenly he flung his near-full cup hard at the ground, spraying coffee all over me, Kyle and pretty much every surface of the cell.  ’What you here for?!’  he asked again.  Kyle cut in ‘He’s here for a haircut, mate, and you’ve just kicked off again’, as though trying to remind him where he was and what was happening.  This appeared to calm him a little, and he sat down again while I swept up the cornflakes and Kyle mopped up the coffee.

All this done, he started muttering again – I won’t include all his ramblings and odd behaviour here, but there was quite an ensemble.  Then he said:  ‘I’m a Lifer, me’.   ‘Yeah’, chimes in Kyle, ‘and I could’ve stopped him too’.  (Interesting, I think, where might this be going?)   ‘I warned him.  I WARNED him!  But he had to push me!  He wouldn’t stop!’ … getting angry again.  Kyle explained:   ‘We were together in the last place, and this guy just kept winding him up.  I tried to stop him’.  Between them they explained how Geoff had cut and stabbed the guy in a rage, and that he hadn’t survived.  Kyle seemed genuinely troubled that he hadn’t been able to stop it.  I was beginning to have second thoughts about my haircut …

As you can probably imagine, the atmosphere was a little tense at this point.  Then I noticed Kyle had become rather interested in a newspaper, looking very closely at something.  I subsequently realised that was because he couldn’t keep a straight face.   Geoff said ‘Shall we tell him?’, looking suddenly more relaxed.  ‘Yeah, he’s not really a Lifer, we do this to everyone’ said Kyle, now openly laughing with Geoff chuckling along.  Apparently, some people get much worse than that.  Now back to normal, Geoff shook my hand, smiling, ‘so what was it you want doing with your hair, then?’.

I must say that, although I was a little scared at a few points, I actually enjoyed the performance – not much happens in here and you have to make your own fun somehow.  They’re obviously seasoned pros.  Kyle did a pretty good job of cutting my hair in the end, and Geoff tidied up my beard nicely.  The whole thing only cost me a small carton of UHT milk.  I have to say that feels like a good deal;  I’d happily pay more just to see that RSC-grade method acting.   I wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall when they do it to the next guy either!

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NO. 8 – “On Showers and Urinals”

Date of writing : Monday, after lunch, 06/01/2014

Even the servery workers weren’t sure what lunch was today.  It was supposed to be fish fingers for me but I got some kind of circular thing with breadcrumbs on.  I’m still not certain whether it was fish or some kind of animal.  I’m probably glad I didn’t go for the mystery pasty.  But anyway, today we’ve been on normal unlock in the morning, which is something to be thankful for.  It meant I had a chance to try to teach a bit of basic calculus to a guy with the same name as me from my county, as a set-up for a joke;  punch line still didn’t go down too well though.  I’ve been talking to him a lot lately, so he probably needs a name.  Let’s call him ‘Paul’.

I managed to have a shower this morning, which was probably overdue. Maybe certain images may spring to your mind when you think of prison showers – they’re often the basis of jokes, sometimes involving a muscular tattooed gentleman asking if you could pass him the soap …  Rest assured, things aren’t nearly as intimidating as you might imagine.  It’s not just an open room, and people generally observe social rules to make everyone more comfortable.

All socially normal males quickly learn the rules of the urinal.  There are several of these, universally accepted, that serve to maintain social comfort and minimise the risk of allegations of predatory homosexuality.  For example, if there are three urinals and one at the end is occupied, you should choose the one at the other end.  The more socially-minded male will, when faced with an open choice of all three, avoid selecting the central one – mindful of the impossible situation that would present for the next visitor.  The fundamental rule is that there should be a gap of at least one urinal between you and any other gentleman.  This rule is allowed to be ignored only during times of very high traffic, and even then only if each man makes it outstandingly clear where he is (or more importantly, isn’t) looking – like the exaggerated mirror checks required during a driving test.

Now, this does bring me neatly to an aside.  I have a confession to make:  I’m not a urinal user.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve suffered from ‘stage fright’ – I’m psychologically incapable of urinating in the presence of another person.  I believe this is far more common amongst men than is generally accepted.  Given the choice, I’d always go for a cubicle.  Moreover, I also confess that I’ll generally sit down too … There!  I’ve said it.  When locked in my cell however, I’m almost always in the presence of another person.  Of all the practical problems presented by incarceration, it was this that initially I found most difficult.  Thankfully, of necessity I’ve gradually overcome the issue – even though I still take any opportunity I can to toilet in private.

Anyway there was a point to my urinal discussion – the social rules of prison showers are very similar to those applicable to urinals.  There are cubicles of a sort here, fairly large, but with walls and doors that come about halfway up my biceps (I’m a little under six foot tall).  The cubicles are in rows of threes and fives, and again, the aim is to keep an empty one between you and the next guy.  I’m thankful that the vast majority observe this social convention.  I say the vast majority, because there’s always an exception …

Perhaps there should be a multiple-choice test before people are allowed into the general prison population – a bit like the driving theory test – for example:

1.  When your cell mate collects his towel, shower gel and flip-flops, and heads out of the door, do you:

(a)      Conclude he is going for a shower and think little of it,

(b)      Ask whether he is going for a shower and try to start an inane conversation about it, or

(c)      Follow along to the showers a couple of minutes later – because we’re all buddies, right?

2.  When in a shower cubicle next to someone you know (aside of course, from the fact that this should not have happened), do you:

(a)       Acknowledge them with a curt nod and/or minimal vocalisation, then act as if they weren’t there at all,

(b)      Engage them in polite conversation, or

(c)      Lean on the dividing wall and attempt to converse at length whilst paying no attention to the direction of your gaze?

3.  When finishing your shower, do you:

(a)      Get dried and dressed promptly, mindful of the comfort of your fellow inmates,

(b)      Get dried and dressed at your own pace whilst chatting to anyone who is around, whether they like it or not, or

(c)      Wander about naked for as long as possible, to ensure your body is thoroughly aired in all recesses?

Ok, by now you’ve probably guessed who the exception is.  There are some who say they don’t know how I can cope, sharing a cell with Ahmed.  Yes, I’d probably like to be sharing with a more normal guy, such as Paul, and we’re working on that as a longer-term aim.  In the meantime, actually I’m finding Ahmed fairly amusing.  Having established how to work round him he is in truth Mostly Harmless.

INSTALMENT 7. “Lockdown, Staff shortages, and the Internet”.

