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