About Josie

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So far Josie has created 71 blog entries.

And Lo, A Miracle

Underneath the “Free the Garlic Two” sign, that is mysteriously displayed on one of the official prison noticeboards, another message appears: “And lo, a miracle”.  The governor has taken one whiff of the offending “hooch” and declared that whatever is in that bottle, it certainly hasn’t been brewed for pleasure or intoxication.  He cancels the appeal, rendering Rob’s three page essay on the by-products of carbohydrate breakdown without the presence of sugars or yeast, and the chemical composition of methane as opposed to ethanol, a waste.  The Garlic Two unpack the bags containing their scant possessions that have been underneath their beds for the past two days and are welcomed back from punition like returning prodigal sons.  Both of them are £20 short on their canteen allowances for the week, but given that Rob was set to hunger strike if the authorities had continued with the disciplinary process, sighs of relief are breathed all round.  I know my husband.  I can hear the stubborn set line of his jaw over the phone, righteous and defiant, and I do not want to think where this might have gone.

And so we visit on Christmas Eve on masse, the two girls, grandma and I.  Rob confesses to feeling like a mother bird trying to feed a nest full of chicks who are all vying for the juicy worms of his attention.  The smallest chick mostly seems to win out and by the end of the visit I will feel as if I haven’t managed to extract enough of him to last me until next week.

The visiting hall and “visitors centre” are bereft of even the most perfunctory seasonal cheer.  There is not a bauble or faded plastic holly sprig in sight.  Most institutions manage to resurrect some kind of ravaged seventies tinsel tree construction out of storage for the occasion, but there is not the merest suspicion of grudging celebration at HMP Highpoint North, and this despite the fact that the big man himself (Jesus Christ), was a fellow “criminal”, tried and condemned by the authorities of his time.

It is a strange Christmas Eve.  The long familiar journey, the fight to stay awake at the wheel in the dark as the passengers slumber uncomfortably in their seats, the disengagement with the soft part of myself that knows how to feel.  Rob is well though.  Irrepressible in fact.  He has found something remarkable in the commune of convicts on Unit 12 and confesses that the prospect of being ejected out of there into the single cells of the “basic” naughty block was at least traumatic as leaving us.

Perhaps I should feel slightly miffed about this admission?  I don’t.  We are in this for the long haul: another 4 years at least.  We have to do what we can to survive this.  Living where we are is our only weapon of defiance in this unfolding Kafkaesque nightmare.  The fact that he feels connected and integrated into his new life is a huge relief.  I will not roll over and die as I’m supposed to and neither will he.

Christmas day is rubbish.  For some reason, although Rob’s mum and brother are with us and although Tala is still full of childish excitement about presents and the endless chocolate opportunities, it feels pointless to baste the turkey that will be dry anyway, and fuss with the stuffing and the trimmings when he cannot eat them.  Five hours later when I finally get the cremated bird on to the table with the roasties and red cabbage and cranberry sauce, we toast Rob, who has just called after eating what has been, even by prison standards, a disappointing lunch in his cell with J and I feel emptier and lower than I can remember.

Three days later and I have cabin fever.  Okha leaves for Thailand with all of her savings.  I will miss her more than I can say, but I am glad for her. Someone should escape.  She sends me an incredible poem about her first night in Bangkok and I know that she is where she should be, far away from the cold grit of our London lives, and nonetheless realising how much we have.

I prevail upon uncle Tim’s good nature and get him to man the fort for a night whilst I jump on the Eurostar to Brussels and visit Carolyn, (usually resident in Portugal, but visiting her husband’s Belgium family for a few days), because she has always somehow been able to inspire me again when all seems lost.  We spend a wonderful day gorging on each other’s news and soaking up the connection.  It is like oxygen.

Then the train I am on breaks down and I miss the last Eurostar home. There is no room at her inn for the night but bless her she books me into a beautiful little hotel in the heart of Brussels where I waste the gorgeous room in solitude.  I don’t even go out to forage.  There is however something wonderful about being alone on this adventure.  I take a 30 minute shower and lie on the white hotel sheets in the sympathetically lit room, looking out onto the bustling unfamiliar city below.

The following day I am on the first London bound train out of there. Twelve miles into our journey it too succumbs to the frosty conditions and short-circuits irreparably and so we wait, without power or heat.  The hours tick by and I begin to scan the cabin for who to eat first.  They send round Twixes to appease the people which is worryingly successful.  We receive news that we will be towed back to Brussels.  I send uncle Tim the Samaritan’s number, fearing for his sanity after a text where he describes his toss up between the living room where Tala is glued to endless repeats of eye twitchingly bad American teen soaps and the kitchen where Grandma is confessing that she wants to die.

I wonder if the train debacles are just an outward manifestation of my desire to evade responsibly for a bit longer, but then Tala sends me a selfie and I am suddenly desperate to return to her.  The people I love are scattered, frustratingly out of reach, but unlike my fellow passengers who need more Twix sedation, I think I might be learning patience.  And lo, just as I resign myself to living out the rest of my days in coach 8, a miracle occurs and we finally begin to move again.  Where we are headed now is anyone’s guess, but then, isn’t that the beauty of it all?  The past is history, the future is a mystery.  Happy New Year.

By | December 30th, 2016|

Recipes

Prison never lets you down.  Just when you think that there is nothing to write this week, because we are saving our visit for Christmas Eve and because no-one has done anything actively stupid and we are all ticking along nicely and trying to get Christmassy, Rob calls to say that he is getting shipped out of the wing that has become his motley family and thrown into a single cell on a trouble maker’s “basic” unit.  The reason? Hooch.  Except that there is none of course.  Rob is famously teetotal.

Perhaps the guards were a little bored today and decided to spin some cells for a laugh.  Maybe they were frustrated in their efforts to uncover any contraband or perhaps they genuinely think that you could consume rotting garlic and ginger in adequate quantities to induce inebriation, whatever the reason, the Nigerian concoction is gleefully seized this morning whilst Rob is in “education” and disciplinary measures are now in process.

This being the prison system no reasonable conversation can be had.  The fact that there is neither sugar nor yeast involved in the immune tonic recipe and therefore no possible alcoholic content is utterly uninteresting to the bright sparks in control here, nor is the fact that this bottle has been sitting in plain view on Rob’s window sill for the past month, including an afternoon when the governor had sat in his cell, chatting convivially with Rob about families and visiting, whilst touring a guest around the more presentable wings of the establishment.

