INSTALMENT 16 – “Corned Beef and Helicopters”

Date of writing : 10/02/2014

Ah, the joy of making the first marks on the first sheet of a new paper pad.  Small pleasures to be savoured.  Like the combination of peanut butter and ginger nut biscuits, which I just discovered works surprisingly well; or crunching on instant noodles without ‘cooking’ them, and just eating the MSG-liciuos powder from the little sachet; or the quiet glug-glug sound from a newly-opened port bottle as the first glass is poured.  (Probably won’t be hearing that for a while.)  But I’ve got my noodles.

Not having a default companion any more, I’ve found myself wandering the landings and branching out into new circles.  Several times now I’ve found my path crossing with Scott, the one responsible for adjusting Ahmed’s nose.  I wouldn’t exactly list him as a friend, but he’s certainly an interesting character.  He’s only just come off ‘Basic’ regime (no TV, very limited time out of the cell) after the Ahmed incident.  Last week – while he was still locked up most of the time – he started to kick off (literally – his door took a beating) demanding his half hour in the fresh air for the day.  Now, despite his behavioural volatilities, he is generally respected by the staff.  They know where they stand with him, as it’s all out in the open; he’s not exactly unpredictable.  So they gave the call for exercise, and let him out.

I noticed him outside from my cell window, having missed the call, and headed out, joined on the way by Simon, a relatively recent arrival who’s been having a hard time.  Once outside, I was slightly startled to find there were two people in the exercise yard, the second being Ahmed … That’s right, they’d locked him alone in the yard with the guy who’d thrown him a good punch just a couple of weeks before.  A fantastic example of joined-up thinking and information-sharing between the officers.  Thankfully, Scott’s attention span is too short to bear a grudge; he’d got the punch out of his system, and pretty much stopped thinking about it after that.  So Simon and I joined him in circuits of the yard, while Ahmed meandered aimlessly as usual, cheerfully ignored by Scott.

Scott likes to talk, and thankfully most of it is entertaining.  He’s had a chequered prison history, in and out of jails not only around the UK, but also in another relatively close European country.  One of his stories was about how he’d managed to evade justice there, ultimately by climbing out of the window of a bail hostel, taking some unconventional modes of transport to the airport, and flying back on his brother’s passport (his own having been confiscated).  The charges in that case were apparently not serious enough to pursue extradition, but he eventually got notice that he was barred form the country for five years on the threat of immediate imprisonment should he return.

The last prison he was in was a Cat. C, but he managed to get himself upgraded to a B by a bungled escape attempt involving a sports match and a friend on the outside throwing some bolt croppers over the fence.  He’s been caught with eight mobile phones in the last year, and at one point with a remote-controlled helicopter in his cell.  Apparently this is how one of the phones had been brought in … Of course, I only have his word for all of this, but it certainly makes for entertaining listening the way he tells it.  I’ve only put a selection of his tales here – he has many more, and I’ve not heard him repeat very much yet.

A few people here know I write a blog, and ‘Dick’ keeps asking if I’ve written about him yet.  (He chose his own alias … I think it’s supposed to be amusing.)  I sometimes hang around in his cell on the 3’s, as we get along pretty well.  Depending on how a number of things pan out, I could end up sharing a cell with him for a while.  I’ve resolved to stop trying to play pool against him though, as it’s getting embarrassing.  He spent most of Sunday at the table in a ‘winner stays on’ session, and towards the end he was actively trying to lose, but somehow still winning.  He’s on a relatively short sentence – out in August I think – but his cell mate, Marley, is a lifer.  His story is a tragic one whether he’s guilty or not, although to give details would risk identifying him.  I’ve met more prisoners here claiming a miscarriage of justice than otherwise, but in his case I can’t understand how the jury failed to see a reasonable doubt – unless there’s something big he’s not telling me.  He’s going to appeal.

My more recent wanderings got me talking to Gordon, the first openly gay man I’ve met in prison.  He’s the learning support assistant for numeracy and literacy, which is probably why I haven’t been given the job yet.  He’s also a pagan, and claims to be a spirit medium, which is …interesting.  I’ve found out his cell is something of a social hub, and that has also introduced me to another couple of openly gay men on the wing.  I have to say it can be entertaining in there, if camply predictable at times.  Anyone who knows me will be familiar with my tendency to pick up nearby objects and idly fiddle with them.  It took me quite a few moments of absent-mindedly leafing through a magazine I found on the side, before the proliferation of pictures of muscular men in tight pants drew my attention to its intended audience.  My raised eyebrows of realisation were the source of some humour.

There are many others I could introduce you to here, such as White Tyson, or Piotr the Pole, but I think that’s enough new names for one entry.  With the churn of persons in this prison, I never know who’s going to suddenly disappear, or what new faces there’ll be tomorrow.  We call the new ones ‘corned beefs’ because of the colour and mottling of the tracksuits handed out on arrival.  Some people stay only weeks, some have been here years.  It’s hard to say who’ll be firm friends in years to come, and who I will only remember by the aliases I give them here.  However, meeting them all is certainly an education.

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