Date of writing : Thursday, 02/01/2014

“Someone has stolen some paint, and you’re all going to sit in your cells until whoever it was owns up.  Or we’ll search your cells.  But we won’t because we can’t really be bothered.  And anyway it’s Friday tomorrow.  Smith?  Was it you Smith?  I saw you hanging around.     Go on, own up!  You’re only spoiling things for everyone else  …  …

That’s it!  You’re all in detention!”

There are a number of things that are unfortunate about being confined with Ahmed all day.  Some of them will be immediately apparent if you read my previous ramblings on his less desirable aspects.  I can now add to this (only for the sake of humour, of course) his tendency for very loud open-mouthed eating, and his inability to drink a cup of tea without apparently attempting to breathe it in noisily.  I’d also really prefer it if he didn’t often get distracted in the middle of changing clothes and wander round the cell completely naked for several minutes.

All this aside, I’m coming to the conclusion that Ahmed’s social ineptitudes and general quirks are largely down to his lack of understanding of the world.  I’ve said before that he is well-meaning, and I’ve really got nothing against him.  Recently he’s shown signs of a childlike mind; in talking about his offences, he seems baffled by what has happened to him and doesn’t really comprehend why he’s here; he told me when the police came for him he was afraid and hid, leading them to break the door down.  He got a P45 in the post and asked me to explain what it was trying to tell him.  The main part he wanted me to decipher, it seems, was a box with an address printed on it.  The world can be a frightening place for him, not least his latest Court appearance.  His case has been adjourned for further psychological reports, and I understand why.

Date of writing : 03/01/2014  19.30

Well, it turns out some of yesterday’s lockdown was because of things getting out of hand on a nearby wing.  Some inmates apparently overpowered an officer and got his keys.  I’m told they were heading for this wing with the apparent intention of enacting violence against some people here.  Thankfully, they only made it as far as the outer doors before they were stopped by an aspect of security it’s probably best for everyone that I don’t describe.  It may sound like a close call, but actually there were still several gates and doors between them and us.  Also, by that time I imagine there was a significant number of officers in the spaces between those doors.  There were some serious injuries, but as they were dealt with by medical staff here they can’t have been that bad.

While all of this information has come to me via the notoriously dubious grapevine of PO-to-inmate-to-inmate-to-inmate, there are certain aspects of the story (which, again, it’s better I don’t reveal) that make me believe that at least the bulk of it is true.  Now this does concern me, because I think it’s very likely that the whole incident was made possible by the very low staffing levels we have at the moment.  I always understood that people were made redundant when they were just that – redundant.  So when a prison makes a large fraction of its staff redundant, that’s because they’re not needed, and the place can run just fine without them, right?  Surely they wouldn’t lay people off just to save money and avoid being privatised at the expense of security and ongoing education and rehabilitation programmes, would they?

Staffing levels here are very thin, and staff morale seems very low, even in front of the inmates.  As I’ve mentioned before, we frequently end up on lockdown because there aren’t enough officers to supervise us on the wing.  Today, as is often the case there was no trip to the library for this wing because there was nobody to take us.  I’ve been here for over three weeks, and I’ve still not had my education or gym inductions.  I had an appointment with a nurse a week ago, and didn’t get to it because nobody took me there.  The flush on the toilet has been faulty since I arrived in this cell, and despite repeated requests, nothing has been done.  To top it off, there still aren’t any blank General Application Forms, so we can’t ask for anything to be done.

When we were let out for a couple of hours today, at one point I looked around quite carefully and couldn’t see a single officer keeping an eye on the 140 inmates of the wing.  I’m sure there must have been some somewhere, but if a fight had broken out on the ground floor landing, it would have taken a long time for them to notice, let alone do anything about it.  Some people believe the POs want more near-misses to happen, so that the big problems caused by lack of staff will be noticed by people high enough up to do something about it.  I just hope nobody has to get seriously hurt before that happens.

Date of writing : Saturday morning 04/01/2014

We’ve got half-wing association this morning – the other half.  I’m hoping this will be matched with our half this afternoon.  In the meantime, I thought I’d write a little about writing.  Meta-writing, if you will.  I expect you realise I don’t sit at a computer and type this out myself.  This journal is entirely handwritten and sent by post to ‘The Editor’ (who has the unenviable task of deciphering my hieroglyphics), laboriously typed up and finally posted online for your reading pleasure. I’m immensely grateful for the effort expended in this exercise, as without it I’d feel much more cut off from the world, and be missing an outlet for the ramblings that help me to keep things in perspective.

Getting your letters, cards and emails can also be a good boost and a break from an otherwise uneventful day.  I’m looking now at a card I received a few days ago with a scene of Whitby harbour at sunset.  With not much to look at here, it holds a lot of interest for me.  I’ve been to Whitby many times and the place has happy memories – some of them now of course tinged with sadness.  Like the silver ring I had made there seven years ago.  This now sits in a small brown envelope sealed in a plastic bag a few hundred yards from here.  I think it’s important not to block these things off, but to try to deal with them gradually without wallowing.  I’ll wear it again, when I can.  Just as the bad things about the past can’t be changed, neither can the good.

The email services provided by http://emailaprisoner.com has been very good – messages usually get to me within 24 hours and I’ve had maybe 20 so far.  It’s good to get feedback on what I write here.  A few days ago a good friend in Edinburgh made some helpful suggestions about the anti-clockwise motion of the exercise yards.  Apparently (and not being a particularly sporting chap, I didn’t realise this) most athletics tracks are set up with a left-hand turn, so maybe some people are used to this direction.  Also, it puts the right hand ‘in front’, so can feel more natural to the un-sinister.  Once a few go in this direction, any of the sinister, ambidextrous or generally contrary persuasion will go along with the rest like sheep.

If you don’t know me personally, and in the unlikely combination of circumstance that you’re actually reading this and also want to communicate with me, then I’m told it’s possible to leave comments below.  These will be forwarded to me, and I may even be able to reply in kind.  This will of course take a little while, so please be patient…. which brings me in a roundabout way to the point I meant to make when I started this section;  why the Devil can’t they just give us carefully monitored and filtered access to the Internet, even if only as an occasional privilege to the Enhanced prisoners?

While the world becomes progressively more online, prisoners become ever more detached from the mainstream of daily life.  I believe it would be a relatively simple task to create a secure email system so that prisoners could both send and receive messages.  Everything would be logged, and messages could be flagged automatically for suspicious content, or reviewed manually, in the same way as letters.  There could be an approved list of email addresses, just like approved numbers on the phone system. In all, it would promote computer literacy and maintain links with the wider community to aid re-integration on release, whilst improving mental health through increased contact with friends and family.