Rob’s cell mate who wouldn’t have drunk the foul smelling brew if you’d paid him, and certainly had no hand in its creation, is subject to the same punishment.  They will loose their enhanced status and are now on basic: two visits a month, no money (which means no phone), no TV and very little unlock.  Merry Christmas.  There will be a hearing tomorrow where he can plead his case, but nothing he has said so far today has made any difference, and they are told to pack up their scant possessions.

Unfortunately he is on speaker phone as he relays this sorry tale and Tala has heard it all.  I watch her swallowing back the dismay and the anger, blinking hard.  She doesn’t really understand what has happened but she knows from the sound of his voice that he is hurting and getting ready to lose everything: cell mates, friends, pupils… again.  Anything you build is prison is an illusion.  She’s learning fast.  She knows that it is now unlikely that we will get to see him before Christmas.  She is also now well versed in how to run to the bathroom and splash her face with cold water to stop the rise of the tears which will hurt him more than anything they can do to him inside.  I don’t tell him where she has gone or that I can hear choked sobs from upstairs.  I do not mention what I can read in her eyes.

An hour later he calls back.  Apparently cells in the naughty wing cannot be found as the current occupants have refused to move and so they wait, bags packed, for new instructions.  The awful thing is that even as my mind is boggling with the Kafkaesque insanity of the accusation and although I am deflated and worried for him all over again, I am simultaneously bugging him for the details I will need to write here, and he knows it.  It’s a little mercenary, opportunistic even, but then there isn’t much point in wallowing in victimhood.  Prison clouds don’t really have silver linings sewn in: you have to make them yourself, and this page is my sanity.  Some people live to write.  I write to live.

If you can take a good, basically law abiding citizen (give or take a film business of two), who hitherto believed in the rule of law and the validity of our institutions and make of him, in only 6 months, an angry man who feels increasingly radical and militant, what can you create from someone more dangerous or marginalised?

If just one of the officers at Highpoint North has taken the trouble to get to know Rob, they will be in no doubt whatsoever that he is exceptionally unlikely to have embarked upon a batch of moonshine, but whether anyone will be able to override the system is doubtful.  Everyone’s hands are tied.  I hear from the politicians and the think tanks that they want introduce reform but can’t get anything except a “tough” message past the general public.  Frankly I’m sick of it and I don’t really buy it: I don’t see that the public are particularly enthused about cuts to the NHS, but those are happening none the less.  The cost of re-offending is hard to measure exactly but it is at least £15 billion a year, which I can’t help feeling might be better spent on the health service or on schools, and if the pubic need convincing about that, then a little dinner party with Tony Gallagher and Paul Dacre might be in order.

In Birmingham they are rioting.  There is no hot water and not enough food.  The government line is that Mamba is to blame.  It isn’t.  Riots are a side effect of deteriorating conditions and the despair of men who have nothing left to lose.  Men are literally starving in some prisons around the country and only those who can bribe the servery staff or who can afford to spend all of their canteen on top ups can survive.  This is a recipe for disaster.

Chris Grayling is another apparently.  He presided over a 30% cut in prison staffing levels, amongst other “tough” measures, after which point suicides and violence escalated with astonishing rapidity.  Now he has been let lose on the railways with similarly disastrous effect.  Perhaps he is just unlucky.  Perhaps he is a good man with a difficult job, or perhaps he and other career politicians should stand up and be counted. The last person to do that on prison reform was Ken Clarke and he was duly sacked.  It is true that you can’t change anything unless you are in power, but if you are, please use it, and use it fast before we brew something truly monstrous in our festering penal institutions that cannot be put back in the box.

By | December 21st, 2016|

She Brings the Rain

The weekend is a washout and the concrete prison exercise yard is not improved by the conditions.  No hoods in the slammer so, even if you do have a flimsy prison issue coat, when it rains you’ll get a wet head.  Rob goes out whatever the weather in an effort to remain somewhat free range and retain a semblance of an immune system.  He embraces the rain.  All the elements seem precious against a backdrop of cheerless institution and razor wire.

Immunity is an issue in prison with rubbish food, depression and stress high on the list of successfully delivered outcomes.  Rob and his ex-cellie have a secret health weapon based on an old Nigerian trick that involves a bulb of garlic, two fist-sized rhizomes of sliced ginger, boiling water and an empty Coke bottle.  The ingredients are combined and left to ferment until the solids decompose into a syrupy glob of barely liquid culture that is administered daily and with much grimacing.  I outright forbid him to partake on visit days.  He already smells strongly of salad as a result of moisturising with olive oil, and garlic is rarely considered an aphrodisiac on the breath.

Not that there is any point in cultivating desire at this point.  At a Christmas party for a Conservative party think tank on prison reform I ask Ian Duncan Smith about conjugal visits, not because I think anyone will get one any time soon, but just for the hell of it and because I want to make him think about sex and remember my blog name: it works for the advertising industry.  Perhaps I should print some cards though…?

I have arrived in this room by virtue of a philanthropist friend of Keith’s who has taken a paternalistic interest in our story and the Prison dis-Service.  My white knight is a big lad and exudes something so genuine and unthreatening that within five minutes of the Justice Secretary’s arrival he manages to introduce me to her as “a prison family blogger”.  I seize my chance.  Experience has taught me that announcing in polite circles that your husband is doing 9 years at Her Majesty’s pleasure stops conversation for long enough to make any point you like.

I bear in mind Tala’s parting shot as I set off for the evening “Don’t bore her Mummy” and then, resigning herself to reality and settling the bar a little lower after considering me realistically for a moment or two, “Well…. just don’t babble”, and so I plump for something practical.  Does she know that phone calls are charged at 3 times the national rate to prisoners?  She doesn’t.

I consider telling her that anyone who wants to use a mobile phone for drug dealing can get one in five minutes and isn’t particularly bothered about legalities, and that most people just want a phone to keep in touch with their families.  Rob spends his entire weekly earnings to make nine ten minute phone calls a week.  It’s also interesting that mobiles are rife in places like Wandsworth where the 23 hours-a-day lockup makes phone access tricky during the remaining hour and forces prisoners to choose between joining the phone queue, showering or exercise.

I don’t want to rain on her parade however, so I get Christmassy and ask her what she would do with the Prison Service if she had a magic wand.  I know what I’d do with it, but I doubt she’ll admit publicly to buggery.  She just wants things to be better run apparently: no rats in the kitchen or cells out of use because of mould or dirty protests.  (Cells are often made uninhabitable with blood or faeces, and there are crews of prisoners in every jail tasked with the unenviable job of cleaning up.  It’s what people come down to when they don’t have art materials or a voice).  Fair enough, but lady, I offered you a magic wand! Dream a little! Think big!

