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!