19.00     Well, that was a nice surprise.  Two visitors this afternoon, who kindly bought me Rooibos tea, crisps and chocolate from the hatch.  In the holding box before I went in, it seems I’ve found myself a barber too.  So I’m hoping to get my hair cut tomorrow (in his words ‘it looks a right state’!).  I arrived back in my cell to find three emails and a lovely handwritten letter awaiting.  In all, there’s quite a lot to recommend today, despite the usual Saturday evening, near-cheeseless pizza and ‘roast’ potato combo;  all the carbs, none of the nutrition.  I got my canteen order this morning, so am prepared with noodles, biscuits and extra-strong mints to help me soldier on … …

INSTALMENT NO. 6 – GOODBYE, 2013

Date of writing : 31st December 2013 – about 6pm 

Unlocked not long after 8am today, which is a good thing.  Ahmed went out not long after, and absent-mindedly threw the bolt to lock me in, which is a bad thing.  I wouldn’t mind so much, but he did it yesterday as well.  This leaves me shouting round the door to passers-by to let me out.  Even after I told him about it, he still nearly managed to do it for a third time but realised just in time and unlocked again.  Absent-minded in general, he is.  Frustrated by this, I am.

I’ve got bored with maintaining a ‘front’ of fitting in with people.  Now that I’m able to socialise most of the day, it gets harder to keep up the reversion of my accent to its roots.  As I’ve mentioned before, people seem more accepting on this wing, and I’m hoping they won’t take too much exception to my sometimes obvious differences.  The fact that I sit around writing a lot seems to mark me out.  A lad from the travelling community asked where I was from today, and told me I sound ‘proper posh’ (and that’s with my attempts to revert).  He wasn’t aggressive about it though, and played several rounds of cards with me after that.  Maybe the fact that I agreed to give him five sheets of lined paper helped.  I have to be careful to walk the line between gaining a little favour and just being walked on though…

[18.30]  Well, anyway, it’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m behind the door now.  I’m guessing that’s where we’ll stay until morning.  The people in the cells either side of mine are talking to each other by shouting through the window vents, and there’s a bit of wall-banging going on.  That’s what counts for high spirits round here.  I have to say, I’ve had better years.  In fact, I’m sort of hoping that 2013 was the worst year of my life.  Although, as I write that, I remember many happy times too.  There were some good times before May, and despite the background looming, the last few months before I arrived here also provided some unexpectedly good experiences.

Having lost my job officially at the beginning of August, and been suspended on full pay for some weeks before that, I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands.  For quite a while, I flailed around in anxiety and grief for what I was gradually realising I had lost.  In summary, that was pretty much everything; the life I knew was completely gone.  For a long time I was down to the material possessions I could fit in the boot of a small car – not that I had a car to put them in any more.  More importantly, my relationship of over 13 years had become irreparable, and I’d heavily damaged many other of my most important interpersonal connections.  I’d lost contact with those I hold most dear, and with many friends as well.  Worst of all, I had only myself to blame for all of this.  I was stripped down to my bare essentials.

Many people are never brought face-to-face with themselves in the absence of all the things they had come to regard as their identity.  To some degree or another, we all identify with the roles we play and the things that surround them; home-owner, employee, father, mother, husband, wife, driver of a particular car, respectable member of society – these are all roles we play that we can come to think of in concert as actually ‘being me’.  So if all these things disappear, then what is left?  Being faced with this situation has forced me to consider these questions.

Of course, I’m far from the first to think about the nature of ‘self’; the fact that the self does not exist is a core ‘truth’ of Buddhism.  In more recent popular philosophy, Eckhart Tolle has written about the problematic nature of our personally constructed ‘egoic self’ and its struggle to survive at all costs.  Millions of words have been written on these ideas, and my personal ponderings probably add very little to the subject.  Although I write this now in an analytical way, I’m sure you can imagine that my thought processes have been at times less than detached and coherent.  The phrase ‘nervous breakdown’ is ill-defined, but you might use it to describe what I was going through for a couple of months from the end of April this year.  I’d read a lot about the nature of self but until I was forced to face it on a personal level, I think my understanding was more academic than I was perhaps prepared to admit.  That’s something I’m certainly still working on.

Getting back to the positive, this year I have become part of a Fellowship that has helped me immensely.  I’ve met dozens of new friends through this, and we continue to support each other.  I’ve been able to explore my creativity; I’ve sold prints of my photographs, written songs, and regularly performed at local bars.  I went on a camping trip with my brother and we had some fantastic walks in the Lake District.  I’ve had support from unexpected quarters, and feel closer to my parents than ever before.  I’ve explored many places I’ve wanted to go for a long time, seen an unforgettable sunset from the top of Kinder Scout, learned how to cook a great roast dinner, and perfected a recipe for Crème Brûlée.  I’ve been able to stay out late, follow my whims, and meet some amazing people.

Now, don’t think that I’ve been living the high life swanning around oblivious whilst others continue to suffer from my past actions.  I still feel sometimes crippling grief and guilt and sadness. But to retreat into myself and hide away in depression would do nothing to help others, and much to harm myself.  Where possible, I’m making direct amends to people I’ve hurt.  Working on myself and learning to overcome my problems is part of making indirect and ongoing amends so that I can be a better person in the future.  A very good friend for many years wrote to me not so long ago, saying that you can’t always fix what you’ve broken, but you can always build something new.  To do as much as I can of both is my ongoing project.

So – goodbye 2013.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I really don’t know what 2014 will bring, but I’m expecting to spend it in prison.  Somebody I met quite recently told me that no time is time wasted; it all serves some kind of purpose.  Strange as it may seem, I think I’m beginning to believe her.

INSTALMENT NO. 5

Date of writing : Sunday 29/12/13 

There’s a certain art to working around someone in a confined space.  Many years ago, I had a part-time job in a busy city-centre pub, often working on a Friday or Saturday night.  These were actually my favourite shifts, because despite the sometimes manic pace, I could drop into a ‘zone’ where I was working smoothly and efficiently, serving drinks, giving change, keeping track of who was next in line for service … I could run on autopilot to a certain degree.  A part of this was the elaborate dance I had to perform with my fellow bar staff.  Once someone had worked there for a while, they would get to know how to pass the other staff gracefully at relative speed, anticipating their next moves and making an effort to avoid being where others were going to be next.  An end-of-month Friday with a novice in training had the potential to be a trying time.  Some never mastered it, and if they didn’t choose to leave of their own accord, then after a while management would find a reason to ‘let them go’.