She gives a good speech.  What politicians will say to a room of smart, well-vetted (except for me) reformers and what they will say in the public arena where their main brief is not to lose votes every time they open their mouths (an art never learnt by Ken Livingstone), is very different.  She genuinely seems to want to encourage rehabilitation and a reduction in re-offending, which is heartening given her dull public message about security, but I can’t help feeling that everyone is still missing the point because, and this becomes increasingly clear throughout the evening, no one actually speaks to the Service users, and no-one in power has ever been to prison except on a day trip.  Prisoners do not need or even want new buildings.  They are pretty much ok with the rats too.  What they want is to be treated with respect.  Rehabilitation begins and ends with the relationship between officers and inmates and the attitude of the institution to its charges.

I watch Liz (I think we are close enough now for me to call her that, and she did express an interest in reading my blog), claiming somewhat mystifyingly in parliament, that barking dogs deter drones and I can’t help wondering if she wouldn’t be better advised to go down the Californian route, where petting dogs (and now also a pig in a tutu apparently) are used in the airport in LA to reduce stress and improve the well-being of passengers.  Any schemes where prisoners are permitted to train and care for animals are immensely successful in terms of reducing re-offending.

So we know that children, wives (especially with the odd conjugal thrown in), dogs and probably pigs have a positive effect on re-offending.  It’s a pretty sad indictment of our system when the only way to make it work is to use the unpaid services of the families who are also being passively punished by its failings.  At our last visit we were let in so late that my seven hour trip yielded only 80 minutes with my beloved, and they wonder why we tarry at the end and have to be shouted at to clear out.  And what about all the prisoners without families?  According to the Centre for Social Justice, whose Prosecco I’m quaffing at said Christmas party, half of all prisoners under 25 were previously in “care”.

Until we create a familial environment within prison itself – a prison family where all of the individuals from governor to guard to prisoner, contribute and care for each other, nothing will change in our jails no matter how many extra screws you throw at the problem.  Human beings need purpose and meaning in their lives, whatever they may, or may not, have done in the past.  They need self respect and the impression that they matter.

There is so much untapped potential from within the prison population: chefs who would like to share their skills and recreate family meal times rather than receiving a plastic tub of deadness to eat alone in their cells, traders, graphic designers, businessmen, IT experts, sportsmen, even politicians (I’m having tea with Jonathan Aitken in the New Year), you name it, you’ll find one in prison, and all anyone wants to do in there is to pass their endless sentence doing something useful.

Meanwhile milestones are being reached on the out in our broken homes: Keith’s daughter Elizabeth turns 11 without him.  The girl is a legend: she is miniscule, but she can fly a plane (honestly), and drive a stick shift Land Rover.  She invites Tala to her party (they have an unshakable bond born out of mutual loss), where the guests all give themselves such big sugar rushes they have to hold each other down.  It a massive success.

Charlie’s girls forgo anything seasonal that would interfere with their visits.  They have never missed a single one.  In the pursuit of fairness he has to rotate their hands over the separating table.  They never let go.

Okha and I crack and go halves on a packet of razor blades having finally accepted that Rob isn’t going to be able to change the brutally blunt one that predates his departure, and Tala finally admits defeat and consigns the “She Brings the Rain” t-shirt to the wash, unable to detect even the faintest whiff of father underneath the layers of pre-pubescent b.o. that undeniably dominate its odour profile.  I watch it circling in the foamy tides, another layer of him washed away in the artificial rain of the machine.

By | December 13th, 2016|

A Thousand Wasted Years

It has not yet struck eight on Sunday morning and Tala is to be delivered to a West End theatre in full hair and makeup within half an hour.  I can’t find a hair net for love nor money and several kirby pins have already been inserted at such vicious angles that good will is in short supply on all sides.  When the doorbell rings I suppose that the cabbie has gone old school on me and renounced the phone for legs, and so I am surprised when I find my firstborn, with slightly different coloured hair to yesterday plus two policemen, on the front step.

I react reasonably calmly but a little uncharitably with a long suffering “Oh God, what has she done?”.  They assure me that she hasn’t done anything at all, and that they have only escorted her home out of concern.  I can see why.  It is below freezing and she is only wearing a T shirt.  The blue hair is also adding to the Elsa effect.  She is attempting to smile reassuringly at me, though it is clearly hard for her to bring me into focus and so the result is midway between a leer and a gurn and yet I suspect she looks a darn sight better than she did when they found her.

One of the officers beckons me outside and asks as delicately as possible if my daughter is “all right”.  I’m not quite sure what he means and he clarifies by tentatively wondering if she has some kind of mental illness.  I explain as gently as possible that there is nothing whatsoever wrong with her.  Contrary to appearances, she is not special needs, just very, very pissed.  He seems relieved.  After all, he’s been there himself.

By now the cab has arrived and is lined up behind the panda.  I try as quickly as possible to ascertain where they found her (Vauxhall?) and how she got there but as everyone, including Okha, seems confused I have to leave or risk this year’s Nutcracker missing a vital snowflake stage left on the back row, and so I thank them profusely, tell Okha sharply to proceed straight to bed, and head off to the theatre.

Later when she has sobered up enough to field my questions, albeit through the veil of a raging hangover, I am still none the wiser, as she genuinely doesn’t really know how she got from a club in Shoreditch to a station in Vauxhall, or why she was alone or where her favourite coat is.  I wish I had thought to take the names of the officers who helped her.  I desperately want to thank them.  This is what policing should be about.  They saw a dangerously inebriated girl on her own and protected her from the elements, herself and God only knows what else.  This is crime prevention.

Furthermore they didn’t chastise her irresponsibility or berate my parenting and eclipse the lesson inherent in what was certainly an unpleasant and frightening experience for her, and thankfully seems to have shocked her into realising self-obliteration may not be the answer. They simply took care of her.  This is community.  I hope their superiors will agree that this was a good use of police time and that our saviours won’t be disciplined for providing a free Uber service to the nation’s drunken revellers.

I am lucky that there were officers to spare to look after my girl.  Most are busy engaged in fighting “The War on Drugs”.  I have just finished reading “Good Cop Bad War”, brilliantly written by ex-undercover agent Neil Woods.  £7 Billion a year is spent by the police fighting this war in a way that will only ever result in escalating violence as the untouchable gangsters at the top intensify intimidation of their subordinates to protect themselves.

Most “dealer” convictions are actually just users funding their habit, unable to seek help for their addiction because it is criminalised.  In general the police don’t care though as they, like so many of us, are fighting to keep their statistics (and budgets) up.

The illicit drug trade is also worth £7billion annually in the UK and £375 billion world wide: untaxed money that directly funds almost all other criminal activity; a booming unregulated industry that is also the underlying driver for the lion’s share of murders, robbery and gang violence.

