“Solitude and Security Silliness”

Date of writing: 24/02/2015

Tonight, for the first time in over a year, I sit alone in a cell after being locked up for the evening. Finally I have a cell to myself, and the privacy and solitude that go with it. I’m not extroverted by nature, and to be in constant company in a small space can be wearing – even with the most considerate of cellmates. I don’t believe I could have asked for better than Colin (my ninth and longest-serving confinement cohabitee, if I’ve counted correctly), who has over the last seven months provided a good balance between cheerful interaction and polite non-interaction. We got on well enough and had enough in common for the situation to work, but weren’t such close friends as to make it stifling.

The sharing of cheeses, large bags of Thai Sweet Chilli crisps, or indeed giant jars of gherkins, is something I shall miss. I expect also at times I shall miss the company – occasionally it’s good to watch a film with someone rather than alone. I will have more space to think, which can be bad and can be good. But overall, this is a step forward, and feels a more natural state of affairs – at least as far as anything can be natural in prison. In any case, he’s not gone far: we’re now neighbours on the other side of the wing from the cell we shared. I’ve told him to bang on the wall if he gets lonely. I wonder if I’ll be able to get to sleep without his snoring …

The reasons behind these cells becoming free are slightly perturbing, as the prison is in general flux at the moment. Anyone who is deemed not to be ‘engaging with prison life’ or is not ‘sentence plan compliant’ is under threat of being shipped out elsewhere, with a notice period in the region of hours if they’re lucky, or tens of minutes if not. My own position is not as sound as I’d like, because despite my willingness to engage in programmes of rehabilitation, I have been told I am ‘not suitable’ for any of them, because my risk of re-offending has been assessed as too low. This does raise the question: if I’m so unlikely to re-offend, and the prison service refuses to even attempt to rehabilitate me, why am I actually in prison in the first place? I’ll leave that one hanging, as I could end up ranting slightly otherwise. I’ll only say – as I’ve said before (although ‘I would say that, wouldn’t I’) that I’m not a great believer in retribution, and there’s only so much time a person can sit on the ‘naughty step’ before it starts to lose all meaning.

There is also a little uncertainty in my employment, and jobs in the prison are in the process of being shuffled. The library orderly jobs are being made ‘Red Band’ positions, which could potentially be a good thing (trusted status, a little more money). However, this requires me to be cleared by Security. Now, as far as I can tell, Security is a bungling and parochial microcosm of M15 that seems to take itself very seriously. I fear that by even writing that sentence I risk incurring a stern interrogation or some kind of unexpected summary consequence, but it’s a risk I’m prepared to take for the sake of your mild entertainment.

Until last week, I’d not had any reason to cross paths with Security, but it seems that they (like the Spanish Inquisition) pounce when they’re least expected. All it took was for me to be observed doing something slightly unusual on a laptop in my literature class, and suddenly I’m banned from using any IT equipment. Honestly, if they have PowerShell installed and easily accessible they can’t expect people not to use it … I was only trying to help.  Anyway, that’s a by the by. They evidently decided I Know Too Much, and through fear of what they don’t understand and lack of confidence in their own systems, I’m left significantly inconvenienced.  Not being able to touch Chewbacca, the library laptop, makes things awkward, but there’s plenty else for me to do. I’m just hoping they don’t use this debacle as a reason to refuse my Red Band, and thus potentially require me to seek alternative employment. We shall see.

The library contents were moved last month, and the building demolished at some length (considering I was mildly surprised that it remained standing at all). Our temporary accommodation is most pleasant, situated as it is next to the vegetable gardens and several dozen chickens. Their gentle burbling has become a soothing background to my days, and occasionally I let them peck at my fingers for some reason. I shall be sad when we have to move into the replacement Portacabins that were delivered today. (Why they couldn’t just build with brick I’m still not certain.)  Initial impressions leave me concerned that their volume, at least from a distance, appears wholly inadequate.  Sarah – our fully functional human librarian – has been away this last week, and shan’t return until Monday. I fear she’ll be distressed by recent developments, with two of her orderlies already refused Red Bands and a third hobbled by arbitrary computational restriction. On top of this, Chewbacca has been stripped of his (admittedly unauthorised) music collection, and our new accommodation doesn’t look wide enough to hold all our shelves at the same time as people. I hope all this doesn’t detract too much from any beneficial effects of her break.

Changing the subject entirely, I’ve got a new toy – an electronic version of the Oxford Concise Dictionary, Thesaurus, and Encyclopaedia. It’s quite marvellous, and also lets me cheat at Countdown. As a technology, it’s at least a decade after its time, but it certainly beats having the equivalent stack of books. I’m beginning to feel slightly lost if I forget to put it in my pocket. It’s as close as I can legitimately get to a smartphone in my situation: it’s fabulous for proving people wrong, which is of course the main purpose of a smartphone. Next on the obsolete technology agenda, I’m considering the possibility of a typewriter. I shall therefore fade this post out to the imagined them tune of ‘Murder, She Wrote’ …
Da da dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum daaaaah …

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2 thoughts on ““Solitude and Security Silliness”

  1. JedBooks says:

    Everything I’ve read or heard about prison makes it seem like a waste of effort on the government’s time to rehabilitate people – since it doesn’t seem to do a good job. I’ll stop there and won’t start you on your rant. All I wish to say is that I can’t possibly imagine prison life except for what I see in films and to say I’ve enjoyed your writing.

    • mousmate says:

      Thank you for your comment. Prison life is probably more like normal life than people imagine – perhaps I might write a little about that in another post.

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