Now, you can’t get much more confined than a prison cell.  I’ve spent quite a bit of time on narrowboats, and at least in that situation you have the choice to bugger off to the pub in the evening – plus, you will almost certainly have chosen your bunk mate with some care.  However I do not have that luxury here.  The observance of personal space, and consideration for the movements of others is, it seems, something I’ve been taking for granted;  sometimes, it’s only when certain things are absent that one notices they were there at all.  Ahmed wouldn’t have lasted long behind the bar, and I’m mildly surprised he’s lasted this long behind bars.  I guess management can’t simply fire you here – more’s the pity. I can see how he ended up on this wing though …

When I was on the top bunk in my previous wings, I largely kept myself to it, and the patch of floor between the foot of the bunks and the door.  My associate had his bunk and the area adjacent to it up to the wall with the desk and the TV.  Of course, these territory zones could not be rigidly enforced, but they were defaults by unspoken agreement.  If one of us needed to pass through the area ‘belonging’ to the other – for example to access the kettle or speak at the door, then we would do it politely, skirting round the other while he, for his part, did his best to keep out of the way until the natural order was restored.  Ahmed, on the other hand, has a habit of jumping down from his bunk in his loose-fitting tracksuit bottoms in such a way that they slip down and I am presented with his bare buttocks – level with my face, and mere inches away.

Every morning I repeat a set of paragraphs that are intended to remind me of how I hope to live that day mindfully, with patience and acceptance, trying to improve myself and help others along the way.  I know, I know – it’s a lot to ask, and I seldom manage to achieve all that I daily profess.  I’m also very aware of my recent soliloquy on acceptance and not complaining.  But when I say each morning that I will ‘criticise not one bit, not find fault with anything, and not try to improve or regulate anybody except myself’, it can sometimes be quite a struggle.  I’m managing not to show my discontent or mention it to Ahmed – I don’t believe it would help in any case.  So I write here of my complaints, on the understanding that it is simply in order to (a) remind myself of their insignificance and keep me in good humour about them, and (b) hopefully to provide you with a little amusement.

Until recently I thought that there were few who could match me in terms of potential for flatulence;  it turns out that even if this is true, I may have met an equal.  Ahmed farts noisily and unapologetically – almost conversationally in fact.  He did explain that he has some stomach trouble, but there are ways of maintaining certain discretion.  He also snores like someone dragging a chair across a kitchen floor, and when awake has the startling habit of sudden short bursts of whistling which sound like a cross between an elderly songbird and a malfunctioning R2 unit.  I’ve already noted his lack of awareness of personal space, and generally standing a bit too close – this extends to staring directly at me from a distance of about three feet and apparently imagining that I haven’t noticed.  Last night he asked if we could have the TV on for the whole night, playing National Prison Radio (NPR) with its associated bright blue screen.  We compromised on it going off at midnight, for which I should probably be thankful.

Amongst all these small complaints (for as I say, I must remember they are indeed small) he’s actually an apparently well-meaning and friendly man.  He seems naïve, and sometimes I really can’t fathom his thought processes – i.e. the inexplicable times he laughs at the television – but I really couldn’t call him objectionable.  I’m, sure there are things about me that he finds irritating too, and neither of us has much choice about being here together.  I’m certainly learning a lot about patience and tolerance at the moment.  I suppose, in that sense, this ‘correctional facility’ (as the Americans seem to call prisons) is already doing some work to improve me – not that anybody has actively tried yet.

Well, having got that off my chest, I’ll take a moment to tell you a little about my day.  I went again to chapel, and it was quite different this time – we’re getting quite the ‘cereal variety pack’ of denominations.  This week half a dozen or so West Indians kindly came along to play the piano, clap, and sing in gospel harmony to us.  They were quite good, and certainly put a lot of feeling into it.  I mostly didn’t recognise the numbers, other than ‘Shine Jesus Shine’, but you can probably imagine the rest.  The, erm, ‘preacher’, was a little rambling and seemed to have a couple of vocal tics which caused him to sprinkle ‘Amen’ (said in the American ‘A-Men’ style) and ‘In the name of Jesus’ at apparently arbitrary points – even in the middle of Bible verses.  I have to confess that this über-evangelical style doesn’t do a lot for me, but I still appreciate that they came voluntarily to see us and sing for us.

Yesterday I met another brother from my county – grew up just a few stops down the line, in fact.  He seems very level, and I’ve enjoyed talking to him.  Today, I encountered him outside my cell just next to an unoccupied pool table, and he asked if I’d like a game.  Until now I’d been avoiding playing pool due to the mass of testosterone that appeared to hover around the tables (that and my relatively low skill level).  But, as with much on this wing, things seem a little different here.  I got into a chilled-out series of games with him and whoever happened by the table offering to play the winner.  I managed to give a few fairly respectable games, which surprised me. I’ve always thought I had a sweet spot of about two pints for pool-playing, but apparently if the environment is relaxed enough I can manage without the beer.

Also today a friendly officer (I think she might even be the Senior Officer) took it upon herself to try to get my shoelaces back.  Although she didn’t manage it, she did get me a different pair – well, really, it was one longish bootlace cut in half – but I can now walk around (or even run) without fear of losing a shoe.   This afternoon’s walk around the yard was all the more pleasant for that.  Best of all, it seems the regime here is near enough true to the one shown on the wall.  We were unlocked at about 8.45 this morning and spent only perhaps an hour and a half locked up after lunch, then were out until perhaps 6pm.  This is an improvement, and it feels a lot more humane.  I could casually browse the library trolley at relative leisure, and now I have two more books to chew through.