Prison is full of men serving sentences for drugs.  Rob knows many who are there as a result of entrapment stings: good men with bad habits.  Others desperately need help for their addictions that they are not getting help for because addiction is penalised in jail, (though it is grounds for a yoga mat apparently, still denied to Rob who isn’t eligible for rehabilitation), and find themselves stuck in the revolving doors.  Some are born to the business and are prepared to trade years of liberty in exchange for a livelihood.  We aren’t all born to Eton families nor can we all be middle class users rather than suppliers.

Unlike so many in the police force Woods disagrees that the war on drugs can’t be won.  It will be won when we stop fighting it.  He has lived with the people that most cops just prosecute and the rest of us consider so “other” to ourselves that we can’t be concerned with their tarnished world.  Rob lives with these men too and is in direct agreement: custodial sentences for drugs offences are an utter waste of their time and our money.

Woods estimates, calculating generously, that during his entire career he probably only managed to stop the supply of drugs for a total of eighteen hours whilst simultaneously exacerbating turf wars as rival gangs lined up to fill the vacuum.  In direct contrast to the efficacy of his life’s work (or lack thereof), he also calculates that his investigations resulted in over a thousand years of prison time about which he says this:

“For me every single one of these is a year wasted.  These are a thousand years of wasted human potential; a thousand wasted years of possible creativity, learning and exploration; a thousand wasted years of people languishing in tiny cells rather than contributing to the world”.

In 2014 the government released a major report which found categorically that punitive measures have no impact whatsoever on drug use, in fact drug use escalates in line with increased punishment.  And yet we persist! Shall we stop now?  Please? All our addiction theories of the 1980s have been debunked.  Even “hard” drugs like cocaine only have the same addiction rates as alcohol (10%) which means that 90% of users do so without wrecking their lives.

Alcohol could have wrecked my life this weekend had not a kindly pair of young coppers noticed a small, blue haired drunk on the verge of freezing to death and brought her home to me.  I am deeply grateful to them, and not always as grumpy as I must have looked that harassed morning.

By | December 7th, 2016|

Living the Dream

In the charity shop I see a floor length vintage dress in dusky pink lace and chiffon.  I try it on because, even though I am alone behind the flimsy pine door of the cubicle, and no-one will ever see me in this sumptuous creation, it feels decadent to shed my sensible insulating winter layers and dream for a moment that I have a life that requires such attire and that I’m not headed for a muddy park in an ageing parka with worn cuffs and pockets stuffed full of doggie poo bags.  Then, in a moment of madness I buy the dress, mostly because I can do it up and didn’t think I’d be able to, but also because its good to dream.  You’ve got to have dreams.

That evening I make a late night dash to the shops and see Thomas, a homeless man who always seemed slightly other to the desperate collection of rattling junkies who worked the street alongside him. Thomas never appeared to be under the influence of anything.  He just didn’t have many teeth or a home.  I hadn’t seen him for months and tell him I’ve missed him and was worried about him.  He informs me proudly that he has a room now: a good clean place and that he is only out here tonight as there has been a glitch in his benefit this week.  He looks well and I tell him so.  He is pleased and replies in his gentle Irish lilt that he feels well too.

I ask him how he managed before the room: sleeping rough and hostels, until his brother bought him a caravan, which he could have sold now, but has passed on to another man in need, without fraternal support, and he is proud of his choice to re-gift and create the possibility of a second transformation.  I ask him what is next.  He looks longingly into the distance.  “Maybe… a job?  I think perhaps now that I can keep clean and I’ve got an address I might be able to get one”.  This is his dream, as uncertain and tantalising to him as my Cinderella ball is to me, and a damn sight less frivolous.

I don’t see Thomas again.  I hope that now he is “in the system”, someone will look out for him.  The families of prisoners live with this same misguided hope that the system that has captured their loved ones will also care for them, but every three days one of these families will get a call to say that their husband or son or brother or daughter has hung themselves inside, and these numbers don’t even include homicide, accidental overdose or death due to lack of medical attention.  Hope is a far cry.

When you enter prison, you no longer control your destiny.  You are unlocked when and if someone comes, you are fed what there is, when there is, if there is and you will be released when the powers that be deem it fit to do so.  This is true for all prisoners, many of whom incur extra years inside for perceived misdemeanours, but it is most particularly the case for IPP (imprisonment for public protection) prisoners who have to prove that they are no longer a risk to society.  Often the box ticking for their release includes education that they may not be able to complete because they can’t read or because the prerequisite courses don’t exist in their particular prison(!) and it always relies on the goodwill of officers, governors and parole boards who are under no obligation to give it.  In June 2015 there were still 4,600 IPP prisoners in Britain almost a tenth of whom had served five times their minimum sentence. When there is no hope, there will be no rehabilitation and we create men who have nothing left to lose; desperate and dangerous.

When I visit Rob the men are let out half an hour late so that we miss even more of our precious time than usual due to basic ineptitude and lack of consideration.  When I finally see him traversing the visit hall, looking like thunder, he remarks that if the same thing had happened at Hewell there would have been broken jaws and probably a riot.  Conditions are often better in the more high risk category B prisons because they have to be.  When you have no rights, no voice and no future, violence is what is left over and it works, at a price.

It is Rob’s birthday tomorrow.  I can’t send anything except cards and books, and there is no telling when and if the books will arrive – none have so far.  He calls to warn me that he will be locked up all day tomorrow so I probably won’t be able to speak to him either, which somewhat dashes the girl’s plans for a three part harmony rendition of “Happy Birthday”.

Prison is a rarefied world.  Many, like Rob, are serving sentences too long to wish away.  You have to live as if this captivity was life.  Prison life happens in prison time, which is punctuated by the locks and unlocks, the tannoy, the meals, the visits, the phone and shower queues (shorter than they should be given the paucity of facilities and the number of men) and the seasons.  Summer, autumn, winter, spring and summer again, and again and again.

I can’t look after Rob tomorrow or any day, the institution certainly isn’t looking after anyone, and so it is left to the men themselves to care for each other.  At Highpoint North which basically exists to house all the quiet easy men, a small community is forming.  Laundry used to be overseen by a large, heavily muscled African with little time for the task in-between bench presses, and often arrived in a disheartening damp clump outside the cell doors, but has since been overtaken by an small Asian guy who drys, folds and delivers with pride, so that Unit 12 are now all looking and smelling (apart from the shower refuseniks), rather dapper.

