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 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 … …


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