Date of writing : Monday 30/12/13 – around 17.30

Having obtained an interim shoelace solution yesterday, today I had a reply to my ‘General Application’ which I filed on the 17th.  The reply states that ‘there is no mention of glasses on your Prop. Card’.  Well, no, I don’t suppose there is, as I’ve never had any.  I had to double-check I’d not written it wrongly myself, but no, there it is on the same sheet: ‘I’d be grateful to have my shoelaces back’.  It takes quite some skill to misread that as ‘glasses’.  I’ll write another application in block capitals and see what happens (probably mid-January, going by the timing of the last one).   But … I’ve just been to get another form and it seems that they’ve run out … …

INSTALMENT NO. 4

Date of writing : 24/12/13  – around 10.30 pm

Hungry.  First time that’s happened really.  I’m not quite sure why this evening’s different, but I can’t stop thinking about the cheese & onion (or more likely ‘Mature Cheddar and some Awesome Kind of Onion’) Kettle Chips I left in my bottom drawer, next to the fridge.  I could eat the whole bag right now, and preferably wash it down with the best part of a bottle of painfully unsubtle and unnecessarily alcoholic Shiraz.  I thought it’d take less time for these cravings to kick in, so I should probably be grateful it’s taken this long. Maybe it’s because of the relatively light bean chilli and rice I had for tea.  It was tasty but I think I need to get myself some emergency snacks in the next canteen order.  Sadly, that means they won’t arrive for a week and a half.  I miss being able to pop out to the Co-Op.

Anyway, it seems it took only a few hours for my pad mate to be replaced.  So much for a bit of solitude over Christmas.  I came back from the Vigil Mass (quite good – I did a reading, had another mince pie) to find the lower bunk once again occupied.  This time by someone from my home county, by a strange coincidence.  (I’m not a native of this area).  That at least gave us some points in common to talk about.  He seems okay, fairly unobjectionable so far.  I think I’ll call him Kev.  Drinks a lot of tea – out of boredom, he says.  Turns out there’s a use for all those tea bags and packets of whitener I’d been collecting.  So far his taste in TV seems as bland as the others.  Let’s see how early he decides to switch it on in the morning ….

Date of writing : 25/12/2013 – around 11.30am

Happy Christmas.  Well, I was woken this morning by echoing talk of breakfast.  As a treat today we got a cooked breakfast, with bacon, sausage, hash brown, beans and a boiled egg.  As a double bonus, I was one of the first to get to eat it because I had to be in chapel in time for the service.  That seems to have nicely offset my hunger from last night.  I’ve saved the boiled egg for a snack, but I have a feeling it may not end up being the nicest I’ve had.  Still, gift horse and all that.  Now I can hear the sounds of people being let out to get lunch, so I’m anticipating the next meal already. It seems I’m writing a lot about food lately – I guess that’s because it can be one of the more interesting things that happen in a day.  <off to lunch now:)>

13.30-ish  I’d say that was good enough for me!  Surprisingly high quality, and I have that uncomfortably full feeling, required on Christmas Day to know you’ve slightly overdone it … and I haven’t even eaten the mince pie yet.  Had a little doze, then a bit of a wander round the yard while Rod talked at high speed about his designs for a quadrocopter.  Could be a worse Christmas day – although obviously there are plenty of places I’d rather be.  But I try to bear in mind there are also a lot of places I’m glad I’m not. 

Self-pity is an easy trap to fall into when there’s not much else to think about;  to focus on what was, on mistakes of the past, or on negative predictions for the future, can almost be a comfortable default position.  A large amount of energy seems to be expended by inmates in just complaining about the situation in here.  People protest about the food, the staff, about being locked up for too long, and about getting no response to forms they fill in – just about anything you can imagine.  Whilst most of the complaining does have a valid basis, something seldom realised is that it achieves nothing;  repeatedly kicking your cell door isn’t going to resolve staff shortages or get your problem dealt with more quickly.  In fact, this is a clear example of a counter-productive response, as it just irritates others.  But the same is true of simply complaining – it winds you up, spreads negative emotion, and again, gets you nowhere.

But please don’t think I’m claiming to be some kind of silent, long-suffering saint.  I’ve done my fair share of grumbling, and sometimes I can certainly slip into self-pity.  The important thing for me is to be aware of self-pitying thoughts when they arise, and to recognise unproductive complaining when I start to do it.  That way at least I have a chance to avoid wallowing in, or amplifying, the negative.  But trying not to do something is actually quite difficult if you have nothing else to do in its stead.  So what’s the alternative?  I’ve found gratitude is the antidote to self-pity, and cultivating acceptance helps to avoid the desire to complain.

At the end of each day I make a list of all the things that have happened that day for which I should be grateful.  They don’t have to be big things – in fact, most of the things that seem to matter in any given day are small things.  Today, I woke up to a cooked breakfast, in a place where my material needs are met (if sometimes slowly) and my health is looked after, and the worst thing I had to face was a little boredom.  I spoke on the phone with my parents, and with a good friend who has continued to support me.  I had a decent lunch followed by a little nap and a walk in the afternoon sun (albeit in circles).  I’m now half-watching a fairly bland string of soaps whilst occasionally exchanging comments with a generally unobjectionable chap, and thinking I might have a cup of herbal tea.  When I put it like that, it really doesn’t sound so bad does it?  The truth is, the daily reality is just that – not so bad – and every day, I only have to live through that one day.

Of course, that’s not to say I can simply ignore the massive issues of the wider picture.  This is where the acceptance comes in.  Every day, at least twice, I make sure to remind myself of the Serenity Prayer.  It’s an old one, based on an even older and longer-winded text, and it can sound a little trite I guess, but it does have substance.  It goes like this:  “God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference”.

In here, there is very little I can change, particularly about things that have happened in my past, nor about the ongoing legal process, or my eventual sentence.   I can work on myself, to try to deal with the wrongdoing that got me here, and to do what I can to make amends to those people I have hurt.  As for the multitude of things I can’t change, I have two choices;  either to freak out with anger, resentment, denial and fear, or try to find serenity in acceptance. 

Again, please don’t imagine that I see myself as some kind of Buddha on my bunk.  Part of the reason I’m writing this is to remind myself of the truth of it, and to put my aims down as words on paper.   I’m realistically going for progress rather than perfection.  Yoda said “Do, or Not: there is no Try” (I really am pulling from all the philosophies here!) and I think I know, sort of, what that means.  When I become aware that I’m slipping – as inevitably I will – into unhelpful thought patterns or behaviours, I must simply take the right action to get back on track.  Looked at in that way, to “Try” starts to sound like an excuse for half-measures.

Well, I’m very aware that I’m now starting to sound a bit like a self-help book, so it may be a good time to round this off.  (Michael Jackson is on the TV going through rehearsals for an epic concert series that was tragically never to be, and it’s getting towards the time to retire to my bunk.)  As I’ve said, there are many worse ways I can imagine having spent a Christmas Day – even if there are better ways too.  I need to keep grounded in being thankful for the things that I have. 