As with all communities it takes all sorts.  Some are fat and lazy, some are intense, some are funny and talented, some have frightful halitosis (a major downside to a cellmate) and some simply don’t bother to wash, but they are a kind of community now and you take the rough (and boy is it rough sometimes) with the smooth.

Rob used to be a diligent man.  Now weeks go by where he doesn’t reply to letters, leaving me fielding the enquiries, but he doesn’t live in the world that the letters come from or play by its rules and etiquette anymore.  He lives inside with his prison family now and if someone needs to chat, he will listen before he attends to anything on the distant out.  I am still the exception to this, so it’s easy for me to say, but I am glad that he has a new life.  I want someone to benefit from his wit and care and kindness.  Let him be a light in that Godforsaken place.  At least now with a new non-snoring cell mate, sleep is a possibility once more, and Rob can finally have some dreams of his own.

By | November 29th, 2016|

The Wrong Trousers

Rob’s mate Z, an ex pro footballer, is carrying on where I left off with Rob’s culinary care.  He always gives Rob his potato waffles having decided, correctly perhaps, that there is no nutritional value in them and he doesn’t actually like them.  Rob agrees, but the Irish in him makes him very partial to potato products, and the right to eat things behind locked doors and in the relative privacy of his jail cell that no self respecting nutritionist’s husband would ever dare to put in his mouth on the out, acts as a uniquely liberating influence.  Rob now eats whatever he can get his hands on: it’s the calories that count if you want to keep your trousers up.

Z also makes a mean prison cheese cake (no baking required) out of his canteen purchases. (I’m unsure whether it actually contains any cheese, as eggs, cheese and butter are considered seditious for some reason and have been taken off the canteen list on the North side, but it tastes awesome apparently).  Getting it between the locked spurs is tricky however and their first attempt meets with disaster:

Z cuts a generous slice onto a plate and proceeds to propel it decisively across the open floor space between the wing cages.  His torque is slightly wrong though (perhaps he is better with his feet) and the cake flies off the plate, which, having jettisoned its cargo, smashes into the opposite wall.  Helpers arrive on both sides of the divide and hastily cobble together a recovery plan, whilst Z and Rob wet themselves with hysterical laughter and are no help whatsoever, but even these resourceful types can’t produce a long enough rescue implement to reach their quarry before a random prisoner, who as luck may have it is being escorted down the corridor, interprets the 5 second rule in a liberal fashion, and eats it.

Operation Cheese Cake mark 2 is more sophisticated and involves tuppaware.  Simultaneously channeling Lampard, Gerard and Ronaldo, Z aims well and scores with a decisive shot under the left hand corner of the bars and Rob finally gets his benefaction.

During the strike lock down Tala was worried about how Daddy would eat.  She herself, mid growth spurt, does so almost continually and has to supplement mealtimes with hourly Special K injections just to keep things ticking over.  She needn’t have worried.  Prisoners were issued with a pack of white bread and something almost resembling cheese in the absence of a meal, and in any case, Rob keeps a supply of tinned kippers under the mattress.  Last night there was some sort of glitch with the food so the men just got carrots and rice pudding instead of the curry that should have been on.  This sort of thing is a blow to the institutionalised, and even more so to Rob who isn’t a big carrot man (“They just don’t go”) ,and especially not when they have been liberally boiled into something unlikely to contain more than a memory of minerals.

The Daily Mail announces confidently that prisoners are eating steak (the lucky bastards) and wouldn’t we all like to be sitting around watching telly and living it up like them.  Sadly, the overcrowding situation in British jails makes it unlikely that I could indulge the editor with a free trial at one of the HMPs, but I suspect he might find it slightly less agreeable than his bravado suggests.  Prisoners are given TV’s in the way I dish out screen time to my ten year old, because I am too lazy (or occasionally hung over) to do anything else with her.  It is a drug they are fed in the absence of education or rehabilitation. It is not given as a privilege, but rather as an anaesthetic.  Everything else they are supposed to have, they don’t.  Except drugs.  Huge amounts of them, anywhere, any place, anytime, for a price… which is sometimes death.

Still, the Daily Mail were top of a league table charting the number of breaches of the editor’s code of conduct, (beating its closest rival the Sun by more than double), so perhaps someone from the paper may yet get to sample the cushy life of the incarcerated.  P.S. Anyone from the Mail want to give me a column? I could use the cash and, incredibly, every one of their readers gets a vote so it might be an idea to let them know what is actually going on inside, and why.

Yes, there are a handful of very unpleasant individuals who are probably where they should be until they can be given an alternative vision of what it is to be human from that handed down to them as children brought up knowing nothing else but violence and abuse and fear as is almost invariably the case with bullies, but the majority of prisoners are, in Rob’s experience, pretty decent people, and often unusually kind, funny and even brilliant.

Prison reform doesn’t happen because it isn’t a vote winner not because it can’t be done.  That is changing at the moment because of the rapid and inexorable slide of our penal institutions towards out and out anarchy.  Rob is pleased that his current abode is topical.  He moved out East when West was still best and was always ahead of the curve – an early adopter you might say, wearing trousers that looked all wrong to the uninitiated and then suddenly so right as the rest of us dragged ourselves wearily towards the next fashion imperative.

Although he’d doubtless rather be in N16 with us, he is currently happy again, and praying to stay put until after Christmas at least. His nightly scrabble battles with the Libor Americans (hung out to dry by Barclays for trading irregularities that were ubiquitous and widespread to the point of institutionalisation), and AJ, (an ex-Tamal Tiger for whom English is his third language and who is thus given considerable leeway with his spelling upon occasion), are a nightly source of raucous hilarity.  One can’t help feeling that they might be better off doing some kind of government work at home on a tag for the next nine years, contributing to society and funded by their families: these are pretty bright guys…. but I’m sure Liz Truss knows best.

Rob never challenges the Sri Lankan on his letter arrangements and in fact argues the Tiger’s case vehemently, advocating passionately for words such as “scaringz” (multiple frights), as they have a pact to beat the Americans at any cost.  He was jubilant this morning on the phone, having almost won last night. “Doesn’t that mean you lost?” I ask somewhat insensitively.  “Well yes, but not by much”. Sounds a bit like us.  So close and yet so far.

By | November 22nd, 2016|

Namaste

It is remembrance Sunday and I listen to the sombre reverent tones of a memorial service: An honouring of our brave boys, except that 1 in 10 prisoners are ex-servicemen and are living in squalor courtesy of Her Majesty.  PTSD is just one of the plethora of mental illnesses at the heart of offending, poverty and incarceration.

