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!