Date of writing : 26/12/2013 – about 14.30

“Shoulda put the Glock down, now they got me on lockdown” – in the immortal words of Cypress Hill  … something seems to have gone down on the wing, and nobody will tell us what.  All we know is there was quite a bit of noise and commotion as people were being let out in phases to get lunch, and suddenly the alarm was going and there was a call for “ALL AWAY!”  – cue an unusually large number of POs shutting doors and a lot of serious faces.  We were eventually let out, only a handful at a time, to find about a dozen POs between our cells and the servery, all looking very severe.   I asked one of my vague acquaintances on the servery what had happened, and he said he was sworn to secrecy ‘while this big guy [a PO] is standing next to me’.  Finally, it now sounds as though we’ll be let out again, so maybe I’ll find out what the problem was …

… sounds like an over-reaction – bit of a fight between two guys, some blood on the stairs, took 15 POs to sort out for some reason.  We’ve just been let out for exercise, which turned out to be marginally more fun than usual.  Saw the guy with an old black eye (just starting to fade) with a nice bit of laceration on the other cheek held together with butterfly stitches.  I gather it was his blood on the stairs.  Don’t know how the other one came off, but I guess he’s probably on The Block.  Anyway, someone sneaked a ball out to the yard – well, I say it was a ball, but it was actually a surprisingly dense bundle of socks.  We’re not meant to take anything out, even tobacco, or anything to cover the head.  Of course, like all the other rules, this one is ignored.  (I even smelled the obvious scent of weed-smoking out there today.  The POs must notice too, but I think sometimes it’s more trouble to them than it’s worth.)  At first, someone just dropped the ball to see what would happen.  In the swirl of the anticyclone, someone decided to give it a tentative kick.  When no reaction was observed, the kicks became less tentative until it turned into a general kick-around.  It seems they don’t really mind so long as things are kept in good humour.  It doesn’t sound like much, I’m sure, but it did cause quite a lot of laughter – the tentative and mildly illicit nature of the fun making it that much better.  However, still having no shoelaces I couldn’t really do a lot of kicking.

Written on : 28/12/2013 (afternoon)

Well, that was eventful.  It seems that much as I might have tried to keep my head down, I didn’t quite manage to stay below the parapet.  After an ‘incident’, which was mildly terrifying, I’ve been moved to a different wing for my own safety.  This was only after a relatively sleepless night, but I guess I can’t really complain because they kept me safe. 

So far, I think I like this wing, it’s much smaller – only three floors of about 30 cells (I’m guessing roughly 130-150 inmates, hard to say as I’m not sure of the fraction of single cells).  This means that when we’re unlocked, it’s the whole wing out at once.  Even better, there are chairs and tables dotted about, and I had the luxury of eating away from my cell at a table for the first time since I arrived.  I’ve been put in a cell with a chap of mixed origin, apparently partly West Indies and partly somewhere in Africa.  I’ll call him Ahmed.  He’s got the top bunk, which makes a change I suppose.  This wing is more modern (less than 10 years old I think) and if I’m not mistaken, I’ve a feeling the cells are very marginally larger.  I don’t want to measure it in case I’m wrong.  Main thing is that it feels bigger.  Ahmed seems fairly quiet, although I’ve a suspicion we may have different ideas about what temperature is ideal.  He seems a little ‘nesh’ whereas I’d almost always prefer to be too cold but have a good flow of air.  We’ll see how that works out.

We’re locked up after lunch right now, but I’m told this is unusual, and is due to the perennial staff shortages.  Apparently, the usual routine is to be unlocked for the majority of the day, which would certainly be an improvement from the previous wing.  As with most promises here, however, I’m taking it with a pinch of salt until it materialises.  I do feel generally better-off here – people seem to be looking out for each other more.  I was only out and about for perhaps an hour, but in that time maybe half a dozen people noticed and talked to me, including the Wing Insider – a kind of representative whose job appears to be to welcome new people and generally keep an eye on things from the inmates’ side.  I think all wings are supposed to have one, but this is the first time I’ve managed to identify him.  The PO who showed me to my cell was also unusually reassuring.  In all, I’m optimistic.

I’m on the ground floor, and I certainly can’t see as far from my window as I could before.  However, I can see something green, which is nice.  I’m looking out onto a bank of grass which rises at about a 45 degree angle to a height of around 12 or 15 feet from my floor level (after an approx. 8ft strip of concrete).  Beyond this is what I’m assuming is the original prison wall;  that is to say, we’re outside the rather forbidding brick structure which encompasses the original grounds.  I find that somehow comforting, even if in practical terms it means very little.  We have several fences around us instead, the outermost of which appears absurdly tall, reaching apparently close to the peaks of the rooftops beyond.  The exercise yard here is a more interesting shape, and beyond the fences there are poplars and some other trees difficult to recognise from a distance without their leaves…. (Number One:  The Larch).  One difference I’ve noticed is that I’ve heard and seen a few birds here already.  The call of a crow is a welcome reminder of countryside and a mental break from the monotony of razor wire and bare walls.

<later>  Well, we were out for much of the afternoon it seems, so that’s good.  Also got an hour or so of walking round the yard, which was only very vaguely watched over by a lone PO who was thoroughly engrossed in a book.  I’ve already spoken to more people here in one afternoon than I got to know in two weeks on the previous wing.  I can say that this place has the full cross-section of criminal society.  There’s a full range of ages – right up to the guy with ‘Back To The Future’-style hair and the most absurdly magnifying milk-bottle-bottom round spectacles I’ve ever seen, or the chap with an outsize cell featuring built-in shower and electrically adjustable bed (he walks with crutches and help).  At the other end of the scale there’s a ferret of a lad who can’t be much past 18;  he has a mouth he apparently can’t control and hints of a temper to go with it. 

People are on this wing for all sorts of reasons;  in many cases I think it’s simply that they have a huge metaphorical target painted on them that bullies just can’t resist.  I would say that I feel I might be able to fit in somewhere here, though it does seem that what we all have in common is that we don’t fit in with the bulk of the prison population for whatever reason.  There are certain assumptions made about those on this wing by those elsewhere, and we mostly avoid asking about each other’s offences, which is probably for the best.  But this bunch of misfits looks like a goldmine of interesting characters, many of whom probably have a lot to give. 

INSTALMENT NO. 3

Date of writing : Saturday 21/12/13  12.15pm

Food….continued……….. 