“The Secret Life of Prisons” (shot on illegal camera phones inside) airs on Channel 4 and I watch a father’s face as he sees his mentally ill son volunteering to be punched violently in the head in exchange for mamba.  I see the anarchy, the addiction, the violence and the hopelessness.  Rob has seen all of this and so much more. It’s nothing.  He doesn’t even warn me that I will be shocked and scared for him.

Prison officers are striking nationwide over safety: theirs and the prisoner’s. I hear nothing at all from Rob all day.  I hope it is because he is locked up.  The thought of what else would keep him from the phone is something I don’t want to consider.

The Minister for prisons is on the radio blaming “new psychoactive substances” (he means mamba/spice), for the upsurge in violence. How convenient.  Nothing to do with staff shortages then and the inevitable lock downs and human caging that results.  The 2,500 extra part-time guards promised by 2018 is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed, even if they can be recruited on pitiful pay and dire working conditions.  Nothing to do with the fact that most of the inmates are addicts whose illnesses are not being treated.

A heinous fart of pressure is building up in the holding pens that pass for prisons in the UK and they are beginning to blow in the form of suicides, escapes, riots and strikes.  This is not going to be pretty.

Luckily however the minister has a solution to the spice problem. Random drug tests.  Ta dah! Now we can make lists of the people we already know are taking drugs, punish them more (because that really works), whilst simultaneously sparking an internal trade in child pee as prisoners everywhere make like Withnail and carry a sachet of unadulterated urine with them at all times.

In the interest of balance (between idiocy and common sense) they also get Ken Clarke on the program.  He describes British prisons as “overcrowded slums” into which we funnel a greater percentage of our population than any other European country with no positive effect on crime figures whatsoever, and explains in a single sentence how to sort it out: Lock up only those who are a danger to others or themselves, rehabilitate, treat addiction and mental illness and use fines and tags where punishment is necessary. Attaboy Ken.

Fortunately we are not alone in Europe (well not yet anyway) in having a problem with our prison service.  Holland is in trouble too. A BBC news headline reads “Dutch prison crisis: A shortage of prisoners.” Ah.  Slightly different problem to ours then.

Their reluctance to lock up anyone but the most violent or persistent offenders, coupled with a shift away from a war on drugs in favour of the pursuit of human traffickers and terrorists means that most criminality is effectively dealt with using community service orders, fines and tagging, leading to the closure of 19 prisons, and this despite having had one of the highest incarceration rates in Europe a decade ago.

You see it really isn’t that hard.  We could turn this ship around, but we are currently plotting a very different course across the Atlantic towards the American Nightmare.

I go for supper at Cyril’s house.  The one who got away.  Since mentioning the shamefully (for a nutritionist) erratic eating habits I have occasionally adopted of late, I have had more dinner invitations that I can shake a stick at.  It’s fantastic.  Might I add that I have criminally little (all right not any at all) Chanel in my wardrobe?

I remember meeting Cyril at the film industry mecca of Cannes in a jaunty suit and trainers, looking impossibly dashing and fresh faced when he started out working for Rob 14 years ago.  Now he is tasked with re-homing the staff and dismantling the business they built together.  Rob’s space on the desk where they worked side by side is sterile and tidy; the banter between them silenced by absence.

As the judge pronounced his co-defendants guiltily one after the other Cyril saw the bullet with his name on it suspended inches from his forehead.  Despite being pronounced not guilty, the bullet has lingered and follows him still months afterwards in his dreams.  In a supermarket car park he is paralysed with fear and cannot get out of the car.
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I ask him somewhat selfishly to relive the sentencing.  I fantasise that perhaps he might have experienced the euphoria of the reprieve that I had longed for.  Did he make the ecstatic call to his wife – the call I had played out a hundred times in my mind when it seemed there were still two paths ahead?

But no-one really got out of this jail free.  There was no happy call, just a rising tide of tears that overtook Katja so savagely as she sat at her desk at work, that she could not stem their flow or speak or explain herself.  Not tears of relief.  Tears of bitter sadness for our sake.

Empathy is a beautiful thing because without it we could just imagine that other people don’t suffer or love or hope or fail as we do.  In our cellar there is a broken neon sign that spells out “Namaste” in a looped font.  It was damaged in transit on one of the many house moves that have punctuated our life together and belonged to Rob before I knew him.  I plan to repair it and never do. It’s a sanskrit word that can be translated in many ways.  The most powerful for me is this understanding: “I recognise myself in you and you in myself”.

One day, (and I trust, naively perhaps, that it will be soon), we will look back at the way we treat the most vulnerable section of our society: our soldiers, our sick, our poor, our disenfranchised, our foster children, our weak… and our inability to see more in them than their mistake will shock our children.  We will shake our heads in wonder at the barbarism of it all, of the “them and us” mentality, of the shameless superiority and schadenfreude.

Namaste

By | November 17th, 2016|

Post Truth Generation

I wake up feeling decidedly wobbly.  It’s probably just the cold, or the fact that supper was pistachio nuts and Nutella off the spoon, but I feel hopeless. This is not a time span that you can wish away. It is relentless.  He is not here and he is not here and he is not here.

Loneliness opens up like a chasm in my chest.  Crying feels like an admission of defeat, so I don’t and get up and do what needs to be done for the children.  Lunches, laundry, love. I am so blessed with support from every angle, but images of familial contentment have began to hound me.  After a wonderful supper with friends their Daddy comes home on his bike to them, flushed both with cold and the warmth they are about to give him, and ours does not.

I turn on the radio.  Dear God no! America has just elected to its highest office a man who thinks that it is acceptable to face the world pretending that the dead thing on his head, that looks as if it has been cobbled together from the contents of the plug hole after a molting orangutan bath, is hair.

I’ve kind of had it with the will of the people.  Brexit and Trump are indicative omens of our time.  Facts and truth and considered opinion seem to be relics from a bygone age and now what is important is how things can be made to appear, like having hair in places where you clearly don’t.

The vilification of “Brexit Blocker” judges in the Daily Mail (other crappy papers also available), complete with mugshots and details of their earnings, plus their sexual and religious orientation, was also extraordinary.  They were asked to advise on a legal matter, did so, and are now being publicly stoned for their expert opinion and accused of standing in the way of “The People”.

The dynamics of this situation, along with the way Trump has conducted himself and his campaign in the U.S. and then won, are national and global examples so redolent of my own small personal tragedy: of why I am here and Rob is not, that I feel hopeless all over again.  We are a post truth generation.  It is rhetoric over fact.  It is the triumph and the Trump of fear.

Benevolent dictatorship Plato style is sounding good to me right now.  Lets have Sandy Toksvig for Philosopher Queen: at least we could all laugh as the country follows the U.S. to the dogs.  For pity’s sake don’t let the people decide on anything more vital than Bake Off.