I think Saturday lunch is probably the best for me in terms of content and quality.  Brown bread and margarine, two rashers of bacon, beans, hash browns and fried bread.  As a bonus today, Bob came back from his visit having been well fed from the hatch, so he gave me his hash browns too.  Things I’m not fond of:  spaghetti hoops (they’re cheap and very runny), the so-called ‘turkey steak (which is not anything like a steak, and I’m not certain if it really contains turkey), and the generic mix of ‘vegetables’ that seems to have had the colour saturation turned down and the luminance turned up so everything is actually slightly difficult to focus on, let alone identify.  Still, I don’t have to eat that.  There are other vegetable sources, and I eat at least one piece of fruit a day, usually an apple.  I’ve also got myself some multivitamins to fill in the gaps.

I spent the time between morning association and lunch (or ‘dinner’ as they insist on calling it here) semi-voluntarily locked in another guy’s cell while be picked my brain.  Let’s call him ‘Rod’.  I say ‘semi-voluntarily’ as the PO came round for lock-up, and he asked her if it was okay to have me there until dinner, and she said yes, and had me locked in before I really had time to object.  I didn’t really mind – a change of scene is always good.  He’s a bit of a computer guy, and so am I.  He seemed to think there were some tips I could give him.  As it was, he talked a mile a minute about his own escapades and I barely got a word in.  Maybe he just wanted company – he’s got a cell on his own for some reason, and I think he’d been going a bit nuts.  More worryingly, Rod was talking about bunking with me – I’m really not sure I could handle his talking speed 23 hours a day.  Thankfully he’s a smoker and I think I wriggled out of it by saying I couldn’t bunk with a smoker.

16.00  –  Finally!  I have books!  Another benefit of having Bob as a cell mate, it seems.  He’d been out as he’s ‘enhanced’, but I’d been locked in.  He saw that someone had brought a library trolley down and remembered I’d been complaining about a lack, of books.  He also happened to know a gym orderly with a cell key, whom he brought to let me out.  So, I had a browse of the eclectic selection.  It seemed I was competing with a Russian/Pole (whose name I don’t know – let’s call him ‘Boris’) for the Sci-fi and fantasy titles.  We came to an arrangement, and shared the two I found.  Bizarrely, I found two nicotine patches secreted in one of the books, which he also claimed.  Hopefully Boris will remember this kindness at some point in the future.  So, I now have three books;  ‘Lord of the Flies’ (which I’ve always meant to read), ‘Casino Royale’ (which should pass the time), and the wild card of ‘Acorna’s Quest – the Adventures of the Unicorn Girl’.  This last one could be truly awful, but I live, as ever, in hope.

Tonight’s dinner – sorry ‘tea’ – was … cheese and tomato pizza with roast potatoes.  I turned down the spaghetti hoops, so it was a little dry.  However, we did each get a yoghurt and a packet of ginger nuts.  Still a general excess of carbohydrates, but at least it was edible.  Tomorrow I’m looking forward to spring rolls and jacket potato for lunch (sorry, dinner), with some kind of roast turkey in the evening.  But before all that I’m planning to brave the Sunday service again, in the hope that the last one was an anomaly.  I’ve also signed up for the Catholic services this week – one of the Chaplains has given me an ‘Authorisation to Explore another Faith for a Set Period’ (the period in this case being more than a year).  All told, it looks like I’ll be going to four services this week.  Gets me out and about.

Date of writing : Sunday 22/12/13  10.40am

I was optimistic at first, when I walked into the chapel to hear 1940s versions of carols on the CD player.  It sadly went downhill from there though, as the chaplain went on either irrelevantly or unintelligibly.  Once again, I felt like I was at school when he had to split up a group of grown men who were making too much noise at the back.  Bizarrely, he seemed unable to read the words of one hymn he was allegedly leading, and mumbled parts of it and incongruously switched to the Latin version of the words for the chorus.  The icing on the Christmas cake was the ‘prayer CD’ during communion.  It started with a ‘big band’ jazz version of ‘Santa Claus is coming to Town’ and moved on to a similar version of ‘Jingle Bells’.  The absurdity of it left me trying to suppress laughter as I thought of my liturgically traditional Latin-learning friend (you know who you are).  Thankfully, the vicar told us he won’t be back until the new year.  The amount I’m going on about it, you’d think I was pretty religious.  Actually, I’m not even baptized.

12.30   Changing the subject entirely, I always say you can judge the quality of a buffet by the crispiness of the spring rolls.  So I was pleasantly surprised to bring my tray of food back to my sunlit south-facing cell and find I could give my mini spring rolls 3½ stars out of 5 for crispiness. They just stopped short of four stars because of a few slightly softer areas on the undersides where they’d been sitting in the foil tray.  Served with a jacket potato, baked beans and some bread, again somewhat heavy on the carbohydrates, but a passable meal nonetheless.  As the PO came round and locked the door, I got to pondering the system of locks as I nibbled on a spring roll … …

There are three locks on each cell door, each serving a slightly different purpose.  The main lock is a lever mortise deadlock, with a large rectangular bolt.  A traditionally styled key controls the release of a large white handle, which is used to throw the bolt.  The POs never leave the handle unlocked – it’s always locked with the bolt either in or out.  In some cases, when a member of staff comes in to speak with a modicum of privacy, they will lock the handle with the bolt out while the door is open.  I can only assume this is for their own safety, so they can’t be locked in by another prisoner outside the cell using one of the other locks.

The second lock is for the security of a prisoner’s belongings. It’s a 5- or 6-pin tumbler lock (the kind with a keyhole that might colloquially be referred to as a ‘Yale lock’) with a smallish cylindrical bolt.  I haven’t worked out what you have to do to be given a key to this lock – allocation seems almost arbitrary – but people such as cleaners and kitchen workers seem mostly to have them.  This is so that when they go off to work, they can stop other inmates from stealing their stuff, whilst also being able to get back into their own cell without disturbing any of the POs who may be resting.  On the inside, there is an incredibly difficult-to-use handle for operating this lock without the key.  I can only assume that its shiny surface and tapering conical shape are intentional design features intended to prevent it from being used as an anchor point for a ligature.  This is of course irrelevant, considering the design features of the rest of the cell.

The final lock is the most basic.  It’s a simple throw-bolt on the outside of the door.  It seems to have two purposes;  first, to slightly deter would-be cell thieves when a cell is unlocked and otherwise unattended (by someone without a key for the second lock);  second, as far as I can tell, is to add insult to injury when being locked up for the night –  I think it’s just to make sure you know you’ll be going nowhere for the next 12 hours, minimum.   When we hear that bolt thrown – after a final peep through the viewing flap to make sure we’re all present and correct – we know it’s time to get as comfortable as we can and settle in for the night.