In what I would like to describe as shock and horror, but is actually closer to resignation at the predictability of the will of white males everywhere, I take to the page and consider that the very fact that I am able to do is this is because I am taking advantage of the post truth generation tool: the internet – a platform that requires no qualification.  I am not an expert on the law or the prison system or relationships and certainly not on politics.  I am a pissed off woman telling it as I see it.  It’s just a story, but then, what isn’t?

I wonder about truth.  It has always seemed like a laudable principle.  In the context of Brexit and the US election more of it would have been welcome.  The truth sets you free apparently. But when applied as an absolute and abiding rule it too can become a blunt instrument of pain in its own right. If the truth is something you vomit up and pass off as a delicacy by dint of veracity, it will still taste like sick.  On a personal level, I’m in the suck it up, keep it inside, internalisation of angst camp.

Part of me is glad that the prison phone system only works one way.  After a bracing walk with the dog and a hug from one of Rob’s best mates, I have rebuilt my mental health sufficiently to avoid splurging Rob with my own fears and loss when he calls.  I hide the overwhelm.  We talk about Trump.  I don’t tell him that I am dying alone here.  What good will it do to tell it? He can’t do anything, change anything, fight for anything, love me or hold me from where he is.  Talk is cheap, (or it would be if prisoners weren’t being overcharged three times over), and even more so when there is so much left unsaid, but we have nothing else today.  Nothing more until the next visit in nearly two weeks time.

I receive poetry written inside from an ex offender.  It is so powerful and poignant and redolent with a despair that is so bitterly familiar to me about the breakdown of his marriage, the dreadful inability to hold his children and the mountain of hours and days and years ahead, that I can’t take it anymore and I give myself over to the sobbing that must out. Something new breaks in me.  We have to stop the punishment.

Liz Truss, please, help these men in your care! Don’t sit there like a smug muggle Professor Umbridge presiding over the chaos that is erupting in the correctional establishments whose numbers you actually want to increase, so that we can lock more people up in them rather than actually reducing our offending rates? (which are incidentally the worst in the world).  Don’t spend your life getting into a position of power only to do with it something ineffectual and wasteful.  Men are rioting and breaking out of your prisons because they have nothing left to lose (and by the way there is no way the Pentonville escapees made it out without both outside and inside help). Speak to the service users.  Hear them.  Don’t sit in your ivory tower forcing them to write “I must not tell lies” on their hands over and over until they bleed.  They are already bleeding.  And so are we on “the out” without them. That is the truth.  Hear my prayer and help us, and God help America.

By | November 9th, 2016|

Great Expectations

I set off for the BBC to record the interview for Woman’s Hour. Tala sets the bar of expectation low for my first foray into mainstream media. Her parting shot is: “Mamma try not to burp on the radio”. It’s good advice which I manage to follow. Jane Garvey is fiercely bright and business like and I sense that she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She asks me things and I try to answer them as honestly as I can. After we finish I have no idea what I have said, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve missed plenty of tricks. When the interview airs the following day however, apart from sounding so posh that I could slap myself, I am surprised to hear a reasonably lucid conversation.

I check my website to see what’s happening and find that it has crashed. When I finally get on there have been 3000 hits before the end of the program and this continues to rise throughout the day, quadrupling itself after the piece makes the weekend show. I get emails from other women in my situation and much worse, beautiful letters from random strangers and hundreds of sign-ups to the site.

I can’t believe it. In this world where there is so much to be upset about, so much misery and confusion and madness, people still have the time and energy to be interested in the lives of a convict and his family. It is an incredible feeling to be wrapped in layers of protection that radiate outwards from my family, to my friends, to acquaintances, to friends of friends and now to total strangers who happened to turn on the radio on Tuesday morning. I feel like the penguin in the centre of an Antarctic huddle.

Rob doesn’t catch the Tuesday broadcast because he is in “labour”. I hope it isn’t as painful as mine were. There isn’t a box with “wife on the radio” that can be ticked to excuse him from disassembling a computer(?) which is what passes for education at Lowpoint so I urge him to commit an act of civil disobedience and refuse to leave his cell, or at least pull an old fashioned sickie – “Ferris Beuller’s day off” is a family favourite and we have both observed our occasionally reluctant and resourceful offspring enough times to know what to do, but he is still pursuing his enhanced status, which would let him draw down more money weekly and entitle us to an extra visit a month and he doesn’t want to risk the penalty.

Even in jail where there is so little to achieve, the basic human drive to succeed and prosper is still a powerful force in him. Acceptance is a tough nut to crack. He is becoming a little desperate about his dwindling funds. Now that he isn’t working, even though he has money in his “spends” (his personal account that I have paid into), he isn’t entitled to access enough of it to continue to call us every day and still buy essentials like washing powder, or cod liver oil (a great vitamin D source and vital for these men who get virtually no access to daylight for years on end) or fruit. One of the reasons for this is that the call rate out of the prison is three times the standard rate. Talk about kicking a man when he is down.

Even when he does have credit he can’t get to the phone much at the moment however as staff shortages mean that the men are being locked down almost permanently. I stop expecting him to call in the afternoons. It is better not to expect.

The upside of the lock up is that Rob is reading avidly and is becoming a full on bibliophile. He starts to attend book club. Along with getting religion (he has chosen Hinduism mostly in a bid to get in on the Diwali feasting I suspect), you get ticks for activities like this that supposedly contribute to eligibility for enhancement. The endless jumping through hoops and singing for your supper. One of the club attendees is a traveller who has already served ten out of a certain seventeen years of his sentence for a murder.   He is extraordinary well informed about history and literature and comes alive when he shares his knowledge. He learns for its own sake. For the sheer joy.  There can be no other reason.

It is Sunday and bitingly cold suddenly. I think about people making roasts for their families and almost regret the no cook zone in my kitchen. Tala is at ballet all day, Arsenal have anaesthetised the surrounding populace into a familiar low level of tepid disappointment with a draw, Okha is AWOL without a functioning phone and the dog looks horrified when I suggest a late walk in the drizzling dusk. The coziness of the house seems insurmountably hard to maintain with all of its people scattered and winter closing in.

Luckily we have fresh blood. In an attempt to keep my head above water and service the plethora of bills that continue to mount up: council tax, insurance, water, electric, gas etc. etc. I have turfed Okha out of her loft space, shoe horned her extravagant collection of make up and costumery into the spare room and rented her room out. Admittedly it’s a little brutal, but we have to be practical. Our lodger is gorgeous – quiet and friendly and she cleans the sink after she washes up. I like the feeling of another body in the home. It’s win win in an otherwise pretty relentlessly lose lose situation.