Date of writing : Monday 23/12/13

There are a lot of printed signs around here, telling us what to do and what not to do.  I wouldn’t mind – in fact it’s good to know what’s ‘supposed’ to happen … having never been allowed into the library, I’m not party to the Prison Rules, which are allegedly available there for inspection  –  but almost all of the signs are universally ignored and not enforced. 

One of the first I noticed was immediately baffling.  The kitchen is on the ground floor, and this is where we must go twice a day to get our food and bring it back to the cells.  I’m on the first floor, and therefore need to use one of the sets of stairs (each at either end of the relatively long wing) to get down to the servery.  On my floor, there is a severe-looking laminated A4 sign stating:  ‘THESE STAIRS ARE NOT TO BE USED DURING MEAL TIMES TO COLLECT YOUR MEAL’.  (with the words ‘ARE NOT’ double-underlined).  On first seeing this I watched as everyone filed past the sign with their full trays, apparently oblivious to its command.  For a while, I ignored it too, but a few days ago I happened to be passing the sign and a PO was nearby, so I asked about it.  She told me it was out of date and should be ignored.  Why, then, does somebody not take a few seconds to remove the sign?  I knew it would be pointless to ask.

The wing office is on my floor, and this is where the POs hang out trying to avoid answering queries from us.  On the door is another large-print A4 sign stating:  ‘NO PRISONERS ARE TO ENTER THE OFFICE’.  Now, it’s a fairly big room, and during association and domestics the wing is an echoey, noisy place.  The main desk is about 8 feet from the door, and as you can imagine, nobody is keen to jump up from their chair when an inmate has a query (we tend to come in a constant stream).  So nobody can hear anything without stepping inside.  Often there are three or four prisoners wandering about in there and talking to the POs on the other two desks.  So once again, the sign gets ignored. That is, until someone – usually one of the older officers – decides to assert his authority arbitrarily and makes a sarcastic comment about a prisoner needing to ‘sign up for literacy on the education block’ (get it? he’s implying we can’t read the sign?).  Ho hum.  Nice to know where we stand.

There are many copies of one particular sign, pasted all around the wing, which has rather small text as it contains two fairly wordy points.  The first of these relates to the ‘cell bell’, a button (which in my cell has been graffiti-labelled ‘Press For Room Service’) that can be used to attract attention of a PO during bang-up.  The sign says, with a capital at the start of each word: ‘Cell Bells Are Not To Be Used Unless In An Emergency.  Mis-Use Of Your Cell Bell Will Result In A Behaviour Warning’.  However, judging by the fact that the beeper is nearly always going, and the lights at the end of the wing almost continuously flash to attract attention, there’s an awful lot of emergency happening – all the time.  I’ve not yet seen anyone get one of these ’behaviour warnings’, but then I’m not sure what it would look like if I did.

On the theme of behaviour, the second half of the sign says ‘Talking At Locked Cell Doors Will Result In A Behaviour Warning’.  When we’re let out, it’s often half a wing at a time (I guess they figure it’s easier to deal with only 150 people at a time rather than 300).  There are also those on the ‘Basic’ IEP (Incentives and Earned Privileges) level, who I’m guessing got there through one too many behaviour warnings, who aren’t let out as often…. and then, there’s the guy at the end of the wing, who I’ve never seen, with a special note on the card outside of his cell stating: ‘Proceed With Caution’.  I’m half imagining if I look through the flap on his cell door I’ll see him set up in a mask like Hannibal Lecter.  I don’t want to look, partly because I’m mildly terrified and partly because I don’t want my amusing notion to be shattered…..however, I’m rambling  ….  back to the point  ….   so anyhow, there are usually people wandering round while others are locked up. (I can hear lots of echoing voices out there right now while I’m confined with ‘The Santa Clause’).  People do communicate through locked cell doors as a matter of routine – someone’s always up at my flap asking for sugar (okay, I know I used that one already…)  and people pass things under and around the doors in various fair and not-so-fair deals of varying levels of legality.  So, ‘Talking At Locked Cell Doors Will Result In A Behaviour Warning’?   I’ve so far seen not one eyelid batted at this.

There are many other signs out there that seem to be completely ignored.  More problematic, there are lots of things we’re supposed and expected to do (or not do) for which there are no signs.  Of course, if there were signs, we’d have to ignore them, so it’s probably best if we just carry on figuring the rules out on our own.  Meanwhile, I think I’ll get back to reading about the Unicorn Girl, which so far seems to be quite a passable book.

Date of writing : Tuesday 24/12/13  10am-ish

So, Bob has gone off back to his usual Cat. C prison, just in time for Christmas.  He left me a few helpful bits and pieces, but mostly I’m grateful for his various insights.  As I think the Courts are closed for the season now, I’m hoping I might get the cell to myself for a day or two.  Much as Bob was far better than many possible companions, it does get tiring to be in constant company.  As I think I’ve noted before, the TV can get to me.  Bob would wake early (often before dawn), and went to bed late.  (He apparently compensates for sleep deficiency with a nap in the middle of the day.)  One of the first things he would do in the morning was to turn on the TV, and turning it off was the last thing he did before he slept. So unless he was out for some reason when I was still in the cell, the TV would be on for the whole day.

I’m now enjoying the relative peace of a dark screen while I write undistracted.  I won’t miss his TV habits, or his constant complaints that there was nothing to watch (well, turn it off then!), nor his general complaining about the prison, staff, food, weather, temperature, facilities, anything at all – usually with some language fit to make a hardened seafarer blush.  However, he’s mostly a good man (if a little racist and right-wing), and I’m acutely aware that the next guy is more likely to be worse than better. So I’m trying to enjoy my solitude as best I can whilst I have it.  (I’m also enjoying the slightly improved comfort of having nicked his mattress.)

Having filled out my meal selection sheet for this week for the third time, I sincerely hope they won’t manage to lose it again.  If they don‘t have your choices noted, then you get Defaults, which are always Selection 4.  This happens to be the vegetarian choice, presumably so nobody can complain they can’t eat it (Vegetarian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu….).  It also happens quite often to be a bit crap.  Mostly, I’d probably just put up with it but I’d really like to have something approximating to a normal Christmas dinner tomorrow.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not expecting it to be fantastic, I’d just like the best chance to have something plausible.  Still, I suppose a little uncertainly keeps things interesting. 

I’m going back to my book now, to enjoy not having to mentally block out perfume adverts whilst reading……..