As the dog and I face off over the walking situation, there is a knock at the door. I open it to find Okha’s ex-boyfriend arriving to spend the afternoon with her as per their yesterdays arrangement. She isn’t home and sends no word to him until two and a half hours later. We sit in the kitchen together and I eat everything that is readily available from the fridge (left over pasta, a stray sweet potato pie and some almond butter) whilst we chat.

He has been travelling and has grown almost beyond recognition in the last year, full of stories and photos that he shares with me. The depth of his continued love for my child, for whom, despite her faults and even as he is being stood up, he has nothing but respect and admiration, moves me to tears that I try to hide for fear of freaking him out. How many of us can love when it is futile and stay open when it would be so much less painful to cut off and walk away?

It isn’t the afternoon either of us expected, but weirdly, it works. We sit there, bridging gender and age gaps, united in loving someone who is not there and it makes me think about Amy singing “Love is a Loosing Game”. Love is something that you do against rubbish odds, hopelessly and into the void. No expectations.

By | November 7th, 2016|

Hallelujah

I wake early.  Can’t sleep.  I sing “Hallelujah” softly to myself in the 5am darkness.  Jeff Buckley saved me once before from the depths of a depression in my twenties. I’m not depressed now, far from it.  I was once told that depression is anger turned inwards and my anger is very much out.

At visiting we are again seated at the top of the hall right next to the guards whose eyes flicker almost imperceptibly over our pitiful table-separated huddle. Tala knows that she can’t sit on Rob’s knee any more. She has her T-shirt tucked firmly in too, and a jumper for good measure.  Her long legs are bare though.  She doesn’t even realise that they, along with a ten year old’s lower back apparently, may be considered salacious and I am not going to dignify this lunacy by telling her.  As she gets up to make her way to the queue for the cafe (she loves to get the tea), she stops and gives him a quick, furtive hug, her eyes flashing guiltily towards the watchers.  She looks hunted.  Rob has lodged a formal complaint against the note on his file and just that morning has received a reply saying that the comments cannot be removed and apparently other guards also noticed the “inappropriate behaviour”. The closing of ranks.

A father and a daughter somehow managed to find a moment of intimacy and peace within that infernal visit hall, and that cannot be stomached.  No happiness here please.  No cheating the system.  Suffering only.

We have been dragged through the courts on a charge that, according to the tax expert should never have reached court.  We have been convicted by a lay jury against the ruling of a judge. We have been sentenced and separated and have taken all of this as our lot, but to have insinuations of sexual abuse, which would make Rob a paedophile, Tala a victim and me an aider and abetter, tossed carelessly into the mix is the proverbial straw breaking the camels back.  It is enough now. Enough.

I know that what is happening to us is nothing in the scale of human suffering.  I think about Aleppo, North Korea and the bereaved everywhere and know that I have nothing to whinge about, but if I don’t allow myself to let it be significant that this separation and this Dickensian prison dis-service are destroying the lives we once had, I would feel as if I had done what I am expected to do and just rolled over and died.  So I am letting myself roar on this page instead.  I dedicate my life to being as free as possible, as much of a foil to his incarceration as possible.  I want to tear the doors off all the cages – those imposed upon us and also those of my own making.  I want to live and I want it to be wild and free.

Fortunately for us all there is mostly too much basic housework and admin to do just to keep our heads above water for me to really devote enough time to the ML crisis to action this brief, but I do my best to indulge in defiant happiness when I get day release from my duties now and again.  Today has been fun though.  I have been interviewed at the BBC about prisonbag.com by my intellectual crush Jane Garvey for Woman’s Hour – intense, impossibly brief, but nonetheless exciting! It will be aired tomorrow (Nov 1st) at 10am.

Back to reality now and I plod through the laundry between writing, dog walking and Halloween preparations.  I open the lint tray to peel off the satisfying pale violet down and think how a machine designed to do one thing – dry, is also imperceptibly eating the clothes as a side effect of its relentless tumbling: a slow thinning and ageing of everything it touches.

Our family, and thousands like us are suffering a similar fate as we are thrown into the system and left to spin endlessly around in it, the reality of our lives together slowly eroding.  What will be left when he comes out? Will we still be recognisable to each other or will be just be a mush of lint, homogenised into something new but useless and unwearable?

Rob looks remarkably well at visiting.  He has become known as the yoga guy and is being asked to teach by other inmates.  The prison won’t let them have a room despite an abundance of potential available spaces, so they modify a cell and make it work.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Nick Brewer, an extraordinary man who served a six year sentence in South America for drug smuggling. (He had also spent time in a UK jail many years earlier and found Buenos Aries infinitely preferable). He somehow came by a yoga manual during his second year and spent the next five years entirely reforming himself physically, emotionally and spiritually with twelve hours a day of practice and self awareness, by putting himself into a kind of voluntary solitary confinement and immersing himself in this one book.  He now runs his own yoga centre and attempts (mostly unsuccessfully) to teach in prisons. You would be hard pressed to meet a more charming and interesting man, or a system less interested in the reformation of anyone in its “care”.

At jolly old Lowpoint North Rob’s cell mate who is erudite and principled is trying to study for an upcoming exam without any of his books which have been stuck in the system for months now.  Perhaps the books need to be read in their entirety prior to approval and are just to tedious for anyone to be bothered with the task? The thought of creating any kind of peaceful study or rehabilitation space here is ludicrous.

From what I can hear on the phone it is like a a sort of macabre Butlins in there, with constant announcements over the Tannoy, but these are not Redcoats calling the happy campers in for fun and games, these are shouts to get back to the cells for lock up or out of them for exercise or blithe threats announced by dumb, power titillated 20 year olds in uniforms that “anyone who comes to the office asking for anything non urgent will get an immediate loss of all privileges”. Rob’s cell mate immediately heads off for the office and lets them know exactly what he thinks of this latest edict.  Nothing happens to him – It’s an empty threat blurted out by a boy with a toy and the tingle of power in his veins.

What exactly does he consider non urgent anyway? There are eighty eight people on the emergency dental list at Highpoint South including Rob’s old sheet ripping compadre K, and none of them have been anywhere near a dentist in all the time they have been inside, which probably adds up to centuries between them.  If you have ever had toothache for a day you will know what urgent feels like, but no-one here cares. They hand out the drugs and lock the cell doors.  There is always screaming in the night in jail.  Urgent was probably how it felt before almost a hundred people took their own lives and 32,000 self harmed last year in UK jails.  Good morning Campers.  Ho-de-ho!

By | October 31st, 2016|
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